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The Expanse's long hiatus proves worth the wait, in an hour full of familiar faces and intriguing mysteries.

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The Expanse Season Four Episode 1 Review: “New Terra”

The Expanse’s long hiatus proves worth the wait, in an hour full of familiar faces and intriguing mysteries.

With belters, humans, and Martians alike side-eyeing the unknown, The Expanse‘s own transition to a new home for its fourth season serves as a fitting metaphor for “New Terra,” the long-awaited season premiere. Moving to a new world is a frightening proposition; for some like Naomi, it isn’t even possible without some serious modifications – but thankfully, that’s where the meta-textual comparisons end: “New Terra” is an abundantly confident season premiere, an elegant table-setting episode with enough touches of flair and emotion to keep it feeling from like a greatest hits album.

“New Terra” is a wonderful re-introduction to The Expanse’s slow-burn storytelling, and proof that a new home hasn’t fundamentally changed television’s best science fiction series.

Though if the entire 48 minutes of “New Terra” was just spent catching up with characters, I wouldn’t have complained: be it Jim having a moment with his mother, or Bobbie and Alex’s phone call, The Expanse‘s premiere is a heartwarming re-introduction to its world and wide ensemble of characters. Eight months have passed since the Sol Ring opened its gates to humanity; and since then, the UNN has shot just about anyone down that’s tried to pass with impunity. Though “Abaddon’s Gate” proffered the hope that humanity could evolve, “New Terra” is a reminder of how slow and meticulous the process of evolution can be: everyone remains desperately afraid of the unknown, even after four small ships of refugees escape through the ring, landing on a fully habitable planet on the other side.

“New Terra” doesn’t take us to that new planet – dubbed Ilus by the belters who’ve claimed it as their new home – until late in the episode, but the weight of its appearance on humanity’s radar reverberates through The Expanse‘s world, an event that begins to draw the many scattered pieces of its ensemble back into each other’s orbit. Sure, it is convenient for the OG Rocinante crew to be tasked to going to Ilus, passing upon characters like Camina and Avasarala (who is now the Secretary-General) along the way – but goddamnit, it’s still a blast to watch, a series of heartwarming moments giving the 18-month absence between seasons some literal weight.

It’s also fitting the belter refugees (who had been reeling through space since Ganymede was destroyed) landed on Ilus, because that’s exactly where the proto-molecule wants to head. “Miller,” who appears to be glitching a little bit, is still tagging along in Holden’s brain, casually begging him to get back into space and head towards the ring; “it’s where the next clue is” he repeats to Holden, who clearly just wants a bit of time to chill out, and digest the cascade of insane experiences he’s had over the past few years of his life.

But destiny calls, and it’s only a few scenes before Holden is back on the freshly upgraded and restored Roci, back in space with Naomi (whose added a few tattoos), Alex, and Amos, a throwback to simpler times aboard their stolen/salvaged/now properly owned MCRN spaceship. Propulsed by their return, and a depressed Bobbie’s reminiscing about having a mission that mattered, “New Terra” pushes forward by leaning on familiar faces in unfamiliar settings; until its harrowing final moments, when an RCE science vessel crash lands on Ilus after being attacked.

The Expanse knows how to make space feel vast and dangerous – but what it does best is capture the absolute fucking terror of the unknown; Adolphous Multry’s attempt to land on Ilus with his very excited crew is an encapsulation of the show’s versatility, the latest tragic event shrouded in extraterrestrial mystery. Multry’s introduction is particularly brilliant; watching the man brace himself as his ship crashes and people begin violently dying around him, offers a bracing portrait of resilience, one that could be quite the force to contend with among the unsettled refugees, the inquisitive mission of the Roci crew, and the scientists poking around to find some of that infamous Yukon gold (Avasarala’s story of the bodies stacked next to the people willing to throw themselves into danger takes on quite a bit of power in the aftermath of their mysterious crash).

But push forward into the dangerous unknown we will; that notion comes through no stronger than with Naomi Nagata, who puts herself through a brutal montage of preparation to land on Ilus. The tragedy of the belters, as Camina reminds her, is that they are truly the people of space, the survivalist evolution of their physiology making it an arduous journey to try and adapt to living on a surface, with gravity (even those who have gravity, as we saw when Bobbie went to New York in season three, struggle to move to a new planet). It’s so arduous, in fact, the notoriously resilient Camina wants nothing to do with it – and ends her SpaceTime call with Naomi on a particularly ominous, unsettling note.

If there’s a true conflict to be found in “New Terra,” it comes from the familiar place of the belters and survivors of Ganymede; as they dream of a new home among the stars, their identity as the tough, unstoppable force between the “inners” is bound to shift and evolve, as their bodies and minds adjust to living on new worlds. What does that mean for the belters – and more interestingly, for The Expanse? Humanity’s continued struggle to find common ground among the stars is a reminder that no matter what wonders we may experience, our instincts towards violence and hostility will remain – and in fact, are set to thrive in a world where the UNN controls the destiny of every life in the known galaxy.

“New Terra” uses the splintering identity of belter culture as an interesting prism to set the stage for the season to come: as they fracture into belters, pirates, UNN employees (or “traitors,” as some are referring to Klaes) and Ilus settlers, Camina is right that the old belter way may be lost. “Two generations, and they will be inners,” she tells Naomi, afraid that the safety and security potentially offered by these new lives will insulate them from the harsh truths of the universe. That fear is palpable, and dangerous: as humanity heads out into the unknown together, clinging onto the familiar remains an enticing, and sometimes necessary, anchoring mechanism.

But if we are to truly evolve, we must learn from the lessons of the past: despite the UNN aggression, there’s a sense nobody wants to go to war again. There’s a sense that the next war might actually be the last one for humanity – it may be the weapons that vaporize them all into space junk, but its the divisions defined by the identities of the old world that could kill them all. That tenuous, frustrating peace formed between the inners and belters is always an engaging ground for sociopolitical theory; the existential crisis facing the belters only makes that conflict even more strained, and dramatically engrossing.

Evocative and mysterious, “New Terra” is a wonderful re-introduction to The Expanse‘s slow-burn storytelling, and proof that a new home hasn’t fundamentally changed television’s best science fiction series. Though it certainly utilizes the nostalgic crutch of seeing old friends as a driver for what is a particularly quiet premiere, it’s hard to argue it doesn’t succeed – especially in the episode’s second half, as “New Terra” firmly begins to take steps forward into the narrative labyrinth of its fourth season. It may be a strange new home for The Expanse and its characters – but it is clearly the same enthralling, ambitious space drama it was before its cancellation, making for an exciting, welcome return to the nuclear-powered adventures of the Rocinante.

Other thoughts/observations:

Just want to get this out at the beginning of the season: Fuuuuuck, I have missed The Expanse.

Avasarala has bigger problems than four belter ships sneaking through the belt; half of earth’s population is unemployed, desperate to take to the stars to give their lives purpose. Bobbie does make a great point, after all.

Jim’s mother Elise gives him a copy of Don Quixote before he leaves for Ilus. For those unfamiliar with the novel, Rocinante is the name of Don Quixote’s horse (who went from ashy to classy in his own right).

Bobbie’s hair! Naomi’s hair! Everyone’s hair! It looks so good!

“Madman and prophet; it’s possible to be both.”

Avasarala warns Holden not to “put his dick” into whatever’s going on on Ilus, advice he is destined to fail to adhere to

Klaes refusing to give his verification code to the UNN warships until the very last moment, and Bobbie angrily yelling at a stranger in a bar, are the kind of character touches that make The Expanse shine.

It speaks to The Expanse‘s writing that they’ve made a couple like Naomi and Holden work; his smile when she begins to walk on Ilus’s surface is a real tearjerker.

Bobbie has multiple roommates, as if her life couldn’t be any more challenging and seemingly pointless.

black weaponized smoke? This LOST fan is ready to fucking go!

Written By

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

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