'The Expanse' dials the drama up to 11 in season 5, episode 4

Spoilers ahead

Not since "Battlestar Galactica" back in 2005 have the opening credits of any sci-fi show given me goosebumps purely from the anticipation of another incredible, enthralling installment. And the season 5, episode four of "The Expanse" on Amazon Prime Video, entitled "Gaugamela" —  an Alexander the Great reference — dives straight back into the action.

We begin with Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar) and Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams), onboard the Razorback, following the Barkeith, the ship that Lieutenant Emily Babbage (Lara Jean Chorostecki) is meant to making a routine run on. These two make an unlikely pair and the chemistry between them is fun to watch. 

Both Alex and Bobbie willingly gave up so much to serve their planet in the Martian Navy and the Martian Marine Corp, respectively, so they share that history and that's significant. This dynamic also benefits from having capable actors and realistic, well-written dialogue and that makes such a difference. That's not to say other science fiction shows don't have capable actors, but they are frequently misused and instead suffer from very badly written dialogue. 

Alex is still struggling with the notion that someone like Admiral Emil Sauveterre (Tim DeKay) is dealing in stolen Martian weapons tech. Bobbie on the other hand, particularly after having been dishonorably discharged from the Marine Corps, is much less of a believer of the Martian dream. She tells him of a story from her childhood about how she dealt with grief and it's an incredibly astute observation that's very relatable if you've ever lost anyone close. 

Related: 'The Expanse' Season 5 reminds us what makes quality, cerebral sci-fi

A warning from Earth pops up on their screens stating that all inbound traffic has been delayed to make way for emergency vehicles, and they gaze in horror at news of the meteorite impact and simultaneous explosion at the Martian Parliament. One of many little improvements since moving to Amazon and thus benefitting from a bigger budget has been the VFX design of flight user interfaces and the Razorback is a good example — it's gorgeous now. 

A scene from the "The Expanse" season 5, episode 4 entitled "Gaugamela."

Alex Kamal and Bobbie Draper have become an unlikely crime fighting duo, but one that's fun to watch. (Image credit: Amazon Prime Video)

We cut to an ominous looking building complex that is the UN penitentiary in the Chesapeake conservancy zone. The exterior is actually the RC Harris Water Treatment Plant in Toronto, Canada with a CGI modified background and foreground, while the interior is the old Toronto Stock Exchange trading floor. They work together very well indeed, so full credit to the location scouts. We see television screens inside the giant lobby with news broadcasts continuing to show the devastation from the meteorite impact. It's a nice way to continually build on the scale of the disaster in the background during secondary-plot segments. 

Yes, weaponized meteorites creating devastation on Earth is absolutely the primary plot focus at the moment, but you'd be forgiven for thinking that the Amos Burton (Wes Chatham) narrative might be the main storyline: it might not feature hurtling meteorites and massive explosions, but it's at least as enthralling, largely because we're getting to see so much of his intriguing history.

Clarissa Mao played a small but memorable part in the plot of Season 3, and now again in Season 5 . (Image credit: Amazon Prime Video)

After surrendering his possessions Amos is escorted to a part of the prison that civilians aren't normally allowed. Evidently Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) came through for him following his phone call at the end of "Churn" (S05, E02). This is an area where the prisoners still have their cybernetic body implants, or "mods," either by choice or because they can't actually be removed without risk of serious injury. We see a girl in her late 30s, strapped to a chair, hooked up to some sort of machine and very heavily sedated. It's Clarissa Mao (Nadine Nicole), daughter of Jules Pierre Mao, the scientist who, along with rogue members of the UN and the MCR tried to weaponize the protomolecule, using children, turning them into super soldiers in Project Caliban, during Season 3.

The Rocinante crew delivered Jules-Pierre Mao to Avasarala and he finally faced justice. However, this left his oldest daughter, Clarissa, with more than a motive for revenge against Holden, Naomi, Alex et al. Thankfully, she was able to realize her mistakes and she was sent to prison, where we've seen Amos speaking to her in her cell on video calls in recent episodes. Clarissa herself has "endocrine enhancement implants" that we saw in action on the Behemoth in the latter half of Season 3.

Here's where Amos Burton's "Peaches" nickname for Clarissa Mao comes from in The Expanse. One of the very first true villains in The Expanse, Jules Pierre Mao was responsible for inhumane and foolhardy attempts to weaponize the protomolecule, using kidnapped children as test subjects. He has chosen to adopt the nickname "Peaches" for Clarissa since the pseudonym she used when she was undercover was Melba Koh…and then from the popular dessert Peach Melba…and we get Peaches. Fortunately, he didn't opt for "Toast." In much the same way that Amos himself is using a different name, this is his way of trying to encourage her to focus on being a new person, "Peaches," and leaving the old, affected "Clarissa" behind.

Related: 'The Expanse': Here's a recap of Season 4 to gear up for Season 5

The shockwave from a meteorite impact destroys the UN One aircraft and most of Earth's leaders (Image credit: Amazon Prime Video)

They have an emotional exchange as she tells him of her pretty miserable prison routine. He tries to explain that he wants to help her and suddenly an alarm sounds and the walls shake. A second meteorite has struck Earth, this one about 40 km northwest of Philadelphia. 

We cut to Avasarala on Luna, responding frantically to the latest attack. She and UN Admiral Delgado (Michael Irby) try desperately to reach the Secretary-General of the UN Nancy Gao (Lily Gao) who herself is aboard UN One, along with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, struggling to understand what the blazes is going on. Avasarala manages to get through despite attempts to block her by instead calling the chef on the plane, who is called Casey (Ronn Sarosiak) — which may or may not be a nod to Steven Seagal's character in "Under Siege" and let's face facts, it probably is. Avasarala has just seconds to explain to Gao why the spotter satellites can't see the incoming stealth composite-covered asteroids before the shockwave of another nearby impact sends the UN One aircraft spiraling, out of control, through the air and communications are cut off. 

Meanwhile on Tycho station, Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman) and Jim Holden (Steven Strait) are coordinating with Bull, Chief of Ops (José Zúñiga) who is waiting with a team inside the cargo container where Monica Stuart (Anna Hopkins) was incarcerated, hoping to capture whoever was responsible when they go to retrieve her. As the suspected cargo transport Zmeya approaches Tycho, it launches a missile at the station, specifically the docks and the area where this cargo container was kept. Everyone looks on in horror and Bull and his team barely make it out and then — in possibly the biggest jaw-dropping moment in all five seasons of "The Expanse" so far — Chief Engineer Sakai (Bahia Watson), who has been in the control room with everyone else up until now, gets a gun and shoots Johnson three times in the back.

A series of jaw-dropping events unfold on Tycho, resulting in the loss of the last protomolecule sample. (Image credit: Amazon Prime Video)

Everything is in chaos, and as if there wasn't already enough going on the wall of Johnson's office, where Stuart has been awaiting the outcome of the attempted ambush, explodes and an incredible, spider-like, armored-plated droid enters and makes its way across the room. Sakai and two of her associates shoot Tycho security guards and grab Stuart as a hostage, once again. The droid meanwhile has located Johnson's safe, cut the hatch open and removed the last protomolecule sample known to exist.  

It doesn't end there as this incredible, action-packed, edge-of-seat set piece continues. Holden makes it into the room and attempts to shoot the droid, but its armor is far too thick to even make a dent. Instead, he manages to take out one of Sakai's colleagues and Stuart seizes the chance to take Sakai out herself. The two wrestle on the floor before Stuart punches her out in an incredibly satisfying moment. The droid calmly and methodically makes its way to the exterior wall in Johnson's office where the breaching pod is attached to the Tycho's hull. The door hisses open, it steps inside and the door hisses closed behind it. Then it jettisons away leaving a substantial hole in the outer hull. Everyone is now in serious danger of being blown out into space. An emergency bulkhead begins to close and Holden is lying directly in its path. Stuart climbs over the unconscious body of Sakai and pulls him out of the door as it closes, sealing the breach. 

Yes, it's true, we desperately wanted Sakai to be blown out and die in the cold vacuum of space after she murdered Johnson, but she's alive and now captive, so fingers crossed she'll be tortured in a uniquely imaginative and particularly horrifying way. 

The legacy of Adam Savage lives on beyond protomolecule disassembly in the Venusian atmosphere!   (Image credit: Amazon Prime Video)

On Luna, Avasarala and Delgado try to determine how bad the damage is. Gao and half of her staff where on U.N. One when it went down and communications with the U.N. in New York have been disrupted following the attacks. However, the order to retask the Watchtower satellites was issued, so at least any more stealth tech-covered asteroids approaching Earth can be detected.  The two head to a bar where they, along with everyone else, gaze in awe as another meteorite, this one headed for the Baja Peninsula is successfully destroyed by Earth's defensive satellite network. 

Naomi Nagata's (Dominique Tipper) sub-plot has so far taken a backseat in this mind-blowing episode and now we see her, prisoner on her own ship, the Chetzemoka, that's being flown by her son, Filip (Jasai Chase Owens) and his band of extremist Belter fanatics under the leadership of Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander). Naomi and Marco meet for the first time in a very long time, probably since she left her son with him. A lot of careen time is devoted to this meaningful scene and the dialogue is well written, as Marco is clearly very proud of what his son has become. The episode ends with Marco deliver his evil monologue across every comms channel in the system, threatening destruction and confirming that he now possesses the only remaining sample of the protomolecule. He says that the sovereignty of Mars and Earth ends at the boundaries of their atmospheres, and that the Ring Gate and the Gate Worlds and the space inbetween belongs to the Belt and the Belters. And under the protection of his Free Navy, the society and culture of the Belt will begin again and remake humanity. 

Thankfully Marco Inaros is a well-written villain, not clichéd or moustache-twirling but still terrifying   (Image credit: Amazon Prime Video)

This terrifying speech is accompanied by a montage of Naomi, Avasarala, Bobbie, Alex, everyone, everywhere watching and listening in horror. Cut to black.

In other sci-fi news, CBS All Access officially becomes Paramount+ starting March 4 and in an interview with Gold Derby, Patrick Stewart spoke of "Picard" Season 2 changes that will "have quite an impact" following the transference of his consciousness into an android body.

"I wanted to know exactly what they had done to me when they saved my life. And was there any chance that this might have an impact on Picard’s personality or behavior. They felt it probably wouldn’t but it lies there as an option should we need to take it. But also there is another human aspect being introduced in season two, which I am not allowed to talk about. But it’s going to have, I think, quite an impact," he said.

The first seven episodes of Season 5 of "The Expanse" are also now available to watch now on Amazon Prime, along with Seasons 1 to 4.

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Scott Snowden

When Scott's application to the NASA astronaut training program was turned down, he was naturally upset...as any 6-year-old boy would be. He chose instead to write as much as he possibly could about science, technology and space exploration. He graduated from The University of Coventry and received his training on Fleet Street in London. He still hopes to be the first journalist in space.