Being in the wrong place at the wrong time — if there's one defining feature of James Holden's journey through the past five years of The Expanse, that's pretty much it. From political revolutions to universe-reshaping ring gates, he's always found himself right smack in the middle of it all.
So how does all that conflict, and all of those challenges, shape him from an overwhelmed crewmate to a defining leader for a solar system desperate for one? Star Steven Strait opened up to SYFY WIRE about Holden's evolution over the past several seasons and the defining moral center that has helped mold his character heading into the show's fifth and penultimate season on Amazon Prime.
In Season 5, most of the Roci crew is broken up across the solar system, setting off on personal missions that will explore the lives they've largely left behind over the past few years. For Holden, that means he's left to oversee repairs on the Roci this season, while also grappling with a renewed threat from the protomolecule. But thankfully, now five seasons in, Strait explains why Holden is finally ready to handle a problem like this without his crew by his side.
"He is on his own this time, but you know, there's a difference within him as a man. By Season 5 he really has his feet on the ground," he says. "He's matured into a very good leader. He knows what he's doing. He's been through just about everything at this point. He's able now to deal with it. But the irony is, the people who supported him to get him here, who have become his family, are gone. That is very difficult for him. And without giving too much away, just where the season goes, his whole journey this year is wrapped up in figuring out how to protect humanity from what he has unleashed — and getting his family back."
Looking back at how far the character has come since Season 1, Strait says it's been one of the most rewarding experiences of his career to be able to not only play a character with that type of nuance, but to play him long enough to show that growth and trajectory onscreen — to see the mistakes made, the trust earned, and the lessons learned from season to season.
"It gave me an opportunity to show the evolution of a leader in a very realistic way. Holden is born with an ethical core that guides him through all of these crazy situations and he stumbles a lot. But he's a good man. That's what he has," he says. "In the beginning, he's in way over his head, and there are some frustrating and ugly moments that Holden has, especially early on, where he's overwhelmed and afraid. But he grows into being a leader. He grows into the hero that everyone needs him to be, and the story needs him to be. We've always had the privilege of having extraordinary writing... and that's allowed us to realistically and confidently show that it's a messy process to become a leader at Holden's scale where there's so much responsibility on his shoulders."
As for Season 5 and the upcoming sixth and final season, Strait says fans will finally get to see the best version of Holden, so to speak. The version of the character who has evolved, grown, and finally embraced his role in this changing solar system.
"It was incredibly gratifying to show those steps, and to have him arrive at Season 5 and toward the end, as this very good leader that everyone trusts. Having that be earned, and make sense, and the viewers watch how that process has evolved, and that he didn't just start that way," he says. "He had to become that, oftentimes through his failings. There's a lot of humility in that, and I think it's an honest look at how leaders do evolve in the real world. It's very unusual to have that opportunity as an actor, and to have the time, frankly, to show that process. But we've managed to have six years of this to show that in realistic terms."
With an eye toward the show's final season, Strait says he already feels the gratitude of getting to work on a show like The Expanse, and is thankful every day as they get ready to shoot the final season. He was a fan of the books before landing the gig as Holden, and notes the cast and crew have become family over the past five years. This was also the project that gave him an opportunity to work behind the camera for the first time in his career. Put simply, there's a lot of love.
"I came into this as a fan, and to be able to work with the people that I've been able to work with, it's been an incredible privilege. I'm deeply proud of the work we've done. I think it's been an important story to tell, especially now," he adds. "There is a real power in science fiction through allegory to talk about all different issues, be it political or social, and we live in a time where that's really important. I think if we have succeeded in sparking dialogues about the themes we cover, we've had an outsized impact on the group of people who have welcomed us into their viewing slot... This show was saved by the fans, and I'm grateful we're able to give them a complete story. It's meant the world to me to do this show. I'm grateful for it."
Season 5 of The Expanse premieres on Dec. 16 on Amazon Prime. The series has already been renewed for a sixth and final season, which is tentatively set to arrive late next year.