Back when The Expanse was renewed for a fourth season and made the jump to Amazon Prime Video, there was some debate within the fandom as to whether book 4 – Cibola Burn – would even be adapted. Being as it is that CB is largely a self-contained narrative and many of the characters we’d come to love aren’t involved, it would make some sense to cut it from the show entirely in favour of moving on to the next book – Nemesis Games – which would provide a narrative much more in line with what we’ve come to expect from The Expanse.

Thankfully, as we’ve known for a while now, the creators of the show opted to adapt Cibola Burn, and I, for one, am glad they did. I’ll get more into book spoilers in a separate section at the end of this review, but for now, let’s dive into the episode.

“New Terra” opens at the Sol ring gate, as a group of Belter ships run through a blockade of Earther and Martian ships, barely making it through a gate to an unknown system. 8 months later, Holden has a heart-to-heart with one of his mothers, Elise and then with ghost Miller, who we learn is desperate for Holden to go through the gates and learn what’s on the other side. We also get a very cute scene between Naomi and Holden’s family, a moment of levity that serves to show us a little more about Naomi and is a familiarly awkward moment that I’m sure a lot of us have experienced meeting our significant others’ family. Especially in an interracial relationship with the added pressure of different cultures, seen when one of Holden’s fathers poorly attempts some lang belta and Holden cuts him off before he can embarrass himself further. Holden and Naomi’s scenes are some of my favourite in the episode and they are well executed with some great chemistry between Steven Strait and Dominique Tipper.

James Holden (Steven Strait) and Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper)

Moving on, the Rocinante is fitted with a fancy new railgun (which we’ve all seen in action during the SDCC clip) and Avasarala needs the crew to go to New Terra (or Ilus), an earth-like planet through the rings that has been settled by a small colony of Belters – the same ones we saw at the start of the episode. Holden and crew will be assisting a scientific mission to the planet to determine whether it’s safe and discover the secrets of a wholly alien world.

The first half of the episode is structured much like a season opener from Game of Thrones. We’re shown each character in turn and reminded where they were at the end of the last season and shown where they are now. These scenes are deftly woven into the Roci’s journey from earth to the ring gate; Amos has a chat with Clarissa Mao – who is on earth in prison, Alex with Bobbie – who has returned to Mars and works in a shipyard and finally Naomi with Drummer – who has a snazzy new spinal implant to help her walk and is living on the behemoth (now known as Medina Station), running things in the ringspace.

It looks like Bobbie will be getting her own storyline this season as we’re introduced to her brother and his family as well as a new character who may be a love interest or might have a more sinister plan – only time will tell, but he seems pretty pissed at the MCR. Also, keen-eyed viewers at NYCC might have noticed Bobbie walking by a conspicuously-named shop called “Firehawks”, a nod to the fandom and another of the many easter eggs hidden in the show. In addition to Bobbie, it looks like we’ll be seeing some more of Ashford this season, who is now hunting down Belter pirates who are raiding UN supply lines. He captures one and we learn that many of the Belters are not happy at all with the truce between the belt and the inners. Ashford seems unsure himself, it’s likely that he’ll have to make some hard decisions in the coming season.

Klaes Ashford (David Strathairn)

Once the Roci passes through the rings, we’re done with the where-are-they-now catch ups and onto part two of the episode. We are introduced to some new faces – most notably Adolphus Murtry, played by British actor Burn Gorman with his usual menacing intensity – while a shuttle from the scientific mission is mysteriously destroyed as it makes its descent to Ilus, leaving a few survivors including Murtry and a couple of other characters we’re following but haven’t been introduced to yet.

The Roci touches down on Ilus in the best sequence of the episode – which was already released during SDCC as a teaser. Naomi, after a bunch of training that she’s been doing throughout the episode, sets foot on a planet for the first time in her life. This is a big moment for her and Holden stopping Amos from catching her when she stumbles is great for his character as well. Naomi has some very interesting development this episode as it seems that her finally settling in as a member of the Roci family (and kind of Holden’s as well) pushes her further away from her Belter identity. We see this the most in her conversation with Drummer, where she expresses hope that the Belters can find a home beyond the ring gates while Drummer points out that by doing that they would no longer be Belters. This conflict has been a part of Naomi’s character since the start and now that she’s made a decision about who she is, there could be ramifications for her down the line with Drummer.

The scenes down on Ilus are shot in an anamorphic format, which is why they have letterboxing, this makes for a more filmic feel and sets Ilus apart visually from the rest of the show. The shots on Ilus are stunning and feel familiar but alien at the same time. Shot on location in Canada, they make use of the country’s natural beauty with some minor enhancements from visual effects.

The Roci Crew (Cas Anvar, Wes Chatham, Dominique Tipper and Steven Strait)

The Roci crew make their way to the small Belter settlement and meet some of the settlers as well as Murtry and some others from the scientific mission. Tensions are high between them and the Roci crew are accused of being there to evict the Belters. Guns are drawn but before things can get truly ugly the settlement is attacked by mysterious flying creatures that pack quite a punch. Just as soon as they appeared, they’re gone, Holden examines one and we cut to black.

The Expanse season-openers are always great and “New Terra” is no exception, covering a lot of ground and introducing many new plots and characters, it wastes no time in plunging us back into the complex universe of The Expanse – now even more complex with the addition of thousands of new worlds. This is all well-handled but there’s no denying that the show we have now is a far cry from the slow-burn of the first season. It seems like the latter half of Season 3 and now this new episode want to rush to get to the exciting stuff, which is not to say that there aren’t still lots of great slower scenes but pacing is undeniably different now and can lead to a lot of plot points being thrown at you one after another. A lot happens in “New Terra”, perhaps too much, nevertheless it’s still a very strong opener to this new era of The Expanse.

All Book Spoilers and Speculation Ahead

Cibola Burn cover art

“New Terra” makes a number of changes from Cibola Burn, most notably in pacing. As with Abaddon’s Gate, the show has sped up much of the first act and cut characters in order to avoid the slow-pacing of many of the first acts in the Expanse books. Fans of Havelock will be disappointed to know that he doesn’t make a surprise appearance in “New Terra” and likely won’t be returning to the series. Meanwhile, as mentioned above, it’s unclear whether the shuttle is attacked by Belter terrorists or something else, unlike in the book. However, the conflict between RCE and the Belters seems to be alive and well. Of course another major change is Naomi and Alex actually setting foot on Ilus (they come down with the Roci in the book, but quickly leave), it seems that the writers of the show want to keep all their principle characters where the action is. Perhaps Naomi and Alex will be able to help keep the peace, but somehow I doubt it. Having the crew of the Roci down on Ilus may mean that there will be less of a plot in orbit than the book, but I’m sure she’ll get a chance to use that shiny new railgun of hers. It remains to be seen if Elvi will be making googly eyes at Holden this season but with Naomi down on Ilus, it seems doubtful. Personally, I find it to be a somewhat unnecessary subplot so I wouldn’t be sad to see it left out of Season 4.

Meanwhile, it looks like we’ll be getting an adaptation of Gods of Risk for Bobbie’s storyline, probably somewhat retooled for Bobbie to be the main character rather than her nephew, David. Also, her new friend with a chip on his shoulder could perhaps be the beginning of a storyline that may feature Duarte and a look at his secession from Mars that we never got in the books, one can only hope.

Ashford (who is, of course, dead in the books) will be continuing on in the show with a brand new storyline which could be similar to Pa’s from the books or perhaps something else. Either way it seems to be leading in a direction to set up the events of Nemesis Games and a certain Belter revolutionary/terrorist.

It remains to be seen what Avasarala and Drummer will be doing this season, only time will tell. Neither are present for CB but Avasarala does have an epilogue on Mars, could she be heading to reunite with Bobbie? Meanwhile Drummer continues to be an amalgamation of various characters, it remains to be seen how this will play out as we begin to actually lead into her role in the books.

“New Terra” is another great example of the creative process of the show changing and enhancing the books. One of the great strengths of the show as an adaptation has always been the writers’ ability to try new things while staying true to the core values of the books. With the show’s new lease of life on Amazon, it’s great to see that that special part of the show hasn’t changed one bit.

Except everyone can say “fuck” now.

And they do. A lot.