The Expanse Season Five: Episodes 1-3

“Exodus“, “Churn“, “Mother”

Possibly the best thing that Jeff Bezos has ever done is bring The Expanse TV series back from the brink of extinction simply because he wanted to see more of it. The insane whims of billionaires should always be pointed in that sort of direction, because it is the one that bears the most fruit and hurts the fewest people. Though it has been recently announced that The Expanse ends (or “goes on hold”) after season six (out of a potential nine), we’ve got two entire books worth of story to tell. 

Season five is based largely on Nemesis Games, the book where shit gets real. A lot has happened in the series to date, but this particularly story raises the stakes to an intense degree. In the first three episodes of Season Five, handily released together before the show switches to a weekly onslaught, we have the prelude to all bets being off – and, with some of the changes afoot, not even a dedicated book reader can see all of this coming.

The initial set of Expanse coverage does not contain heavy spoilers – this is subject to change as the season progresses. This piece should be pretty safe if you’ve seen up to the end of season four – and can handle cryptic references to the book series.

Exodus”, written by Executive Producer Naren Shankar, kicks off with the crew of the Rocinante already separated: with the ship in dry dock, Amos has unfinished business on Earth and Alex wants to check in on things on Mars and have a beer with Bobbie. Fairly soon thereafter a surprisingly forthcoming Naomi reveals her intention to track down her estranged son Filip, leaving Holden alone with a mystery furnished by his season three tagalong, Monica Stuart. Meanwhile, a freshly diminished Avasarala has been banished to Luna, where she struggles to get anyone to listen to her warnings.

The following two episodes, “Churn” written by book creators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, and “Mother”, written by Executive Producer Dan Nowak (and directed by erstwhile Miller Thomas Jane), continue the threads. The episodes are discreet, but read as a triple threat.

Following on from the largely isolated “the quarry season”, The Expanse is keen to show the viewer new and exciting things across multiple environments. It starts by reintroducing us to Tycho Station, and affords the audience a closer look at the the mechanism it uses to work on the ships it builds and repairs. Holden and Fred Johnson get to travel in pods against an advanced form of rear projection that either looks good or like an on rails shooter or music video of yesteryear depending on where your fancy takes you. It feels like a fresh new location for the show, particularly when you have people walking on ceilings while others walk on floors, and it allows us to have a refreshing amount of face time between Holden and the often under-utilised Chad L. Coleman as Fred. Fred has never had the gravitas on the screen as he has on the page — possibly at least in part so that Avasarala could be beefed up — so it’s good to finally give him a chance. 

Another fascinating change in the Tycho scenario is that the show finally introduces Bull (José Zúñiga), in the role that Drummer played in the book. Turnabout is, of course, fair play, as Drummer performed Bull’s designated role in season three. Bull is more casually racist and disturbingly contemptuous of Belters than you’d expect of someone in the position, but Holden might get lonely otherwise.

We see more of Mars than we got to see in the Gods of Risk inspired Bobbie segments in season four, and it is curious to see the nation planet in decline: like a multi-storey shopping mall in the gradual process of being decommissioned, rather than a metropolis brung low. It’s a far cry from the Mars described in the books as an indoor emulation of the dream of a new Earth, but the production design is communicated in other ways: the cowboy aesthetic of the denizens of Mariner Valley shines through in a completely unhinged way at the Los Compadres bar, and on the upper side of the echelon there is the hideous opulence of a real wooden bar, where the wine is presumably made from real grapes.

It’s this sort of attention to detail that then translates into character moments that speak to the spacer nature of these people. When Holden leaves a bowl of noodles half-eaten, it is a matter of moments before Monica chooses not to let them go to waste. It is things like this, the open homeyness of the family ship that Drummer finds herself on, and the showers of The Lazy Songbird, that make The Expanse breathe.

But beyond this, we get two entirely new locations: Luna, where Avasarala is exiled to a bar like a hangar, and Baltimore, where Wes Chatham gets to expand Amos’ range in a most rewarding way. Bathed in the blue light of The Expanse’s terrestrial planets, the Rocinante’s resident monster on a leash finally gets to explore his past (already familiar to those who have read the novella The Churn, from which the second episode takes its title). Ultimately this season will belong to Amos and Naomi, so it’s important that Chatham can literally carry the weight of the world. Chatham has a way with a glassy eye and hidden inner workings, and the discovery of these depths in Amos is tickling in a way that someone less in tune with their character could not produce.

Naomi, of course, is on her own journey — and one slightly divergent from that which we’re used to — but we can tackle that in future reviews. She’s on her way somewhere, and it will be fundamental to the story, just not yet.

The Expanse only lets one piece of real world flotsam touch it: this is the first story in which Alex takes an active role rather than a supporting one, and it unfortunately coincides with the news that Cas Anvar has been ejected from the role due to alleged sexual misconduct. It makes the character less sympathetic and, when he’s chatting up Lt. Babbage (Lara Jean Chorostecki), he comes across downright sleazy. Hopefully it’s an aura that can dissipate as the series progresses, because Anvar has to carry more of the show than viewers are used to. It’s no fault of the production – and by all accounts they appear to have acquitted themselves well in a difficult situation – but it must have been awkward to have the entire season in the bag in the scenario. That Alex’s plot is shared with Bobbie helps, because Frankie Adams has long been one of the best parts of the series (pro-tip: Bobbie and Avasarala are the best Expanse characters in any medium), but Anvar gets more significant screen time here than he has at any other time to date.

If you’ve read the books, you can probably guess what happens in episode three, and why they chose to launch the season in such a specific block. There are actual laws holding Batrock dot net back from disclosing any information, but yes: the Fishfinder 5000 does indeed get its moment in the sun.

The first three episodes of The Expanse Season Five are cumulative. It makes perfect sense that they were released this way; if this review reads like table setting, it’s because this trio is largely the same, but what a table it sets: The Expanse is about to get real.

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