In Praise of The Expanse's Camina Drummer

Cara Gee as Camina Drummer on The Expanse
Cara Gee as Camina Drummer on The Expanse
Image: Amazon Studios

We first met Camina Drummer in The Expanse’s second season, when she was introduced as Fred Johnson’s (Chad L. Coleman) security chief on Tycho Station. Though the character appears in the books, her role in the series has been expanded over the years—and now, in the show’s outstanding fifth season, she’s provided a pivotal counterpoint to the other big Belter character, slippery extremist Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander).

Cara Gee’s performance has always been fierce, and Drummer has always been a true badass—remember in season three when she broke her back and still managed to help save the entire goddamn galaxy aboard the Behemoth? But more than ever before, in this season we’ve gotten to see some new sides to what was already a fascinating character.

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We’ll be discussing up through last week’s episode—“Hard Vacuum”—so if you’re not up to date, read no further!

Illustration for article titled In Praise of The Expanse's Camina Drummer

Drummer didn’t appear until episode two—there was a lot of Rocinante-adjacent catching up to do—but we already knew she’d be coming into season five with some new context, after socking Fred Johnson in the face (he had it coming) and quitting her gig as the head of Medina Station. Medina was an important posting, being the Belter station located closest to the Ring Gate, and she was more than up to the challenge. But the political gymnastics that went along with the position were not to her liking—and even before her rival-turned-comrade Klaes Ashford (David Strathairn) was murdered by Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander), she was clearly ready for a change of scenery.

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As we see in “Churn,” Ashford’s death is still very much on her mind, even as she’s settled into a new life that suits her well: captaining a small fleet of ships that prowl the Belt, scavenging the well-appointed colony ships that’ve started heading through the Ring Gates from Earth and Mars. Those ships often fall prey to Belter pirates, who’ve learned you don’t cross into Drummer’s scavenging turf and start fucking shit up without cutting her in, or else.

As dangerous as they can be, her crew’s not out to rack up a body count; they’re earning a living while trying to avoid violence unless absolutely necessary. But even more interesting than that is that—in a crucial development The Expanse has never explored before—Drummer’s crew is not just her crew, they’re her polyamorous family. It’s never explained within the context of the show, but it doesn’t need to be—we quickly catch on once we see them all being affectionate with each other, waking up together in various beds, and so on. Though we haven’t seen this aspect of Belter culture before, it brings a poignant emotional layer to everything Drummer’s endured so far this season. Any good captain will prioritize the safety of his or her crew—just look at Holden (Steven Strait), who’s in a monogamous relationship with Naomi (Dominique Tipper) but would risk his life for anyone on the Roci crew. But for Drummer, it’s personal on an even more intense level because it’s her actual family being threatened.

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It’s an intimacy that’s become crucial to Drummer’s arc this season. When Drummer discovers Ashford’s abandoned husk of a ship and hears the recording he made of his last few moments alive (and a lotta Marco talking, being cocky as he implicates himself in Ashford’s death), she’s more than ready to rip Marco’s head off and collect the bounty. But the crew is fearful of Marco’s powerful reach, not to mention his kill-’em-all response to anyone who crosses him, and Oksana (Sandrine Holt), the wife with whom Drummer has the closest relationship, manages to convince her to let Marco be.

Illustration for article titled In Praise of The Expanse's Camina Drummer
Screenshot: Amazon Studios
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Of course, as the season has gone on, Marco’s become impossible to ignore. After the attack on Earth, Marco started strong-arming all the Belter factions into joining his Free Navy, Drummer’s crew included. Drummer’s perspective on this situation is important because it confirms what Earth diplomats like Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) say when they insist that despite Marco’s self-appointed designation as the Belt’s leader and spokesman, not every Belter supports him or his extreme actions. Drummer sure doesn’t; you can see her thinly veiled contempt when they meet in episode six. Though he spins it like a choice, Drummer knows she has no other option but to join Marco’s cause.

Once Drummer’s part of the Free Navy, her internal struggles begin to build. Part of the process involves swapping crew as “tributes,” which means one of her family members is now aboard Marco’s ship, and Drummer’s stuck with the openly hostile Karal (Olunike Adeliyi). Karal’s there to make sure Marco’s directives get carried out (and will absolutely tattle if they aren’t), but she also relishes souring the mood every time she enters a room, often by shit-talking Naomi, who’s one of Drummer’s dearest friends. Her presence disrupts the loving atmosphere, to put it mildly, and she also makes it so that everyone’s on edge all the time. Drummer, known for her raging temper, must stomp back her feelings and take orders from an enemy she despises. The boiling-point anguish that Gee is able to telegraph just through her body language (and those exquisitely lined eyes) is tremendous.

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And yet—she’s not all fury, all the time. In fact, some of Drummer’s loveliest moments have been when she’s not constantly holding back her anger. We saw her smile this season! We saw her playfully slurp water bubbles from the air in her ship’s kitchen! The Expanse has no shortage of strong female characters, which is one of the many reasons why we love the show so much. But Drummer, a woman who follows her own moral compass in the Belt—a place where rules and laws and loyalties are often nebulous, and compromise is seen as weakness—is always exciting to watch, no matter what mood she’s in.

Considering where we left off in episode eight, with Drummer believing a spiteful Karal’s announcement that Naomi is dead, but the audience knowing that’s not actually the case—Drummer’s simmering conflict with Karal, Marco, and the Free Navy at large’s nowhere near over. But given everything we’ve seen this season, our money’s on Drummer to come out on top.

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Update, 1/25/21, 8:02 pm: A correction was made regarding Ashford’s death scene; obviously he wasn’t having his “last moments on Earth,” but rather his “last moments alive.” Apologies, Belters.

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DISCUSSION

Rainbucket
Rainbucket

Off the set, Cara Gee is a total sunflower. Amazon’s “extras” have a short cast interview after each episode and their interactions are super sweet.