Warning: spoilers ahead for episode six of season five of “The Expanse.”
Given the appropriate title “Tribes,” the sixth installment for this season of “The Expanse” delivers a little bit of everything. While the previous episode had its own share of memorable moments, it felt like mostly set-up. Not so with “Tribes,” which pays off the escape of Alex and Bobbie, lets us check back in with Avasarala, accelerates the confrontation between Drummer and Marco, and gives us even more fantastic character development with Amos.
The episode also harmonizes its pacing between methodical, rich, quiet moments, and frenetic action sequences. This is no easy task, but “The Expanse” balances it with near-perfect execution.
In the first of the episode’s two most thrilling scenes, we get to finally witness Bobbie Draper doing what she does best: proving why Martian Marines are feared and respected. Making use of the Goliath Martian power armor she acquired several episodes ago, Bobbie takes out an OPA boarding party before Alex plants a grenade that destroys their ship, allowing the duo to breathe a little calmer, for now.
Watching Bobbie use the Goliath armor recalls some of the best moments in the first “Iron Man” film and reminds us once more that the technology Mars has developed is truly amazing. One hopes Marco hasn’t got his hands on some power armor to match his MCRN warships.
We only get a few minutes of screen time on Luna, but it’s worth it. With the death of U.N. Secretary-General Nancy Gao and most of Earth’s high command, the leadership of the planet has fallen to the highest-ranking member of the cabinet left alive: the Minister of Transportation, David Paster. He’s clearly an intelligent man, but as someone who never really wanted to get into politics, he’s noticeably overwhelmed by the gravity of the position and power thrust upon him.
As we’re told most of Midtown Manhattan is underwater, Avasarala is barely holding it together as she tries to talk through the next steps of Earth’s response to three catastrophic asteroid strikes. Before leaving the room, she prepares to reattach an ornate necklace and struggles. It’s a nice touch of writing. Avasarala is definitely still ready and able to lead Earth — which will likely be the case before long — but what she’s witnessed has shaken her, deeply.
For five seasons, Shohreh Aghdashloo has turned in excellent performances as Chrisjen Avasarala, but she really knocks it out of the park in this episode, conveying these complicated emotions with a delicate authenticity.
Holden and a (hopefully) loyal Tycho Station crew take off in the Rocinante in hopes of rescuing Naomi from Marco. He’s joined by Bull and documentarian/journalist Monica Stuart, who, almost dying on Tycho, is happy to get off the station. By essentially adding herself to the crew of the Roci, she’s also given herself a front-row seat next to Holden — smart, since he’s frequently at the center of everything.
On the Pella, Marco Inaros’s flagship of the OPA Free Navy, tensions boil over what to do about Naomi, who warned Holden about the fatal sabotage laid in the Roci just in time. A confrontation ensues between Naomi’s old friend Cyn and Marco himself, with the spat seemingly seconds away from violence. The defiance Cyn shows Marco, in public no less, means Cyn should probably watch his next steps carefully.
Upon getting her agreed-upon meeting with Marco, Drummer’s crew — her family, as she corrects Marco — debates whether to join Marco or face the consequences. Although there are a few holdouts, Drummer and her team end up signing on to Marco’s alliance, an action Drummer is less than pleased with but is without too many options at this point barring a suicidal attack. While exiting back to her ship she seems to pick up that Naomi is nearby and possibly in danger.
It’s a decent bet that Drummer has something up her sleeve. After receiving the blows of the death of Ashford and now Fred Johnson, it’s hard to envision Drummer not getting her revenge at some point. Conversely, as “The Expanse” doesn’t fall into nearly as many tropes as your typical show, it may not be so clean and easy. Watching her spring her plan into action, whatever it may entail, will be something to see.
The episode belongs to Amos Burton and Clarissa Mao, however. It’s their quest to make it to Baltimore while keeping Clarissa alive that receives the bulk of the episode’s runtime — and with good reason.
These two characters have two of the most compelling backstories of the show, and both are still being explored and filled in. Their journey through snow-packed forests features some of the best dialogue of the season so far. “The thing about civilization is, it keeps you civil,” Amos says, “You get rid of one, you can’t count on the other.” He continues, hitting on the episode’s title and theme:
People are tribal. The more settled things are, the bigger the tribes can be. The churn comes, and the tribes get small again. Right now…you and I are a tribe of two.
After a deadly confrontation with a survivalist, Amos and Clarissa recuperate in his home. Amos hears Clarissa mumble something about “monsters” in her sleep, and it prompts him to ask her about it. We find out its a poem she wrote while in prison:
I have killed,
but I’m not a killer,
because a killer is a monster,
and monsters aren’t afraid.
It’s initially played as both an innocent, lighthearted moment and a dramatic beat for Clarissa. Upon looking at Amos, however, we realize the poem’s message has hit home.
Amos dwells on the words — while he’s killed many men before, he’s not afraid. Pondering whether he may, indeed, be a monster, Amos recoils out of the moment, and utters the words that abruptly end the episode: “I need to get back to my crew.”
It’s evident by the episode’s conclusion that Amos realized his true tribe is the crew of the Roci. Like the settling effect of civilization he refers to earlier in the episode, Holden and his crew act as Amos’s true north star, Amos’s guiding light. Beyond camaraderie and a chance for adventure, they help to steer his moral compass away from his darker tendencies. Away from them for too long, Amos has reverted to a version of himself he worked so hard to escape from.
Avasarala may be a part of the effort to pluck Amos — and, more awkwardly, Clarissa — out of the woods and back to the civilization of the deck of the Roci. However Amos gets back to Holden and company, for his sake, it better be soon.