It’s a wrap! The Expanse’s Season 5 has come to an end – and what an end it was. With showrunner Naren Shankar’s screen adaptation of Ty Frank and Daniel Abraham’s novels, the science fiction genre finally has a new epic show that delivers everything a true sci-fi fan’s heart can desire. In The Expanse’s story of increasingly epic scale, the system-altering events are inherently driven by the inner conflicts and personal lives of the characters. All the characters are down-to-earth and relatable – and some of them are partly monumental at the same time, like the ever so badass Chrisjen Avasarala, played by Shoreh Aghdashloo. Human conflict and dramatic space battles are merged with stellar performances by a perfectly picked cast.
With this new Season 5, the scale of The Expanse’s storyline has, once again, developed to a whole new scope. The newly conquered physical space, become accessible through the opening of the Sol Gate in Season 3, has unleashed a social and political chain reaction. In this new chapter, it’s not just single colony ships passing through the Ring Gates. Now, it suddenly matters which factions these ships belong to. The conflicts between Earth, Mars and the Belt have finally expanded beyond their domains of origin. With Marco Inaros and the rogue Martians controlling the Sol Ring, the UN’s role has changed from top dog to being the only faction completely excluded from accessing the Gate. The colonization of the 1300 systems has finally reached a full political dimension.
Holden, Nagata, Amos and Alex spread across the Solar System
With each of the main characters embarking on their own journey, The Expanse’s Season 5 has certainly adopted a diasporic character. While Seasons 1-3 evolved in space, and Season 4 was almost exclusively located planetside on Illus, Season 5 has started a new paradigm. With James Holden and Naomi Nagata both located in space, Amos Burton on Earth, Alex Kamal and Bobbie Draper on Mars, and Chrisjen Avasarala on Luna, we are now offered a kaleidoscope of manifold settings, bringing a fresh and versatile flavour to the show.
Holden, as much as he stood in the center of the previous seasons, has clearly moved into the background in Season 5. I think this creates a good balance for the show. It shows that The Expanse is more than a single hero’s story in which the other characters only serve as necessary additions or extras to a single centered protagonist. It makes the story multidimensional and allows for more layers. Yet we can see a change in Holden. He has become more mature and temperate, better able to withstand his emotional impulses. He has become more prone to make the right things instead of merely following his impulses, as we can witness in his decision to prioritize the chase for the Protomolecule over trying to save Naomi.
Even Chrisjen Avasarala has changed – a bit. Although she thankfully hasn’t lost her charming foul mouth, the loss of her husband Arjun has visibly impacted her spirit. She has become more self-conscious and gloomier. But she still is who she is: the strong, encouraging and fighting Mother of Earth. Although this expression may sound somewhat pleonastic, it is still undeniable that it bears a good amount of truth with regards to her. And we all love our foul-mouthed “Mother of Earth” Avasarala.
Speaking of Earth – Amos is the one protagonist carrying the story of Season 5 back to the cradle of mankind as we know it. By now, we all have come to the conclusion that his emotional detachment must be a response to some traumatic experience in his past. Now, in Season 5, we see him acting less pathologically detached, and even showing remorse over his violent outbursts. This subtle character development started off with his friendship with Prax in Season 3, who reawakened Amos’s humane side. After the events on Season 4, we’re now seeing an increasingly empathic version of Amos in his interactions with Clarissa Mao, whom he affectionately nicknames Peaches. The interchange between his compartmentalized mind on one hand and her guilt-ridden conscience on the other hand, creates quite a convincing chemistry – and is inherently driven by his (unusually) undetached effort to help her overcome her guilt. I think we can expect a lot of deep character development and a huge number of good punchlines from these two together.
Meanwhile, Alex Kamal and Bobby Draper unveiled the Martians’ weapons deals with the Belters. Although they didn’t get a lot of screen time, they actually play an important role in the storyline. Not only are they the ones informing Avasarala of the Stealth Tech covered Rocks. But they are also the ones informing Holden that Mars was selling Warships to Marco Inaros, and especially were they the ones spotting and saving Naomi. So as marginal as their subplot might be, it is still a necessary catalyst for the storyline of the whole season.
On the Belter side, Camina Drummer and her “Polyam Fam” portrait the division inside the Belter society. Some Belters share Marco Inaros’ dream of a united Belt – but it’s safe to say that most of his followers rather share his resentment against Earth and Mars. On the other hand, many Belters see Marco for the Tyrant he is, and hope for a better way for the Belt – unluckily without yet having any concrete alternatives at hand. The only actual impact of Drummer’s subplot on the story is when her decisions change the outcome of Marco’s trap for the Rocinante. But it’s still a great depiction of Belter life and the schism that runs through Belter society.
Naomi Nagata: the heroine who is immovably centered
The most important story arch of The Expanse‘s Season 5 is undoubtedly Dominique Tipper’s Naomi Nagata looking for her Son Filip. It’s no exaggeration to say that this whole season fundamentally evolves around her. The season starts with Naomi leaving Tycho and ends with her being saved and reunited with the crew of the Rocinante. In between, we follow her interacting with her son Filip, her old friends Cyn and Karal, and of course with her ex-lover Marco Inaros. And most importantly we must not forget that all the major events of this season are immediate consequences of her giving the last probe of the Protomolecule to Fred Johnson instead of destroying it as intended.
In her interactions with Nagata’s “past” family, Dominique Tipper delivers undoubtedly the most stunning performance of the show. Naomi’s inner conflict between the loving mother and the gradual sobering up in the face of her realization of what her son has become, evolves over no less than 5 episodes (Ep. 3-7). Her disbelief when confronted with the abuse, and the pain of disappointment in face of the loss of love she has to experience on Marco’s ship, are conveyed in an empathically relatable, touching and masterful performance.
But the real magnitude of her character begins to reveal itself with her jump into the vast blackness of space, trying to reach the Chetzemoka. Having arrived at a point of desperation in which her old friend Cyn and Filip believe that she wants to end her life, her will to sacrafice turns out to be an unexpected ace in the hole. As big as the pain of realization has been for her while she was on Marco’s ship, she does not turn to denial. She accepts that there is nothing more she can do for Filip. And she understands that she needs to look forward and do what she can to prevent more harm from happening.
This decision displays her willingness and capacity to suffer for the sake of a higher purpose. Her will to sacrifice is free of any self-victimization. Naomi’s strength of character and persistence show in her relentless, untiring efforts to find a way to warn her friends on the Rocinante from the impending danger, instead of resigning to self-pity and despair. Both her jumps into space – the first one to reach the Chetzemoka, the second to escape it – turn out to be Kierkegaardian “leaps of faith”. As low as her chances were to succeed, jumping into the unknown with the slightest chance of succeeding proves to be the better choice than resigning and doing nothing.
As a new major character, Keon Alexander’s depiction of the main villain Marco Inaros impresses on all fronts. His good looks certainly attract almost every man’s jealousy, but his acting and especially his voice modulation (talking about his great speech in particular) are so impressive, that with Marco Inaros we are given a villain that is almost up to par with a Joffrey Baratheon.
Major cinematic improvements on the overall production
Great storytelling and relatable characters are not the only things that make The Expanse’s Season 5 stand out. We can see improvements in every aspect of the show, starting with dramaturgy, but also in the soundtrack and special effects. In addition to the already mentioned improved storytelling and character development, this season, more than the past ones, has many scenes you want to keep rewatching over and over again. Also, the scene transitions have become smoother and dropped the monotony of the previous seasons, which enhances the overall experience significantly.
Especially the soundtrack has finally stepped forward and made a remarkable impact beyond the starting titles. Naomi’s theme, which we hear in both her jumps, has established itself as the memorable and inspiring musical Leitmotif of this season. And then there are always the awesome space battles, though being few in numbers. Despite their lack of screen time in this season, the space battles were still outstandingly thrilling, dramatic and beautiful to watch.
The sci-fi show we’ve been waiting for
With its current 5th season, The Expanse has finally (and definitely!) established itself as the long-awaited sci-fi equivalent to Game of Thrones. After the end of the Babylon 5 franchise in the mid-1990’s, science fiction fans all over the globe who would not be satisfied with the many mediocre sci-fi productions on the market, have been craving for a new show of epic caliber for many, many years. As of now, sci-fi fans will have to patiently wait another 10 months for the 6th and, presumably, last season of The Expanse. Until then, there are still the books to read, who slightly divert from the show in minor aspects, but of course still follow the major lines of the main story. In addition to that, you can take advantage of Wes Chatham and Ty Francks’ Podcast “Ty and That Guy”. It launched recently and discusses many topics around the Expanse and science fiction in general in interesting and especially funny ways.
What great times for lovers of great science fiction.