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‘The Expanse’ 5.01-5.03 Review: A crew pulled apart finds a solar system at the brink of war

Let the Nemesis Games begin.

Amos (Wes Chatham) in 'The Expanse'.
(Image: © Amazon Studios)

Our Verdict

If the groundwork laid in the first three episodes tells us anything, big things are awaiting us in the weeks to come.

For

  • 🌌Political intrigue is through the roof this season.
  • 🌌Amos gets some compelling backstory.
  • 🌌The third episode is a game-changer.

Against

  • 🌌Marco could have been a better reestablished threat.
  • 🌌Spreading the main characters across the solar system has its narrative downsides.

This post contains mild spoilers for The Expanse Season 5. Check out our preview of The Expanse Season 6.

Here we are once again with The Expanse, the space opera that gained enough notoriety in its post-Sci Fi cancellation that Amazon picked it up for another three seasons. Season 5 is the second of these, and series fans probably want to have a couple of questions answered. If you’re a fan of the James S.A. Corey’s book series, let me be the first to tell you that Season 5 upholds the show’s adaptational tradition by staying very faithful to the fifth book Nemesis Games, at least for the first three episodes, and the set-up that unfolds in this season’s first act makes excellent promises for the weeks to come. If you are not familiar with the books, you’re likely wondering how this season progresses the overall story of the protomolocule and the ring gate colonies that were further elucidated upon in Season 4. The answer may disappoint you, but the new point of central focus is just as compelling.

The Expanse has always had two running currents to its overarching plot. The infection of the alien protomolocule was the primary focus of Season 4, restricting Holden and the crew of the Rocinante to a colony world as they attempted to uncover the secrets of the mysterious Builders. Season 5 doesn’t want you to forget about the protomolocule, but this season is much more focused on developing the political story of a solar system at the brink of war and revolution. Namely, emphasis is on the looming threat of Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander), a Belter revolutionary who wants to level the political playing field against the inner planets. In order to give this threat the necessary points of view for the audience to understand the scope of his plans, the crew of the Rocinante is split across the solar system, each pursuing their own agenda while laying the narrative groundwork for the shake-up to come.

Holden (Steven Strait) remains on Tycho Station and is contacted by journalist Monica Stuart (Anna Hopkins) with information that station commander Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman) still has a fragment of the protomolocule and that someone is attempting to steal it. Naomi (Dominique Tipper) leaves a confused Holden behind to go find her abandoned son, Filip (Jasai Chase Owens), whom she hopes to pull free of the charismatic pull of his father Marco. Amos (Wes Chatham) heads to Earth to mourn a mother figure from his former life as an orphan, continuing Amos’s streak as the most interesting character psyche to explore on this show as his apparent sociopathy covers layers of trauma and a genuine desire for certain human connections. Alex (Cas Anvar), meanwhile, heads to his home planet of Mars with the hopes of reuniting with his own abandoned family, only to have the door shut in his face and to get caught up in intrigue with Bobbie (Frankie Adams), who has been covertly investigating black market weapon sales stemming from the Martian military.

Also garnering a large amount of screen time is Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), disgruntled in her new position out of Earth governance and stationed on Luna, attempting to convince Earth of the massive threat Marco poses while investigating a strange raid on a scientific outpost. Aghdashloo is magnetic as ever in her spitfire antagonism and political saavy. Further emphasis is also placed on Camina Drummer (Cara Gee), mourning Ashford’s death at Marco’s hand and leading her polyamorous crew on a revenge mission thinly disguised as a vie for the bounty on Marco’s head. Strangely absent from these first three episodes is Marco himself, who could have used a scene or two to reestablish his persona as more than an ambiguous threat.

This many subplots spread across so many locations could have felt like an exercise in overambition, particularly with how contained and centralized the plot of Season 4 was, but it’s compelling because it grounds the political machinations it explores in characters we care about personally. Particularly given how the third episode ends, it’s easy to appreciate how much maneuvering the plot needs to do in order to give us as many perspectives as possible for the aftermath of an event that is best described as a total game-changer. 

Is it somewhat disappointing to not see Holden, Naomi, Amos, and Alex bounce their personalities off one another this season? Yes, but seeing them in isolation from one another also allows exploration of dimensions to their inner lives that we haven’t otherwise seen yet – Amos again springs to mind. Is it a big shift to focus on something other than the threat of the protomolocule as the primary antagonistic force for a season? Also yes, but it plays into the show’s broader themes of a species too subdivided by conflict to grasp the bigger picture of an external threat. Does Season 5 promise to be an exciting season of television? If the groundwork laid in the first three episodes tells us anything, big things are awaiting us in the weeks to come.

Season 5 of The Expanse premieres with the first three episodes on Amazon Prime on December 16, 2020.