The Expanse has been a blessing to grimdark science fiction fans the same way Game of Thrones was to fantasy. Very few shows have the budget and storytelling enough to realize a dark sweaty world that combines a cyberpunk dystopia, space opera, body horror, plus extremely optimistic heroes into one delightfully oddball package. The show is notably darker than the books in many places and benefits from this. The exception being that they dialed back some of the destruction to Earth’s biosphere in the previous season.
Strange Dogs opens with scenes alluding to the Laconia plot from the books, which is an interesting choice by the developers since it has been stated that this truncated six-episode season was going to be the last of the Expanse series. Hope springs eternal? Non-book readers should simply know it is a sign that the settlement of extra-solar planets is going on while the rest of humanity in Sol is falling apart.
The focus for the remainder of the season is undoubtedly going to be on the conflict between Marcos Inaros (Keon Alexander) and his Free Navy vs. The Earth as well as Rocinate crew. Marcos is full of Che Guevara energy, or at least the popular myth version, with charisma as well as revolutionary spirit but absolutely no plans beyond ruthlessly destroying the existing system. Indeed, when his advisors point out that the Belt is food insecure without Earth, he barely acknowledges it.
Marcos is living proof the most dangerous villains aren’t necessarily the most competent as his continued protracted war against Earth threatens to result in human extinction. After all, if Earth doesn’t export food then where are they going to get it? The biggest Belt food production facility was destroyed in one of the earlier seasons. It is an interesting contrast to previous villains like Jules-Pierre Mao, who were geniuses driven by grand ideas.
In Strange Dogs we also see what a petty little man Marcos has turned his son, Filip (Jasai Chase Owens), into. Filip is the second-in-command of the Free Navy but he spends all of his time screwing groupies and hanging around with his one friend while being frustrated when the occasional Belter reveals their deep disgust for the murders he’s committed. He’s close to irredeemable at this point and I’m not sure any heel-face turn he makes will feel earned by the end.
The sad fact is our populist demagogue, and his son are winning because it’s much easier to destroy a system than replace them. Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is frustrated and angry at the complete lack of progress against the Free Navy. Worse, millions continue to die as the Earth’s biosphere is damaged to the point of collapse. Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) also hates playing glorified Secret Service when Earth’s public is ready to surrender.
Even The Rocinante crew is at its wits end. The death of Alex, unique to the show, has changed the dynamic and they’re exhausted chasing down every possible lead they can. Clarissa Mao (Nadine Nicole) is a wonderful addition to the cast and yet is utterly despised by Naomi Nagato (Dominque Tripper) with Holden barely tolerating her. Amos is the only one who actually likes her and she’s still put off by the fact, well, Amos is a psychopath. The nicest most lovable psychopath in fiction but still one. Drummer (Cara Gee) also provides some good bits as she shows the efforts of the few remaining Belters fighting against Inaros’ tyranny.
Strange Dogs is mostly a setup episode, but it contains a lot of excellent character bits. Inaros is one of my most love-to-hate villains in fiction so seeing him brought low will be great. Until then, this is a strong start to the series’ final season.
You can check out our review of season 5, here.