For the uninitiated, “The Expanse” is a science fiction TV series that is now in its fifth season with at least one more to come via Amazon Prime. “The Expanse” is inspired by the series of the same name by James SA Corey (pseudonym of writing duo Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck.)
We’ve covered the previous events in the TV show previously (Link) but as this is the fifth season, I’d strongly recommend checking the previous ones out rather than jumping in cold.
Those of us who are fans of “The Expanse” have been eagerly awaiting the new series for some time after the tantalising hints at the end of the fourth season and we’ve been rewarded with three episodes on release day.
Rather than doing a beat-by-beat recap, I’m going to do a quick rundown of significant events in each episode for each plot thread/location and then discuss the things that really stood out to me over these episodes. Buckle up.
The episode kicks off with one of the asteroids that Marco Inaros sent on a collision course with Earth passing too close to the Sun and shattering. Later, a science vessel over Venus is investigating the rogue asteroid when it gets attacked and destroyed by the Free Navy, under the command of Filip Inaros – Marco Inaros & Naomi Nagata’s son.
On Tycho station, Naomi is talking with Belter mech Sakai and asks her not to use pejoratives against Martians before butting heads with Bull over the Rocinante’s preferential treatment. Fred Johnson then meets Naomi and advises her that her son is alive and still affiliated with Inaros.
Naomi later discusses this with Holden, who wants to come and help but Naomi explains that Holden would make things harder and she has to go alone. She had to try and save him from the fate that being associated with Inaros makes almost inevitable.
Tired of news about the Rings and their Builders, Holden switches the news off then goes for a drink. He is then pressured by Monica – the journalist from season three – who has had a shift in personality and is now driven to seek out the shadowy forces manipulating things. She says that people are still trying to get the protomolecule. Holden tells her to go away, but then goes straight to Fred Johnson to ask about it.
Despite Holden telling him about the hostile entities that eliminated the Builders and revealing that Holden perceives them as getting angry at the renewed use of the Rings, Johnson says he cannot give up the Belt’s protomolecule until they are patrolling their territory without assistance. Johnson then makes an interesting point that Holden should concentrate on his blessings – his relationship with Naomi, his ship, his crew – rather than the ‘end of the world.’
– En route to Earth, moves to the lower decks ostensibly to avoid snoring. He then stands up for new bunkmates in the face of a protection racket. He almost immediately goes for a shower with his new bunkmates asking if he knows what will happen. “I don’t like to wait.” Of course, Amos beats up the protection racket gang and then has a shower. Arriving on Luna he gets stopped by two cops and immediately reacts with “First of all, I didn’t start it and they were all alive when I walked out.” It turns out they’re taking him to Avasarala who greets him with “You look like shit.’ Avasarala wants to know if Amos is going to Earth
Bobbie & Alex
– Bobbie is working for Avasarala, trying to get info on the black market smuggling on Mars. She burns a contact and decides to ask Avasarala to finance a big purchase to flush out a major player.
Alex returns to Mars and sees adverts for work on off-world colonies on his way to visit his wife. She wants no part of him and that she doesn’t owe him closure. OUCH. Alex is in contact with his son, but the call is super awkward.
Alex meets Bobbie, who claims to be unemployed. Bobbi is in no mood for Alex’s hopefulness regarding his family or Mars in general and is pretty blunt with him.
– After meeting Amos, an admiral comes to tells Avasarala that the science ship on Venus *might* have been destroyed by Inaros.
As the episode ends, Holden is alone and maudlin on the Roci, Alex sees boarded up shopfronts on Mars, Amos lands back on Earth and Inaros watches the progress of his asteroids.
– Drummer has resigned from the OPA and is now running as a pirate. She finds Ashford’s ship.
– Amos has returned to Earth after the death of the woman who effectively raised him. It’s revealed that this woman, Lydia helped to anchor the young boy – whose real name is Timothy – after being a bad person herself – probably a prostitute and/or madam. It ends up being revealed that Amos was himself a child prostitute before he got too old and became muscle himself.
He meets Lydia’s partner, Charles who is now being evicted as the man who owns the house – Eric – wants it back.
Amos goes to meet Eric and punches one of his pimps/dealers to get him to pass on a message. When the guy returns to take Amos to Eric, Amos passes him some ice. No hard feelings.
Meeting Eric, it is revealed that Amos – actually Timothy – and Eric were street rats together and Timothy killed the real Amos Burton and took his identity as a way off world, while Eric took over the business in Baltimore.
Eric thought Amos was actually intending to ‘come back’ but Amos is at pains to say he’s not here to take anything that belongs to him, just to make sure that Charles gets to stay in Lydia’s house. Eric says ‘you’ve changed.’
Eric says that Burton’s ID won’t hold up if he is arrested. He also says “I love you, but show your face in my city again and I’ll put you down.”
We get a memory of Amos as a child with a bloodstained face, looking out to sea with Lydia. They deciding to make a better life where they pretend they aren’t such bad people.
Later, Amos is on the same dock at night when a bunch of young hoods wander up to him. Amos frightens them off, then makes a call – he has one more person to see before he leaves Earth forever.
– Monica contacts him again and says she has info about the protomolecule and wants to meet but she is not there when he goes to meet her and her apartment has been turned over.
Holden takes the issue to Fred Johnson, but the footage from the hall has been deleted. We see Monica captive inside a cargo container. She tries to escape but ends up denting the door and venting her atmosphere as she’s being stored in space. In the nick of time, Holden & Johnson managed to find her.
Alex & Bobbie
– Alex goes to visit Bobbie and she apologises and lets him know what she’s doing. Bobbie has an idea about who’s at the top of the black market – Admiral Sauveterre- but she can’t get close. Alex says he can speak to him.
Alex goes to see the Admiral after a military strategy lecture. Sauveterre makes a stirring speech about making bold moves without analysing every possible action. Everything that happens alters the strategic framework – the ring space has changed everything. To carry the dream of Mars to a dream of humanity around 1000 stars.
The Admiral gives Alex short shrift – he is, after all, piloting a stolen Martian ship for an Earth captain. Lieutenant Babbage then speaks to Alex and arranges to meet him, but she is working for the Admiral.
– Crisjen has a difficult chat with her daughter who is visiting her on Luna. They deal with Avasarala’s estrangement from her husband and decision to remain politically engaged rather than retire and spend more family time. Avasarala later speaks to the UN council regarding the possibility of Inaros being involved with Venus but gets shut down by her successor. Later she speaks to UNN Admiral Delgado about why the science ship might have been destroyed as it is strange for Belter pirates to operate in the inner system.
Avasarala & Delgado get a scientist in to look at asteroid data and it comes to light that the string of asteroids could be one larger one that had broken up due to gravity and for some reason, the asteroids have a strange reflectivity. On the assumption this means that the original asteroid was coated in Martian stealth tech, Avasarala wants the Watchtowers usually looking at Mars to be reassigned.
– Camina finds Ashfords ship and his data cores. She tells her pirate crew that she plans to collect the bounty on Inaros. For the money, obviously. Not vengeance. It’s totally vengeance. Camina is later comforted by a crewmate.
– Monica shows evidence that Cortisar – the protomolecule scientist from series one – has been abducted. Sakai helps Holden & Johnson find out who bought the container Monica was in, but the two Belters have already been assassinated.
– On Pallas station, Naomi gets heckled by Belters jealous of her money but she is saved by old pals who are happy to see her, but also still bitter that she left them. They warn her off trying to ‘save’ Filip.
Later, Naomi confronts her son and it doesn’t go well. He’s righteously angry that she left him and is now with an Earther, flying with other Inners.
He comes to her later in her ship, but she is attacked by her old friends and they steal her ship. Her friends are going to leave her on the station but Filip says she’s coming with them.
Alex & Bobbie
– Alex tells Bobbie how his meeting with the admiral went and she is still sure he’s the guy they’re after. Alex goes to meet Lt. Babbage and has a very awkward and cringy pseudo-date with her. As he gets home, he gets jumped and interrogated as to why he’s interested in the admiral. Bobbie arrives and beats up his attackers, who are then taken away by Martian police. They decide to follow the resulting lead using Alex’s yacht and polluting skills, although Alex is wary that this ship doesn’t have any weapons.
Avasarala’s – Delgado visits and says he was shut down when asking about the Watchtowers and that he can’t help Avasarala anymore. She says he’s her last ally. She later receives the information Drummer recovers from Ashford, indicating he was planning to do something grander with asteroids.
Last thing we see in this episode is an asteroid crashing down towards Africa. An old man is fishing. The horizon lights up.
There is a lot of significant character work going into these three episodes as the tension was built up towards the first asteroid impact on Earth. There are three main threads I want to talk about.
There is so much interesting stuff with Belter culture in these episodes. Starting with Sakai calling a Martian a ‘duster’ and Naomi asking her not to use slurs against inners, seeing as the rest of the crew are inners and they all work together. The attitude between Sakai and Bull later on Tycho also plays up to this tension. Then we see Naomi ostracised by her fellow Belters, including her friends and son due to her association with Inners. There’s some excellent code-switching between English and Lang Belta from Naomi, especially in the bar on Pallas that shows how she walks between two cultures and not easily or comfortably.
On Drummer’s ship it’s implied that the pirates are polyamorous and bisexual, which makes a lot of sense in how relationships would need to be conducted in close confines on long journeys. The sense of sharing and community in place of more restrictive moral codes you might expect from an Inner ship, all discipline and hierarchy. There is also the fact that Camina takes the killing of her friend, Ashford – who was her enemy in the not too distant past – very personally and this speaks to codes of honour and obligation amongst the Belters.
Finally, there are very convincing arguments put forth by many Belters that show how deep the resentment against the Inners is and how appealing Inaros grand ambitions are. From Sakai’s interaction with Bull all the way to Filip actively repudiating his mother, this is emotive and embedded stuff.
Amos / Timothy
Especially in the second episode, there is so much awesome content around Amos here. The revelations about his real identity, his childhood and so on are massive and offer an insight into a previously enigmatic character.
The dichotomy in Amos’s character is remarkable. He seemingly seeks a dangerous brawl with a gang en route to Earth for the sake of it but will take risky action to protect a man he’s never met before in the name of a dead woman who was kind to him.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Amos’s directness and the implied neurodivergence in his character but this season is taking that to a whole new level.
At the start of the series, Mars was a superpower, going toe to toe with Earth and a real threat to the homeworld. Since the Ring gates have opened up the universe, the long hard work of terraforming is not as appealing as just moving to a habitable world and Mars is bleeding.
Alex is shocked to see the way the planet has gone from a bustling hive of industry, with work always available to what feels like a ghost town.
This has led to the black market, with Mars much-vaunted technology now being sold off to the highest bidder. I also find Admiral Sauveterre’s speech about the importance of the Ring space and taking the dream of Mars from one dusty rock around a single star to 1000 systems to feel like a foreshadowing of something hegemonic.
Would a Martian faction deliberately work with Belters to hobble Earth while actually seeking Empire among the stars?
Oh yes. This season of “The Expanse” has already had plenty of grimdark elements. We see inequality and corruption on Mars. We see our protagonists having difficult relationships where their good intentions simply don’t fix things. We see the effect of centuries of embedded exploitation, colocalization, and prejudice, resulting in terrorism on a grand scale. We see that even on rich, shiny homeworld Earth, there are still places where people have to sell their bodies for drug money, run by exploitative and morally bankrupt people. We see a broad range of people making bad choices from worse options with few good outcomes seeming possible.
In my eyes, “The Expanse” is exceptional science fiction as it twists real-world issues through just enough of a speculative lens to balance out the hard truths with enough distance and pretty visuals to stop us from turning away. It allows us to ask questions about what is morally right with choices so bad and what would we do in that situation.
In previous seasons we had inciting incidents such as the destruction of an ice hauler, the creation of the Ring gate, and now after three episodes of character work and build up, we just saw an asteroid dropped on planet Earth. I can’t wait for what comes next.
Episodes 1-3 of Season Five of “The Expanse” can be streamed via Amazon Prime – https://www.primevideo.com and new episodes are coming every Wednesday.