Warning: spoilers ahead for episode nine of season five of “The Expanse.”
As season five of “The Expanse” draws to a close, episode nine, “Winnipesaukee,” gives us a thrilling escape from a mansion in frozen New Hampshire, sets up Drummer’s revenge, and delivers the return of Earth’s once and future queen.
On the decks of the Razorback, the Rocinante, and the Pella, opinions diverge on what Naomi’s altered distress call means. Alex suspects something’s amiss but he and Bobbie decide they should still investigate. Likewise, while Bull and Monica have reservations, James is understandably blinded by his love for Naomi and orders they press onward full-steam ahead. As the Razorback is closer to Naomi’s ship, Alex and Bobby believe they’ll arrive first — that is, unless Marco Inaros’s forces don’t beat them to it.
Unlike the others who remain mystified by the new signal, Marco realizes what’s happened: Naomi has managed to survive a jump into the hard vacuum of space and is now aboard the Chet Zemoka. There’s shifting amounts of disbelief, horror, and rage on his face as Marco listens to the recording of Naomi’s actual voice: “This is Naomi Nagata…tell James Holden…I am in…control.” She’s thwarted him.
Wasting little time, Marco relays orders to Drummer for her crew to intercept the Roci and destroy it. Against everything her heart and conscience are telling her, Drummer agrees.
It’s an awful and unenviable position for her to be in. The rage Drummer holds for Marco and all of the people he’s killed is palpable and certain to explode. Yet, if she attempts to cross Marco and his forces, she has to consider the certain jeopardy of not just her own life but that of her crew and friends.
Attempting to do what’s best for Drummer, Oksana asks for her gun, and, after some reluctance from Drummer, gets her wish. Oksana knows Naomi is alive and may be preparing to kill Karal as part of the anti-Marco Belter rebellion Drummer is certain to stage. Oksana clearly desires to demonstrate that she too is worthy of Drummer’s love just as Naomi; that they too are family. A self-sacrificial decision on Oksana’s part may, unfortunately, end up being the act that proves it.
Yet, for all of the possibilities of a Drummer-led crack in the Belter unity promised by Marco, leaders on Earth seem determined to give Marco exactly what he wants.
We find out that United Nations Secretary-General David Paster took the advice of Admiral Delgado and ordered the strike on Pallas Station in the Belt. Avasarala is blindsided by the attack, finding out about the bombing by watching it live on public viewing screens to the cheers of Luna’s inhabitants. As she barely begins to confront Delgado for his role in persuading Paster to make the decision, she’s thrust into another high-stakes meeting in the U.N. situation room.
Central to Avasarala’s argument against further strikes on Belter civilian targets is that for every death of a non-radicalized, innocent citizen of the Belt, Earth’s brutality creates ten more extremists in service of Marco. By going after Marco and being smart and strategic with their military responses, she argues they can aid and ally with the last hold-out Belter factions while exposing Marco’s lie about Belter unity.
Indeed, it’s been made clear time and time again on “The Expanse” that the Belters remain divided into countless squabbling factions — indiscriminate attacks would bring them together beyond Marco’s highest hopes.
To Avasarala’s dismay and shock, however, Paster is primed to go ahead with further strikes on Belter civilian targets. When Delgado proposes to attack Ceres — home to much of the show’s early plot, millions of Belters, and hundreds of thousands of children — Avasarala realizes she can’t let herself be a part of what may happen next. She resigns on the spot.
Avasarala’s bold stance inspires a mass wave of resignations from cabinet members and military officials. A no-confidence vote is taken, Avasarala returns as Earth’s most capable leader, and Paster is shown the door.
The whole development takes only about seven minutes of total screen time — so fast viewers will be forgiven if they feel plot whiplash. On the other hand, as the penultimate episode of the season, the showrunners were clearly feeling pressure to quickly wrap things up.
The return of the “Queen” Avasarala plotline is also forgiven for its hastiness since it provides us the best moment of the episode. After holding out against all odds that her husband is alive, Avasarala finally admits he’s been killed in the aftermath of the asteroid attacks.
She writes a message to her departed husband Arjun and floats it into the beautiful memorial on Luna of all those whose lives have been lost to Marco’s terrorism. Along with his name — Arjun Avasarala-Rao, Beloved Husband — she writes a brief but poignant message: “If life transcends death, then I will search for you there.”
Meanwhile, Amos and Clarissa travel with Erich and his Baltimore gang to Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Their mission: use a shuttle docked at one of the island mansions to escape to Luna.
The trio finds a malfunctioning shuttle that they eventually repair. Clarissa convinces Amos and Erich to let a number of the islands’ winter staff join them in the shuttle, likely prompted by the mass causalities she witnessed while they escaped Maryland.
While viewers likely suspect Erich to foil Amos and Clarissa’s plans and turn on them at any moment, the anticipated trickery never comes. Erich reveals himself to be — while still unlikable and near-permanently angry — a lot more human than once thought. Growing up alongside Amos (Timmy) yet without ever finding a real family, Erich is in some ways a reflection of how Amos could have turned out under different circumstances and if he’d not ended up on the Roci.
Hostile and suspect island “security forces” threaten to ruin their plans, however, and an explosive nighttime gunfight ensues. They barely make it out alive, with Erich engaging the shuttle’s Epstein drive before properly and gradually engaging the regular thrusters first. As the surrounding area is blasted with a huge fireball, they make it into orbit, and Amos smiles as he witnesses a sunrise graze the curvature of the Earth.
It’s a great episode and one of the strongest this season. That said, it’s also clear that with one episode to go, the showrunners for “The Expanse” needed 13 episodes (or more) to properly tell the story of the season, not just 10.
For several episodes now, central characters like Alex, Bobbie, and James have been “in transit” with nothing to do but utter a few sparse expositional dialogue bits here and there to update the viewers. Season four was hampered by too narrow of a focus and too few “point-of-view” storylines. Conversely, it’s apparent season five, while excellent, has suffered from the opposite issue — a tangled web of quality characters spread too thin, over too many locations to grant them the authentic treatment they deserve.
“Nemesis Games,” the anticipated season finale of “The Expanse,” arrives next week.