Set 200 plus years in the future, The Expanse returns but with a new home on Amazon Prime December 13, 2019.
Season 4 continues exploring politics, the solar system, the opening of The Ring Gates, and the Roci crew’s journey to Illus.
Ty Franck— awriter and on the show—joined us in discussing the fate of the show with executive producer Andrew Kosove, showrunner Naren Shankar, and Burn Gorman who plays the newly added Adolphus Murtry.
You describe season four as a ‘blood soaked gold rush.’ Can you talk about that and how that does play into season four and what are you excited for fans to see this season?
Naren Shankar: “Well I mean like the big thing in season four is for the first time we’re going through the ring. We’re going through the ring to see an alien world, the brand new vistas that have opened up for humanity. For the first time in the history of the solar system there are other habitable earth like planets on the other side of the ring. And that’s a hugely destabilizing element in the world of The Expanse. And that’s what the blood soaked gold rush is referring to. Think of it as the discovery of the new world. Suddenly everybody knew that was a place everyone could go and make their fortune. So how do you control that? How do you keep that thing from bursting? And that’s essentially the problem that they’re looking at in the beginning. No one’s sure what’s quite on the other side of the ring. No one’s sure about what might be out there. What was that they used to put on the map? ‘Here be dragons.’ Like maybe there are monsters out there, maybe that’s a problem.That’s the context of season four.”
Andrew Kosove: “I think it’s really interesting to me. My favorite about what Naren, and Ty and Daniel have done with the show which is the show is set in the future but it’s not really about the future. In a way it’s about the past and human history and how human desires, hopes, foibles repeat themselves. So human desires for a better world, more wealth for themselves, the children, a better life, so on so forth…there’s always a driven humanity to try new things and to take risks to visit new frontiers. I mean I was back this weekend with an actor on our show, Wes Chatham who’s Amos in my hometown Philadelphia and I took him over to Constitution Center and we were walking through looking at some early maps of the United States. And I thought of The Expanse because you see a map of the early colonies and everything west in the United States and think about the courage it took of those people who were desperate for a better life to go west, having no idea what was gonna be there, what dangers. ‘Here be dragons,’ whatever they were gonna face and now we’re in The Expanse we’re telling this parallel story of finding new worlds and new opportunities and I think that aspect of season four is pretty amazing.”
Naren Shankar: “There’s this book we talked about in season four, it’s by Robert Hughes, it’s called The Fatal Shore. It’s about the British colonization of Australia. And we talked about it in the context of these people come to Illus, they come to a frontier world where things are different, the biology is different. The first Europeans to come to Australia, they had not seen locust like that or spiders like that or lizards like that. Everything was poisonous, everything killed them. And so that idea and that concept informs a lot of what’s happening on Illus in the beginning of season 4.”
There are so many characters at this point on the show and obviously you’re thinking thematically in terms of these different seasons. How do you make sure each character’s story arc supports that and moves their story along?
Naren Shankar: “It’s not easy. It’s something that you find when we’re in the room as a staff together and we’re crafting that season. Ty and Daniel thought quite deeply about these things in the books. And it is like a lot of times when you’re starting to craft how the season lays out, things suggest themselves. It’s like opportunities present themselves to explore characters in particular ways. And to also express the larger themes within those characters and that’s always the trick with an adaptation. Season four the first 200 pages of the book none of our main characters are in it. And so what we did is we found a way to reflect some of the important themes and ideas that were in those 200 pages through our characters. For example, a big change from the books is Naomi never lands on Illus. And they never come down. But when we started talking about it, it was the recognition that that was a way to talk about the problem for all of the Belters. That they couldn’t share in this particular thing. Is that there’s this great bounty that’s come out that most of the Belters are not gonna be able to get. And through the eyes of Naomi who wants to come down to the planet, something that she and Holden could share, she’s denied that by the fourth episode because her body simply won’t acclimate. That’s a tragic thing. It crystallizes and personalizes a huge idea in the season and it was a great way to do it. And that’s a perfect example of the adaptation process in every season.”
Andrew Kosove: “I think one of the things that really is structurally fascinating about the show is that you have Ty and Daniel who of course wrote the books, who are a significant part of the writers room on the show. That’s not always the case. Almost never do you have a wall between the writers of the underlying IP and the writers’ of the TV show or movie. Here to have that balance where you have both the flexibility to play a little bit narratively with the books to make it work in that form and at the same time always be able to come back to the books because you have the gold standard of the writers’ of the books who are in the room I think has benefited the show tremendously.
Naren Shankar: “When I was first brought into the show and I was told that the authors of the books would be in the room with us, my first response was literally ‘you sure that’s a good idea?’ Because they can be very precious with how they treat their material but very quickly it became clear that Ty and Daniel were so open because they recognized that this was a different medium, but it also had some great opportunities. Like Ashford is not in book 4; he’s gone as a character at the end of book 3. And we loved David Strathairn so much we brought him in to season 4 and found a story to tell with him. And all of these things, they have dividends because by doing that it actually opened up possibilities in season 4. It was a fun thing to do.”
On joining the pre-established series…
Burn Gorman: “They rehearse on this show, through their own choice, which is unheard of. I mean outside of shooting they’ll meet in a hotel and they’ll talk things through. It was very easy to start exploring the character.”
Can you talk about what they told you about the character when you first joined? How was he described to you?
Burn Gorman: “It was very much… he was the head of security for the RCE from the earth. The Ring is opened, and they’re gonna go through and they’re gonna start exploring new worlds. I’m sort of the tip of the spear going in but with an agenda that’s a personal agenda, a military agenda. He’s there to take care of business as it were. So that’s why I signed a new world.”
Were you a fan of the show before you joined?
Burn Gorman: “Yes, I was aware of The Expanse because I am a sci-fi fan and I’m aware of how it’s within that world, how (well anyway for me and my friends) the perception is of it being an accident grounded truthful show. So it was a pleasure.”
What do you feel your character’s response to violent acts was and did it match what your interpretation of the character is?
Burn Gorman: “Well we talked this morning actually just about this one particular scene where quite early on they’re in a bar. Amos and Murtry recognizes that kindred spirit where, well he recognizes the fact that Murtry gets off on violence and he calls him out on it. Specifically I suppose as a military man and somebody whose job it has been in the past—we don’t know how many people he’s killed—he’s in charge of man and will do anything to complete the mission as it were. My personal thing about it was that there is a sort of numbness about Murtry, so perhaps not kind of getting off on it but having absolutely no [problem] not to dispatch of someone very quickly. Life becomes slightly cheap isn’t it? And I think Murtry has a numbness and that’s probably the most dangerous type of person.”
Ty Franck: “I think the first person we see him kill on film, there is a satisfaction to it just because he has been looking for someone to punish for what happened to the shuttle. There’s a scene where he goes into the bar and confronts everyone and he says bring me the person who did this or I’ll find them myself. And that moment when he clocks the other guy and says, oh I’m certain you were in on this, and shoots him, I think there is a bit of a moment of satisfaction to that that like, I’ve taken revenge or punished somebody or whatever it is. I think that’s the thing Amos sees, is that satisfaction that comes from that act of violence. I think the thing that Amos certainly recognizes in Murtry is that Murtry is a killer because Amos is a killer and he’s like you’re like me I see that in you. And I think very early on Amos is the one who recognizes how dangerous Murtry is before everyone else does.”
How did you get into Murtry’s numbness as an actor? How did you step into someone who has this sort of motivation and mentality?
Burn Gorman: “It was mostly all there in the writing, but it really helped that it started with this catastrophe. There is a huge wreck and he loses lots of people and he’s injured pretty badly. I sort of started from that point really. Like okay so what does a man who’s extensively in charge, he’s lost men and women so he’s already failed really because he’s not bringing them all home. As a military man he’s lost people. Where does it go from there? To me it’s get better, find out who did it, get retribution, take control of the situation. And I suppose I looked at that process, then Holden and team turn up, and really it’s not ideal. Murtry is still a wounded animal at that point, his leg is still shattered, and he’s not actually firing on all cylinders. It’s quite interesting to play somebody who’s a little out of their element.”
Can you talk about the western influence and how that sort of manifests?
Ty Franck: “Well I mean it’s pretty evident that we pull a lot from that history, the western expansion in North America, how damaging that was to the people who already lived there. If you already lived in North America when the Europeans showed up it wasn’t good for you. And even within that, the way in which in the last thing we were talking about manifest destiny and the westward expansion and eminent domain and this idea that it doesn’t matter what you have if I think I have a good enough reason to take it I could just take it. And that’s sort of the railroad going across the west and the railroad just got 100 yards on either side of the railroad tracks, that was just theirs. And it didn’t matter that you had a farm or whatever. If they rolled through they just own that now. And that playing out with RCE and their charter from the government that Murtry takes so serious saying we have a government charter we actually own this. It doesn’t matter that you were here. And that’s the colonization conflict played over and over throughout history. Whenever new people show up, people were already there almost always and the new people show up like, hey this is ours, and the people who already lived there like, but we live here. So yea just playing that out.”