I want you to imagine your personal favorite TV character delivering the line “I haven’t felt fear since I was 5 years old.” Don Draper saying it, Logan Roy saying it, John Luther saying it, Jim Hopper saying it. (We’re probably talking about a dude here, given the line’s wanton dudeliness, but sure, imagine, like, Villanelle or even Fleabag saying it.)
So: “I haven’t felt fear since I was 5 years old.” How’d that go for you? Not well, yes? Did your personal favorite TV character perhaps sound a wee bit unconvincing? Brotastic? Ridiculous? Embarrassed? Embarrassing? Who among us, even in these glorious streaming-era boom times, can invest those words with the precise deadpan-badass tone that will hint at tragedy without lapsing into disastrous unintentional comedy?
One among us. This guy.
Amos Burton is a character on The Expanse. Wait. Get back here. Yes, those of you who do not watch The Expanse (yet) likely know it as that hardcore science-fiction show, often reductively described as “Game of Thrones in space,” that at least three of your friends are furious with you for not watching. It’s great, and you’re missing out, and you’re sick of being told you’re missing out, and that’s understandable. Please do not hold this against Amos.
Industry-wise, The Expanse is also known as the ultra-rare canceled series that irritating diehard fans actually saved. It premiered in late 2015 on Syfy, got decent ratings and oft-rapturous reviews, but found itself unjustly scrapped in 2018 after three seasons for convoluted business reasons. (Syfy made money only if you watched the show live, basically.) Enter Jeff Bezos, savior of the 23rd-century working (space)man, who soon personally announced that Amazon Prime had swooped in to rescue the show. He has his reasons.
Season 4 premiered, in full, on Amazon in mid-December. It rules. You’re still missing out. Partly this is due to its staggering scope, its rad space-torpedo special effects, its rich-text sociopolitical intrigue. But more importantly, it’s down to the very human (usually) and very relatable frailty (occasionally) of its characters. As with, sure, Game of Thrones, a fantastical extended universe is only as fantastic as the expertly drawn people (or whatever) moving through it. Here’s a Season 2 scene when Amos basically punches a guy from Syfy straight to Amazon Prime.
Based on a nine-book series (described as “a really kickass space opera” by George R. R. Martin himself) by two writers working under the pen name James S.A. Corey, The Expanse is a dense, sprawling, wildly ambitious feat of galaxy-building so sprawling I am loathe to explain it in much detail, because I’ll probably just fuck it up. So: In the 23rd century, conflict is inevitable between Earth (ravaged by climate change but still dominant), Mars (colonized by humans and increasingly militaristic), and Belters, those working-class and oft-downtrodden denizens of the asteroid belt connecting Mars and Earth to the outer planets. Also, a mysterious alien entity known as the protomolecule is a constant threat to either wipe out humanity or open an extra-mysterious Ring Door to new galaxies full of uninhabited worlds, or both.
So: A ragtag crew of charismatic do-gooders spanning Earth, Mars, and the Belt flies around on a spaceship called the Rocinante, getting into rad-space-torpedo-type adventures. Season 4 mostly involves one of those new galaxies, and an Earth vs. Belters proxy war with heavy settler-refugee overtones. The plot is fine; the plot is impressively complex. But at this point the whole point is to hang around with your old friends, be they Rocinante captain and reluctant-hero type Jim Holden (Steven Strait), or Belter ex-freedom-fighter Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), or hotshot Martian pilot and quasi Texan Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), or ferocious Earth politician Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), or idealistic Martian ex-soldier Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams, and no, her character is not a Mad Men crossover attempt).
The Expanse, in short, has no shortage of Favorite Character material—see also Cara Gee and David Strathairn (!!) as Belter leaders with splendidly intense accents—though this season, while excellent overall, is tough on many longtime favorites, whether it’s Holden (too mopey) or Avasarala (forced to swear constantly to amuse the internet) or Draper (isolated in a subplot that is literally Mars kinda sucks now). Amos, by contrast, gets a way better deal this season, and makes the most of it. I love him very much, especially when he’s scaring the bejesus out of everyone.
As played by Wes Chatham, an affable Georgia native and Hunger Games veteran whose young sons have amazing hair, Amos is an expert spaceship mechanic and laconic tough guy whose biceps are larger than many other characters’ heads. He is from Earth. Specifically, Baltimore. (There is something so exotic and soothing about the way anyone on this interstellar-warfare show says Baltimore.) He has, due to a mercifully vaguely described traumatic childhood, an inflexible moral code combined with a near-complete lack of empathy. (Hence the not feeling fear since he was 5 years old.) He’s working on it, and softening somewhat; he represents The Expanse’s most troubling and engrossing multiseason character arc, a hard-punching murder robot slowly learning to feel. He is ferociously loyal but hilariously awkward, homicidal but terrifyingly pragmatic about it.
That’s where the deadpan part of the badassness comes in. His love interest in Season 4, a fellow Earth-born soldier type named Chandra Wei (Jess Salgueiro), is technically on the opposing side of this season’s specific conflict, and threatens to shoot Amos if it ever comes to it, a threat he takes, as he takes most things, in disturbing stride.
That is the face everyone makes when talking to Amos. From the start he has capably filled both the Tough Guy role and, somehow, the Comic Relief role, his constant threats of violence so dispassionate they don’t quite register as threats. “I’m not gonna lie to you: Either way this plays out, you’re dead.” “In case I have to kill you, I just wanted to say thanks.” That sort of thing. “You’re not that guy,” he counsels a mild-mannered botanist he befriends in Season 2, convincing him not to shoot the extremely evil guy he’s about to shoot. The botanist shakily lowers his gun and walks off, his innocence intact. The extremely evil guy is relieved. And then, from Amos, the sorta-punch-line: “I am that guy.”
Which is hilarious, in a sci-fi-badass sort of way. Another great thing about The Expanse is that something legitimately exciting is always happening. Rather than your typical takes-six-episodes-to-get-going enterprise, the show leaps from tense standoff to tense standoff, and there’s Amos always in the thick of it, gun trained on somebody and somebody else’s gun trained on him, delivering the ridiculously hard-boiled dialogue such a situation demands. “You got a clean shot, back of the head—take it if you need it.” Imagine your personal favorite TV character saying that, even. It’s not that Chatham ever winks, or quips, or mugs for the camera to rebuke you for taking this at all seriously. What makes him comic is that there’s no real relief.
As myriad YouTube tributes have proved, you can frame Amos as an exclusively ultra-dark character, with grim hints of a child-sex-trafficking past neither the show nor the books have delved into long enough or deep enough to feel exploitative. (If Season 5 follows the books, we’ll follow him back to Baltimore, where he will grapple with what Chatham has described as his character’s “mother-figure-plus-lover situation that he had. It can get a little weird.”) There is something entirely inappropriate about Amos, as both a living human and a narrative device. One of his funniest early moments, in which he describes Naomi to Holden (who is Naomi’s boyfriend) as “like a sister to me,” concludes as follows:
There’s that look again. As The Expanse has deepened and widened, Amos has gotten his philosophical moments, his little speeches, from “Everyone leaves unfinished business—that’s what dying is” to “The way I see it, there’s only three kinds of people in this world: bad ones, ones you follow, and ones you need to protect.” That Chatham can dole out these nuggets of wisdom while holding a machine gun is extra impressive. But he was born to Kick Ass and Be Problematic. If this were the sort of show that inspired lots of hand-wringing think pieces, the dramatic conclusion of the Amos-Wei romance would inspire a whole bunch of them: It’s ugly and squirmy and also, as always, furiously logical and moral, according to his uncomfortably vivid and distinct brand of morality. Here is our last look at Amos in Season 4.
Yikes. Perfect. What a monster. What a gent. Then he punches a guy (presumably, but come on) to death. It makes sense if you watch the show. It’s the perfect Amos moment, really, if you watch the show. He’s going to keep on supplying those moments, in his inimitable awe-inspiring and mortifying way, until you finally agree to watch the show.