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This Season on The Expanse, Everyone Is on Their Own

5/5 protomolocules

Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata on The Expanse

Season 5 of The Expanse on Amazon breaks with past viewing schedules—new episodes will drop every week from the premiere on December 16th until the finale on February 3rd. As such, we’re going to have a much more, well, expansive time period in which to talk about the show and its developments, which is good! The somewhat less good is that I’m only allowed to discuss the first three episodes for now, when I really want to scream into the vacuum of space about the nine that I’ve seen. All I can say is that folks, we are in for a ride, and a whole lot of feelings.

What sets this season of The Expanse apart is the sheer number of storylines and separate quests that are happening for the crew of the Rocinante as well as their allies and/or enemies elsewhere. In this way, it feels like an entirely different show than season 4, which saw the Rocinante’s Holden (Steven Strait), Naomi (Dominique Tipper), Amos (Wes Chatham), and Alex (Cas Anvar) all together on a distant planet, facing a mysterious alien threat. Like the seasons before, that was much more of an ensemble piece. A guiding motif of The Expanse from the start has been family, and what it means to forge your own—but in season 5, the family is split up.

It’s almost uncannily appropriate that this is the season we receive while still in quarantine.

The Rocinante crew hasn’t fractured because of any internal dissent. If anything, they’re emotionally closer than ever. It’s that very comfort level that has led the characters to begin the season pursuing more personal goals. Amos is headed to Baltimore, to confront some of the ghosts of his past we’ve been teased about since season 1. Alex has gone home as well—back to Mars, in the hopes of making some strides with his estranged wife and child. Naomi is single-minded in her intent to find the son that she had years ago with dangerous Belter firebrand Marco Inaros. Only Holden seems happy to hang around eating noodles at Tycho Station while the Rocinante gets overhauled, until a journey is thrust upon him.

Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala on 'The Expanse'

And it isn’t just our central crew who are treading new ground. On Luna, Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), relegated to a minor administrative role, chafes at her relative helplessness—because we know at heart that she is, as Amos puts it, “Queen of Earth.” On Mars, Bobbie (Frankie Adams) is pursuing every possible lead on Avasarala’s behalf, trying to uncover who is dealing weapons to the Belters. And now in command of her own ship and running a sort of half-salvage, half-pirate operation, Drummer (Cara Gee) has to navigate challenges both political (Inaros’ new Belter reality) and personal (more on this in its own article soon), while shouldering her grief over the loss of Ashford.

As always, the performances are strong from television’s most gorgeously inclusive and diverse cast. Our new series regulars fit in with seamless cohesion. Jasai Chase Owens compellingly embodies Naomi and Marco’s son Filip, and Nadine Nicole breathes new life into Clarissa “Peaches” Mao. It’s fun whenever intrepid reporter Monica Stuart (Anna Hopkins) is around, and Monica gets a lot more to do, to my delight. Keon Alexander plays new “villain” Marco Inaros with verve; it’s almost unsettling that a man who does what Inaros does is this beautiful to look at, but I started thinking of Inaros as a sort of mad avenging angel, so it fits.

Keon Alexander as Marco Inaros on The Expanse

One of The Expanse’s strongest thematic elements has long been its ability to depict shades of morality and demonstrate how everyone is justified in their actions from their own perspectives. Where Inaros is concerned, you may want to condemn him, but he feels that he is freeing his people from generations of exploitation and atrocities committed against the Belt. Who’s the real bad guy here? On The Expanse, that’s never a straightforward question or answer.

Keon Alexander confirmed to me in an interview that Inaros 100% believes that he’s the hero of the story, and the actor, with indignation on Inaros’ behalf, jokingly pushed back against the “v-word.” Villain or no, in some ways Inaros shows himself to be a loving and devoted father, and thus we have the duality of man.

Speaking of which, it’s also wonderful to see Wes Chatham get to play Amos in such disparate environments—our favorite muscle man goes on a series of excellent adventures, including quietly self-reflective ones. But the unassailable standout of the season is Dominique Tipper as Naomi. Her performance is astonishing; I can’t tell you what happens with Naomi, but I can tell you that when I spoke with Expanse writers Daniel Abraham, Ty Franck, and showrunner Naren Shankar earlier this week, they said they expect fans to still be talking about Tipper’s scenes in twenty years.

Naomi and Holden on The Expanse season 5

All this is to say you should be excited about the return of The Expanse on Amazon on December 16th. The first three episodes will drop together, and they are the quietest and most meditative of the season—character and world-building while a sense of dread intensifies over Inaros’ wide-ranging plans. Enjoy the relative calm when you can, and I’ll be back to talk more about episodes of The Expanse as these events come to a head. I haven’t seen the season finale yet, but I await our prayer circle for that when February comes.

I also got the chance to speak with Tipper, Chatham, Alexander, Gee, and Queen of Earth herself Shohreh Aghdashloo, so watch this space for more secrets and escapades from season 5.

Are you ready to rejoin the Rocinante? Talk The Expanse to me in the comments.

(images: Amazon Studios)

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Kaila Hale-Stern (she/her) is a content director, editor, and writer who has been working in digital media for more than fifteen years. She started at TMS in 2016. She loves to write about TV—especially science fiction, fantasy, and mystery shows—and movies, with an emphasis on Marvel. Talk to her about fandom, queer representation, and Captain Kirk. Kaila has written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.