Marco consolidates his power, as the rest of our characters recalibrate their sense of purpose and fight to survive in the wake of the Free Navy’s attacks on Earth.
Amid the sturm und drang of New Year’s Week, we ended up falling behind on our Expanse recaps last week. But that just means we’ve got two episodes’ worth of intergalactic thrills and chills to recap this week! Last week’s episode, “Down and Out,” saw further fallout from Marco Inaros’ (Keon Alexander) unprecedented attack on Earth, Mars, and the OPA, flinging three asteroids that killed millions on Earth and left the system scattered and leaderless.
We check in on a few of the season’s dangling plot threads: Drummer (Cara Gee) is still wracked with guilt that she didn’t space Marco when she got the chance to in season 4, but her compatriots/fellow captains/polycule attempt to support her even as Marco extends an invite to join the Free Navy. Holden (Steven Strait), reeling from the theft of the protomolecule and the death of Fred Johnson, is back in command of the Rocinante, albeit with a different crew — though there’s at least one familiar face in Tycho security flack Bull (José Zúñiga), who’s set to fly the ship in Alex’s absence. As for Alex (Cas Anvar), he and Bobbie (Frankie Adams) are still trailing the Martian warships to their meetup with the Free Navy in the Hungaria asteroids (which are a real thing).
But the real points of focus, in both episodes 5 (“Down and Out”) and 6 (“Tribes”), are Amos (Wes Chatham) and Naomi (Dominique Tipper), who face the truest tests of their moral and emotional fortitude. Let’s start with Amos, who had to fight his way out of the rubble of the prison where Clarissa “Peaches” Mao (Nadine Nicole) was being held. Naturally, a big-ass rock flattening the Earth changes the landscape, both literally and figuratively, and she and Amos manage to make it topside with the help of some desperate guards and a super-strong sociopathic prisoner (whom they naturally have to put down once they get to the top).
In “Tribes,” they’re forced to wander an apocalyptic wilderness, The Road-style, sneaking past the UN shelter camps to Baltimore, where hopefully Amos’ gangland buddies can help them. Along the way, their journey turns into a moral fable about the efficacy of violence and the way society falls apart in the face of catastrophe. “The thing about civilization is it keeps you civil,” Amos tells Clarissa. “Lose one, and you can’t count on the other.” Humanity is tribal, he informs her; when things are good, the tribe expands. In times of desperation, the tribe shrinks to protect those within it. “Now we’re a tribe of two,” says Amos, to which Clarissa replies, “That’s better than one.”
Amos and Clarissa’s jaunt through the wilderness is a great showcase for both Chatham and Nicole, and shows why these two characters are such a perfect pairing. In some ways, they’re a lot alike, people capable of incredible violence when pushed in the right direction. But in these most desperate of times, fractures form: Amos, as we’ve seen throughout the show, is a complete sociopath, whereas Clarissa still clings to the privilege and warmth she grew up with, and the hope that people can be good to each other. She remarks on the trees they walk through, a conservancy project her wealthy father (whom the Roci crew took down mid-season 3) helped fund — a reminder that even bad people do good things. But Amos, in his zeal to keep them alive, takes the path of power or dominance; he rejects a kind camper’s offer of drink and firelight, and ends up killing a paranoid survivalist type so they can take his weapons, food and shelter. (The latter sequence, as horrific as it is, also gives us Wes Chatham soaked in blood and down to his skivvies, so I cannot complain.)
Season 5’s decision to split the crew off into their own individual journeys has been an effective experiment in isolating these characters and showing not just who they are, but why they need their friends. In Amos’ case, we see what happens when he’s left in charge of his own destiny, without the warmth and moral compass of his friends to keep him from going Beast Mode. Even Amos recongizes this by episode’s end; “Holden would have never approved a move like that…. I need to get back to my crew.” But it’s also possible that Clarissa can be his moral compass, at least until they get off Earth.
The Expanse continues to do what it’s always done: explore the factional, transactional nature of human civilization, and the never-ending struggles to overcome those impulses.
But this week, Naomi and Drummer face their own tribal struggles among the Free Navy. Naomi, still a prisoner of Marco’s after successfully warning him about the potential sabotage of the Roci‘s drive, has clearly had an effect on young son Filip (Jasai Chase-Owens), who stands up against his father to spare her life. “My son… has a kind heart!” Marco grumbles in frustration, a compliment shrouded in spiteful bile. That, combined with Naomi’s entreaties to think about what he’s done, clearly begin to shake Filip’s faith in the cause, even just a little bit. “He made you a murderer,” Naomi warns him from her cell. “You haven’t felt the price of it yet, but someday you will.”
This is coupled with Drummer’s frustrated acknowledgment that her faction will have to join the Free Navy or die, as Marco continues to consolidate his power among the varying factions of the OPA. She takes no pleasure in this, especially given Marco’s role in killing her friend Ashford last season, but her friends/lovers/fellow captains convince her that they have no choice. It’s either be killed by Marco for insufficient loyalty or be killed by Earth when they inevitably declare war on the Belt for what Marco has done. To seal the deal, they’re forced to transfer crew members: Marco gets one of their crew members, and import Marco loyalist Karal (Olunike Adeliyi), which should make for some sizzling tension on Drummer’s ship.
But before their meeting on Inaros’ ship, the Pella, ends, she inspires Filip to ask Naomi about how she and her friends worked together to open the Ring gates at the tail end of season 3. And he does, kicking off a heart-to-heart with Naomi that Marco (who’s always watching) spies. Then we see him chart a flight plan for the Chetzemoka (the ship Naomi brought to Filip) to intercept the Roci as it chases the ship that stole the protomolecule. What could he be thinking? We’ll find out next week, most likely.
“Down and Out” and “Tribes” serve as solid mid-season recalibrations for our characters, as The Expanse continues to do what it’s always done: explore the factional, transactional nature of human civilization and the never-ending struggles to overcome those impulses and build something greater. Sure, people like Marco and even Amos recognize the utility of power and violence to survive and get what you want. But with Clarissa, or Holden, or Naomi, or even Drummer, there might be a glimmer of hope that bigger tribes, forged in love and solidarity, can win out.
Here Comes the Juice:
- Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) doesn’t get much to do in this episode, but we do open with her still shaken from the attacks on Earth, unable to reach her husband Arjun. We’re also introduced to David Paster (Sugith Varughese), the soft-spoken Transportation Secretary who’s now acting Secretary-General, a real Designated Survivor kind of scenario. He seems like a nice guy but he’s inexperienced; he’ll need her hard-line assertiveness and tactical know-how to survive. But Chrisjen is more shaken than ever, as we see when she struggles to put her chunky necklace back on. When even Avasarala’s fashions fail her, you know you’re in trouble.
- Monica Stuart (Anna Hopkins) joins Holden in his pursuit of the Zmeya — with a Roci full of day-player Belters, it’s at least nice to see another familiar face on the ship.
- I was worried about Alex and Bobbie last week after that core dump flung an engine off the Screaming Firehawk and sent it hurtling, but at least they get their own back with a genuinely badass sequence where Bobbie tears through Free Navy soldiers in her power armor (so good to see her in that again), while Alex plants a grenade in their drive cone to blow up the ship once they start things up. In a season full of tragedies and downer notes, it’s nice to see at least one rousing victory for the good guys.
- The show’s always looked good, but special note should go to the long, panning shot of an absolutely devastated, snow-covered Conservancy Zone early in the episode, devoid of score, just the cold wind as we pan over the quiet devastation of Marco’s attack.
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