REVIEW: The Expanse Season Five Episode Six – Tribes

The expanse

The Expanse series five continues on from last week’s episode five Down and Out which started to unpick the aftermath of the asteroid impacts on Earth and the rise of Marco Inaros Free Navy. As always, if your not with us and up to E6, Tribes, turn back immediately. Spoilers abound.

the exspanseTribes starts with Crisjen Avasarala trying to get in contact with her husband who was on Earth when the second asteroid hit. The new interim Secretary General comes to see her. He seems a little shaken and out of his depth and asks Crisjen to be part of his new cabinet. After he leaves, Crisjen starts to cry.

Monica talks her way onto the Rocinante as Holden and Bull get ready to go after the Belters with the protomolecule. Holden gets a message from Naomi titled ‘if anything goes wrong.’

Back to Alex and Bobbie with the Razorback seemingly floating without power after ejecting their power core to shake off a missile. A Belter ship comes up and they go to board the Razorback but Bobbie is in full Martian power armour and lays waste to the boarding party as Alex leaps over the gap and drops a charge into the Belter ship’s engine. As the Belter ship pushes away and looks to turn its guns on them, the Razorback powers away and as the Belters go to follow, they blow up.

In the Belt, the Free Navy is debating what to do about Naomi. Marco says they should space her but Filip doesn’t want to and Cyn squares up to Marco and says he should do it himself. In the end, Filip pleads with Marco to spare her life. Afterwards, Filip confronts Naomi in her cell, saying she deserved to die, but Naomi finishes by telling him Marco wouldn’t die for him but would let him die.

Drummer’s fleet is waiting for Inaros and is suddenly find themselves surrounded and “asked” to dock with the Free Navy. As they board, they notice the various factions represented in the Free Navy and realise Marcos could command the loyalty of half of the OPA.

Drummer and Marco bicker about the past, about Fred and Ashford. To break the tension, Drummer’s crewmates ask about the future, specifically as Earth still provides soil and complex biotics. Marcos shows them evidence that after a few lean years, the belt can be self-sufficient within a decade–and it’s better than the way the Inners have been killing the Belters slowly since the Belt was established.

Drummer and company take their leave to discuss the offer to join the Free Navy and the consensus is that they have no choice but to join the Free Navy and they exchange crew with Inaros. Inaros introduces Filip to Drummer, pointing out that she used to be “friends” with Naomi before Naomi went off to Holden. Filip lets slip that Naomi is on Marcos ship and Marco cannot shush him in time. Curious about seeing another side of his mother, Filip goes to speak to her.

The main thrust of this episode is back on Earth with Amos and Clarissa Mao hiking through the snow. She’s concerned about being caught and Amos remarks that as there’s no prison left, they’ll probably just shoot her.

They find a dead body and as Amos is looting the body for useful things like boots and a jacket they discuss their families (or lack of) and very different backgrounds. There is a commonality of lacking a present parent, but Amos seems to have had more actual care despite Clarissa’s privilege…

They meet a guy at a fire who is wary of strangers but gives them advice on what’s going on in the area. He offers them a drink but Amos refuses and they make their way off as advised. Amos then stops to make sure he’s not following them. He tells Clarissa that people are always tribal, and when things are good the tribe gets big but when things are tough — ‘in the churn’ as he calls it — tribes get small. They’re a tribe of two right now. Clarissa says it’s better than one.

They approach a compound occupied by a guy who’s been shooting trespassers. Amos wants to trade for a rifle but the dude makes him strip to show he’s not armed. Once he’s stripped the guy says he’ll kill Amos anyway and take what he’s offering (a water recycler they didn’t actually have) but before he can shoot Clarissa activates her mod and rushes past Amos, beats the guy to a pulp, and then shoots him for good measure with his dropped weapon. Then she collapses. Amos carries her into the compound and makes her comfortable.

The episode closes with Amos and Clarissa talking about what they’ve done in killing a guy and taking his stuff. Amos says they needed supplies and rest, so it was worth the risk and he was willing to do what had to be done. Clarissa questions this and Amos says Holden wouldn’t have approved. “I need to get back to my crew.”

This is another character-heavy episode of The Expanse that is mostly about setting the wheels in motion for another action episode down the line.

As usual, there are a few things I want to draw attention to. Firstly is the cool attention to detail with space physics in the scene with Bobbie and Alex, both in Alex’s leaps between the ships, but in the way that he gets plastered to the floor when he activates the Razorback’s engines while standing perpendicular to the direction of thrust. Meanwhile, Bobbie, who is used to high G deployments and is wearing armour, manages to stay upright. That’s a nice detail to remember.

In Tribes, yet again, the relationships between the Belters in the Free Navy are fascinating, with the politics inside Drummer’s polyamorous crew being fascinating, the way that Cyn shows a lot more tolerance for Naomi and a degree of care for Filip compared to Karal being similarly interesting. It’s clear that the Free Navy is nowhere near as monolithic a personality cult as it appears and that exposure to the likes of Naomi and Drummer is widening those cracks.

Amos and Clarissa’s arc at this point seems almost totally divorced from the more overtly science fiction plots which are going on elsewhere in The Expanse but as the people on the ground in the aftermath of this series inciting moment (the asteroid strikes) they really are at the heart of the story.

The points made about how people act in desperation — even on rich, privileged Earth — about how trauma comes in many shapes, between folks as different as Clarissa and Amos and the similarity between this desperation and that felt by the Belters after years of oppression is integral to the human core of The Expanse. It’s a stark juxtaposition that as some of the Belters see that atrocity isn’t the way to make things better, we see people on Earth tearing each other apart for necessities.

Finally, I just love the closing beat where Amos once again realises he’s straying from a moral centre bereft of a Naomi or a Holden to keep him on track. If The Expanse was a purely grimdark story, he’d probably be the lead protagonist, the anti-hero living from moment to moment, capable of terrible things out of practicality or anger but never evil it’s its purest sense.

The inclusion of a traumatised and clearly neurodivergent character as a complex and anti-heroic one is fantastic as we all too often see such tendencies applied to either villains, paragons of virtue, or charity cases rather than sympathetic characters with agency. Wes Chatham’s performances continue to be one of the best things in an excellent show.

For me, Tribes was another character-based episode that’s clearly moving pieces and motivations around as we move towards the endgame of the series. That said, there’s plenty of action and intrigue to keep the more twitchy of us happy, seeing as we had one straight-up murder, a Martian marine in badass mode, and an exploding spaceship in this episode. Just a quiet one…

What did you enjoy in this episode and what are you looking forward to as the story continues?

Episodes 1-6 of Season Five and all prior seasons of The Expanse can be streamed via Amazon Prime and new episodes are coming every Wednesday.

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Chris Napier

Chris Napier lives in Glasgow, Scotland with his wife, two young sons and a head full of utter nonsense. An ecumenical geek, he especially delights in stories of hope in dark places and finding beauty in desolation. In between writing his own stories and posting to his Chaotic Good Story Club, he attends the Glasgow SF Writers Circle and contributes to Big Comic Page and Grimdark Magazine.