The fifth season of The Expanse is perhaps the best season of the show so far, and it's easy to understand why book fans were excited about it because a lot definitely happened. While there wasn't much going on with the weirdness of exploring beyond the Ring Gates and figuring out more about the Builders, it didn't lessen any of the tension and excitement that the story continued to bring, particularly when it came to individual character arcs. The series has always been character-driven, but this season cranked it up to eleven by having all the characters separated from one another, allowing us to focus on specific arcs and how they deal with situations on their own, especially with backstories of particular characters such as Amos Burton and Naomi Nagata.
One thing I have always liked about the series was the gradual reveal of these characters, they don't talk about their pasts that much, wanting to put it all behind them, and little by little we got more information about who they were before the events of when the series began, and all of that has led to this season where we finally get to not only learn but also see firsthand what shaped them to who they are. Furthermore, it shows us that where they came from isn't home anymore. They've had their fair share of traumatic experiences that led them to leave those places in the first place, and while they had their own reasons for returning (Amos to settle a personal affair, Naomi to save her son) as they remained in those places it clicks for them that this isn't who they are anymore. The people, the places that they once frequented are like shadows of their pasts that they cannot return to, for one reason or another. It may have shaped them, but they are no longer those people anymore. And seeing these personal journeys for them, seeing the epiphanies of realizing this, it's what got me the most. It was an emotional ride, especially with Naomi's storyline.
Another thing I really enjoyed about this season in terms of the characters is seeing their growth. We've seen this happen over the course of the show, but I think this season really shined a light on personal development on a lot of them especially when faced with impossible choices in extreme circumstances. We see this with our main group, but we also see this with supporting and recurring characters, as well. A lot of them had to make tough calls that their past season selves wouldn't have made, especially since their experiences has changed their perspectives on certain people and situations. Just thinking about how some of them were in the beginning of the series to where they are now, that kind of gradual development makes me happy.
And to address the elephant in the room, Alex Kamal's death.
It obviously never happened in the book, but due to real life circumstances they had to do something to explain why the character wouldn't be in the sixth season. I know a lot of people wanted a recast, but I think recasting a main character this late in the game, especially for only one season (as the sixth season is said to be the last), isn't really ideal so the only options left were to either write him off or kill him off, and they went with the latter. Much of what happened in the last half of the season finale was changed after the fact, from them reshooting scenes for the characters reacting to Alex's death to heavily editing the party scene, since there were some pictures months ago where we saw Alex present but he's obviously not there in the final product. That meant we lost some scenes in favor of this decision, which sucks. The death was abrupt, but I liked that they still managed to pull it off. And, as someone had pointed out, it shows the real risk of what putting your body through a "hard burn", which is constantly thrown about in the show but we haven't seen real consequence for our main characters until now. So they made it make sense with an in-verse logical explanation, and they also made it clear that Alex knew the risks but didn't care either way as long as he could ensure Naomi's safety, thereby ensuring their family's safety in the process. Amos made that clear when he spoke with Naomi after the fact, and I thought it was a lovely touch. It was a nice way of celebrating the character without celebrating the actor.
Little Things That I Enjoyed About The Season:
** I think it goes without saying that I absolutely adored Naomi's storyline this season. I honestly have a lot of thoughts on the journey she goes through and the decisions that were made (by her and other characters she encounters and interacts with), but then this review would've turned into a massive essay, but to put it simply: her storyline was incredibly powerful and emotional, and it was hard to watch at times, but in a good way! It really resonated with me on an emotional level the things that she had to deal with, with Filip, with Marco and her old crew, which demonstrated how far she has come and how she is no longer the old Naomi Nagata that she used to be. She has rebuilt herself into someone better. Seeing her use her smarts and be resourceful in order to survive, or rather make sure that Holden and her new family of the Roci survives, was absolutely phenomenal to witness. The fact that during the latter half of her storyline she was just on a ship, alone, no dialogue but still able to put us through this emotional journey as we see what she is doing to save her friends? I just, yeah. Dominique Tipper deserves all the awards.
I mean, Naomi literally jumped out of an airlock without a suit to get to the ship that was leaving, put herself through massive hell in attempts to manipulate the false distress call to alert her friends to stay away from the ship that is rigged as a bomb, and then as a last resort ended up jumping out of the ship once again this time in a suit that has limited oxygen in hopes that her friends will see her and not get too close in order to save them. I mean. When will your faves, though. Naomi Nagata is the MVP of the season, hands down.
** My heart bleeds for Filip. He is truly a kid who is torn between both sides, he wants to appease his father and does look up to him, but he also wants his mother back. You can tell how conflicted he is. Mommy and daddy issues, galore. I want to believe that he can turn it around, there were cracks that Naomi was able to get through, but of course he is still under the influence of his father and you cannot erase years of manipulation in a short amount of time. It makes me sad, but it also makes me hopeful that he'll eventually break free from his father's influence.
** Marco Inaros is perhaps the best antagonist in the series, by far. I love to hate him because the way he operates is so clever yet so despicable. He's not someone who just acts without thinking, he has orchestrated the biggest terrorist attack that humanity has ever seen, he has taken a long time to plan and plot and twist things to his side, his narrative. The way he manipulates others, how he gives them ultimatums, it is truly scary. He's a charismatic leader who appeals to certain things that all Belters yearn and crave for, while also wanting this to be his moment, he wants to be the hero, the centerpiece of a revolution. He's the narrative foil to James Holden, the antithesis to who he is in every way, and Naomi tells him this beautifully ("[Holden] is everything you pretend to be!"). He's so fascinating, the actor does a wonderful job portraying such a despicable character.
** I mean, his speech after the attacks demonstrates exactly what a charismatic leader he is.
** Camina Drummer and her Polyam Belter Fam! I knew that she was going to be a fusion of a book character that hasn't appeared on the show particularly with this storyline, but someone else pointed out that it works better this way because of the emotional impact it has for both Drummer and us, the viewers. I mean, her being in a polyamorous relationship aside, which was beautifully done and it makes me happy seeing more poly relationships being portrayed in media, I think everything that Drummer has been through not just with Naomi but also her friendship with Ashford and then Fred, these particular losses really add more emotional layers to her storyline this season than it would've if we'd been introduced to a new character. And man, she goes through it. There's so much to say about Drummer this season, the emotional journey she goes through, allowing us to see her in such a vulnerable place that we've never seen her before and the hard decisions she is forced to make, but I just want to say that Cara Gee is simply phenomenal and I love her so much and everything she contributes to this role. The end.
(I also hope that her little polyam fam will be okay, I know it hurts now because of everything that happened and it's still fresh but Drummer needs something good in her life and clearly this little family works, and it was only because of fucking Marco that basically created the tension.)
** I liked Monica Stuart before, but I absolutely love her now.
** This exchange:
Fred: What in the hell did you do?
Holden: There was a button, I pushed it.
Fred: Jesus Christ. That is really how you go through life, isn't it?
I love it when they take dialogue straight from the books, and it made me so happy that this was included into the show!
** Everything that involved Amos and Clarissa made me so happy. Their dynamic is so interesting, and I love their connection. I just love that Amos wanted to help her because he felt a kinship with her, because he wanted to do right by helping someone who needed it like what was done for him when he was younger. There's just so many layers when it comes to Amos and I just loved every scene they shared together. The last scene, especially, where Amos is buttering up Holden to have her aboard the Roci was hilarious, he's like a kid excited about bringing his newly made best friend to a sleepover.
** I think episode four, "Gaugamela", is perhaps my favorite episode of the season simply because things escalate so fast in a short amount of time. So much happened, the action, the music, everything was just top-notch excellence.
** The season finale ending....WEIRD ALIEN SHIT! GIVE ME MORE WEIRD ALIEN SHIT!
Things I Didn't Like:
** There wasn't as much Bobbie this season as I would've liked. This is mostly due to the fact that she had to share scenes with a certain actor, and I don't know whether they cut a lot out of their storyline, but it made me sad that Bobbie didn't have a whole lot to do this season. She was vital in the grand scheme of things, of course, especially towards the end by saving Naomi. I just wished there was more scenes with her, that's all. At least she is back with Avasarala now as her liaison, so I'm looking forward to seeing more of that development.
** I'm not entirely sure about the character of Bull. I know he appears in the books, and I did like some of his interactions with Holden, but I'm not sure if he's going to be taking Alex's place as pilot of the Roci or what. I don't know. We'll have to see.
Overall: I think season five was an incredible season. Despite the real life situation featuring one of the actors that did kind of taint some things, the quality of the storytelling and the acting by everyone else overrode that completely. I love character-driven stories, and season five was this to the maximum. I also loved how they released episodes weekly instead of just dropping the entire season at once, considering how emotionally heavy a lot of the episodes were it would've been impossible to binge-watch something like that. I also like how this has allowed the fandom to become more active than waiting forever for people to post about things because they're still busy getting through all the episodes at once. Something I think a lot of shows show benefit more from, just saying. Anyway, this season was amazing. I loved the direction it went, raising the stakes even more, the performances by the actors taking it to a whole new level, just all-around beautiful. As sad as I am that the sixth season will be the last, I am highly anticipating what is going to come next, and I have no doubt that they'll deliver.