Spoilers for the fifth season.
The Expanse just wrapped up its fifth season on Prime Video recently and there’s a lot to talk about. The space opera is one of the best shows on any television network these days, with the fifth season, in particular, shining some light on the co-stars of the show, rather than the series lead. The stakes have never been bigger but the tale in this season is much more personal. Let’s dive in.
Part of what makes The Expanse so good is the likeability and chemistry between the four leads. They’ve more or less been working together since the show began, but season five takes the bold move of splitting the team up. While the primary narrative drives the plot forward, we get a lot more character-driven moments as each member has their own mission and quest to embark on this time around. Unfortunately, this means some characters do get sidelined and the series lead, James Holden (Steven Strait, who is also an executive producer on the show), definitely gets sidelined this year. He has a bit of growth come the finale in terms of his relationship with Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), but for most of the season, he’s confined to his ship with a new crew or aboard Tycho Station. He’s in search of the proto molecule and eventually, Naomi herself, who has been captured by the father of her son and leader of the Free Navy, Marcos Inaros (Keon Alexander), a belter radical who is lashing out for years of mistreatment at the hands of the inners. His methods are…extreme, to say the least, but he feels wholly justified by his crusade.
Naomi’s storyline is one that shines brightly in this season of The Expanse. She departs the Rocinante early on in the show to search for her son, Filip, who has been lured and coerced by her manic ex, Marcos, a radical belter on the warpath against Earth. In a deal with rogue members of the Martian Navy, Marcos has been coating asteroids with Martian stealth tech to devastating effect, hurtling them towards Earth and killing millions. Naomi left Filip and Marcos many years ago and her son doesn’t even see Naomi as a mother anymore. He doesn’t trust her or respect her, at least not at first, but the cracks of doubt begin to form as the two spend more time together. As seen in the past, whenever Naomi is with her fellow Belters, her usually British accent changes to a patois Belter accent, highlighting how badly she tries to hide her past. But Filip is also fiercely loyal to his father, which frightens Naomi, who claims Marcos has made their son an accessory to the murder of millions of innocent lives. Filip hates his mother for abandoning them, but despite his grim outlook, I think he’s beginning to doubt his path, despite appearing cold and calculating by the finale, stating he felt betrayed yet again by his mother, who chose to flee her captivity and plunge into the vacuum of space. Why would she do this you may ask? Well, Marcos has a trap in place for the Rocinante, a false call for help from Naomi and she literally jumps ship in an attempt to stop the trip. Filip is furious that her non-blood family means more to her than he does. One of the most intense moments for Naomi this season was when she was aboard the trap ship, which was carrying nothing but bombs. It didn’t even have proper oxygen in some parts of the ship, which means Naomi would have to rush out in her suit, into corridors lacking oxygen and try to solve various problems while on a timer. Isolated, at her wit’s end and desperate, these moments proved some of the best for the character.
Family plays a pretty important role in the other major arc of this season, that of Amos Burton (Wes Chatham). He too decides to take an extended leave from the Roci to head back to Earth to settle some affairs. He returns to Baltimore, whereas a youth, he was forced into child prostitution, which explains Amon’s twisted sense of humour and capacity for violence. Amos sets things right with the man who lived with his adoptive mother by confronting the crime lord of Baltimore, Erich, who just so happens to be his estranged brother. Amos’ story also takes him to the prison cell of Clarissa Mao, the daughter of Jules Pierre Mao and the would-be assassin of James Holden in season three. The two have built up a budding friendship and while on Earth, Amos opts to visit her. When asteroids fall from the sky, the two witness lawlessness rise and plan to leave Earth with the help of Erich. By the end, Amos and Erich don’t want to kill each other and Clarissa, nicknamed “Peaches” by Amos, joins the Rocinante’s crew after Amos dumps the surprise on Holden after getting his word that the captain won’t kill Amos for the move. I’m sure Holden is very surprised and caught off guard by his new crewmate, considering she did try to kill him during the Ring Gate arc. This is certainly a different Amos from when we first met him in season one of The Expanse and one who cares deeply for those around him.
The storylines of Alex and Holden do suffer due to the extended and meatier runtimes of their fellow crew members. Holden is relegated to largely standing around on decks searching for the proto molecule for most of the season that Fred Johnson kept hidden until the Belters stole it. Upon learning of Naomi’s abduction, Holden pivots the plan to try and rescue her, which is exactly what Marcos Inaros planned. Holden’s still Holden, but characters like Bull and Monica end up stealing his thunder a bit. Alex likewise spends a good chunk of the season either in the cockpit of the Razorback or investigating the MCRN connection to Inaros. His arc starts off meatier but as the season progresses, feels more limited. This could be due to the investigations into Alex’s actor, Cas Anvor, for sexual harassment. His character abruptly dies by the finale and his death did feel rather disjointed at the moment, as if it was added in post-production (I wouldn’t be surprised if it was, despite what the writers and showrunner say) but the manner of his death worked well for the story in the end, as his dire rush to push the Razorback in High-G resulted in him having a stroke and dying while trying to save Naomi in the finale. The Expanse’s core crew may be different, but the sense of family will still be intact for the finale, as evident by the crew’s final scene together, in where Earthers, Belters and Martians like Bobby Draper (who spends most of the season with Alex) are working together in harmony. The goal.
Aside from character, another thing that the series has done well is how it juggles politics and season five continues that trend, showcasing Avasalara struggling with the ethical decisions of the planned retaliation against Inaros for his asteroid attack. Is Earth justified in attacking civilian targets if it means seriously incapacitating the Free Navy’s ability to refuel? Or would that simply unite the factions under one flag? Avasalara is, as always, regal while being the most foul-mouthed individual on the show, but her thorny exterior cracks this season upon learning about the death of her husband in the asteroid attack. The facade she showcases to the world crumbles in private, showing us some humanity from this otherwise tough as nails politician.
In the final moments of the show, the Free Navy of Marcos Inaros and the rogue elements of the MCRN attack the Ring Gate, setting up a tantalizing final season to come and I have every faith Naren Shankar, the showrunner of the series can stick the landing. There was plenty of greatness this season but The Expanse benefits greatly from excellent writing and acting. For a space opera with many factions, shifting loyalties and politics, not to mention thrilling space battles, the show never loses sight of its characters and enjoys putting them in morally dubious situations. Characters are tested and payoff may take many episodes, but that’s the sign of great writing. Holden, who is relegated to the backend of the character growth scale this season, gets a touching moment with Naomi in the finale upon hearing her prerecorded message she sent to him many episodes ago about their relationship and how much it means to Naomi. Holden didn’t listen to it, as he feared it would make things final should the worst happen, but upon hearing it for the first time with the woman he loves next to him, he gets this touching moment of compassion after a season of hardships. It’s simple, but powerful at the same time.
I do wonder what will happen next and how our characters will grow as they march towards the concluding chapter of the show, which will feature rogue Martians, the Free Navy and a mysterious element likely tied to the proto molecule that was revealed in the final moments of the show as the rogue MCRN ship passed through the Gate. If you haven’t been watching The Expanse you should do yourself a favour and get on that, the show is simply one of the best on television and an excellent example of sci-fi done right.