It’s time for the finale of season 5 of The Expanse, titled as has become customary after the book which will form the core of the next series – Nemesis Games. And in your final warning for this season’s series episode review, ‘ware spoilers!
The tension has been expertly built leading up to this episode, so let’s dive in.
The Rocinante and Screaming Firehawk are burning hard towards the Chetzemoka to save Naomi, who is frantically trying to stop her friends being caught up in Marco Inaros’ trap. Meanwhile, Drummer and the #polyambelterfam* are tasked by Inaros to take out the Rocinante.
(* I can’t take credit for that name, but I saw it online for the group that makes up Drummer’s faction and it’s just so perfect.)
On the Rocinante, Bull advises Holden that the Roci’s systems have picked up some threats–it’s the destroyer, Koto and the heavy frigate, Serrio Mal which are former Martian ships now in Free Navy service, alongside the ships of Drummer’s faction–Tynan, Dewalt, and Mowteng. Monica pulls Bull up about calling the Belter ships ‘skinnies.’
Holden and Bull are agreed that they can’t win, due to being heavily outgunned and already low on ammunition. Monica says that they have to run and Holden… doesn’t respond.
As Drummer prepares on board her ship, Karal takes fire control in a pointed gesture and Berthold tells her that she doesn’t need to be on the bridge to see this. Drummer says she doesn’t look away from what she does. It’s Captain now, Camina later…
Holden proposes a plan to basically charge the Belter fleet, guns blazing. He says Inaros won’t let the Rocinante away again and this way by taking their attention, it gives the Firehawk and Naomi a chance to escape. Bull comes round, Monica looks horrified.
Holden advises Alex and Bobbie of the plan. Alex chokes down his emotions and puts more speed on towards Naomi.
Oh Gods, that’s just the pre-title sequence. I can’t cope with this.
Naomi finally manages to batter something loose inside the Chetzemoka, making the ship spiral. Alex and Bobbie on the Firehawk notice the change. Bobbie lays out why this makes docking extremely dangerous if not impossible and points out the possibility of them crashing or hard manoeuvring after such a strong burn leading to one of them having a stroke. Alex says ice cold that they’re going to get Naomi.
As the Rocinante gets ready for the fight, Holden tells Bull to stop with the ‘skinny’ slurs.
As they get into engagement range, Drummer pulls a gun on Karal tells her to shut up and fires a missile that takes our the drive on Oksana’s ship. There is a brawl that results in Karal dead at Michio’s hands with Bertold at gunpoint and Drummer speaking to the destroyer Koto saying there was a malfunction in fire control. She launches a flurry of missiles at the Koto–none of which hit–but this allows the Rocinante to fly through, now pretty much one-on-one with the Serrio Mal, still heftily outgunned.
Josep takes matters into his own hands on Oksana’s ship and decides to fire on the Serrio Mal, taking out the heavy frigate. Holden contacts the remaining Belter ships and tells them to switch off their drives–Drummer responds, letting Holden know it’s her.
Alex contacts Naomi to say they’re going to find a way to dock. Naomi calls him a brave idiot, sees that the Firehawk is now close enough to have armed the bombs on the Chetzemoka.
She looks resigned, opens the airlock she entered the Chetzemoka by and takes a running leap into the void. At least she’s wearing a suit this time.
Alex is plotting the docking manoeuver when Bobbie sees something fall off the Chetzemoka and realises it’s Naomi. Alex interprets her Belter hand signals–‘no radio, running out of air, ship is explosion hazard’–and they realise that they can’t approach as Naomi is within the spiralling Chetzemoka’s flightpath.
We get a long shot of Naomi’s face in her suit, running out of air and spinning out of control. The tone of her suit indicating that she’s out of oxygen takes over and it feels like the last we’ll see of Naomi.
Then there’s a thump, Bobbie’s voice telling her she’s putting an oxygen line in and then contacting Alex. Bobbie appears onscreen, looking cool as a cucumber. We pan out and see that Bobbie has done an EVA to collect Naomi and is nudging them away from the Chetzemoka and towards the Firehawk, giving Alex an update on her condition. Hypoxic, radiation burns etc. Alex says that was one hell of a ride, then stops replying. We see him inside the Firehawk, warning buzzers going off. He’s stroked out.
On Inaros’ flagship, we see a very calm Filip maintaining his gun. Then on the bridge, Marco is getting an update on the situation with the Koto and Serrio Mal apparently destroyed, no response from Drummer’s faction and the Rocinante powering towards the Chetzemoka. Marco loses his cool a bit at the news, then gets himself under control and tells Serge–the totally-not-hostage from Drummer’s faction to come and see him.
Filip appears on the bridge and Marco updates him. When Marco questions his lack of response, Filip says there’s no point in anger at losing ships. “We tried to kill them, and we failed. Does it alter your plan?” Marco looks a little taken aback, but again rallies and congratulates Filip on having grown.
Back on the Rocinante, now docked with the Firehawk. Holden is telling Naomi about Alex–he died from a stroke, his ex-wife will handle the funeral which will be with full military honours. Holden says a stroke is a risk they all take with every hard burn. Naomi beats herself up that he died saving her from her mistakes.
Monica is on the bridge, watching a newscast about Avasarala being sworn in as secretary-general and implementing martial law before making an appeal to the ‘law-abiding citizens of the belt.’ Bobbie walks by and Monica wants her to look over her analysis of the Rocinante’s battle with the belter shop that had been carrying the protomolecule.
Back to Holden and Naomi. They blow up the Chetzemoka with one of their last missiles, then Holden says Luna is probably the best course as Amos is there. Naomi says she could be arrested as a war criminal. Holden assures her that Avasarala will grant her immunity.
Naomi asks if Holden watched her ‘if something goes wrong’ message and he says he couldn’t. She plays it for him. It’s a beautiful testament to the found family of the Rocinante, but also tells him to let her go. They cry. I might have done a bit as well.
Back to Drummer’s faction and their three ships are docked together. They are watching a video of Serge being executed by Marco. They all cry.
Oksana says Drummer lied to her, knowing that Serge’s death would be the cost. Oksana says she’s leaving, taking one of the ships and Bertold goes with her. “We have nothing to stay together for.”
Amos is waiting for the Rocinante to dock and Eric says he’s got plans on the colony ships, new corners to cut out and offers him a spot, Amos says he’s got a new thing now and won’t change his mind. He goes to have a drink with his old friend but drops the whisky decanter and it slowly tumbles in the lunar gravity to shatter on the ground.
There’s a heartfelt reunion between the Holden, Naomi, and Amos at the Roci’s airlock. Naomi apologises for losing Alex but Amos says it wasn’t her fault and he’d make the same stand for his family.
Amos asks Holden to talk for a minute and reminds him of how Holden once tried to kill him. Holden says a lot has changed and it’s cool cause they’re family now. Amos says great and then shouts Clarissa on, saying she’s going to ride with them for a bit.
The remnants of the Roci crew attend what looks like a diplomatic reception on Luna. Naomi seems to have been granted immunity in return for giving info on Marco. She says that Avasarala has come a long way and Holden responds that they all have.
Avasarala draws the attention of the whole room to the Roci crew, saying this is what Inaros hates and the way they win is to make every Earther, Martian, and Belter like this.
Marco is telling Filip that when he was young, what they’re about to do wasn’t even a dream.
The Free Navy attacks the Earth ships guarding the ring gate, helped by a swarm of micro asteroids coated in stealth tech and a fleet of Martian ships that look to have gone over to Inaros. At many hours delay, Avasarala watches the news come in, accompanied by Holden and Bobbie, who advise that Inaros may have bought the ships with protomolecule after Monica worked out that one of the torpedoes fired by the Belter ship with the protomolecule got away and was never aimed at the Roci.
We see Belter ships in control of ring space and an exchange where Admiral Sauveterre congratulates Inaros on a victory, then Inaros confirms his ownership of the Laconia system. Sauveterre reminds Inaros that the minefield on their side of that ring is now active.
Sauveterre then communicates with Cotezar, apparently on Laconia who says the sample of protomolecule has arrived and they are already seeing results. The shot pans to show a huge structure in orbit, like a moon but more akin to the structures on Ilus.
Sauveterre reminds Babbage that they don’t have the luxury of civilian niceties in their new nation and must be purer than Mars ever was, and admonishes her for a non-dress code bracelet. As she hands it over, they transit the ring and we see the telltale signs of the malign entities that destroyed the ring builders. Ominous.
My thoughts on Nemesis Games
So much was packed into Nemesis Games that it’s almost hard to process.
The episode contains space combat, betrayal, the death of a protagonist crew member and salvation of another. After all that, there’s the fallout from these events and the sense that even when the Roci crew have foiled Inaros this time, all of this was just a distraction and he’s got his larger goal–control of the ring and all the worlds beyond it.
There were two points during Nemesis Games that I realised I’d started holding my breath. These came as the Rocinante closed with the Belter fleet and as Naomi seemed to be dying in the void. As a cynical old SFF fan, it takes genuine attachment to characters to get that response from me and I can give The Expanse no greater compliment.
The emotional fall out between Drummer’s faction and Naomi’s guilt over Alex’s death only adds to these continuing emotional stakes. It’s laudable to see it portrayed that tough decisions and bravery often have costs and our heroes don’t get a neat happy ever after. There is loss, regret and allies diminished as well as joy and relief survival and at coming together.
The final part of this episode is almost a testament to the genius of Marco Inaros. While his plan to be rid of the Rocinante and ultimately revenged upon Naomi failed–largely due to Drummer’s loyalty to Naomi and Naomi’s own determination to save her friends–Marco is triumphant at the end. The co-ordinated assault which destroys the Earth sentries at the ring gate and gives control of the Ring to Inaros had moving parts across multiple factions and involved stealthing and redirecting a cloud of asteroids. This was a plan of vast scope, put in motion years before and it has dramatically changed the political shape of humanity’s universe.
On a lighter note, Amos guilting Holden into accepting Clarissa onto the Rocinante was hilarious, just as his flat refusal to even countenance going with Eric was touching.
I liked the way that Sauveterre’s betrayal and the exact nature of it was foreshadowed as his presentation to the Martian academy when he spoke to Alex back at the start of the series was about the tactical implications of the Ring space, then in the final episode he’s involved in a multi-part operation to secure that very terrain. Neat.
Another little geek thing I like was the way that Naomi knew her attempt to make the Chetzemoka spin was successful was when she set her helmet on the deck it rolled away, implying that the apparent ‘down’ caused by the thrust of the ship as now skewed. The Expanse has always been great at these little details of believable and accurate space physics and it really helps when bigger suspensions of belief are needed.
The Expanse has been one of my favourite shows since it debuted and Season 5 was arguably the best to date, albeit benefitting from the character development and worldbuilding of prior seasons. I can’t praise the production as a whole more highly, from writers to visual effects and set design to the actors. Special nods go to the performances of Dominique Tipper, Keon Alexander, Jasai Chase Owens, Cara Gee and Wes Chatham for the emotional weight they brought to some of the most personal storylines the show has run with.
Nemesis Games tied up some of the personal stories relatively neatly but the closing events show that this universe is far from calm. The Free Navy control the ring and the planets beyond. Some militaristic breakaway Martians have alien tech and protomolecule on a planet called Laconia (that’s a bit on the nose for some Spartans). Mars has been spiritually gutted, the Belt is hurting from losses at Earth’s hands and is likely turning towards Inaros while Earth is reeling from millions dead, massive damage and now martial law in the wake of the asteroid attacks.
Oh, and the malign entities that killed the ring builders are still there and getting angry.
There is plenty ahead for the crew of the Rocinante to go through. On a personal level, they need to process the loss of Alex, acclimatise to Clarissa being on board (which will be especially hard for Holden, given their history) and I doubt we’ve seen the last of the family drama between Naomi, Marco, and Filip.
Nemesis Games was a masterful climax to a fantastic series and I can’t wait for Season 6. However, with no release date yet confirmed, it’s likely that will be in December 2021 at the absolute earliest (based on previous seasons on Amazon Prime) but that might be delayed by pandemic related issues.
What did you enjoy in Nemesis Games and what are you looking forward to as the story continues?
Episodes 1-10 of Season Five and all prior seasons of The Expanse can be streamed via Amazon Prime – https://www.primevideo.com and new episodes are coming every Wednesday.