Amazon's Glorious Sci-Fi Series 'The Expanse' Comes Home in Season 5

With a terrorist threat looming large in the Belt, the Rocinante crew confront their pasts.

the expanse season 5
Amazon Studios

Five seasons in, The Expanse is cruising. The Amazon Prime series, which returns December 16 with three new episodes and then one every Wednesday through February 3, is one of the best longform adaptations of a science-fiction series to date, and one of the most exciting, complex, and brilliantly written shows on television, period. The colorful, ever-changing vision of our interstellar future changes the game every season, morphing from a few misfits in a spaceship hunting down a mysterious substance to a diplomatic (and in some cases not-so-diplomatic) battle for supremacy over a new universe full of potentially habitable worlds. Not to mention everyone trying to figure out what happened to the progenitors of humanity's new planet-hopping tech. Not to mention the unstable web of alliances within our own solar system itself.

With the addition of a mysterious terrorist, a missing protomolecule specimen, and a bunch of rocks hurtling towards humanity's homeworld, Season 5, based on the fifth book in James S. A. Corey's series Nemesis Games, turns things up several notches. Overwhelmed by the opportunity presented by the exoplanets reachable through the Ring, thanks to the protomolecule mysteriously left behind by an unknown and seemingly all-powerful alien race, the solar system is on tenterhooks once again, plenty of factions vying for control of the wormholes, disturbing the tentative peace between Earth, Mars, and the Belt. Adding a further wrinkle is the appearance of Belter terrorist Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander), driven to near insanity by the slights and hardships he suffered as a citizen of the asteroid belt, who plans to declare war on Earth by launching stealth-cloaked asteroids at the planet's surface. Not good!

Before we get to any of that, though, our heroes need to make some Feelings Journeys into their respective pasts, as the crew members of the Rocinante go their separate ways for the first time since they were all thrown together by the cataclysm that began the very first season. Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) plans to hunt down the son she had with Inaros and save him from his terrorist dad; James Holden (Steven Strait) is searching for the remainder of the protomolecule and, with it, an explanation for why it haunted him for two seasons; Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar) attempts to reconnect with his estranged family before going on a stealth mission with Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams), who has been keeping track of illegal arms shipments on and off the Moon; Amos Burton (Wes Chatham) heads down to Earth in order to settle the affairs of a woman who looked after him when he was a child, before catching up with an old frenemy in an underground supermax prison. Camina Drummer (Cara Gee) is devastated by the loss of Ashford, and even Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is unmoored after losing her United Nations reelection in the last season to Nancy Gao (Lily Gao), whom she's uncertain has the temerity the position requires.

Naturally, all of these threads are knotted together again as the conflict between the inner planets and the Belt inevitably reaches a tipping point with catastrophic consequences. And yet, even with all the pithy conversations about alliances and human rights and the out-of-this-world action sequences The Expanse has become known for, there's more of a melancholy feeling to this season, especially in the first few episodes. Our friends aren't together anymore, no longer trading barbs about Martians and Belters and coffee machines as usual. All the people they've left behind have moved on, or become enemies, or died. Some, like Bobbie, have been totally disillusioned from what they thought was a flawless political system, working on the fringes to dismantle whatever small-time corruption they can find. There are plenty of spaceship shootouts and battle scenes to be had later on, but the first half of Season 5 is an Expanse that feels a little more interior than previous seasons, that gets into its own characters a little bit deeper than before.

The connection between the Rocinante's crew is never quite severed, though, and The Expanse remains great fun to watch. Even Thomas Jane is back—offscreen, that is, directing the third episode. Shortly before this premiere, Amazon announced that the show had been renewed for a sixth and final season, ending the rescue mission that happened when The Expanse jumped from cable network Syfy to streaming. But that means there are still plenty of episodes left before it's gone for good, and the Rocinante is more than happy to bring us along for the ride.

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.