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The Expanse: Cibola Burn

"Well, properly applied, anything can be a weapon."

It's the season finale so time for some reflection on season four.

When I first watched this season I absolutely loved it, but I suspect that was just euphoria at there actually being a season four for me to watch. When I sat down to watch it again for these reviews I found myself less enthusiastic about it. I still think this was a good season of The Expanse, but what stops it from becoming a truly great season is the fact that it is essentially just one gigantic filler episode.

Season four is basically ten episodes of the writers keeping the core characters (the Roci crew) busy with an ultimately disposable mission while the non-Roci characters (Avasarala, Bobbie and Drummer) run around setting up the storylines for season five. While the various b-plots could be slow and tedious at times (the Avasarala one especially), they still felt more essential than what was happening on Ilus, which ultimately didn't really add up to much except providing another farewell for Miller, and plant a single seed for future seasons (I doubt Okoye is as unaffected by her fall through the Eye as she appears).

Since all the action happened in the previous episode, 'Cibola Burn' is a more subdued finale than we're used to. There were a couple of action beats with Bobbie and Ashford, but nothing equal to what we got in 'Leviathan Wakes' or 'Caliban's War'. In truth, it is less of a finale and more like a selection of epilogues that wrap up all the season's other plotlines while setting the stage for what comes next.


This episode wastes no time resolving the previous episode's cliffhanger. In fact, it resolves it so quickly I can't help but wonder if this and 'Saeculum' would've worked better as one supersized finale. With the day saved there really wasn't much for the Roci crew do in this episode except say their goodbyes, give Lucia a free pass for her terrorism because she's nice and didn't really mean to hurt anyone, get rid of the blue goo on the ship, have a sort of funeral for Miller, leave Amos to beat the shit out of Murtry, and send off a report to Avasarala, although I'm betting she wishes they waited to do that until after the polls had closed.


The resolution to the Ilus crisis has tipped the scales in Nancy Gao's favour. She's now Secretary General, but she's at least being generous in victory, offering her defeated opponent a job on Luna.  Avasarala accepts, but Arjun makes it clear he isn't going with her. So in one day Avasarala has lost her job and her husband. I'd like to say things couldn't possibly get any worse for her, but I've seen how this episode ends and know they are about to get a whole lot worse.


At least Avasarala will have someone to talk to in her exile on Luna. Bobbie has changed her mind about working for her after now that she knows there's something rotten going on in the Martian military. Someone high up is bank rolling Marco, supplying him with advance military tech and then killing off the middle men, like Esai, to cover their tracks. Bobbie, being Bobbie, wants to track down those responsible and avenge her fallen comrade. Once a marine, always a marine, eh? Although, I doubt she'll be able to get very far with a former world leader as her sponsor.


Dammit, Expanse, how did you get me to care so much about Klaes Ashford? I knew he probably wasn't going to make it out of this season alive, but I'm still gutted that he's now gone and we're never get to see him and Drummer open up that bottle. He certainly faced his death lik wa bosmang and even managed to get one over on Marco by recording their conversation and sending it off (likely to Drummer, who was disappointingly MIA in this episode). But even in those final moments he was still unable to fully conceive of the horrific scale of Marco's plan, because before now it was inconceivable.

I finished reading the first book recently and it makes repeated references to how dependent Mars and the Belt are on Earth for their survival. As the only habitable planet in the solar system it is home to resources you cannot get anywhere else. That's one of reasons Martians were so driven to turn their planet into a garden, so that they could have total independence. So no matter how much the Belters and Martians might hate Earth, there was never any fear they would attack it because they still needed Earth.

But, as we've been told so often, the Ring has changed everything.

Thanks to the Ring, Earth is no longer unique or essential. With 1300 habitable systems out there, Earth has become irrelevant. The people of Earth might not realise that yet, they're too busy empire building, but Marco does. He sees how vulnerable it is and with the stealth tech his Martian backers have given him he's planning what will likely be the single biggest game changer the show has done. This season may not have been one of the show's very best, but it has still left me giddy with excitement (not to mention a little dread) for what comes next.

Notes and Quotes

--Nadine Nicole (Clarissa), Keon Alexander (Marco), and Jasai Chase Owens (Filip) have all been promoted to regulars for season five.

--Good casting on Filip. He really does look like he could be Naomi and Marco's son.

--As with all season finales, the title comes from the book it was based on. CĂ­bola comes from the Seven Cities of Cibola, a 16th century myth that there were seven cities of gold located across the desert, hundreds of miles to the north of New Spain (now Mexico).

--The shootout at the Martian dock was meant to look like it was all done in a single take, but there were a few moments where I think they sneaked some cuts in. Also, I'm almost certain that this was Filip:

--So is this some Martian military version of Facebook that Bobbie still has access to? And is this Winston Duarte the one supplying Marco? I doubt they'd put that in there if it wasn't important.

Avasarala: "As for policy, and the direction you're taking Earth and all her peoples: Well, we disagree. One of us is wrong. I think it's you, but I hope it's me!"

Holden: "How bad is it?"
Amos: "I'm a little messed up."

Marco: "This has always been a problem for our kind. Even our dreams are small."

Holden: "Last thing I said to Miller was that rain doesn't taste like anything. Shitty last words to a friend."

Avasarala: "Bobbie, your timing sucks."

Three out of four Martian military versions of Facebook.

Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig


  1. Mark, congratulations on finishing season four! I've been trying really hard not to read your reviews yet because I'm currently in the middle of season three, but soon. :)

  2. Mark, I agree with your assessment of season 4. It didn't match the (admittedly very high) standard of seasons 2 and 3. And you hit on one of the big reasons: the stakes are higher on the secondary stories (Drummer & Ashford, eventually connecting to Bobbie) than on Ilus. We're used to the fate of human space hinging on our primary characters, the crew of the Rocinante. The Ilus plot wasn't helped by the fact that the characters they added there weren't all that compelling.

    Looking forward to you going back and reviewing the earlier seasons.

  3. Mark, thank you so much for reviewing season four. I had stopped with season one, and because you were reviewing it, I felt compelled to go back and give the series another try. And now I love it. While the second and third seasons were better, I still enjoyed this fourth season a lot. The Expanse is definitely my kind of show, "hard" sci-fi geek that I am.

    Even though I could feel it coming, Ashford's death made me say "Oh, nooooo" out loud.

  4. And season 5 has begun. I've devoured the first 3 episodes already.


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