By Carolyn Hinds
For the last three seasons, fans of The Expanse have gotten to know the crew of the infamous Rocinante and watched them change from strangers forced into being together due to unforeseen — and traumatic — circumstances, to a close-knit team and family. For three seasons we’ve watched them have each other’s backs when threatened, and be encouraging in moments of doubt and insecurities, and Season 4 is no different.
Following the events of the Season 3 finale, where the Ring gates opened up more than 1,300 new worlds for humanity to explore, a mass exodus begins for people to stake their claim for their piece of the rock, as we Bajans would say. With a whole new universe opening up for the characters, audiences have the opportunity to see how the things Naomi (Dominique Tipper), Alex (Cas Anvar), Holden (Steven Strait), and Amos (Wes Chatham) have faced will inform their actions in this new season.
As Dominique Tipper, who plays engineer Naomi Nagata points out, the actors and their characters are allowed to push themselves to learn just how much they’ve grown.
“We have a lot of new cast mates, and I think they play into the characters we know and love, [as well as] arcs in a way that just kind of further enriches and peels back layers while introducing some new blood to the show. There’s some beautiful performances this season and they’re all so awesome,” Tipper tells The Beat during a pre-Season 4 press junket.
She continues, “We got to do a lot of stuff with Lucia who is played by Rosa Gilmore, who was just incredible. [S]he does some beautiful work. Me and her have a scene in episode five that I’m really excited about, when she tries to commit suicide. So yeah, just some beautiful work and beautiful new things for people that are new to the show and people who are familiar with it.”
Cas Anvar agrees. He says, “What I loved about the characters of Season 4 — the guest characters — they were so provocative. I think it’s similar to what Dom said, but they provoked some very, very compelling storylines from the main cast with like Murtry, played by Burn Gorman who’s amazing and nothing like his character. He’s the sweetest guy in the world, but Burn poked both Amos and Holden into kind of, like, protection mode.”
He continues, “And Rosa’s character Lucia who I won’t say provoked, but enabled and brought out Naomi and Alex… Lucia brought a lot out of us. Each of these guest stars, our guest leads brought a lot out of the main leads.”
Though New Terra itself poses a massive threat to the crew and it is interesting to see how they handle each new challenge that arises, it’s the new characters that allow us to continue to learn more about the core characters’ pasts — Naomi and Alex, in particular. We seem them share painful memories with virtual strangers, whom despite the odds they end up having more in common with than could be thought possible.
As Tipper explains, this is something that Naomi didn’t know she needed when she meets Lucia.
“I think what that demonstrates is the fact that Lucia is a Belter, and one of the first female Belters…obviously there’s Drummer (Cara Gee), but I think Drummer is a lot more… They have a different relationship, but I think this is one of the first Belter women [Naomi has] had a moment [with] where she’s seen her own journey reflected, and is able to provide an empathetic response and like a form of advice for that,” Tipper says. “I think there’s a relatability there that she hasn’t really been able to have with someone before. And I also think it shows where she is getting closer to her own journey, in dealing with her past. So, I think Lucia is a bit of a key in the turning of that lock for Naomi. So, we’re starting to undo her past a bit.”
Additionally, Lucia’s daughter Felcia (Kyla Maderia) plays a part in Naomi being more open with others, including her core family. Felcia, inspired by Naomi’s exploits with Holden, Alex and Amos, wants to become an engineer, but Felcia wants Naomi to stay on New Terra to help build a new Belter community. In Felcia, Naomi sees the young girl she once was, who wanted to experience life beyond The Belt, and what others expected and demanded of her.
“I think that Naomi really leans into it, and it’s a theme in Season 4 where Naomi lets people make their own decisions about their lives, and for Felcia… I think Naomi just assumes everyone would be on board with her doing what she wants to do, so it’s only when she’s confronted with Lucia wanting to commit suicide, that she maybe sees why she’s so against Felcia wanting to do what she wants to do? So I think it’s kind of twofold in the way that it helps [Naomi] work through her relationship, and kind of what’s in the block of her and Lucia connecting, that then hopefully she’s also able to help Felcia live out her dreams in a way,” Tipper says.
Entering new environments can be mentally and emotionally exhausting; add in the environment being one that’s extremely hostile, and most get pushed to their limits, but for Naomi, this is all compounded by her body not being physically able to cope and adjust to the gravitational pull of a planet. As a people, Belters have always been known for being tough, and when Naomi suddenly finds herself faced with physical challenges, she doesn’t want to admit that she can’t comfortably do what she sees the other Belters around her doing.
“Naomi’s very proud and pride is a big part of it. I don’t think she wants to admit defeat at all because she doesn’t do that,” Tipper says. “We have seen Naomi save the planet [Earth] from her own brain, her own smarts, so to be faced with something that she can’t logically fix or overcome, I just think it’s a bit alien and a bit beyond her realm of understanding. I think it’s her pride, I think it’s her Belter identity, I think it’s a fact that she feels a responsibility as the only Belter in the Roci crew to be on the ground. Like, I think she wants to be there.”
Tipper continues, “I think it’s also about her relationship with Holden, and giving them an option in an atmosphere that isn’t Earth because she would never be caught dead on Earth, so for here there is like, ‘Let’s see if this is an option for us. If you did want to see a sky, we could come here.’ I think there’s a lot of things riding on this for her and to not try, or not carry on, for her, is not an option.”
Despite covering a variety of genres, the writing team on The Expanse has always done an impressive job of combining them, while still giving equal weight to the separate stories. An example of this is Bobbie’s (Frankie Adams) and Alex’s shared connection to the Martian Navy. For both of them their identity as Martians is tied to their identity as fighters, but as Alex is on New Terra he has no idea that the one thing has always been sure of, may not be as stable as he believes, as Bobbie is finding out now that the military is being slowly dismantled on Mars, which he
“The entire Season 4 of Bobbie’s storyline paints the Mars picture. You get to see where Alex came from, you get to see Bobbie being Martian military,” Anvar says. “You get to see Alex’s background through her story, and maybe get to understand a little bit his character, and it’s prepping…you know a great playing field for the future with what’s going on in Mars.”
He continues, “It’s one of the pillars of his identity, it’s Mars, and the military and being a Martian and having purpose… Those things are rock solid for him. Even though he doesn’t participate in it — he’s not like a patriot the way Bobbie is — it’s still something he’s proud of. It’s still something that he identifies with, and when he eventually finds out what’s happening there, it will have a very profound, resonating effect on him.”
In the past, sci-fi as a genre had been seen as something only “nerds” liked, and while there is nothing wrong with being a nerd or nerdy — I consider myself to be both — it was usually used in either a negative manner to dismiss people’s opinions in general, or seen as something that belonged to only a specific sect of people, namely White men and boys. It can’t be denied that for years, sci-fi has been viewed as something that only they could enjoy, as films and TV were made and marketed towards them specifically.
With the switch to Amazon Prime Video, The Expanse will become more accessible to viewers across the globe, including those who may not be sci-fi fans. When asked if they think the misconceptions people may have about science fiction has kept them from watching The Expanse, Anvar agrees this may be the case.
“There’s a large portion of the population that, as soon as they see something that is not familiar, they turn off,” he says. “And it’s unfortunate, because the whole point of science fiction [is that it’s] an allegory to our humanity and it’s being done slightly unfamiliar so that no fingers are being pointed. Then the audience is free to open up and listen, and get these images, these themes and everything and absorb them, and possibly learn from them in a way that doesn’t make them feel confronted. Star Trek did that, Azimov did that, all the great science fiction did that. I think people get turned off when they don’t see something visually familiar, and I can’t speak to why that is. Maybe it’s fear [that] maybe they won’t understand it. Technology seems to put people off.”
Despite shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine being examples of what racial and gender diversity looks like in science fiction on screen, there was an obvious absence in the years following their conclusions. But with The Expanse and other shows like it — Killjoys, Star Trek: Discovery — fans of color are finding hope and inspiration at seeing characters who look like them, and share similar stories, again.
See Dominique Tipper and Cas Anvar in The Expanse Season 4, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. You can also see Dominique Tipper and Cas Anvar in our video interview with the cast, below.