REVIEW: The Expanse Series 5 Episode 4 – Gaugamela

The expanse

The Expanse series five kicked off last week with three character-driven episodes that set the scene for some frankly apocalyptic happenings as the first of Marco Inaros’ stealth-coated asteroids slammed into Earth, just off the Africa coast.

As always, spoilers ahead for the series and the books.

the expanseThe episode starts with Bobbie and Alex tailing their suspected black marketeers off Mars, using Alex’s yacht, the Screaming Firehawk (the racing Razorback stolen from the Mao’s during Bobbie and Avasarala’s escape in season two).

They are discussing how Alex is struggling to cope with how he gave so much to Mars and it all seems to have been for a lie and Bobbie talks about how she went through the same thing. Then they receive word of flight restrictions from the UN, followed by news on the first asteroid hitting Earth.

Amos is waiting at a UN penitentiary as news of the impact plays on news screens. Amos tells the guard to be careful with his ‘Timothy’ mug rather than the bottle of expensive whisky also in his bag. The security is very tight, underground, with more wardens than inmates as it’s for prisoners with body modifications who can’t or won’t have them removed. One particularly mean looking inmate is pointed out. I expect we’ll see him again.

It turns out Amos is here to see Clarissa Mao. She is happy to see him and asks about Ilus. She talks about how removing her mod would be worse than being locked in a concrete box and fed blockers before asking why Amos is here. He says people like us get messed up by the things they do, but he got out because somebody helped him. Clarissa says he can’t help her. Suddenly, alarms go off for lockdown, then the roof shakes and the lights go out.

Avasarala is swearing at people to get through to UN Fleet Command so they know it’s an attack rather than a random happening as news of the second impact near Philadelphia comes through. As Crisjen is persona non grata, she can’t get through to Nancy Gao, the new Secretary-General of the UN who is on a flight over South East Asia. Remembering her time as Secretary-General, Avasarala uses her contacts with the crew on UN-1 to get through. Just as she does so, another impact hits, and the UN-1 gets tossed out of the sky.

Holden, Johnson, and Bull are doing some stealthy stuff on Tycho, when the reactor starts to go weird and a Belter ship fires on the station killing Bull’s commando crew. Sakai shoots Fred Johnson then makes off. As Johnson bleeds out, he tells Holden where the protomolecule is and to get there before the Belters do.

A Belter landing pod smashes a crab-like breaching droid (which is labeled Savage Industries which lit my little Mythbusters loving heart up) into Johnson’s quarters and Sakai and company join up with it and are going to take Monica (who was waiting in Fred’s quarters) with them.

As the droid takes the protomolecule back to the pod, Holden arrives and Monica fights Sakai while Holden takes on the droid and loses. Once the droid is inside, the landing pod goes back to the Belter ship, leaving a gap in the hull. Monica pulls Holden back into the room as security doors close and Sakai mocks them that the protomolecule is gone. ‘You all lose.’

Avarsarala is trying to contact her husband in the wake of the impact as Delgado advises her that the orders for the watchtowers to connect to the asteroid spotters went out but nobody is sure who’s in charge. They go to a bar as the watchtowers get a hit on an asteroid that’s going to hit on the Mexican pacific coast and eliminate it.

Naomi is taken from her bunk to the bridge of her ship where Filip transfers her to Marco’s ship for an awkward reunion. Marco says he never ordered for her to come and it shows that Filip is still somewhat a boy. He says that now they are together again as a family he can share the greatest victory in their people’s history and shows her the impacts on Earth.

Of course, Naomi is shocked and states that he’s killed millions, but he sees it as righteous. The crew advises that the fourth asteroid was intercepted, but Marco says even landing one would have been a triumph but three proved their tactical genius and the Inners will never call them weak again.

The episode closes with Inaros broadcasting to the system, claiming responsibility for the attacks. He states that everything outside the orbit of Mars–including the Ring gate and worlds–belongs to the Belters, protected by his Free Navy. He says that they will remake humanity’s future without the colonial influence of the Inners who could not grow past their oppressive instincts.

This episode was much more action Expanse than the character-driven bias we saw in previous episodes, although the exchanges between Bobbie and Alex, and Naomi’s reunion with Marco, carried plenty of emotional weight. Partly because of that high octane pacing, the episode felt like half of its 45 minutes run time.

This episode is titled Gaugamela which is surely a reference to the Battle of Gaugamela where Alexander the Great scored the ultimately decisive win over the Persian empire (although you could argue that Issus, two years previously was more impressive and important in the long run).

That’s a fitting title as this episode was all about the denouement of Inaros’ grand plan to punish the Inners and take power both of the Belter nation and the system as a whole. Three asteroid impacts on Earth, killing possibly billions of people as well as the assassination of Fred Johnson and taking possession of the protomolecule definitely make him the undisputed heavyweight antagonist of the series at this point.

I have an enduring fascination with the way the Belters are portrayed, especially through language. The way Naomi slipped from her usual perfect English into Lang Belta when meeting her old friends in the previous episode stands in stark contrast to how she talks to Marco.

While not using the Lang Belta, the Belter accent is more pronounced in her speech than it usually would be with the Rocinante crew. This is probably because she doesn’t feel the same camaraderie with him, but is at the same time very emotional. It’s a very subtle touch but it’s one of the many well-observed worldbuilding moments that make The Expanse so very, very good in my eyes.

Grimdark check: Millions dead, betrayals, assassinations of good people, estranged families, disillusionment, and one of our protagonists likely trapped in an underground jail with some modified inmates. Yep, that’ll cover it.

This episode was tremendous, concentrating on the rise of Inaros via the impacts and operation at Tycho station, with just enough from the viewpoints of other protagonists to keep them bubbling over. This feels like a crux point from act one to act two of the series and I’m as invested as ever.

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

Episodes 1-4 of Season Five 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.