‘The Expanse’: The Rare Sci-Fi Story That Can Pull Off a Literal Leap of Faith

With nearly five seasons at its back, the Amazon Prime Video epic has earned extraordinary moments that would be out of place in nearly any other story.
The Expanse Season 5 Naomi
"The Expanse"
Amazon Prime Video

[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for “The Expanse” Season 5, Episode 7, “Oyedeng.”]

No one jumps into the vast emptiness of space without protection just because they want to do it. Sci-fi writers probably feel the same amount of reluctance about putting characters in that situation, pushing them right to edges of what the human body can safely take.

But if any TV show is capable of pulling off a near-impossible feat like that, it’s “The Expanse.” This week’s chapter, the Season 5 episode “Oyedeng,” caps off with Naomi (Dominique Tipper) risking her life to float from the ship where she’s being held captive to the decoy vessel being used to lure the Rocinante into a death trap.

It’s a move born of desperation and it ends up resulting in the death of Cyn (Brent Sexton). But instead of being a cheap, credulity-straining move from a space story just looking to get from one story point to the other, it’s an example of how meticulous and thorough “The Expanse” is at setting up its most surprising turns.

The emergence of Marco (Keon Alexander) and Filip (Jasai Chase Owens) Inaros has been the trickiest new element for Season 5. Building up this emerging totalitarian father-son combo as the preeminent threat to the solar system is a tall task, even over the course of an entire season. Though, with the time that those two and Naomi have had in their uncomfortable family reunion on the Pella, the show has built the groundwork for why her jump into the void means so much more than an escape.

However he intends it, when Marcos sneers that the Roci crew is Naomi’s family now, he’s right. Even if Filip is her son (and we can see glimpses of the domestic bliss the three of them had when he was an infant), the physical and metaphorical abuse she endures is a stark breaking point. When given the choice, she’d rather sail across empty space than keep trying to reform either of them.

There’s a patience to how those preceding interactions in “Oyedeng” are situated. We see Naomi in various combinations with Marco, Filip, and Cyn, even hearing the same story of her last airlock experience from different perspectives. It may not be obvious on a first viewing, but rewatching those scenes, it’s a meticulous way of setting up the ending not only as a mirror for her past near-decisions, but additional context for what that jump means to her.

That’s not the only way that “The Expanse” is subtly establishing a framework. Even something as simple as including a 10-second stretch of someone walking across a gangway primes anyone watching for just how much that looming emptiness is devoid of sound. It doesn’t just rely on any innate fear of space. It underlines just how much what surrounds these ships is the extreme absence of….anything.

This episode also has plenty of emphasis on boosters: the Roci engines throttling as Holden tries to intercept a target with Naomi’s possible coordinates, the bursts from the torpedos as they’re caught between two sides of a dogfight. “The Expanse” always been smart about showing the logistics of motion in this faster-than-light universe, especially in the Amazon Prime Video seasons, where the series’ scale has grown by orders of magnitude. Marisol Adler, this episode’s director, uses that tradition to track the Roci and the Razorback and any other flying projectiles as they make their way across their respective planes.

The roar of fuel burning and of explosions in space help set up another contrast. As Naomi drifts toward her destination in the final moments, it’s only through the thrust of her own push. She can’t go any faster or expend any amount of the precious air she has left. And when she arrives at the opposite airlock, she’s at the mercy of her own trajectory and what little bit of discolored focus her taxed eyeballs can muster.

Knowing now that she at least survives long enough to arrive where she intends, that ending’s savviest touch might be to withhold the moment she injects herself with the decompression kit until after we’ve seen her float for a few extra seconds. There’s just enough time to register that Cyn is now dead, and that the same fate might be awaiting Naomi. For a brief pause, it almost looks like she’s at peace. With the urgency of getting to the other side, she’s still facing a series of decisions. Leaving the ship, going to the lock, taking the plunge, giving her bloodstream emergency oxygen: those are all choices to keep going.

None of them make sense without the story tracks that “The Expanse” continues to lay down week after week, season after season. The payoff is that it gets to validate these extreme methods of survival that in other tales might just be mere convenience. As it continues to do, “The Expanse” somehow makes the impossible make sense.

New episodes of “The Expanse” are available Wednesdays on Amazon Prime Video.

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