From a visual standpoint, it was absolutely stunning. The show has always been stunning, but they definitely took advantage of that Amazon money and everything just looks even more gorgeous, from the effects to the cinematography. It's just chef's kiss perfection. I also liked what they did with the ending credits of each episode too, with the visual of the Ring drawing in closer as one piece of an epic score used from the episode plays briefly before it transitions to the actual end credits. Brilliantly done. Also, was it just me, or was the score soundtrack even more epic this season? It always is, of course, but there was just something more to it than usual that I ended up getting legit chills.
When it comes to the overall storytelling arc of this season, I really enjoyed it. Obviously the structure was different from the previous seasons since now its new home is a streaming platform so it's made with binge-watching in mind as opposed to the week-to-week episode structure of network television. At first I wasn't sure how to feel about it, but I quickly got over it and after a couple rewatches I think it works incredibly well and the season flows quite smoothly.
There's a lot to really talk about, but I want to focus specifically on the storylines of Ilus and Mars, because they were two of my favorite of this season.
Everything about Ilus excited me because it was about the first time we, as the audience, get to follow our main characters onto an alien planet. This entire storyline was essentially just a space western on an alien planet, it had everything from the conflict between two factions of humanity fighting over claim of the land, gunfights, murder, and having to rely on each other despite these differences and hatreds in order to survive an unknown and dangerous terrain. Seeing the tensions between everyone and their personal vendettas, and then seeing Holden and his crew caught in the middle trying to be mediators and just being so done with the petty in-fighting when there's a bigger picture, I was captivated the entire time. Not to mention how weird it got later on, with the protomolecule structures, islands exploding causing earthquakes and a massive tsunami, death slugs, blindness plague, and ghost!Miller escaping the clutches of the protomolecule that was using him long enough to help Holden in the end? All of that was some good shit. The latter especially made me very emotional because, goddammit I love Miller and seeing him as himself and not controlled by the protomolecule was just, ugh, so wonderful, sad but beautiful at the same time.
And the Mars storyline was also fantastic because, well, we actually got to see more of Martian society. I know that this was based more on the novella, Gods at Risk, which I obviously haven't read yet but they managed to adapt parts of it into the fourth season coinciding with Cibola Burn. While Bobbie had a lot going on with her storyline by unexpectedly getting caught up with something shady (and she was a boss for recognizing the warning signs towards the end, that whole sequence in the finale was just amazing) and how it intertwines with everything else going on, I want to mostly talk about something else that happened that I felt was incredibly powerful. Everything that happened with Bobbie and what we see what happened with the other former Martian marines, it was quite a commentary of how veterans are often treated after returning home. Finding employment can be difficult and most don't have a support system, they often feel lost and lacking purpose as they try to reintegrate into society again. We see this with Bobbie as she went from being of the Martian Marine Corps to basically being demoted to being a mechanic, a job she basically landed out of luck. And then we get the issue regarding Mars and how the dream of the terraforming project has been crumbling since the Ring Gates opened and the peace treaty was initiated. Many Martians are feeling like everything they had believed in, everything they were taught, everything they fought for, generations of it being part of their cultural identity, was for nothing and want to basically give up and start anew elsewhere. It's all so poignant, and I really felt that.
Of course at the end, Bobbie discovers a shadier side of things and finds purpose again and reaches out to Avasarala, which is definitely setting up for what is to happen in the next season. But I just found the dynamic on Mars and how the society is basically divided, as some still believe in the dream of Mars while others have already given up, so fascinating.
One of the things I've always loved about The Expanse was how it focused on both the good and bad sides of humanity without being nihilistic or even misanthropic. There are no "good guys" or "bad guys", just people with different perspectives, different ideologies and opinions and viewpoints, and no matter what, even if it's a character doing something absolutely horrible things you could still understand their position and motivations for doing what they believe is the right thing, or are running on emotions making their decisions irrational by not seeing the bigger picture. This season truly amplifies this and even makes it a point that, even with a peace treaty, having a truce between factions doesn't erase centuries of hatred and prejudices. The tensions rise dangerously between Earthers and Belters on Ilus to the point of needless murder, Martians are getting in league with a Belter terrorist to go against Earth, Drummer quits the OPA because she believes in the truce and wants something better for Belters, and the Earth election showcases the divisions of Avasarala's concerns over people thinking that the Ring Gates are safe versus her opponent's emotional empathy towards Earth's citizens for wanting a new life.
This season had so much, and even with it's slow build in tension there is just a lot to cover, so I might do another post talking about other things. But really, the highlights of this season were:
** The Ilus and Mars storylines
** "Holden? Don't put your dick in it. It's fucked enough already."
** Amos being, well, Amos, but also getting more of his backstory was heartbreaking
** Holden being so done with everything, and also beating the Murtry's ass twice
** Though Amos actually beating his ass in the finale, while we don't see it or the end result, his dangerously gleeful face right before he attacks is just glorious.
** CINNAMON-TOGRAPHY. VISUALS. LOCATIONS. BEAU-TI-FUL.
** Miller being Miller again for a brief time to help Holden save everyone, that was so good and I liked how they handled that. I'm sad that he's gone, like officially gone this time, but that sendoff was beautifully done and truly, it's what he deserves after everything. I'll just miss those little banters, y'know? His and Holden's relationship was something I enjoyed seeing, whether it was him or proto!Miller or whatever.
** SPEAKING OF, the fact that we got the perspective from the protomolecule after visiting with Holden was super cool.
** DEATH SLUGS.
** The entire score soundtrack. Like I mentioned, it felt like they went even extra epic this season, which I did not mind at all. For instance, "To Ilus" from the first episode is probably incredibly fitting for the whole mood of the season, mixing a sense of wonderment and dread at the same time. And "The Wave" for the best ending sequence for episode six. I've rewatched that scene so many times, it still gives me chills with how it was filmed.
** ASHFORD! I loved him this season, especially his and Drummer's friendship which I found so sweet and lovely with how they portrayed it. But I'm sad he's gone. :( That ending for him was so sad, and the finale playing his shanty for part of the ending credits? OUCH. BUT SO GOOD.
Overall: I loved this season, in case you couldn't already tell from my gushing about it. I'm so glad that Amazon saved it, and that it was renewed for a fifth season already. I'm only hoping that it continues on to finish the book series, because while I haven't read them (yet) based on the vague things I've heard about what's coming, oh boy, I'm excited to see how the show manages to adapt that onto the screen. I love this show, this cast, the writers/authors, the music, the crew who work on this show. It's just so good and I'm just so, so, so happy.