The Expanse: Season 5 Review

(Spoiler Review)

I need to talk about Naomi. I was not enthused when it became clear that this season was going to be about Filip, particularly because Filip turns out to be a mass murderer with abandonment issues. It was hard to care about redeeming him after he helps finish off more people in one go than literally any other person in human history.

I’m reminded of this exchange about the murderous Azula from Avatar:

Just so for Filip and Naomi.

Naomi seems to realize that her son is beyond helping (though she doesn’t say so explicitly) and has to face the possibility of her real, adoptive family getting killed. And out the airlock she goes, kicking her arc into a different gear.

The first half of the season made Naomi seem almost pitiful, helpless, with the exception of when she informs Holden of the danger to the Rocinante. Through much of The Expanse, Naomi is the resolute pacifist. But the latter half of the season shows that she is a fighter with boundless tenacity and ingenuity, and the contrast with the earlier episodes makes the arc all the more potent. From the hard vacuum transit, to cobbling together a makeshift transmitter, to modifying the message while battling breathlessness, to flying out again to signal Alex as a Hail Mary; every moment is thrilling and awe-inducing.

It was like watching The Martian again, but with a more unassuming protagonist facing more stressful circumstances.

There is a point in this season when Naomi is set free to walk Marco’s ship. After seeing her work in the Chetzemoka, I’m convinced that if she’d been the remorseless killer Marco wanted her to be, Marco and his Free Navy would be dead or defeated.

Marco shines as a worthy antagonist. His charisma, tightly controlled rage and narcissism are played to perfection, and there is rarely a moment where he lacks menace and gravitas. When his plans are foiled, it is through the ingenuity of his enemies rather than his own foolishness. His dialogue is well-written and rings true for the character; he effortlessly mixes lies, half-truths and truths, and wields anger and love as weapons alike. For instance, he chastises Filip for the loss of the protomolecule, all while knowing that it was still under his control. Moments later, he feeds Filip’s thirst for recognition by getting his crew to chant Filip’s name.

Other standouts include Avasarala and Bobby Draper. Avasarala is brought back to power in a contrived fashion, but she is a wiser, less prideful person than she was in Season 1. She doesn’t do a lot; this season is mostly about restoring her to power so she can play the part she is meant to play in the final season.

We run into Bobby after she’s ‘processed’ much of what transpires with her in the last season. Not much happens to her, but an irritable Bobby is good television to me.

She also says something rather profound I don’t think I’ll forget:

No matter how traumatic the loss is, you only have so much emotional stamina. Even grief can get used up.

Amos’s character arc is more bemusing. Initially, it felt like Amos was put on Earth to serve as a window through which we get to see the effects of Marco’s attack. There’s also an attempt to explore Amos’s psyche and history. It starts with Amos trying to deal with the loss of his foster parent. The loss forces him to grapple with the idea of trying to be a good person even if he isn’t one, which he explores by securing a home for Lydia’s partner, Charles, and then by trying to help Peaches.

But in the aftermath of the asteroid attack, Amos’s less savory side is called for, and he’s actually vindicated in his cold decision-making. The man they kill for supplies would have killed Amos, or some other hapless traveler. The rogue security on the island does return to slaughter everyone. Amos also doesn’t seem to check up on Charles or attempt to help him get to a safer place when he returns to a devastated Baltimore, rather undermining his earlier act of kindness.

Amos’s arc doesn’t do justice to the scale of impact the asteroid strikes would have had; the consequences are explored rather unimaginatively, with some dead bodies and a garden-variety collapse of civilized society. There was a dearth of attention to detail that made the arc uninteresting.

While there were a few momentous events, Season 5 felt much…smaller. Major characters such as Ashford and Fred Johnson are dead. The rest spend the season in quiet, small-scale conflicts and do little more than manage to survive. The political nuance of the early seasons is rather lost with the arrival of more obvious antagonists such as Marco and the corrupt Martians. For the first time, the aliens plot recedes almost completely into the background, only returning for the finale cliffhanger.

While Season 5 is more intimate, and has some powerful character moments that make it well worth watching, the overarching narrative does not progress in interesting ways, and the season doesn’t offer the sci-fi highs of earlier seasons with sentient asteroids, alien planets or galaxy-spanning wormholes.

The show has one more season to wrap all these threads up, and is likely to diverge from the books in its final act. Though I’m loath to say it, after Game of Thrones, this specific situation makes me… apprehensive.

That said, this was a good season of television, and Naomi’s arc is among the finest of this series.