The Expanse Ended Its Best Season to Date With a Hell of a Ride

The odds ain’t good for these guys.
The odds ain’t good for these guys.
Image: Amazon Studios

It’s that time, Expanse fans, when the finale we’ve been dying to see arrives—and then leaves us dying to know what happens next once it’s over. Season four ended with Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander) preparing to attack Earth, but season five’s “Nemesis Games” ended with something even more terrifying.

Illustration for article titled The Expanse Ended Its Best Season to Date With a Hell of a Ride

The “Oh shit this is tense” music is already pulsing when we open on the Rocinante, where Monica (Anna Hopkins) is pushing Holden (Steven Strait) for more data on the Zmeya—she’s still not convinced the protomolecule sample blew up when the ship pulled a self-destruct (and frankly, neither are we). But there’s suddenly a more urgent matter at hand because all those Free Navy ships that Marco commanded to destroy the Roci last week have suddenly announced their presence. “Looks like we got a skinny hunting party,” Bull (José Zúñiga) barks, using a slur that makes both Monica and Holden raise their eyebrows.

Advertisement

Holden and Bull agree that the Roci has no chance against their aggressors—they’re outnumbered and extremely outgunned—but what they don’t know is that three of the five ships pursuing them are under the command of Drummer (Cara Gee), or they would be if Marco zealot Karal (Olunike Adeliyi) hadn’t bullied her way into being in charge. The Expanse is careful to show us all of the ships involved—setting up the battle ahead—and then build the tension steadily; the camera is in constant motion aboard Drummer’s ship as Karal settles in behind the firing controls, eager to blast the Roci into oblivion. “I don’t look away from what I do,” Drummer says tersely when one of her crew tells her she doesn’t need to watch it happen.

Realizing they’re in deep trouble, Bull and Holden weigh their very limited options (“Getting killed before we get to fight really sucks,” Bull groans). They decide to go full speed ahead and engage, hoping that’ll give Alex (Cas Anvar) and Bobbie (Frankie Adams) a chance to rescue Naomi (Dominique Tipper) and escape on the Screaming Firehawk. Alex grimly lets this plan sink in—it’s clearly a suicide mission—before responding: “We’ll get her back, Jim. Go give ‘em hell.”

But it’s not as simple as that, considering Naomi’s unable to warn them that her ship, the Chetzemoka, is rigged to explode if anyone dares to come aboard. She’s hanging onto the last shreds of her life force, but she knows her friends are incoming, so she fights to do something, anything, that’ll prevent them from trying to reach her. She’s able to smash her way into making one of the thrusters fire erratically, sending the Chetzemoka into a spiral. It’ll make trying to dock extremely dangerous, and Bobbie cautions him against it—but Alex is Alex and he’s determined to try.

Advertisement

On the Roci, everyone straps in for battle (and Holden gets the chance to tell Bull not to use the word “skinny” aboard his ship ever again), while the Belters do the same. In our hearts, of course, we hope that Drummer—who’s gone through so much with Naomi, Holden, and the Roci itself—isn’t going to let this happen, even with the lives of her own crew (who are also her polyamorous family, except for Karal of course) hanging in the balance. And what do you know: at the last second, Drummer grabs Karal’s gun and turns it on her, then sends a missile at one of her own ships and takes out its drive, rendering it unable to fire on the Roci. (Holden: “They’re firing at each other!” Bull: “Good, let’s help!”) One of Drummer’s crew grabs her as she’s giving the order to the other ships to disengage, and there’s a struggle until another of Drummer’s crew hits Karal on the back of her head, and the Marco loyalist falls to the ground with a sickening crunch.

Advertisement

Solving that problem creates another huge one—what’s Marco gonna do when he realizes Karal is dead?—but in the meantime, everyone’s still in the heat of battle, with Bull and Holden staring on in disbelief as Drummer’s ships turn on the other Free Navy vessels. “Nice to see these Belters stab each other in the back instead of us for once,” Bull says, before gasping, “I can’t wait to hear this story!” With just three Belter ships remaining, and none of them moving to fire on the Roci, Holden reaches out—only to find it’s Drummer on the other side. (Who else rewound that battle to watch it again because holy shit awesome??!!)

On the Chetzemoka, another drama continues to unfold. “Come hell or high water, we’re gonna find a way to dock and get you off that ship,” Alex broadcasts to Naomi, hoping she can hear but knowing she can’t respond. “Oh Alex, you brave idiot,” she whispers, knowing she’ll need to go one step further to keep the Screaming Firehawk from meeting its doom. Dominique Tipper, who’s been so great throughout this season, conveys so many gut-wrenching emotions with her expressive face and eyes—fear, deep sorrow, conviction—before Naomi puts on her suit and throws herself into space, taking the ultimate leap of faith that her friends will find her in time. It is harrowing.

Advertisement
Someone get this man a new bottle of tequila!
Someone get this man a new bottle of tequila!
Image: Amazon Studios

Fortunately, Bobbie spots Naomi’s tumbling body as they’re approaching and, also fortunately, Alex is able to interpret Naomi’s Belter hand signals, warning them about the bomb. Bobbie power-suits to Naomi and guides her back with reassuring words. The rescue is filmed almost entirely in a close-up on Naomi’s barely conscious face, seen in profile through her helmet—a stylistic choice that makes the act of grabbing someone who’s just floating through space feel as intimate as it is miraculous. “That was one hell of a ride,” Alex says weakly over comms to Bobbie...and then, in a story twist that has context beyond The Expanse itself—if you’ve been following the behind-the-scenes saga of Cas Anvar—we see Alex has died. (The reason, Holden explains later: a stroke caused by all those hard burns, which feels very conveniently like “yep, we needed to write this actor out.” As far as awkward Expanse story beats go, it might be an all-timer, but there was really no other way around it.)

Advertisement

On the Pella, Filip (Jasai Chase Owens) is solemnly getting his firearms in order while Marco gets the bad news that the Roci has once again slipped his grasp. He’s predictably furious, but Filip’s reaction is completely emotionless: “There’s no point to anger now...there’s still more to do.” Marco declares himself pleased with this new, alarmingly stone-faced Filip, before striding off to space Serge Kylo (Wilex Ly), the representative of Drummer’s faction who came aboard in exchange for Karal. He sends the footage to Drummer’s horrified people, making sure to cast a creepy, lingering “I warned you” gaze into the camera when it’s over.

The schism among Drummer’s crew, caused by her decision to go against Marco, is irreparable after witnessing Serge’s cruel death. “You lied to me,” Oksana (Sandrine Holt) says. “You knew this would be the cost.” She and another crew member—the one who tried to prevent Drummer from calling off the attack on the Roci—take one of the ships and tearfully depart. Oksana’s parting words are “We have nothing to stay together for,” and Drummer, who knows she has to live with the choices she’s made, can’t do anything but watch them go.

Advertisement

On the Roci, Naomi is recovering physically, but mentally she’s still fragile; she can’t help but feel guilty about Alex’s death, and she asks Bull to fire off a missile to destroy the Chetzemoka so that it can’t harm anyone else. Holden tells her they’re heading to Luna to meet up with Amos (Wes Chatham), and assures her that Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) will grant her immunity rather than arresting her for any perceived war crimes. Then, we finally get to hear the message Naomi left for Holden—the “if something goes wrong” message that he couldn’t bring himself to listen to—and it’s heartfelt farewell as well as encouragement to go on without her.

Reunited at last!
Reunited at last!
Image: Amazon Studios
Advertisement

On Luna, Amos (Wes Chatham) and Erich (Jacob Mundell) bid each other farewell—but not before Erich tries to get Amos to join his new enterprise (“These colony ships could be a real opportunity...it was fun working with you again!”), and also not before Amos gets a bottle of tequila out of his bag and accidentally drops it (slowly, thanks to moon gravity) down several stories. They laugh it off and part ways, and Amos reunites with Holden and Naomi (she gives him a lingering hug). Knowing that Naomi feels guilty about Alex, Amos tells her, “Making a choice to hold your ground to save your family—as far as last stands go, that’s the one I’d pick. He picked it too.”

Advertisement

It’s a tender moment, but Amos also has other things on his mind. He winds up to his ask by reminding Holden that Holden once threatened to kill him, but that’s all water under the bridge, no hard feelings, right? “Of course, we’re family now,” Holden says. Amos relaxes and calls out “We’re good!” to a bashful Peaches (Nadine Nicole), who notoriously tried to kill Holden back in season three. “Thank you for being cool about this,” Amos says breezily as Holden’s eyes bug out ever so slightly at the reveal.

Avasarala hosts the Roci crew for a classy reception—wine, jazz, soft lighting—where we learn that Bobbie has signed on to be Avasarala’s new liaison. The Secretary-General beams as she points out that Holden, Naomi, Amos, and Bobbie represent everything that Marco hates, namely unity among the Belt and the inner planets. “All we have to do now is to turn every Belter, Martian, and Earther into this. This is how we win!”

Advertisement
The calm before the next storm.
The calm before the next storm.
Image: Amazon Studios

Buuuuut, Marco is still out there, and there’s still one more chapter of this already epic finale. Just as Monica is telling Holden that one of the Zmeya’s torpedoes did indeed make it out of its battle with the Roci unscathed—no doubt carrying the protomolecule stolen from Tycho Station—Avasarala summons the Roci crew from the party. “There’s been another attack at the Ring,” she says with no small amount of worry, and we learn a “massive micro-meteor cloud” has heavily damaged three UN ships stationed at the Ring Gate. Then, missiles fired from within the Ring—which presumably means Marco has control of Medina Station—finish the job.

Advertisement

When a fleet of MCRN ships appears, Bobbie notices one of them is the Barkeith, the ship she and Alex chased from Mars after suspecting it was caught up in black-market weapons dealing. They might’ve been MCRN ships at one time, but now—they’re in league with Marco, and we see the crew of the Pella cheering his name (and Filip looking on sullenly) as the destruction at the Ring piles up, and the MCRN ships begin to make their way through. Avasarala can’t believe an entire Martian fleet would go rogue, but Holden points out “he may have bought them” using the protomolecule.

Now, anyone who watched season four saw what happened when the Roci inadvertently traversed the Ring with a glob of protomolecule, but “maybe they know something we don’t,” Holden says. Cut to the interior of the Barkeith, where Martian military bigwig Sauveterre (Tim DeKay) and his slippery assistant—the one who met Alex for a “date” that was really a means for each to pump the other for information—passing along congratulations to Marco from “Admiral Duarte,” a name fans from the books will recognize. (Clearly a big tease for what lies ahead in season six.) It’s made clear that the Ring is now controlled by these rogue Martians, and Marco jovially says, “You have your system, we have ours.”

Advertisement

Then a message pops up from everyone’s favorite unhinged protomolecule scientist: Cortázar (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio), calling in from Laconia, which turns out to be the destination of the stolen protomolecule. The Ring is now being called “the Laconia Ring,” too. “We are already seeing beautiful results,” he says, and it’s clear that the planet has long-dormant structures much like the ones we saw on Ilus in season four, though there’s also some kind of satellite component from the looks of it. Sauveterre’s assistant absent-mindedly plays with her bracelet—a gift from her mother, she explains—when Sauveterre reminds her it’s a dress-code violation. “On Laconia, we won’t have a civilian world to cushion us if we fall,” he says sternly. “No more bending the rules. No more overlooking even the smallest infraction.”

As she’s dutifully dropping the bracelet into his outstretched hand, the icky moment turns into something truly strange—but not entirely unfamiliar. In the season premiere, we saw Holden show Fred Johnson (RIP) a simulation of what the mysterious ancient beings that wiped out the protomolecule builders looked like. The instant the Barkeith begins to pass through the Ring, time stops—and those same angry shadows and dusty shafts of light envelop the ship, cloaking it in a red glow before making it disappear.

Advertisement
A few seconds later, these two were zorched into oblivion by ancient malevolence.
A few seconds later, these two were zorched into oblivion by ancient malevolence.
Image: Amazon Studios

To where? And why? And what will this mean for the future of The Expanse? After season five’s consistent excitement across 10 episodes, plus more character exploration than we’ve ever gotten before, season six—the final season—awaits to elevate the story even more.

Advertisement

For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.

Advertisement

Share This Story

Get our `newsletter`

DISCUSSION

I really wish they recast Cas Anvar. Seriously start the episode with a new actor piloting the Razorback, have Bobbie call him Alex and just go from there. The pacing, editing, reshoots, digital trickery and everything else was so very obvious to get that creep Anvar out of the show. It dragged me out of the experience immediately and I would have gladly just had a new actor sitting there instead of all that hasty reworking. It really sucks such a great character had to be dragged down and have such an awkward send off. 

As a few redditors have pointed out the x-ray extras on Amazon Prime originally showed Anvar in the scenes in both the cast listing and behind the scenes photos of the party at the end of the episode (before those extras were taken down an hour or so after premiere; also oddly the episode went up without English subtitles at first too). It’s also why the series went from binge to weekly - it gave them time to do reshoots during season 6 filming and allow time for an VFX house to scrub Alex out of shots at the party.