The Expanse Season 3 Finale Review: The Series Is Free To Explore New Worlds

The season 3 finale of The Expanse is also the end of the show on SYFY. As one of the most reliably smart and entertaining sci-fi series on television at the moment, it was no surprise the network’s decision to cancel the show was met with an enormous response by fans. The campaign to ensure the series lived on employed some pretty fantastic tactics, including flying a banner over Amazon Studio’s HQ in California. That, along with a social media onslaught, seemingly helped: James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante would continue to soar through space, albeit on a streaming platform that might actually be a better fit for the series in the long run. And after the ending of season 3 ostensibly opens the series up to a whole new universe (literally) of possibilities, Amazon’s decision to throw in with The Expanse is going to look even better. 

The two-hour finale, which is comprised of the episodes ‘Congregation’ and ‘Abaddon’s Gate,’ spends the majority of its time working toward a solution for the vessels trapped within a strange gateway and in the orbit of the seemingly sentient station created by the protomolecule. Given the nature of their circumstances and the number of lives at risk, there are a number of differing opinions on how the situation can be resolved. Much of that has to do with some handwringing about the potential devastating fallout from action against the protomolecule, and a willingness to die for what is seen by some (primarily David Strathairn’s immensely enjoyable Commander Klaes Ashford) as a last ditch effort to save humanity. 

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The Expanse season 3 has been about brinksmanship and humanity’s tendency toward violence as not only a means to an end, but as an expression of its very nature. To an extent, the entire series has revolved around the very idea that humanity will one day fight itself into extinction, but season 3 made it an overt part of both halves of its third season.

The series has created a reputation for being smartly cynical about the nature of humanity throughout its run so far, and by using half of the season to demonstrate humankind’s inclination toward bloody warfare (motivated and facilitated in this case by a corrupt few in the government, like Savadir Errinwright and his conspirators), which eventually resulted in a nuclear strike on the Earth, The Expanse manages to spin the season’s culminating event as a rousing moment that will forever change the future of humankind, and as a shameful portent of the greed-driven bloodshed that’s almost sure to follow. Humanity may have been gifted an inter-dimensional onramp to the farthest corners of the universe, but it’s going to bring its worst inherent tendencies along for what James Holden (Steven Strait) calls a “blood-soaked gold rush.”

It’s an endpoint positioned on the dividing line between undisguised cynicism and wide-eyed wonder, and one that would have seen the series’ cable TV sendoff become a fascinating end to the show, if only for its embrace of an uncertain future and the plainspoken certainty that humankind will make a barbarous debacle of it. Instead, it becomes less an endpoint and more the start of a new beginning, which is fitting considering where the series is headed. On that note, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the show’s producers saw the writing on the wall and adjusted the season 3 climax so that its open-ended structure would serve two scenarios. 

With the worst-case scenario now a minor bump on the show’s road to season 4, The Expanse can revel in what a remarkable third season it had, and how this ending succeeded in expanding the kind of storytelling the show’s capable of. Moreover, on a series that so often excels at juggling multiple storylines at the same time, ‘Congregation’ and ‘Abbadon’s Gate’ demonstrated how well the show works when it’s various characters are all working toward the same goal. 

In that sense, situating the story primarily inside the Behemoth, as Holden, Naomi (Dominique Tipper), and Capt. Camina Drummer (Cara Gee) attempt to determine how to get the ships out of the situation without causing an extinction-level event, while Ashford’s side of things — including some Martian military — actively fights against them makes for a concise, propulsive story that feels like the stakes are genuinely high. Even with Amos (Wes Chatham) and Alex (Cas Anvar) on another section of the ship, holding off a squad of soldiers so Rev. Anna Volovodov (Elizabeth Mitchell) can make an appeal to the all the ships in the vicinity, it feels as though they’re still acting in tandem with the rest of the Rocinante’s crew. 

The cohesiveness of the finale’s storytelling enhances the individual beats, turning Camina’s aborted self-sacrifice into the sort of memorable moment that defines the hour. The same is true of Clarissa Mao (Nadine Nicole) and the rapid turnaround her character sees when the chips are seemingly down. Perhaps even more surprising is how the writers were able to make Clarissa’s arc seem meaningful, despite it being so hastily assembled in the second half of the season. Nevertheless, the final moments, when Holden appeals for the situation to be resolved without violence, offer some sense of hope that, as humanity advances beyond the solar system, it won’t be lead entirely by its baser instincts. 

The final moments, including Holden’s cryptic visions and interaction with Miller (which is oddly reminiscent of Jeffrey Wright’s conversation with Anthony Hopkins during the Westworld season 2 finale) and the welcome confirmation that Bobbie (Frankie Adams) is now a crew member of the Rocinante, bring a sense of closure to this chapter of the story while at the same time serve as a tantalizing glimpse of what’s to come as the series makes the move to Amazon. 

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The Expanse season 4 is expected sometime in 2019 on Amazon Prime Video. 

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