Naomi has a rude homecoming, as the show narrows its focus to a family fighting for its very soul.
In my original review of the first three episodes of the season, I noted that it was clear that the fifth season of The Expanse was taking a far more introspective direction than its predecessors, turning its internecine conflicts into more reflective stories for its characters. But while all four members of the Roci crew have split off into their respective journeys, the season has undoubtedly belonged to Amos (Wes Chatham) and Naomi (Dominique Tipper), characters for whom their respective homecomings have opened up old wounds and offered their actors textured material they didn’t have before. While the past couple of weeks have focused on Amos’ travails on Earth, this week’s “Oyedeng” puts the focus squarely on Naomi, and her interstellar game of Kramer vs. Kramer with Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander) for the soul of their son Filip (Jasai Chase Owens). The episode’s title is Belter for “goodbye,” and it treats us to an emotional, heartbreaking goodbye not just for one or two characters, but Naomi’s family as a whole.
The episode opens with some honey-hued flashbacks to Naomi’s life with Marco and baby Filip, impressionistic glimpses at a happy family torn apart by radicalism and violence. It’s a portrait of her life Naomi clearly wants back, as it’s the whole reason she chased after Filip in the first place. When last we saw her, she was in the brig of the Pella, Marcos’ hell-for-leather stealth cruiser and the flaship of the Free Navy, as an angered Marco tries to figure out what to do with her — especially as her exploits in the Ring have begun to make Filip curious about her. First, he visits Filip in his quarters, catching him scanning over news reports of Naomi’s work on the Ring gates; Alexander’s great here, threading the needle between fatherly camaraderie and manipulative menace. He wants the Chetzemoka, the ship Naomi gifted Filip as a means to escape Marco’s control, for an as-yet-unrevealed purpose. He asks nicely, but we know it’s not a request. Filip acquiesces, of course; “I want you to be proud of me.”
He then visits Naomi in her cell, letting her know she’s free to roam about the ship but if she acts out again (like she did when she stole a hand terminal to warn Holden (Steven Strait) about the sabotaged code that would blow up the Roci) she’s going out an airlock. Marco’s manipulation games continue unabated; he wants her to know she will never have Filip’s love, and that she’s the villain for abandoning them and the Belter cause. “I raised him to be the fighter I thought you were!” he spits back at her. Naomi, well-steeled against his abuse from years of re-discovering herself on the Roci, responds to none of his power moves. “The pain of losing Filip was not as horrible as having to stay with you.”
Much of the episode involves these kinds of two-handers aboard the Pella — Marco with Filip, Naomi bonding with Filip over his love of fixing things, Marco and Naomi rehashing old wounds over why she abandoned them — using the systemwide stakes as a battleground for the galaxy’s most bitter custody battle. But in classic Expanse fashion, it’s complicated by the specter of intergalactic politics and the unique environment of vacuum. When opening up to Filip, Naomi tells him of the circumstances surrounding why she left him when he was a baby: in the wake of the destruction of the Augusten Gamarra, a terrorist attack Naomi was responsible for, she realized just how evil Marco’s mission was and nearly threw herself out an airlock out of despair. It’s these scenes, and the episode as a whole, that really show Tipper’s chops as an actor; she’s earnest, passionate, vulnerable, and delivers these pained monologues wiht gut-wrenching pathos. She’s long been the soul of the Roci crew, but it’s in this unfamiliar environment that we see the extent of that depth of feeling. And even in rehashing that trauma, she hopes to pull Filip back from the brink of genocidal mayhem: “Walking away was the only choice I had left. Walking away is the only choice anyone ever has.”
It’s not the only heart-to-heart she’ll have this episode, nor the only potential ally: not long after that, she catches up with Cyn (Brent Sexton), the member of Marco’s crew most sympathetic to Naomi (even after the whole bashing-your-head-in-with-a-socket-wrench thing). Again, the airlock story comes up, and we learn that Cyn had figured out what Naomi was doing that day, and watched her as she walked into the airlock, and then back out. It’s clear he still harbors a lot of guilt from what he did to Naomi, especially after he reveals he helped hide young Filip from Naomi after she left. “I loved all of us! I thought I was doing the right thing!” he cries. Tipper lets slip Naomi’s feelings of betrayal, steeling her lip even as it quivers. “Help me now. Make it right,” she asks him. He’s noncommittal.
These scenes come to a head when Cyn asks Marco to let Naomi go; she’s no harm to their plans anymore, after all. But Marco sees Naomi’s effect on him, and he doesn’t like it. “You taught me to be strong, not to be victim to weakness!” It’s clear her words have had an effect on the most vulnerable members of his crew, including Filip himself. That’s why, even after Filip comes to him asking for command of a ship so that he can be known by his own exploits, Marco throws his failures back in his face: his failure to kill Naomi, to shut down the Roci, to destroy Tycho Station. And yet, like the master manipulator that he is, he talks his bridge crew into chanting “Filip, Filip, Filip” as encouragement for his young son to come back into the fold. He’ll become a legend, implies Marco, but only after Marco gets his time in the spotlight.
Naomi’s summoned to the bridge, where we learn what Marco really wants with the Chtezemoka: they’re going to rig it with explosives, lure the Rocinante in to rescue Naomi, then blow it up, finishing the job Filip botched the first time. Naomi turns to Filip for help, but he’s fully back in Marco’s camp now. He calls her a “pathetic, Earther-loving welwala” and slaps his mother; clearly, Naomi’s relationship with Holden is a major factor in both Inaros’ distaste for her, and a big reason why the Roci‘s destruction is such a big part of their plans. Naomi finds herself once again at the end of her rope, with her old family rejecting her and her new family in danger. And so, she plays the only card she has left, the one we’ve been rehashing all episode: the airlock.
We watch her walk toward the airlock somberly, Clinton Shorter’s yearning score playing over her slow-motion walk to the vacuum gallows. Cyn, who loves Naomi but couldn’t muster the strength to fight back, sees where she’s going on the surveillance cameras, and rushes to the airlock to stop her. The interior doors close behind them, and Naomi just turns back and weeps, “You shouldn’t have followed me.” You see, it wasn’t her plan to kill herself; she opens the exterior doors to the airlock and jumps away, an injector of oxygenated blood (the kind that saved Monica’s life in episode 3) in her hand. As Cyn draws his final breaths, his sympathies dooming him to a harsh death in vacuum, we see Naomi making a beeline for the Chtezemoka, floating alongside the Pella now that it’s been rigged to blow. The Expanse has had its fair share of Gravity-esque scenes where characters have had to risk getting lost in the float, but they’ve all worn suits: here, Naomi’s got nothing but her summer clothes on, and it’s nail-biting to watch her slowly exhale as blood vessels burst in her eyes and we hope she makes it. With the help of the injector, good aim, and a fast hand on the airlock close button, she makes it into the Chetzemoka‘s airlock and ends the episode just floating there.
Given what we know of Marco’s plans for the ship, we know she’s just walked out of the frying pan and into the fire. But it’s a thrilling, emotional conclusion to her attempts to save Filip’s soul and to appeal to the humanity of the people she spent her younger years close to.
- I wanted to spend the bulk of the recap focusing on Naomi’s story, but there’s a fair bit of real estate with Holden and the Roci, too, as they chase the Zmeya down to stop Marco from getting Fred Johnson’s protomolecule sample. Holden’s felt like he’s had short shrift this season, but that’s mostly because his own sense of purpose is rather settled: he’s an almost obnoxiously-principled man who does the right thing without question and navel-gazes his way through his own righteous decisions. We get a lot of that in his convos with Monica Stuart (Anna Hopkins) and Bull (José Zúñiga), who reflect on, respectively, the broader scheme of Inaros’ fleet and the protomolecule, and the complex nature of Fred Johnson as a person (Bull says of him, “I spent half a lifetime with Fred, and I still don’t know. Hard to find people like that.”).
- We also see the Roci finally catch up to the Zmeya, leading to another thrilling Expanse shootout where Bull sends the ship into a balletic spin to shoot down a spiral of torpedoes headed their way. We all know Alex is the best pilot in the system, but given the way Bull makes the Roci dance, he’s got some competition.
- Unfortunately, the Zmeya blows itself up rather than give over the protomolecule, so it’s seemingly gone. Knowing both Marco and the show, though, there are plans within plans, and I’m willing to bet we’ll see that sample crop up somewhere else.
- Meanwhile, Alex (Cas Anvar) and Bobbie (Frankie Adams) are still celebrating their escape in the Razorback from the Free Navy, sending the fleet ship profiles to both Holden and Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) — which is how Holden learns that Naomi’s ship is with the Free Navy. Their scenes are brief here, but I love their growing camaraderie as they shrug off bullets and trade barbs about medals. It’s too bad they get so little to do this season, and that Anvar’s alleged sexual misconduct will mean Alex isn’t much longer for the show.
- Even at a distance, Alex and Holden’s communiques are a refreshing reminder of the main crew’s affection for one another, especially their zeal for rescuing Naomi: “We won’t lose her, Jim,” Alex says resolutely.