Spoiler Warning: This review of The Expanse Season 5 will mention events in previous seasons–if you’re new to the show, this is not the article to read. This review will steer clear of spoilers for the fifth season. Weekly recaps will begin on December 16th, where spoilers will be discussed.

When we last left the characters of The Expanse, the chess pieces were moving around rapidly: Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) was sending out a request to an old ally to find her son, Filip Inaros (Jasai Chase Owens); Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) had been kicked out of the Secretary-General position in the United Nations; James Holden (Steven Strait) was learning more about the protomolecule and those who created it; Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) had discovered a nefarious plot involving Martian stealth tech and the Belters; Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander) had sent asteroids hurtling towards Earth; and Amos Burton (Wes Chatham) was beating the hell out of Adolphus Murtry (Burn Gorman).

The fifth season picks up half a year after the fourth season ended, which gives even more time to move pieces on this show’s chessboard. Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar, who is leaving after this season following sexual misconduct allegations) is headed to Mars, and Amos is heading towards Earth. And because The Expanse honors science to an extent, those asteroids are still making their way to Earth, too.

The Expanse gets contemplative in its fifth season–about the nature of family, survival, and the politics of radicalization. Okay, maybe that last one is a little different from the first two. It’s a theme that’s been woven throughout the show, especially in regard to the Belters. That theme has also been used to explore the moral decline of Earthers and Martians, too.

When I reviewed the fourth season last year, I was mostly disappointed–it was a departure from the usual outer space and highly political adventures of The Expanse and created plots for characters like Chrisjen out of whole cloth, with that plot, in particular, being not great (although Aghdashloo was amazing as always). It was still a gorgeous show, and still is–but I have to admit I approached this season with a lot more excitement since the trailer seemed to promise a return to space.

The Expanse gets a great deal more stakes this season, with Marco’s asteroid plot coming into focus, and Naomi’s search for her son getting more exposure. There’s also the last sample of protomolecule, held by the Belters, rearing its ugly head. No one’s entirely happy at the start of this season, but then again, is anyone ever entirely happy on this show?

If you want a gritty sci-fi space show, The Expanse is still your best bet. Really, truly. It just has it all–mostly realistic physics, interesting politics, a diverse and excellent cast, well-plotted story, and character arcs–but I still saw the same flaws that I expressed in my fourth season review. Namely, that The Expanse needs a Big Bad who’s more than a monologuing polemicist (Marco) or possibly evil aliens (that’s still vague). But that’s an increasingly minor complaint for me since it’s clear that The Expanse is moving away from the political intrigue of the first two seasons or so.

That’s okay. The show is still good and compelling, and now that it’s releasing on a weekly basis (the first three episodes will drop December 16th, then weekly after that), you’ll likely be on the edge of your seat for the entire season. The Expanse is returning to its original airing model on SyFy, and I do think that’s a good thing. While it’s a bingeable thing, there’s a certain amount of suspense written into the ending of each episode that makes it fun to watch for the first-time week to week.

The Expanse premieres on Amazon Prime December 16, 2020 with three initial episodes, with weekly episodes airing after this. Nine episodes out of ten were provided for review.

Check out our more detailed episode-by-episode recaps of The Expanse Season 5 starting December 16th.