[Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for The Expanse]
As I have said many times on Collider, The Expanse is one of the best series airing on any channel. Over five seasons, the incredible sci-fi series (developed by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby and based on the novels by James S. A. Corey) has used the genre of science-fiction to consistently deliver complex and dynamic storylines that are unlike anything else on TV. I cannot recommend this series enough.
Shortly after seeing the Season 5 finale (which is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video) I was able to speak with Steven Strait (Jim Holden) and Wes Chatham (Amos Burton). They talked about why Season 5 was so special, what the finale means for the future of the series, why people are still trying to use the protomolecule even though everyone knows it is dangerous, what it’s like being back on set filming Season 6, why Jim is willing to let Peaches/Clarissa Mao (Nadine Nicole) board the Roci when Amos asks, and more. In addition, with the series ending with Season 6, I jokingly asked what they’re planning on stealing from set and I might have given them a bad idea. If the production is wondering what happened to the Roci set when they’re getting ready to film the series finale, I might be to blame…You’ll see what I mean towards the end of this interview.
Finally, for those that watched the Season 5 finale and are wondering what it means for Season 6, I asked Strait that exact question and he said:
“I think the end of season five sets up just how much the paradigm has shifted in every conceivable way. Within the plot metaphorically, character-wise, the war has truly begun. In season five, it really starts with an enormous statement with what Marco has done to earth and the flipping of the balance of power within the solar system. The end of the season at the end of the finale, I think in every conceivable way it really sets up what will become the defining conflict that decides the way the system will function and how people will live within it. Mars who nobody would ever think would deviate from the program for Mars, the most kind of staunchly nationalistic, patriotic blah blah blah blah falling to pieces, parts of it are breaking apart and siding with Marco, and what they’re doing with the protomolecule and how that’s shaping the way things are going to be, it has completely flipped the script. And I think the end of the season really, really sets that up in a really… Viewers are going to be thrown into what is being set up here.”
I cannot wait to see how this is all going to end. Here’s my full conversation with Steven Strait and Wes Chatham.
Collider: Let me start off by saying this was the best season yet and the finale’s fantastic. What’s it been like for both of you, because I haven’t spoken to anyone who watches the show that has said, “Oh, this wasn’t a good season.”
STEVEN STRAIT: Thank you. I personally feel like this is the best one made. I’m really proud of the season. Every year we try to improve on what we’ve done in the year before, and that in conjunction with the book that it’s based on being so wonderful, it’s a fan favorite book as well, just being able to kind of do that five seasons in when the machine is really so well-honed, and to have all these different storylines going and a lot of payoff for stuff that’s been cooking for a while, yeah. Just really proud of it.
WES CHATHAM: Yeah, and I would just echo what Steven said, on so many different layers and levels that got us to the point we are in season five and I did have that special feeling while we were shooting season five because we spent six years with these characters, creating these arcs, developing these arcs, but also the crew that we’ve had, we’ve been together for six years now, so everybody, the camera guy, everybody understands the characters and the story we’re trying to tell, and going into our season five, most ambitious season, we had a well-oiled, well-trained machine and we had the motivation to fulfill the promise of what the book could be, and so everything just kind of clicked.
And I was telling Steven yesterday, I was like, “This is hands down the best thing we’ve ever done.” And I’m glad that you feel the same way. I’m glad that it really connected with you in that way as well.
STRAIT: The thing that kind of comes to mind first is The Churn, what is one of my favorite books within the series, and when we go call back to Baltimore, it just kind of shows the level of connectivity that the crew has with us. It’s kind of one organism. The intro to Baltimore, was a helicopter shot, to a crane shot, to an operator taking it off the crane and catching Wes at just the right moment while there’s hundreds of extras going on, it was like the most absurd shot. It was so ambitious to do for a television show. We’re shooting seven pages a day. It’s not like we have seven months to shoot a big epic. You’ve got to get it right. And it’s just the overwhelming confidence with each other, from the crew to the cast, I just think it just really knocked the ball out of the park. I mean, even with your stuff Wes, with the kind of one-shot gun flight in episode nine, just like crazy.
Yeah. This Breck Eisner guy seems to know what he’s doing behind the camera.
CHATHAM: We have a no compliment Breck Eisner policy. You know, a funny story is Breck and I went to go see 1917, the World War I movie, that when he was shooting episode one and two, and then he’s kind of like that. He’s like, “I’m going to do one of those shots.” All season he planned to do one of those shots.
That’s so funny. I know you guys have started shooting season six, what’s it like being back on set?
STRAIT: You know, having a season six is a blessing. We get to go out on our own terms. The book six, there’s a very, very large time jump after book six to book seven, so it’s a really natural ending and place to be, and that we have this really solid runway… Book five and book six are kind of movement just in terms of the piece of writing, and that we have season five where we wanted it to be, where we’ve landed the work at season five to really propel the inclusion or the story. I think that’s all you can really ask for as artist, is that you get to finish and complete the story the way you want to. So just really grateful to have a season six.
CHATHAM: Steven and I were reliving our journey yesterday, and we were talking about reading the pilot script and getting a special feeling about what the show could be and feeling this dedication and this love with this crew and this cast, and the fact that we started getting guys like you, like your attention and the foundation of fan base that we developed on the show, I’ve never felt more synergy, more connected to the fans, to the books, to the storytelling in every season. This is the only thing that I’ve ever done where you’re going into season six, and I have just as much butterflies as I did in season one. Like, I just really want to honor the character and honor the story with everything I have.
There’s a great bit in the season five finale with you guys getting on the ship and you trying to bring Peaches on board. Talk a little bit about filming that scene because it’s really good and I think fans are going to love it.
STRAIT: Well, it’s funny, it was something else we were discussing yesterday or the day before and in reference to something else, but we’re just… The bond that Holden and Amos have found over the years, starting from a very tumultuous place. I mean, both of them have guns at each other’s sides at some point.
CHATHAM: In that airlock!
STRAIT: From the first season. I think there is a level of trust between these two men that when Amos brings Peaches back onboard, Holden who she spent years trying to murder, along with everyone else on the Roci, trust Amos so implicitly that if he feels she needs to be here, if he wants her to be here, fine. Fine. I mean, it wouldn’t be my choice, but if that’s what he needs then that’s what he needs, and it just really kind of speaks to that trust that these two have found through these crazy experiences over the last five years, from the ruins of Ilus to everything else. I feel like those season four scenes in the ruins really bound these two together in a way that just took it to the next level, and there’s just a sense of trust that if he says it’s all right, if he trusts it then I trust it.
CHATHAM: Now, I wonder what the conversation was with Holden and Naomi [both laughing]. She’s like, “What is Clarissa doing here?”
STRAIT: She’s like, “Are you okay with this? Are you okay…”
With the protomolecule, it’s almost as if no one is paying attention. Everyone just keeps wanting a piece of that thing. Will people ever learn?
STRAIT: It doesn’t look that way, does it?
CHATHAM: It’s the lesson of power. Human nature is to always reach for it. It’s the story of the ring in Lord of the Rings. Steven just recommended a biography that I’ve been reading about Robert Moses and the relationship to power and how he started out as this idealist, but once you get a taste of it, you keep going for it. The protomolecule is a representation of the ultimate power. Marco was able to accomplish what he accomplished with the leverage of the protomolecule, and that’s the story of human nature.
STRAIT: Holden says it off the bat in episode one this year. We’re never going to change. We’re so busy fighting amongst each other that we can’t see the train coming. It is a unfortunate truth of human nature and of history. I mean, metaphors abound of what the protomolecule represent, whether it’s nuclear weapons or what have you. But the proliferation of that is still… Holden is really still the only one who truly understands exactly what kind of danger is going on here. I mean, he’s explained it to others, but now that Miller’s gone, he’s really the only one who’s experienced what’s in those rings and what could possibly be working there for humanity, and it just falls on deaf ears because whether it’s Fred Johnson or Earth or Mars who all think they’re doing the right thing with this protomolecule, that it’s safe in their hands as long as those people out there don’t have it. It’s like Wes said, it’s just the desire for power just pushes people into ignorance and just an age-old story, just absolute power corrupts absolutely.
We’ve all seen the Jurassic Park movies, yet there are still people trying to clone dinosaurs and bring them back, so it’s like-
CHATHAM: Oh my God. When are you going to learn?
STRAIT: Velociraptor, that sounds like a really good idea. Let’s do that.
Yeah, because for anyone who’s thinking, “Well, they would never do that with the protomolecule,” Hi, Jurassic Park.
Wes: Or nuclear weapons, the arms race.
I need to ask you guys though about that last shot in the season five finale. What do you think that means for what’s coming in season six?
STRAIT: I think the end of season five sets up just how much the paradigm has shifted in every conceivable way. Within the plot metaphorically, character-wise, the war has truly begun. In season five, it really starts with an enormous statement with what Marco has done to earth and the flipping of the balance of power within the solar system. The end of the season at the end of the finale, I think in every conceivable way it really sets up what will become the defining conflict that decides the way the system will function and how people will live within it. Mars who nobody would ever think would deviate from the program for Mars, the most kind of staunchly nationalistic, patriotic blah blah blah blah falling to pieces, parts of it are breaking apart and siding with Marco, and what they’re doing with the protomolecule and how that’s shaping the way things are going to be, it has completely flipped the script. And I think the end of the season really, really sets that up in a really… Viewers are going to be thrown into what is being set up here.
I don’t know if you want to add anything.
CHATHAM: No, I think he did a great job.
I actually think that that was a really good answer. I have to ask, so you’ve just started filming the last season of the series. I can’t imagine emotionally you’re going through, but are you already thinking in the back of your brain on the last day of filming I am totally stealing this.
CHATHAM: Well, I steal shit every season (laughing), so I’m already… But you know, one of the things that Steven and I were talking about going into season six, this has been such a great experience on so many different levels, personal, creative, professionally, that this season I’m just going to really take it all in. I’m just going to approach it and really just be present with the work that we’re doing with the people that we work with and just taking it all in because stuff like this in this career doesn’t happen that often, and the fact that we have been able to experience this and the success of the show from where we came from to where we are now, it’s just a beautiful moment that I’m just going to savor it before it’s done.
Well, I’m actually being serious. Ronald Moore told me about when Star Trek: The Next Generation ended, he got a phone call to his office that they were just trashing the sets and throwing everything out in the dumpster. Granted, this is the nineties and it’s a little different now, but at some point, these stages are going to be torn down, and you guys have had such a history with the Roci, are you literally… Are you talking to people about, “I kind of want the chair, or I kind of want that panel,” like all kidding aside, to save some of that stuff just for your own personal history.
CHATHAM: I’m glad you put that in my head. I haven’t thought about it yet, but-
STRAIT: I’m feeling exactly the same way. I’m like, I should be thinking about that.
CHATHAM: I haven’t thought about it yet, but tomorrow I am going to do some reconnaissance about what I want to take home with me. You’ll come over to my house and I have the Roci chair in front of the TV.
I know you’ve only been shooting for half a week, but how has COVID played into making the show now because it’s obviously a completely different world in terms of the production?
STRAIT: COVID has flipped the entire world on its head. I will say that we are in a unique position as a production because we’ve been together for so long and because the machine is so well-honed to move through a really challenging time with the most ease possible within where we are. I think it’s always been our strength that the people involved in the show are as committed as they are, from the crew to the cast to the writers, and like Wes said earlier, we have a lot of continuity in every single department, so there’s a lot of shorthand and it’s always been our strength, and going into filming season six, it’s remaining to be so.
I don’t know if you want to add anything, Wes?
CHATHAM: Well, to go with he said, the kind of shorthand, and relationships, and connections we have are really going to help me out when I start stealing stuff by the end of the season. I know who to talk to who, who to pay off.
Do learn from what Ronald Moore did. He totally took some stuff out of that dumpster. If they’re going to trash stage, take some stuff home.
CHATHAM: Dude. Next time we talk, I’m going to be sitting in the Roci chair.
I’m totally serious. Take as much as you can, you know?
CHATHAM: Yeah. Good idea.
Seriously, might as well. Worst case scenario, you can give it out like a piece to the fans at some con or whatever, but…
STRAIT: It’s true. True.
CHATHAM: That’s a good idea. I’m glad that you… Steven, we got to keep this amongst ourselves, so it’s not-
STRAIT: I know. I know. Don’t tell anyone know.
CHATHAM: Don’t tell anybody else that. Don’t tell anybody else that.
STRAIT: Gather it slowly over weeks, just like one at a time.
CHATHAM: When they show up to shoot, the Roci will be completely stripped.
I look forward to talking to you guys again down the road, and I will say that your producers seem pretty excited about the series finale and what they’re planning. I don’t know how much they’ve told you so I’m very excited.
STRAIT: Yeah, we are.
CHATHAM: And thanks for all your support, man. Thank you for having our backs for so long. I really appreciate that.
Hey listen, thanks so much and have a great shoot.
CHATHAM: Thanks, man. Thank you. Good seeing you.
This movie is officially not for babies.
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