****MAJOR SPOILER REVIEW****
There were fears in many corners that the myriad of issues affecting the filming of Season 5 of The Expanse (not least among them Covid-19) would cause a drop in the quality of the series. Let me put those fears to rest. Season 5, without a doubt, is the best season thus far in the premier science fiction series on television!
Season 5 opens with the crew of the Rocinante going their separate ways while the ship is being repaired. Viewers, for the first time, delve into the past of Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) and Amos Burton (Wes Chatham). Meanwhile, the changed lives of Chrisjen Avasarala (Shoreh Aghdashloo), Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams), Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), and James Holden (Steven Strait) are explored. Several previously unknown facts are revealed about Naomi and Amos as viewers see their interaction with past associates. The exploration of these diverse storylines provides more intense and exciting writing, exceptional direction, stunning visual effects, and phenomenal acting.
As the season unfolds, Alex returns to Mars to meet with Bobbie and reconcile with his estranged wife. The reconciliation is a failure and so he joins Bobbie to discover who is giving Martian weapons to the Belters. Their investigation uncovers that the thefts go to the highest level of the Martian navy. They discover that Admiral Sauveterre (Tim DeKay) is one of the key figures responsible for the theft of the military hardware and navy vessels. This realization devastates Alex as this new post-gate, directionless Mars is foreign to him.
On Luna, Avasarala is the lone voice in the wilderness as she works behind the scenes with Admiral Felix Delgado (Michael Irby) to alert Earth to the danger of Marco Inaros. As a powerless pawn of Nancy Gao (Lily Gao), Avasarala must use all of her political cunning to warn Earth of the danger that Inaros represents. Unfortunately, she is ignored until the rocks fall on Earth.
The devastation caused by Inaros’s rock attack was foreshadowed in Episode 104 when Avasarala and her grandson watched the night sky from her roof and he expressed fears of rocks falling from space. Even with the devastation on Earth and the loss of her beloved Arjun, Avasarala cautions against blaming all of the Belters for Marco’s attack. Again, hers is the unheeded voice of reason in a cacophony of cries for war. The inimitable Shohreh Agdashloo gives a powerful and truly emotional performance as Avasarala. Her struggles with the blindness of the Earth government and the loss of Arjun drive her performance as the viewers feel both her frustration and loss.
Amos’ visit to Baltimore contrasts with the elegant and powerful struggles taking place on Luna. It’s on these gritty streets of Baltimore that viewers learn that Amos has returned to settle the affairs of Lydia Allen (Stacey Roca), his late surrogate mother. There are several powerful moments when Amos confronts Lydia’s husband, Charles Jacob Allen (Frankie Faison), and Erich (Jacob Mundell), a Baltimore crime boss. Viewers learn that Amos’s real name is Timmy. Years earlier, Erich forged a new identity for Timmy using the name of a murdered crime boss, Amos Burton. This tidbit of information was teased in Episode 307 when Monica Stuart (Anna Hopkins) questioned Amos about his past.
From Baltimore, Amos heads to see Clarissa “Peaches” Mao (Nadine Nichol) at a top security prison. Amos and Clarissa find themselves in a desperate struggle for survival after one of Marco’s space rocks destroys the prison. The interaction between Amos and Clarissa “Peaches” Mao (Nadine Nicole) is heartbreakingly revelatory as they fight to survive and make their way to Baltimore. They are a tribe of two that tries to maintain some sense of humanity in the devastation wrought by Marco’s attack on Earth.
They discover on their long trek to join up with Erich what they are willing to do to survive. At one point, they have an illuminating discussion about tribes and how when societal rules break down, civilization devolves back into the basic tribal units of need and trust.
But the main action during the season is in the Belt with Naomi, Marco Inaros, Drummer, and Holden.
Holden remains on the Tycho with Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman) and his new security chief, Bull (José Zúñiga), who has little love for Belters. They are assisted by Tycho’s chief engineer Sakai (Bahia Watson). Unfortunately, for Johnson, Sakai is an operative for Inaros and betrays Johnson by shooting him in the back and stealing the Protomolecule. Fred Johnson’s betrayal and murder in the series carries a far more dramatic weight than how he perished in the novels. This series of events sends Holden, Bull, and Monica Stuart (Anna Hopkins) in pursuit of the Protomolecule and eventually, Naomi.
Meanwhile, Drummer has started her own faction with a new, polyamorous crew.
- Oksana (Sandrine Holt)
- Michio (Vanessa Smythe)
- Bertold (Stephen Tracey)
- Serge (Wilex Ly)
- Josep (Samer Salem)
Drummer’s life changes dramatically when Marco invites her faction to join him in his war against Earth. As her crew tries to decide what to do, Bertold states that they do not have a choice, since Earth will be hunting all Belter ships, not just Marco’s ship. They must either join or die. While this choice does not sit well with Drummer, she realizes the truth of the situation and her role in creating the current dilemma when she saved Marco’s life.
Cara Gee gives a truly extraordinary performance as she is torn between her love of her new family and the love she has for Naomi. Her past choice to save Marco comes back to haunt her as do Naomi’s past choices.
In a season where Earth is attacked by Marco Inaros, Martian weapons are sold to the Inaros faction, and Fred Johnson is murdered, Naomi’s journey to find and save her son, combined with the chaos wrought by Marco Inaros, establish this season heads above anything else on television. Season 5 belongs to Dominique Tipper and Keon Alexander for their gut-wrenching portrayal of former lovers Naomi Nagata and Marco Inaros. Theirs is a study in how young passionate love can obfuscate darker truths which, when revealed, have harmful and lasting effects. Their struggle is extraordinary to behold as they fight for the soul of their son, Filip (Jasai Chase Owens).
Owens is expertly cast as the conflicted son of Inaros and Nagata. Filip played an instrumental part in the horrible attack on Earth and the death of millions of people. Also, adding to the verisimilitude, is that Owens’s appearance eerily resembles what one would assume the son of Nagata and Inaros would look like. Owens expertly portrays a young man who needs his mother and the approval of his father. Unfortunately for Filip, his father is a monster and a master manipulator.
It is frightening to watch as Inaros cunningly manipulates Filip into hating his mother and committing heinous crimes against Earth, and even other Belters. Inaros’s hatred of Nagata is only matched by her hatred for him. In this mix, Cyn (Brent Sexton), Inaros’s lieutenant and friend of Nagata tries to act as a mediator. In contrast, Karal (Olunike Adeliyi), Inaros’s third in command, does not trust Nagata and wants her gone or dead.
To escape this poisonous environment aboard Inaros’s ship, Nagata executes a brilliant escape by traversing the vacuum between Inaros’s ship and her former ship, the Chetzemoka, which is now booby-trapped. Aboard the Chetzemoka, viewers see the incredible resilience and brilliance of Naomi Nagata as she forges ahead with limited resources, air, and time to warn Holden, Alex, and Bobbie of the danger of rescuing her. While Naomi Nagata is rescued, another death occurs when Alex strokes out because of all of the burn maneuvers that they made in the Screaming Firehawk to escape capture and save Naomi. Ironically, Alex’s death is the same death that Fred Johnson suffered in the book series. Alex’s death is unique to the television series.
The season concludes with glances at the future. In the final scenes, Sauveterre reveals that the Martian behind the scenes is Duarte. Viewers also see Cortazar on Laconia where he is overjoyed at the chance to work on the Protomolecule again. In the post-credit scene, the Protomolecule is waking on an ancient, Builder spacecraft in orbit around the planet. This, along with the Marco Inaros problem and the disappearance of Admiral Suaveterre’s ship, sets an ominous tone for Season 6.
Without a doubt, Season 5 of The Expanse is the best thus far, while the season finale ranks among the best season finales of all time on television. The writing and acting captivate the viewers with a scope that goes from the very human to cosmic in scope. The actors, especially Dominique Tipper, Keon Alexander, Cara Gee, and Shohreh Aghdashloo, bring a level of pathos not often seen on television. Viewers can only hope that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (Emmys) recognizes the phenomenal work by all of the actors this season.