An old saying holds that all politics is local. In The Expanse, all politics is interstellar. Somehow, they’re kind of the same thing.
The series, which completed its fifth season on Amazon Prime Video in February, is set hundreds of years in the future. Human beings have colonized the solar system and divided into three broad political sects. There’s Earth, an economically stagnated political mess and also the species’ breadbasket; Mars, the elite technological center; and the Asteroid Belt, the working-class locus of resource extraction.
From the beginning, these three groups are in rotating conflict with each other. That conflict intensifies with the discovery of the protomolecule, an alien organism that is both immediately deadly and a warning sign of greater dangers beyond the solar system’s limits.
Eventually, the protomolecule leads to the discovery of a portal to the rest of the galaxy and a slew of inhabitable worlds. There’s a land rush, but the conflict doesn’t disappear; it shifts venues and even increases. All this unfolds with smart plotting, intricate world building, and consistent characterization.
Refreshingly, this intensely political show doesn’t feel like it’s simply rehashing today’s real-life arguments as a thinly veiled sci-fi metaphor. Instead, it reminds us that human society will always be an unpredictable product of economic interests, obscure individual motivations, cultural rivalries, bureaucratic infighting, ideological disagreements, sociological shifts, pride of place, and personal profit motive. People are people and politics is politics, no matter how far you get from planet Earth.