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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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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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Wrestling

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches: The First-Ever Tag Team Tables Match

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First-Ever Tag Team Tables Match

Royal Rumble 2000

The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz

The 2000 edition of the Royal Rumble, which was held at the Madison Square Garden on January 23, is without a doubt one of the best WWE pay-per-views ever! It’s an absolute classic filled with memorable moments such as The Rock’s unforgettable Royal Rumble win and the street fight between Triple H and Cactus Jack. It also featured the first-ever Tag Team Championship Tables Match between two of the most significant tag teams a the time.

The WWF WWE has always had some truly amazing tag teams— from The British Bulldogs to The Rockers to The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express— but it was at the turn of the century that the tag team division really started heating up with competitors taking it to a whole new level in jaw-dropping hardcore matches, table matches, ladder matches and of course, TLC matches.

Leading this resurgence were The Hardy Boyz and the recent ECW defectors, The Dudley Boyz and at the 2000 Royal Rumble, the two teams would showcase their stuff in an unforgettable championship match that featured high-flying, no holds barred action.

The First-Ever Tag Team Tables Match

It was the second match of the night and it was a match that would foreshadow the legendary TLC series between The Hardyz, The Dudleyz and fellow tag team competitors Edge and Christian. Taking the opportunity to impress a large pay-per-view audience, the two teams delivered a phenomenal showcase filled with several high-octane stunts and high-risk maneuvers.

In order to win the match, you had to put both members of the opposing team through a table. This meant that fans would be treated to seeing at least three tables smashed before the end of the match. However, these trailblazers wouldn’t settle for just three; by the time the bell rang, at least nine tables had been destroyed.

The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz Royal Rumble 2000

The match only lasted about twelve minutes, but it was an astonishing tag team match no less, and one filled with plenty of highlights including a mid-rope Powerbomb that sent Matt Hardy through a table. At one point, the Hardy Boyz gained the advantage with a double superplex to Bubba Ray and after a devastating chair hit across Bubba’s forehead, Matt and Jeff Hardy simultaneously performed a diving leg drop and a diving splash, sending their opponent through the table.

The match eventually carried onto the entrance as the Dudley Boyz stacked two tables on top of two other tables under a balcony. In a moment that would define what the tag team division would like over the next several years, Jeff Hardy dove off the balcony and delivered a Swanton Bomb to seal the victory.

The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz Royal Rumble Tag Team Championship Tables Match

There are many reasons why wrestling fans remember the Attitude Era as the peak period of the WWE. Not only did it have edgier, controversial storylines, often pushing of the boundaries of what could be shown on national television, but the Attitude Era also featured a plethora of incredible performers, and yes, that includes many legendary tag teams. In the eyes of many wrestling fans, the Attitude Era featured the best tag team matches — and you’d be hard-pressed to find any other era in the WWE that had as much talent in the division.

The match between the Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz at the Royal Rumble not only put both teams on the map, but it set up one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the WWE. It was the first-ever Tag Team Tables match, and in my opinion, it is also one of the most underrated matches of the pay-per-view.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series. Click here to see every entry.

  • Ricky D
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TV

‘Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet’ Levels Up Gaming’s TV Reputation

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Mythic Quest

Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is a faux-documentary series for Apple TV+

From the very start, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet had a bold task ahead of it: take the relatively marginalized medium of gaming and represent it for a mainstream TV audience. Going off the first episode, which received an early screening at PAX South this weekend, the result is something of a mixed success. This Apple TV exclusive suffers some pacing issues and sometimes struggles to rise above the stereotypes of the typical office comedy, but at the same time, it manages to represent a wide view of gaming culture for mainstream media, offering a unique setting that allows it to rise above its shortcomings.

Mythic Quest follows Rob McElhenney as Ian Grimm (perplexingly pronounced Eye-an), the creative director of the world’s most successful MMORPG, the eponymous Mythic Quest. This cultural phenomenon is about to receive its first major DLC pack, and just before launch, the development team breaks down into conflict over one major issue: the inclusion of a shovel.

The lead engineer, Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao) is in support of the shovel’s inclusion as a new game mechanic, while Ian is insistent that it conflicts with his artistic vision. This conflict grows to a massive scale, to the point where it involves the entire game studio by the end of it. Each member of the development team has their own perspective on the matter, and their own personal storylines to go along with it as well.

The first episode of Mythic Quest may only be a half-hour long, but it stuffs tons of subplots into that brief runtime. And with so little time to work with, most of these side stories are left largely undeveloped, with most characters remaining little more than caricatures and stereotypes. The episode rushes from one subplot to another, and although this is likely a symptom of this being the first episode in the series, that doesn’t change that the pacing could have felt more natural.

That all being said, the main appeal of Mythic Quest is its setting of the world of game development, which it aims to legitimize in mainstream media. McElhenney even acknowledged as much himself in a Q and A following the screening, mentioning how gaming is often relegated to the butts of jokes and is rarely taken seriously – except when it can be sued as a political scapegoat. Mythic Quest thus addresses many of the hot topics of the industry, including crunch time, playtesting, artistic differences, toxic content creators, and the tendency of gamers to make penises in their games whenever possible.

It’s these vestiges of gaming culture that help Mythic Quest stand apart from the crowd of typical workplace comedies. It includes jokes based on full-motion video modeling, on faulty character animations, and a running gag about an immature, potty-mouthed streamer, to name a few. It’s a unique setting that appropriately allows for unique humor.

On its own, Mythic Quest is filled with stereotypes. Ian is the pretentious, self-obsessed boss, Poppy is the sensible yet underappreciated one, and so on. Yet it is the setting and the context for these stereotypes that breathe new life into them. Gaming is essentially a new frontier for mainstream comedy, so it’s refreshing to see these old tropes in a new light.

Following the screening, McElhenney stated that Mythic Quest was intended to present the issues facing the games industry in an accessible manner for a popular audience. In that regard, the first episode is already a success. As a show on its own, it suffers from a handful of stereotypes and succumbs to some pacing issues, but hopefully, these can be patched out in the context of the full series. Mythic Quest certainly isn’t perfect, but considering gaming’s poor reputation in previous media, then it’s certainly a level up.

Mythic Quest airs on Apple TV on February 7

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Wrestling

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches: Triple H and Cactus Jack Street Fight

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Royal Rumble 2000 Triple H Street and Cactus Jack Street Fight

Royal Rumble 2000

WWE Championship: Triple H vs. Cactus Jack

The thirteenth annual Royal Rumble gave us one of the best matches in WWE history.

The event took place on January 23, 2000, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was the start of a new decade and the WWE was gearing up to build their next great champ. And this was the match that gave one participant the push he needed to become a heavyweight legend over the next decade and arguably the greatest heel for the entire Attitude Era.

Of course, I’m referring to the Street Fight match between Triple H and Cactus Jack for the WWF WWE Championship.

It was the match the helped Triple H earn everyone’s respect; in fact, in retrospect, it’s clear the whole match was designed as one giant promo in order to give Triple H a believable physical prowess as an ongoing champion contender. And for WWE fans who weren’t familiar with Mick Foley’s earlier hardcore wrestling, the match pretty much certified the man was indeed, truly insane.

Yes, Mankind and Undertaker had already wrestled their legendary Hell in the Cell match two years prior at King of the Ring— and yes, we had already seen plenty of street fights in the WWE— but the WWE Championship match at the 2000 Royal Rumble was a brutal, violent, and extremely bloody affair. By WWE standards, it pushed the boundaries, delivering a level of violence that casual WWE fans weren’t accustomed to seeing.

It was also a match that told an excellent story and had a remarkable buildup leading into the event.

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches: Triple H Street and Cactus Jack

By the summer of ’99, Triple H was finally getting the main event push he deserved thanks to the McMahon-Helmsley Faction, a partnership that benefited from that fact that at the time, Stephanie McMahon had almost full control over the WWE. Great power means great responsibility but for Stephanie McMahon, it meant scheduling unreasonable matches for the wrestlers who were deemed a major threat to her husband. The superstar most affected was none other than, Mick Foley.

Triple H and Mick Foley put on a series of exciting matches in the first year of the new millennium and with this rivalry, came some of the best writing in the history of the WWE. The compelling storyline featured legendary promos, unforgettable drama, and unusual matches designed to wear down Triple H’s main competition. One such match was the “Pink Slip on a Pole Match” between The Rock and Mankind, with the loser forced to leave the WWE. Mankind lost, and thus was fired unceremoniously, only to return two weeks later when the Rock and the rest of the WWE superstars threatened to walk out unless Mick Foley was reinstated. That night, Foley requested a Street Fight for the WWF WWE Championship at Royal Rumble— and on a January 13 episode of SmackDown!, Foley shocked the world when he returned to the ring in his Cactus Jack persona! It wasn’t Mankind set to fight Triple H at the Royal Rumble— instead, it would be the hardcore legend.

WWE Championship: Triple H vs. Cactus Jack

With Mick Foley entering his final year as a full-time professional wrestler, fans were expecting big things from the legend, and the 2000 Royal Rumble Championship match did not disappoint. There have been plenty of Street Fights in World Wrestling Entertainment history, but one would be hard-pressed to find one better than this classic. It was the fifth match of the night— in one of the best Royal Rumble pay-per-view events to date— and by far the most memorable match on the card.  

Royal Rumble Matches: Triple H Street and Cactus Jack Street Fight

Cactus Jack gained the early advantage after repeated punches but it didn’t take long before both men took to the outside the ring using everything in their reach including the ring bell, the stairs, a couple of trash cans and more. The match featured multiple chair shots to the head along with the destruction of both announce tables and at one point, the two men even took the fight into the crowd. But the real turn of the match came earlier when Cactus brought out a 2×4 wrapped in barbed wire, and slammed it across the skull of Triple H, busting his forehead wide open. It was brutal. It was bloody, and for some fans, it was hard to watch.

Royal Rumble Matches: Triple H Street and Cactus Jack Street Fight

Reminiscent of prior a Royal Rumble, Triple H managed to handcuff Cactus Jack and continue to use the steel chair as a weapon, taking advantage of a man who could barely defend himself. Eventually, The Rock made a brief cameo, striking Triple H across the head with a chair, and allowing a police officer enough time to remove Jack’s handcuffs so he could continue to fight. Soon after, Cactus Jack was ready to seal the match but made the mistake of pouring hundreds of thumbtacks onto the ring. In a quick turn of events, Triple H fought back to take control of the match and hit his Pedigree finisher on his opponent, slamming the challenger face-first onto a large pile of thumbtacks and in the process and sealing the victory. The finish was gut-wrenching and graphic but well-scripted given the level of hatred and disdain the Superstars had for each other. Both men took a beating, but in the end, it was Triple H who escaped the victor.

Royal Rumble Matches: Triple H Street and Cactus Jack Street Fight

The brutality of the match is a reminder of the differences between the current WWE and the Attitude Era. Nowadays, the WWE doesn’t allow blood in their matches, never mind the use of barbwire and thumbtacks as weapons to use against your opponents. It was a match of its time; a match that stands the test of time— and one of the greatest matches in Royal Rumble history, fueled by the emotion of the competitors, and an epic storyline that would prove Triple H a legitimate headliner.

On a night filled with memorable moments such as the Tables Match between the Hardy Boyz and the Dudely Boyz, not to mention The Rock’s unforgettable Royal Rumble win, Triple H and Mick Foley ended up stealing the show— but it was far from the latest chapter in their rivalry. With the stage set for another iconic battle, the Hardcore Legend and Triple H would step inside a Hell in the Cell for yet, another epic encounter.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series. Click here to see every entry.

  • Ricky D
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