[Ed. note: This article contains major spoilers for The Expanse books and the end of the TV show.]
The American physicist and thinker Thomas Kuhn first coined the phrase “paradigm shift” in his 1962 ebook The Construction of Scientific Revolutions to explain the purpose at which scientists are confronted by a phenomenon that proves their earlier understanding of how the universe labored was flawed. Whereas Kuhn was describing transitions just like the transfer from Newtonian mechanics to quantum mechanics, the time period turned a helpful method to speak about different main modifications in the way in which people noticed the world, from the primary photographs of Earth from area jumpstarting the environmentalist motion, to the way in which COVID-19 modified how individuals view distant work.
One of the best science fiction isn’t about predicting the long run however commenting on the current, and The Expanse finally mirrored on all of the methods humanity has handled latest paradigm shifts. All through the collection’ six seasons unfold throughout Syfy and Amazon, the origins, talents, and motives of the present’s aliens remained pretty cryptic.
However Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who wrote the series of science fiction novels the show is based on beneath the pen title James S. A. Corey, appeared to largely be keen on how people dealt with the invention of extraterrestrial know-how. These extraterrestrials have been by no means actually characters a lot as an exterior stress that pushed the present’s varied characters and political factions to rapidly adapt.
Plots involving the protomolecule, a kind of self-sustaining probe despatched to Earth’s photo voltaic system by an extended extinct alien civilization, typically felt at odds with the very recognizably human tales that the writers of The Expanse have been in any other case telling. Viewers initially tuning in to the tales of the properly which means and scrappy crew of the Rocinante, or the sci-fi noir of Detective Josephus Miller investigating a disappearance that seems to be on the coronary heart of a conspiracy, might need been understandably baffled because the stakes ramped as much as embrace an asteroid gaining sentience and heading on a collision course to Earth.
That divide was maybe by no means as keenly felt than within the series’ sixth and final season, which wraps on Friday, the place many of the alien weirdness was going down in a wholly completely different photo voltaic system from the primary motion, on a Martian colony referred to as Laconia. Contemplating the truncated size of the ultimate season, and that the interludes on Laconia had little payoff past setting up a theoretical spinoff, it’s simple to really feel like time spent there was changing extra moments of candy bonding on the Rocinante, or tense standoffs between the United Nations fleet and the Belter Free Navy. As an alternative, treasured display screen time was devoted to worrying about how some dog-like aliens have been in a position to resurrect individuals.
But the brilliance of The Expanse was in putting virtually the entire company within the hands of its human characters. The creators of the protomolecule had the pretty benevolent want to discover the galaxy and share it with different lifeforms, however their work turned the middle of quite a few all-too-recognizable conflicts.
The protomolecule kills or transforms most individuals who come into contact with it, however it has no actual malice. Actually, the overwhelming majority of the hurt it causes is instantly orchestrated by people seeking to perceive and weaponize it. In season 1, the ruthless tycoon Jules-Pierre Mao conspired to kill tons of of 1000’s of Belters as a part of an experiment designed to unleash the protomolecule’s energy, and labored with Mars to create human-protomolecule hybrids to make use of as tremendous troopers.
And so, the protomolecule set off a brand new arms race, with varied factions scheming to make sure they weren’t left behind (or on the mercy of the protomolecule). Rocinante crew member Naomi Nagata secretly gave a pattern to Belter chief Fred Johnson, solely to have it fall into the arms of Marcos Inaros after his loyalists assassinated Johnson. Inaros in flip bought it to the rogue Martian admiral Winston Duarte in trade for the know-how Inaros used to assault Earth.
Whereas its origins could also be extraordinary, the paradigm shift of the protomolecule has extra in frequent with the early days of nuclear physics than extra standard first contact tales. Because the collection progressed, the writers successfully retread post-Chilly Conflict human historical past with the protomolecule serving as the first catalyst for change. Particular person leaders actually had big influences on how the individuals they represented responded to the all-too-interesting occasions they have been residing in. However the main battle at all times boiled all the way down to how properly a faction might react to radical modifications on the earth order they have been used to.
The Martian marine Bobbie Draper represented profitable, if turbulent, adaptation to the occasions. She was betrayed by her personal individuals, the only survivor of an assault by a protomolecule-human hybrid and wound up defecting to the United Nations to uncover the conspiracy. She was cleared of treason however then received in hassle once more when the primary Ring appeared and she or he tried to diffuse the scenario there however her personal troopers disobeyed her orders to face down.
Mars, which constructed its civilization on noble sacrifice for a terraforming mission that may profit future generations, all however collapsed when the Ring gates gave its residents the possibility to right away stay free beneath blue skies. Bobbie struggled to seek out new objective, at first resorting to legal exercise, however then selecting a special path after seeing the hurt her actions brought about. She turned a logo for cooperation between previous enemies as she allied herself with United Nations Secretary Basic Chrisjen Avasarala, and even helped push Avasarala to rethink her beforehand monstrous remedy of Belters.
Duarte expresses lots of the identical feelings Bobby went via in a monologue that serves as some of the highly effective moments of season 6. He mourns the dream that he and his individuals misplaced whereas sharing his ambitions for Laconia as a brand new power within the galaxy. “I wanted one thing to make it extra than simply loss of life,” he stated. “I wanted to make it a sacrifice.”
Finally, his place of energy helps sidestep a lot of the awkwardness Bobbie skilled: Whereas all of The Expanse’s protagonists are targeted on stopping Inaros, the Belter chief is simply being utilized by Duarte as a distraction so he’s unhindered in his efforts to study extra in regards to the know-how of the Ring Builders and use it to make himself the self-appointed protector of the newly expanded galaxy. The breakthrough he reached is just hinted at inside the finale, however within the books Duarte turns Laconia into a brand new empire.
The space between what’s taking place on Laconia and the combat in opposition to the Free Navy could seem nice, however the two plots are tightly related. Duarte is a symptom of the collapse of Mars that Earth initially considered as a victory, their long-time rivals demoralized and fragmented, and he’s empowered by the determined Belters utilizing violence to get the Inners to take them severely. The truth that virtually everybody within the present is oblivious to what’s taking place on Laconia underscores one of many defining themes of the present: humanity is horrible at predicting the subsequent risk as a result of we have now such a tough time wanting past our present paradigms.
These few individuals who can see what’s on the horizon should battle to make themselves heard, typically combating entrenched pursuits. Holden has a novel connection to the protomolecule, which allowed it to speak with him via a manifestation of his useless buddy Miller. He understands its unimaginable energy and at all times pushes humanity to work collectively to take care of the hazard it poses, continuously interesting to the higher natures of the extra morally ambiguous individuals round him.
That connection allowed him to know that one thing was turning into angered by humanity traversing the galaxy. In season 6, that power took motion by destroying ships. Just like the Ring Builders, the brand new risk is just not one thing that individuals can discuss to. It’s extra akin to local weather change, a horrible facet impact to the fast growth of human progress that may solely actually be grappled with via collective motion — the type of cooperation Holden urges all through the collection, exasperating the powers that be even when he does earn credibility by repeatedly saving the world.
The Expanse might have used extra time to present its wealthy characters the sendoffs they deserved and discover the ways in which the Ring gates and scientific developments made with the protomolecule have been altering the world. But the ultimate season stayed near its central themes by displaying that dramatic change is inevitable, however humanity ought to meet new improvements and disaster with collaboration to make the very best selections potential. The writers ended the present on an optimistic observe, with the creation of a brand new governing board for Ring journey fashioned with the assistance of Holden and the entire factions that began the collection at one another’s throats. The transportation union not solely permits for protected exploration of the galaxy however lastly locations the perpetually oppressed denizens of the Asteroid Belt on the identical degree because the residents of Earth and Mars. A brand new risk is coming from past the Ring, however the crew of the Rocinante as soon as once more saved the day and earned themselves the standing of legends not solely inside the present’s universe however inside science fiction canon.
Independence Day, Watchmen, and Star Trek imagined that making first contact with aliens — whether or not violent or peaceable — would get humanity to place apart our variations and work in the direction of one thing larger than ourselves. Abraham and Franck took a much less simplistic view however one that also feels radically optimistic at a time when factionalism appears extra pronounced than ever. With a crew representing individuals from Earth, Mars, and the Belt who’ve repeatedly saved humanity by performing as a voice of purpose, the Rocinante might really feel as utopian as the usS. Enterprise.
The way forward for The Expanse could be very recognizable in a world when area exploration is being dominated by billionaires who think about Earth will finally be a spot individuals can just visit on vacation. If we do take to the celebrities en masse, we are going to doubtless convey with it all of the worst features of capitalism and nationalism imagined in The Expanse. But, if we’re fortunate, we’ll additionally heed the present’s message by sometimes pausing to query our assumptions about the way in which the world works and seeing if we are able to truly construct one thing higher.
The Expanse is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.