Last year was the fourth season of The wide came racing out of the gate after Amazon rushed in to save the cult favorite from being canceled. While the crew of the Rocinante dealt with extraterrestrial artifacts on the frontier planet Ilus, the seeds for The Expanse Season 5 with Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), Bobbie (Frankie Adams) and drummer (Cara) were laid on Earth, Mars and the Belt Gee) Investigation of contraband arms sales and extremist belter factions. Now that the Roci crew is returning to their home solar system, these storylines are starting to bear fruit.
In an intense season four cliffhanger, viewers watched the Belt revolutionary Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander) and Naomi’s estranged son Filip Inaros (Jasai Chase Owens) launch stealth-coated asteroids to Earth. The imminent fate these asteroids could mean for the entire planet depends on the early episodes of season five of The Expanse, and gives a palpable sense of tension and inevitability.
Avasarala, Bobbie and Drummer continue to conduct cross-system independent research. Avasarala investigates the seemingly accidental destruction of an earth science ship. Bobbie investigates arms smuggling on Mars. And drummer – our pirate queen – is chasing Marco for killing her mentor Klaes Ashford last season. As the new season begins, it becomes clear that these three storylines from Marco’s radical OPA faction are all linked into a single overarching storyline.
Meanwhile, the Rocinante’s crew split for the first time since The Expanse’s destruction of the Canterbury Ice Tug in season one. Holden (Steven Strait) stays on Tycho, where the Roci dock for repairs, Amos (Wes Chatham) returns to pay off old debts on Earth, Alex (Cas Anvar) returns to a dwindling Mars and Naomi (Dominique Tipper) finally feels on her long lost child.
In previous seasons, James Holden appeared to be the main character on The Expanse – if this ensemble series had one at all. With his supernatural relationship with the protomolecule ghost Miller and his impulse to tip windmills, the team captain has led in both political and combat situations. But it was never a solo show. Belter engineer Naomi and earth mechanic Amos Burton in particular have always excelled when grappling with their haunted past.
Although Amos is part of the privileged class fortunate enough to be born on a planet, his return to his hometown of Baltimore reveals a community full of poverty and injustice. With the exception of the open air and atmosphere, its upbringing is no different from some of the most important parts of the belt. His decision to return to Earth is particularly poorly planned in light of Marco’s plans for the planet. Amos’ bow in season 5 is largely separate from the larger machinations that surround the solar system. Instead, he brings a perspective on the consequences of interplanetary conflicts.
On Mars, the sympathetic Alex Kamal meets again with the former Martian shooter Bobbie, who takes a closer look at the black market weapons sales discovered last season. Though this Mars storyline has been one of the more boring parts of the show in the past, it highlights one of the things The Expanse has always done best: weaving seemingly disjointed threads closer and closer together until they come together in unexpected and gripping ways. Season 4’s Sol system storylines – weapons smuggling, belter factions, and the Mars-related diaspora – are finally brought together to provide viewers with answers about the who and how of plots built over the years.
This crew separation gives each of the characters a chance to shine when they are personally embroiled in a very human struggle for power and independence. The strong all-round performances this season are crowned by Tipper’s heartbreaking delivery from Naomi. Not only is she in an intolerable position between two families, but Naomi is also in a war that she ran away from for years. Her previous involvement with the OPA is finally elaborated as she tries to reconcile with her teenage son and save him from making the same mistakes she made.
Tipper dances from nostalgia to resignation to intrigue like a ballerina in Zero-G. Both contemplative and action scenes are steeped in conviction and skill as she grapples with her past and struggles to save both of her families. Series newcomers Jasai Chase Owens and Keon Alexander have great chemistry with Dominique Tipper. The complicated and painful familial conflict between Naomi, Filip and Marco is at the heart of this season, highlighting an impoverished and radical side of the belter culture that both Naomi and drummer are entangled with.
The vastness has always been a lot of things: hard science fiction, detective noir, space opera, border adventures and horror. The protomolecule – humankind’s first experience of a vast, powerful, and inexplicably extinct extrasolar life – has sparked conflict every season of the year, but the series’ real villains have always been more mundane: venturing without regard for human life when it gets in the way of their winnings; oppressed people on both sides of the line between revolution and extremism; Politicians who put the lives of their people before others; Scientists without compulsion or ethics. Although the protomolecule plays a pivotal role in season 5, it takes a step back from the importance given in previous seasons.
Instead, the focus is on the crew’s personal story and the demons they wanted to leave behind. The real bad guys are people, and the protagonists have too many skeletons in their closets to come out clean. That moral ambiguity has always been The Expanse’s forte, backed up by a great cast and damn good special effects. I haven’t seen the season five finale yet, but based on the first nine episodes pre-screened for the press, I’m confident The Expanse will provide a satisfactory resolution during the confirmed sixth and final season of the show is being prepared.
The first three episodes of season five of The Expanse will air on Wednesday December 16 on Amazon Prime Video. After that, the episodes will be published weekly.