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The Expanse Season Four Struggles to Acclimate to Its New Home

Poor plotting and an underwhelming finale undercut some of the strong emotional arcs of The Expanse’s fourth season.

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The Expanse Season 4

In my review of “New Terra,” The Expanse‘s first episode as a streaming series, I noted how it didn’t feel like the show’s rhythms had changed it all, that its move to Amazon Prime hadn’t messed up the show’s well-established, occasionally subversive plot construction.

Once credits roll on “Cibola Burn,” it’s hard not to feel like The Expanse‘s fourth season has as many dangling threads as its universe has open Rings.

Unfortunately, the nine episodes to follow (the first four of which I covered here) slowly lose that familiar feeling; as The Expanse‘s fourth season splintered its characters between Mars, Earth, the Ring, Ilus, and the space in between, the more and more the strain of its narrative ambition could be felt, to the point the whole season feels like an incomplete thought when credits roll at the end of “Cibola Burn,” a cascade of Big Twists that feel undeniably hollow – which, considering The Expanse‘s legacy of building both character and story, makes it feel like something was lost in translation from cable network to digital service.

The Expanse Season 4

The Expanse was, is, and most likely always will be story built on bread crumbs; like the science is it always exploring, its ideas and stories a slowly-forming mosaic played out on a grand galactic scale. Season four, in that regard, mostly follows suit with previous seasons: whether Bobbie’s foray into the world of crime on Mars, or the strange, ancient machines on Ilus, much of The Expanse‘s first half is spent sprinkling all these different hints and ideas into the new, expanded post-Ring universe.

However, the conceit of this entire season begins to fall apart a bit after “Displacement,” the demarcation point of season four: once Holden, Murtry, and the other parties on Ilus are all trapped underground, The Expanse begins spinning its wheels in some confounding ways – most noticeably, shoving Belters and Inners into a confined space, only to repeat the same beats of cultural conflict we’ve spent three-plus seasons exploring. Belters feel they need to take something as their own to find an identity, while Earthers cling to the manifest destiny that anything they can see, should be explored and exploited to further humanity’s domain.

The most interesting part of this conflict – the idea that Mars, in the wake of the Ring revealing 1200 habitable worlds, is now a forgotten dream for humanity – is given far less attention than Murtry’s murderous rampage, which ultimately feels a bit of a cheap villainous ploy, a flaccid reflection of Amos’ worst tendencies (there’s also a whole subplot where Amos bangs Murtry’s second-in-command, a subplot whose conclusion can be seen from the moment they meet). While Bobbie (and by proxy, anything happens on Mars) is sidelined for entire episodes at a time, we get scene after scene of Murtry snarling, prattling on with his idealistic imperialism – a conflict that, I might add, is left completely unresolved at the end of the season.

The Expanse Season 4

“Lack of resolution” doesn’t just plague Mars and Ilus (save for Proto-Miller’s touching, if abrupt, sendoff): Earth and Medina Station (aka Tycho Station) are left with subdued arcs for their largest characters, continuing to form the disturbing pattern of The Expanse‘s stories ending, just as they are beginning to take off. Camina’s strength, Ashford’s suicide mission, and Avasarala’s election loss (following a botched military mission) all feel like half stories, arcs that take eight episodes to get moving, then rush through a series of bullet points in their attempt to line up every story of the season, to crescendo almost simultaneously.

Examining the ten episodes as a whole, it’s hard not to think season four feels, well, like half a season, a series of inelastic ideas forced to stretch themselves across 10 episodes, rather than six or seven. Rather than employ the wildly effective split-season arcs of the past, it took that format and spread it across two seasons (with the assumption the already-announced season five will do things like… oh, I don’t know, finish the goddamn scene with Amos and Murtry); while that may make season five a more compelling proposition, it does not make season four satisfying, in any sense of the word.

Yes, there are some small victories: but given how much attention was paid to Ilus, seeing the crew of the Rocinante (who spent about… four scenes together all season, which might be the single strangest part) just lift off and leave was as strange as Fred Johnson’s brief thirty-second cameo in “Saeculum.” Thanks to the slow opening hours, there are plenty of genuine emotions playing out, as Alex pulls off another piloting wonder, and Naomi begins to dream of having a relationship with her son again (not knowing he’s followed in his parents radical footsteps, of course).

Thanks to these strong beats, The Expanse season four is far from a complete waste: it is a season full of compelling moments and character beats, a series of intriguing reminders that The Expanse is one of the denset shows on TV, full of rich characters like Naomi, Amos, and Camina – just about every member of the main cast (save for the decidedly two-dimensional Murtry) has a powerful emotional moment at some point in the season, especially as the series ratchets up the tension in episodes like “A Shot in the Dark” and “Saeculum” (sorry, but “The One-Eyed Man” suffers from having a few too many interesting ideas, dulling the dramatic impact of them all).

The Expanse Season 4

The Expanse still has an uncanny ability to deliver a deafening amount of tension when it wants to: it’s telling the most dramatic scene of the entire season, revolves around a joining of cables between two space ships (ok, the fallout of one spiraling out into space at one point is pretty thrilling stuff -but they’re technically connected!). When The Expanse wants to, it can crank the fucking heat like nobody else on television: but with so many of those big dramatic turns contained to the season’s final 70 minutes, it is very hard to make any of those moments land with any lasting impact, even if the season does a good job springing forth interesting ideas about purpose, family, and the allure of the dangerous unknown to humanity (and, as it turns out, other ancient species).

But once credits roll on “Cibola Burn,” it’s hard not to feel like The Expanse‘s fourth season has as many dangling threads as it has open Rings, especially when the biggest pieces of its plot – that Naomi’s radical Belter ex-husband and son, are planning Mars-sponsored terrorist attack against Earth – are only brought to the surface in the final hour. Season four feels much like Naomi does in her (all-too-brief) time on Ilus; while it certainly feels the weight of its new streaming home, The Expanse‘s DNA struggles to comfortably integrate into its new ecosystem. For a series built on its ability to effectively meld plot development with compelling character arcs, The Expanse‘s move to Amazon felt strangely inept at doing either.

The Expanse Season 4

Again, once we have season five under our belts, the bitter taste left at the end of The Expanse season four will undeniably fade – there are more than enough compelling scenes and developments to keep me interested in another season, even if the poor plotting of this run made the whole endeavor feel a bit flat. As we see with characters like Felcia (newcomer Kyla Maderia) and Amos, The Expanse is still perfectly capable of building compelling arcs for small and large characters alike, without having to spend scene after scene preaching the parameters of every character’s journey (ok, they do that with Felcia a bit, but it still works, at least for this grizzled tv critic). More importantly, it is still capable of melding those arcs with the more superficially intriguing science fiction of the series – it’s why scenes of Proto-Miller and Dr. Okoye trying to shut down the ancient machines on Ilus are so strong, and give emotional heft to little-explored dynamics.

But it all leaves the viewer feeling like they want more, and not necessarily in a good way: “Cibola Burn” feels like it ends in the middle of a sentence, trailing off with a few platitudes and hints at plot twists (Avasarala lost! The asteroid falls! Bobbie’s boy toy leaves! Holden… is starting to feel old!), rather than offering anything meaningful to the journey that preceded it. The Expanse continues to be the most engaging science fiction series on television – but like the fusion shutdowns Naomi spends two episodes trying to solve on the Roci, the many careening plots, characters, and ideas of season four are mostly left suspended, kept isolated by invisible forces until it’s too late for any of it to matter.

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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The Boys Season 2 Episode 3 Review: “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men”

The Boys’ marks an improvement and pays big dividends in an explosive, violently revealing hour.

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The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

Half bottle episode and half coming out party, “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” is a sneaky little showcase for The Boys, and just how big its world’s suddenly gotten in season two. Though ostensibly an episode designed around two events – the boys getting stuck on the boat, and Stormfront revealing her inner racist sociopath – “Over the Hill” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion. With a nimble script and a game group of performers, The Boys‘ second season is turning out to be a distinct pleasure – albeit one heading down a gruesome, dark path I sure hope it’s capable of navigating.

“Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion.

It does take a little while for “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” to get going; beginning three miles offshore with The Boys and the reunited super-siblings, the first quarter feels like it’s simply restating the stakes. It’s a nimble trick, though; led by Kimiko and Kenji, The Boys begins to feel like it is approaching a true moral quandary for the group. Which door descending into hell will they choose?

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

While The Boys often likes to posture its presenting characters with complex dilemmas, the show’s unnerving nihilism often upends any sort of nuance it looks for in its debates around “necessary” violence. Here, Kimiko’s presence throws a fascinating wrench into the proceedings; with most of the group’s members clinging to whatever mirage of family they have left (save for Hughie, who has… forgotten his dad exists?), even Butcher can’t deny having conflicting feelings about what to do with Kenji, and the deal that’s been offered to him if he turns him in.

Elsewhere, “Over the Hill” throws the brazen personalities of The Seven into their own little blenders, as Stormfront begins to sow discord through Vought, and abuse her powers to casually murder a lot of people – nearly all of them minorities, in a way that feels like an explosion of character, rather than an unpeeling of some complicated identity. Stormfront simply doesn’t give a fuck; and with her supernatural ability to manipulate feminist views (her speech to the reporters is magnificent, both in how it develops Stormfront’s character and nods to the simplistic ways in which the evilest people in society disguise themselves among the “good”).

While she’s kicking up tornadoes and electrocuting everyone that gets in her way, characters like The Deep and Homelander continue to benefit from the much-improved writing of season two. The show is still struggling to make Becca something more than the Ultimate Mother Protector trope, but Homelander’s warped sense of responsibility to his son is interesting, surely a bad sign for the upbringing of this world’s Superboy (will he also don a cool leather jacket and weird cyberpunk sunglasses? Who knows!). It’s clearly not going well; even he seems to recognize the danger in bringing his son’s powers to the surface, as its the first time in his life he’s facing a challenge as the world’s strongest hero (that is, until Stormfront doubles that total later in the episode, further frustrating Homelander’s attempts to hold domain over everything in his grasp).

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

It’s not going well for The Deep, either, as his slow descent into cult life is bringing his desperation for acceptance further to the surface. Like with Homelander’s stories, I wish The Deep’s story was a little tighter and more thoughtful (some of the body image stuff seems to be treated trivially, in a way that borders on insensitive and uninformed for the sake of easy jokes), but there’s no denying his character is infinitely more interesting this season, a test case for what a superhero trying to learn their own limits would struggle with. The Deep works best as a pathetic character, but not when it’s a pathetic character The Boys just kick around with bad punchlines; when he’s treated as a byproduct of a deeply flawed human being trying to find a path to good intentions, his fumbles and weak-minded rhetoric is much more amusing – and at times, the tiniest bit empathic (his sadness over Billy’s, well, butchering of his whale buddy was such an earnest, raw and twistedly funny moment).

The Boys has needed to accelerate its internal stakes for a while; the introduction of “super terrorists” to the world by Homelander, and Compound V’s reveal to the public might make the show’s world feel a bit smaller than intended – I think a lot about the “big” fight scenes at the end of Arrow‘s third season, where the ‘entire city’ is fighting, but there’s never more than six people around – The Boys does that on a narrative level sometimes. But as the stories of the show dig a little deeper into its characters – Maeve’s disillusionment, Homelander’s failure to emulate paternal behavior, A-Train’s desperation, it’s beginning to feel like the writers have a deeper understanding of its characters and world, and how to wield its inherent sadistic cynicism to more interesting ends. “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” benefits massively from that, setting up a number of intriguing dominoes for the back half of season two to knock over (in bloody fashion).

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Look, I’m bummed how the Kenji character played out; he was such an interesting character, an examination of everything horrible about what power and war can do to a human being. It’s sad to see The Boys dispose of such an intriguing presence, especially as its a death of a minority character in service of mostly white-related stories – however, with such a hateful, nasty character like Stormfront waiting in the wings, it is easy to see how the writers found their way down that path. (like, she could’ve killed Black Noir and this show would’ve literally lost nothing… just sayin’).
  • Can A-Train just collapse or whatever, so we can get this storyline moving? We’ve been doing this since the second episode!
  • Why haven’t we seen any reaction to Becca seeing Butcher in person at the end of season one? She hasn’t mentioned it or even had a longing look off-screen to violin music.
  • Man, I’m so glad they cast Aya Cash as Stormfront.
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The Best Golden Girl is Sophia Petrillo

Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won.

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Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

A seemingly harmless little old lady with curly white hair, oversized glasses, and an innate ability to tell a great story shows up on her daughter’s doorstep when the retirement home she was put in by said daughter burns down. With a simple, “Hi there,” the world meets Sophia Petrillo. For seven years on NBC’s The Golden Girlsa show about the senior set—Sophia lived with her intelligent and extremely sarcastic divorced daughter Dorothy Zbornak and her two roommates, sexy, eternally horny southern belle Blanche Devereaux and sweet but dim-witted Minnesotan Rose Nylund. Each is memorable in their own way, but it’s Sophia, “feisty, zesty, and full of old-world charm,” that stands out the most.

When TV was full of generic, sweet grandma types, Sophia was anything but. Sure, she looked the part with her bifocals, pearls, and now iconic straw and bamboo-beaded handbag, but Sophia was always trying to make a quick buck. She conned Rose into going into a sandwich-making business that pit them against the mob, faked being paralyzed to try and collect insurance, and constantly “borrowed” money from Dorothy’s purse. Instead of helping Dorothy, Blanche and Rose get out of jail when they are mistaken for hookers (don’t ask, just Youtube it). She stole their tickets to go to a party and meet Burt Reynolds. She also stole Rose’s car, worked at a fast-food restaurant, and won a marathon. Not bad for a woman in her eighties. Sophia had a sharp wit and an acerbic tongue, blaming her stroke for leaving her without the ability to self-censor. She was always ready with a zinger or a comeback, some of which she saved for her very own daughter.

Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

Sophia Petrillo is the Secret Star of The Golden Girls

That’s not to say she’s all schemes and insults. Beneath her tough exterior is a kind woman with a big heart who loves her family and friends. Viewers don’t often get to see her softer side, which makes the moments they do seem that much more special. One of the best Sophia episodes showed her reaction to the death of her son, Phil. She put up a wall of anger which Rose was finally able to break down in the final moments of the episode, revealing Sophia’s true feelings of guilt over Phil’s cross-dressing as she bursts into tears. Another favourite was when Dorothy expressed concern about her mother not doing enough with her days. We then get to see exactly what she gets up to sticking up for her friend and causing a scene at the grocery store while claiming to represent a fictional senior citizens union, volunteering at a sick kids hospital and later, conducting a senior citizens jazz band. Meanwhile, Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche do next to nothing except sit around and eat. When she’s asked what she did all day upon her return, she simply says she bought a nectarine, and Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche are none the wiser.

But if Sophia has one claim to fame, it is her colorful old-world tales about Sicily, which often as not, contain a pearl of wisdom or embellishment of some kind. We would have loved to have known her during her “picatta period (a wedge of lemon and a smart answer for everything),” when she was the most beautiful girl at a resort and all the men fought over her (so beautiful, in fact, that she had “a butt you could bounce a quarter off of”). She was also once painted by Picasso and was best friends with Mama Celeste. But I digress. Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won. Her hunches were never wrong, and rarely, if ever did she meet her match. Sophia was, in short, a one-woman show. And thanks to re-runs and fan appreciation, that show will never be gone.

  • Dasilva

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published under our old brand, Sound On Sight.

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30 Years Later: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

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30 Years Later: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
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