The crew of the Rocinante has long been a solid unit, travelling the galaxy to save humanity from evil spores and, well, itself. But in season five of Amazon Studios’ The Expanse, these crew members are doing something they’ve avoided until now: they’re going their separate ways.
“I love that we split up as a group because I think it brings a new tone and layer to the show,” Dominique Tipper (Naomi) said. “We’re not sticking to the same formula that we’re used to, which I think is brave, but also a testament to the writing.”
Season five of The Expanse is taking many of our beloved core characters in their own directions, giving them a chance to finally address some deep personal issues — some of which have laid dormant for years. Much of that is focused on Amos (Wes Chatham), who heads back to Earth to close a chapter on his childhood, and Naomi (Tipper) as she tries to save her son Filip (Jasai Chase Owens) from the clutches of her ex, rebel leader Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander).
During a 2019 set visit to The Expanse (as the series was filming season five), Tipper explained to Gizmodo and other outlets that it’s a storyline she’s been building to as an actress for years — and how it not only represents Naomi’s personal journey and search for identity but her own as well.
“Naomi couldn’t do this, I don’t think, any other way than on her own. And I think partly for the fact that she’s a Belter and she’s going into a hardcore Belter situation, her identity is always in question anyway. She has to go on her own and has to do it on her own, and I think that presents some really interesting things between her and Holden. And then also for herself,” Tipper said. “She always is straddling the line with her identity, which is very interesting to play, being mixed race, but more from how she’s perceived. Which is what I always go through. It’s really interesting to go back to where she comes from essentially and deal with her son and her ex. And so for me, it’s just really exciting.”
Naomi, Filip, and Marco’s relationship strikes at the heart of a major conflict in season five, as the Belter rebels launch a coordinated attack against Earth and Mars. But for Tipper, it’s more about rescuing Naomi’s son than saving two planets she’s never called home. When we talked with the actor during the set visit, she hadn’t filmed any scenes with Alexander or Owens yet (although she already knew Alexander as a friend), but she talked about making sure she spent a lot of time with Owens to get a handle on their relationship. Tipper also mentioned wanted the young actor to feel as comfortable as possible since he was coming into a series that had been filming for years.
But in the end, she may have been the uncomfortable one: She couldn’t even read Naomi’s scenes with Filip much before getting ready to film them, because they were too emotional for her. “I can’t read the scenes much without getting quite upset. So me as myself, I don’t really get into them until I have to. It’s quite a lot for me, like, emotionally to deal with,” she said.
Another big emotional story this season is about Amos (Chatham). For the past several seasons, the character fans love to call “Murder-Snuggles” has been an enigma. He’s kind and straightforward, but also capable of extreme violence and cruelty. All of that comes from a deep, dark place.
In season four, he alluded to his past with Holden (Steven Strait, who’s also a producer), indicating he was a survivor of sexual assault and human trafficking. During the set visit, Chatham told us that season five will finally shed a light on Amos’ past. Specifically, it’s the story of Amos and Lydia, a character from James S.A. Corey’s novella The Churn. Chatham described Lydia as “the only person who ever showed [Amos] true compassion or empathy.” She was the one who helped him through his young experiences and insisted he not succumb to the worst machinations of what he was being subjected to, even though she wasn’t actually stopping it from happening.
“She saw, based off the abuse and damage that he was taking, that he was turning into a monster at a very young age. And it was extremely important to her that he didn’t become that, but he didn’t know how not to,” Chatham said. “So she was always drilling in his head: ‘You need to be above this. You need to do the right thing, because if you’re not, you’re going to be just like the people that are doing this to me and the people that are doing this to you.’”
However, there’s a bit more to it than that because in The Churn, Lydia wasn’t just Amos’ guiding light, she was a “mother figure who ended up becoming his lover.” This aspect of their relationship is implied in the show, rather than explicit, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a complicated storyline that crosses boundaries over issues of consent (given that it’s essentially grooming). It may be something not everybody is going to feel comfortable with, and Chatham recognised that there’s a lot about Amos’ story that might be tough to handle. But beyond that, he said it’s important to understand Amos and Lydia because not only does she inform who he becomes later in life, but also his relationship with Naomi. One that is based on a pure, basic trust — since he doesn’t have room for much else.
“All he knows is like, this is what Lydia drilled in my head. This is what I have to do. And so when he meets somebody like Naomi, he’s like, ‘Oh, she’s like Lydia, this is a good person. I can trust her. I can believe in her.’ And so I can use her as a guidepost because I’m so damaged that I could go the other way. And it feels just as natural as doing the other way,” he said. “That’s where his motivation comes from. His motivation is almost like — it’s not from a feeling of like, ‘Oh, I want to be a good person because of the way it feels.’ No, it’s like, ‘All right I’m kind of lost, but I know this person that I really cared about says I always need to do this.’”
The Expanse returns with season five on December 16 and has already been renewed for a sixth and final season.