The Expanse – Season 5 Episode 9
The Expanse cranks up the tension as it sedately builds to its season finale. Situations gradually continue to decline, while once again proving that humans are the absolute worst, and given the chance will often resort to our baser instincts.
As I’ve mentioned multiple times throughout this season, events have been far more focused of the human aspect of things rather than action and effects. Not that the series as a whole can’t be described in this way in comparison to much of science fiction, but this time around in particular it’s been the focal point.
The bulk of the episode’s action goes to Amos and Clarissa, and in keeping with this the title refers to their part of things. Events now see them on an island in the titular New Hampshire lake, whose wintry desolation is breathtakingly beautiful and offers a brief respite from the human suffering plastered unrelentingly across our screens.
The island also features houses the likes of which most people could never even dream of being able to afford, but their owners merely keep as holiday homes to swing by when they feel like it. Fortunately, it also houses shuttles the wealthy use for orbital jaunts, and Amos, Clarissa, Erich and the gangster’s minions arrive to commandeer one to escape the planet. Instead of the industrial and military ships we’re used to seeing with designs of mechanical functionality, this is a luxury craft lined with soft seats and mood lighting, like the difference between a private jet and a rickety cargo plane. Not only can these people afford to maintain their own ships capable of space flight, but also have enough spare cash lying around to also enhance their aesthetics, as though travelling in anything other than unbridled luxury would somehow be beneath them.
Because nothing can ever be straightforward, the shuttle has some kind of fault preventing immediate departure, which at least holds everyone up long enough to stimulate a moral discussion on the worth of human life upon the discovery that the building’s staff were left behind by their employers, the differing worldviews of Clarissa and Erich provoking compelling counterpoints of people who have lived drastically different lives. It also provides a further example of the wide disparity between rich and poor the Earth of the future has developed into, and is particularly resonant in the real world right now where access to power and resources greatly improves the chance of survival if directly affected by a worldwide problem, with such means being largely denied to us proletarian scum.
Erich similarly wants to abandon everyone due to his criminal sensibilities leaving little room for compassion, and to be honest, not that long previously Amos would have had the same reaction, believing anyone to whom he isn’t close is undeserving of his consideration. He has progressed enough that he can analyse his own behaviour objectively, and recognises when he has begun regressing into who he used to be and has no wish to become again.
Conversely, Clarissa argues that helping the people in need is a microcosm of the human society that eventually culminated in the war Inaros is attempting to start by the inner planets disregarding the Belt. Redemption arcs are rarely done properly, but it seems like Clarissa is genuinely remorseful of the horrific things she’s done, and the compassion she displays for the stranded people left to die seems utterly genuine. Perhaps she recognises that all too recently she would have made the same choice as their employers and not lost a moment’s sleep over it, and wants to be a better person.
All that the situation requires to resolve is figuring out what’s causing the problem getting the shuttle airborne, so of course the situation can’t be allowed to pass without any sense of danger or conflict. This is brought in by a roving band of private security similarly abandoned by their employers, but being the ones with the guns decide that instead of rationing what they have to survive, they can just barge in and take what everyone else has. They weren’t expecting to meet a contingent of the finest that Baltimore’s notoriously rough streets can provide, the latter’s greater numbers and elevated position providing the tactical advantage against the glorified thugs.
The ship is fixed before anything else happens, so of course the corrupt security return before they can leave, resulting in an intense firefight between two sets of ruthless criminals each pushed by outside forces to the choices they made of who to help and who to screw over.
The illusion of the battle being largely filmed in a single shot adds to its sense of urgency and the claustrophobia of the setting, proving that fights between simple humans can be just as compelling as effects-laden space battles between duelling warships. It also doesn’t feel the need to show all of the events, as a distinct sound effect of Clarissa screaming is heard, soon followed by a particularly memorable shot of her surrounded by bodies and blood after going full-on Viking berserker, a testament to how inevitable are the results of a confrontation when her mods are activated.
It all culminates with survivors being rescued and the invaders being incinerated in the furnace of the shuttle’s blastoff, the dramatic flare fading as atmosphere is reached and the silence of space overwhelms it. Being picky, this doesn’t tie in with the series’ stylistic choice to include sound in space when a vacuum would in actuality be cold silence, but it’s such a majestic combination of effects both visual and auditory I can let it slide.
Amos and Clarissa’s part of the story has been one of the more compelling of this season’s fragmented arcs, and although their actions will be absorbed back into a singular narrative when everyone is reunited, if nothing else it demonstrates that ensembles can function just as well individually as in a group.
Elsewhere, Avasarala accepts her husband Arjun is dead and adds his name to a digital monument to those killed in the attacks, the spinning orange glows spiralling into the sky in stark visual reminder of the scale of the losses that are only beginning to be truly tabulated. Like was seen previously with Gao, an asteroid doesn’t care if you’re rich and/or powerful, but will snuff out your feeble mortal existence just as readily as if you were one of the hundreds of thousands of anonymous citizens whose existences barely register on a global scale, but nevertheless had people who loved and cared for them, and their loss will hollow out an empty void it will take a long time to fill.
Of course, tragedy never gets in the way of political melodrama, and the boardroom side of things continues with Earth’s military pushing ever closer towards action against the Belt’s citizens, cluelessly playing into exactly what Inaros wants to stoke further separatist dissention.
Avasarala working her way through her sorrow gives her perspective on what it is they’re planning to do, only for Paster to undermine her with the eternally patronising observation that women should avoid being be emotional if they want to be taken seriously in a professional setting, another indicator of the worst of humanity never changing even in the far future. It’s unlikely to be a coincidence that the first security council members who follow Avasarala by resigning in disgust are also women, plus one man to balance things out and suggest that even in military politicking it’s possible to defy testosterone-poisoned dick-measuring. In a world of space flight, colonised planets and annihilated ancient aliens (remember them?), the most far-fetched concept the series has yet displayed is the notion of politicians actually displaying some integrity.
It would have been nice to have some perspective from the Martian side of things, to see how their military is responding after the attack on their parliament that was briefly mentioned but never shown, especially since the subplot of the Red Planet’s armed forces supplying Inaros with ships and hardware to undertake his campaign seems to have fallen by the wayside, holding little purpose other than to justify Inaros’ military strength.
Out in space, Drummer is predictably ordered to go after the Rocinante and destroy it, probably as much of a test of loyalty and Inaros’ sadism delighting in making her attack her sometime allies as it is the warlord actually wanting to ensure the obstacle to his plans is removed. The presence of Karal on the ship is a continuing consternation and will only make her death all the more satisfying, and Drummer’s mood is only exacerbated when Oksana tells her that Naomi might still be alive, and now more than ever I swear Drummer’s eyeliner is sentient and actually grows thicker the angrier she gets.
Most of the scattered nominally central characters once again have very little to do, with Alex and Bobbie in the Razorback and Holden and co on the Rocinante discussing Naomi’s cryptic message. Fortunately, the suggested meaning of her transmission is picked up on, pointing out the subtle difference the few missing words make to its meaning and acknowledging how unlikely it is that a random fault would cause such a precise alteration. Unfortunately, despite deciding that Naomi was trying to tell them something, they still continue travelling to where she is due to lacking our omniscient perspective of what her words meant. Having nothing else to go on but a message inexplicably fragmenting and then cutting out, it’s understandable that they still don’t call off the rescue mission, but that doesn’t stop it from being frustrating that after everything Naomi put herself through to warn everyone of the danger, they’re still willingly stumbling blindly into it.
After her stellar featured showing last time, now Naomi barely gets a look in, seen managing to stay sane despite her ordeal and rigging a makeshift radar to locate the ships of her friends, her survival on the few drops of vacuum condensation on her suit a visual reminder of how much she’s putting herself through. Threatened with despair when it becomes clear her message didn’t put off her would-be rescuers from flying straight into Inaros’ trap, she doesn’t give into it, and will make the reunion all the more poignant.
As for those she escaped from, not much is happening aboard the Pella either. Further emphasising the human focus of the season, what would have been portrayed as a big elaborate space battle between multiple ships is instead related by one of Inaros’ minions with a few clipped sentences declaring the participants and the ships destroyed by its conclusion. Inaros’ declarations of mourning the loss of Free Navy vessels and all those aboard barely registers, as though he’s simply stating the words required of him without actually being capable of expressing emotion at the prospect of people laying down their lives for him.
Oddly, Filip is more traumatised by discovering Naomi is still alive and had a plan to survive her plunge into space than he would have been if she were dead. Suicide from despair he can forgive, but apparently not wanting to escape a prison in which she’s been trapped, psychologically abused and threatened with death.
It plays into his abandonment issues and continuing difficulty in trusting his maternal parental figure, which Inaros of course exploits to make him once again feel like a helpless little boy abandoned by his mother for a second time. There’s not much more to go on in terms of their dysfunctional development, but we can presumably expect a much larger part for each of them in the final confrontation in the climactic episode.
“Winnipesaukee” doesn’t feel like the penultimate episode of a season, with little built up to where things will come to a head in the finale, but nevertheless doing a good job of setting up the emotional states the characters will bring into the final conflict.
- Amos and Clarissa continuing to hold the viewer’s attention
- Clarissa’s continuing attempts at redemption
- Clarissa and Erich discussions on relative morality
- The frantic battle in the mansion
- Acknowledging the inherent misogyny of politics
- No real setup for the finale
- The investigation in Mars’ military going nowhere
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