“Babylon’s Ashes” is not just The Expanse season six finale, it’s the series finale, and the episode is as bombastic and action-packed as you’d expect — but it’s also got quite a few quiet moments, and together they serve to remind us how much we’ll miss this remarkable show.
After last week’s “Why We Fight” saw the surprising (but, let’s face it, inevitable) team-up of former foes UN Secretary-General Avasarala and badass Belter captain Camina Drummer, all systems are go for The Expanse to showcase the fight the series has long been building toward: Marco Inaros versus… everyone. Literally everyone.
First it’s worth noting that “Babylon’s Ashes” clocks in at just over an hour, meaning it’s about 20 minutes longer than any other season six episode (though unlike the other episodes, it doesn’t have an “X-Ray” bonus short attached). We begin again on Laconia, where Admiral Duarte stands alone in the dark, gazing at the protomolecule-fuelled structure in the planet’s orbit with quiet glee. Cara, meanwhile, has reunited with her worried parents, whose relief at seeing her is replaced by abject horror when they see who she’s brought with her: Xan, back from the dead thanks to some Laconian necromancy.
Though Cara is still somehow convinced that this alarming creature (who has black eyes and bleeds black blood) is, in fact, her little brother, her mum and dad do the proper thing: freak out and lock Zombie Xan in a closet. But before they can summon the soldiers for help, Cara tricks them into thinking she’s run away again. Once she’s alone with Xan, she lets him out and they flee into the forest together. “It’s OK,” Cara tells him. “If I die, the dogs will fix me.” As she turns to face him, we see her from his POV and… yep, he has that trademark protomolecule blue-o-vision. The shot cuts to another look at the floating protomolecule structure, flashing that same colour blue. Then we get another shot of Duarte staring skyward, still pleased as punch.
Next up, the war room, where Avasarala, Drummer, Holden, Bobbie, and other military representatives are gathered to discuss Operation Stop Marco Inaros From Entering the Ring and Getting Behind Those Massive Guns at Medina Station. The Free Navy has divided its fleet into three battle groups, so Earth, Mars, and Drummer’s anti-Marco Belters plan to do the same. “These numbers are too evenly matched for my comfort,” Avasarala murmurs, before snapping “It is this kind of bullshit that has left all of us with fewer ships!” when Drummer and the Martian Admiral give into long-standing tensions and begin snarling at each other. If they don’t succeed, Avasarala says, “Marco will hunker down in Medina Station behind his rail guns, in control of our colonies and a thousand systems, dictating the fate of our species for a generation.”
With stakes that high, you have to hope there’s a back-up plan… which is where the Rocinante comes in. As Holden explains, they’re going to rendezvous with an ice hauler (remember the Cant!) that’s been converted into a troop transport carrying an assault team that will target Marco’s rail guns. They’ll take control of the guns and turn them on Medina Station, forcing the Free Navy to surrender — and will then be poised to blast any enemy ships that manage to make it through the Ring. Holden, Bobbie, and even Drummer are confident in this crackerjack plan, but Avasarala isn’t sure. “You’re such a fucking optimist,” she says. “It’s a miracle you’ve lived this long!”
The Free Navy is also, unsurprisingly, in full pre-battle mode, with Filip now reinstated on the bridge — all thanks to Rosenfeld, the only person who can get Marco to do anything — after his brief punishment stint as a trash collector. After Rosenfeld’s done giving Filip a gruff welcome (couched in the form of a “You better not fuck up again” sort of warning), she goes to speak to Marco about the impending fight. She’s not as jazzed as he is about taking on their enemies, but he piques her interest by hinting at the arrival of new weapons. “You’re expecting something more from Duarte?” she asks, but he responds by merely reminding her how much he likes surprises.
On the Roci, small moments before the storm. Bobbie and Holden share a memory of Alex; Naomi asks Clarissa for a favour, a gesture that’s really more of a peace offering; Clarissa calls Amos “boss,” leading Naomi and Amos to reminisce about their own friendship. But Clarissa isn’t feeling 100 per cent, so she heads to the med bay to run a test. The news isn’t good: thanks to her failing mods, her endocrine system is collapsing, which the computer confirms has no cure. She doesn’t mention it to anyone; instead, she heads to the kitchen and makes the Roci crew their first home-cooked meal (using spaceship ingredients, but still) in, well, who knows how long? They enjoy a family dinner together, knowing this is the last moment of tranquility before things get extremely hairy out there. Amos tells Clarissa he’ll be part of the assault team on the Ring Station, and when she says he can’t leave the Roci without a mechanic, he tells her “The ship’s got one!” The Clarissa redemption arc has come full circle at last. She doesn’t tell Amos not to go on what could very well be a suicide mission; instead, she says: “You know, for someone who says they don’t want to be a hero, you sure end up being one a lot.”
Meanwhile, Avasarala’s getting ready by meditating, though she’s interrupted by the news that Marco’s ship, the Pella, has been located by the UNN battle group using drive signature intel provided by the Rocinante. (Hearing this, Drummer’s battle group is more than a little disappointed they won’t be the ones to take Marco on.) When the data indicates that the Pella has been hit, Avasarala’s initial elation gives way to confusion. There’s something weird about the situation: none of the other Free Navy ships are falling back to protect it. Could Marco not be aboard his ship? Or… could that maybe not be Marco’s ship at all? Could the drive signature be falsified somehow?
Yes, yes, and yes. This information is soon shared fleet-wide, but it’s too late for Drummer and company, who’ve already realised that a Free Navy freighter in their midst is actually the Pella in disguise, cloaked in outer armour that falls away. It’s a Belter-on-Belter melee! Though her ship is nearly torn apart, Drummer miraculously survives and decides to chase after Marco — until she gets a message from her Belter ally Walker; the grizzled veteran is mortally wounded and has set his ship to collide with the Pella as one last fuck-you to the Free Navy. The result: heavy damage on both sides. Aboard the Pella, Rosenfeld is fatally injured, dying in front of an anguished Filip. Drummer takes it all in and calls it. “We’ve done all we can,” she says, before muttering something in Belter creole that sounds like a prayer for the Rocinante.
Speaking of, the Roci and the ice hauler stuffed with armed troops are getting into position near the Ring Station. (In his cramped drop pod, Amos wryly observes that he feels like he’s in a portable toilet.) “Good luck,” Clarissa says, but she’s corrected by Bobbie and Amos: Before a fight, you say “Good hunting.” They’re still gonna need plenty of luck because the rail guns are fired up, and as soon as the hundreds and hundreds of pods begin to launch, soldiers start getting picked off, even as the Roci tries to help with evasive manoeuvres. (Extra props for the music in these scenes, as tense and thunderous as it’s ever been on The Expanse.) As the battle heats up, the Roci’s reactor needs an urgent fix; Clarissa struggles to make the repair and is knocked out in the process, but when Naomi goes to help her, she finds that not only is Clarissa OK (groggy, but OK), she has managed to MacGyver a fix for the reactor just in time.
Amos and Bobbie’s pods launch to the Ring Station, and against some rather steep odds, they land safely — but most of their fellow soldiers don’t. The stakes are as high as they’ve ever been on The Expanse as Bobbie and Amos plan their do-or-die attack under chaotic amounts of heavy fire from what appears to be every conceivable direction. Aboard the Roci, Holden and Naomi scramble to help as best they can, but with the Ring Station’s rail guns popping off, the ship can’t get too close. Amos takes stock of the situation and tells Bobbie, “Fuck it. I’d rather get shot in the front than the back.” She agrees, but while Amos is letting the rest of their dwindling group in on the plan, Bobbie makes her move, clad in her nigh-indestructible Martian power armer and annihilating the reactor powering the rail guns. As soldiers from Medina descend, she’s hit several times, and Amos runs in to help her — but it’s too much. It’s too much! Until… the Roci appears and swiftly eliminates the rest of their opponents! (“Fuck yeah, Roci,” is Amos’ relieved reaction, a sentiment no doubt echoed by every single Expanse fan watching this nerve-wracking sequence.) Our heroes are saved, but at a steep cost: there’s now no firepower to keep Marco at bay if he makes it through the Ring. “No other choice,” Bobbie wheezes. “Had to take out the guns. I’m sorry… we lost the guns.”
Truly, we’re all wheezing after what we just witnessed, so The Expanse wisely pivots to a quiet moment that ends up being just so delicious. On a video message, Admiral Duarte has something important to tell a certain smug Free Navy leader: “Marco Inaros: in regard to your request for additional armaments, your request is denied. Any further communications will be refused, and any ships attempting to enter our space will be destroyed. You were a useful distraction, but I have gods to kill. The ring to Laconia is now closed. You’re on your own.” Marco is taken aback, but he puts on gobs of faux bravado when Filip enters, and has a glib reaction to news of Rosenfeld’s death. “Death for some is the price of our freedom and our future,” he tells his son. “The greatest gift any true Belter could wish for is to die for the cause.”
Filip, who’s taken a long time to get to this point, wonders aloud if Marco really means “for Marco” instead of “for the cause.” Marco reminds him this is the life they’ve chosen, but Filip again has something to wonder: when did he choose? “After all we’ve been through, you still can’t see what you’ve been given,” Marco tut-tuts, and something flickers across Filip’s face. Unaware (or not really caring) that his son has just had an epiphany of sorts, Marco stalks to the bridge. It’s speech time! “When we sweep through the Ring one last time, and sweep away the Rocinante and all vestiges of the inners from our space — when that moment comes, our long struggle will finally be over and our victory complete. We will rise from the ashes of the inners’ failures and sow the seeds of our humanity across the stars!” Everyone joins him in a chant of “Beltalowda!” — everyone except Filip.
Medina’s mighty guns might be gone, but you can’t count the Rocinante out of a fight, no matter how lopsided. Battered but still battle-ready, Holden, Amos, Naomi, Bobbie, and Clarissa talk strategy; there are limited options but every plan they come up with is sorta half-cooked. Amos cuts to the chase: “Does anyone here really want to cut and run?” Of course they don’t; the way Holden sees it, this is last-stand time. Suddenly, Naomi, who’s been quiet through all this, speaks up with an unconventional idea: “We might be able to trigger the Ring entities.”
Say what? By her estimate, if they push “every bit of mass and energy we can through the Ring all at once, and we time it all just right,” they should be able to wake up the entities — yes, those same angry beings that annihilated the protomolecule builders, and don’t seem very thrilled to have random ships beep-bopping around the Ring space (see: the season five finale). The Expanse has been laying the groundwork for this plot twist throughout season six, and what was previously a mystery lurking around the fringes of the story has now become the one weird trick that could save humankind. It’s risky, but again — this is last-stand time. Marco must be stopped.
TENSE. SO TENSE. Timing is everything, as Naomi said, so the Roci hovers anxiously while the Pella approaches the ring. Naomi has a quick, heartbreaking vision of Filip, who will perish along with Marco if the plan succeeds, but she doesn’t hesitate in setting the plan in motion. (Later, we see her screaming in grief, finally letting her well of emotions out.) As the Pella begins its transit through the Ring — well, you knew it was coming, but Marco, so certain of his victory, sure didn’t. Red, streaky, flamelike blobs overtake the screen, and Marco and his topknot are wiped out of existence forever.
YES! But there’s still a good 10-plus minutes left in “Babylon’s Ashes,” which is very necessary for some series-finale mopping-up that needs to be done. First we sit in on a meeting between Earth (Avasarala), the Belt (Drummer), and the Martian Prime Minister, with a coffee-sipping Holden also in attendance. A forceful Drummer wants to make sure the Belt is treated fairly going forward, knowing the old biases are likely to resurge even after all that’s happened. Avasarala pushes hard for a transport alliance between all sides that will oversee traffic through the ring, and it’s soon decided that the only way this can happen is if someone truly impartial, utterly trustworthy, and inarguably honorable is in charge. Someone like… hero Rocinante captain James Holden.
He’s not thrilled with the idea, but he accepts — then, in the very next scene, after giving a speech at a formal event announcing his appointment, he promptly resigns. The president of the transport union, he says, should be the person he selected as his second-in-command: Drummer, of course. Avasarala is initially furious at being outplayed (she calls him a “duplicitous little shit”), but she sighs, says she hopes he’s right (you know she knows he’s right), and they shake hands.
Back on the Roci, Bobbie’s taken her new spot in the pilot’s chair. Clarissa gives Amos a replica of the silver oni mask pin he lost when he went to visit her on Earth; then she flips up her lapel to show she’s wearing one, too. (This is The Expanse equivalent of one of those best-friend necklace sets, and it is delightful.) Holden and Naomi relax in their room, reflecting on Holden’s decision. “You followed your conscience in the hope that others would follow theirs… the universe never tells us if we did right or wrong. It’s more important to try and help people, and to know that you did.”
While she’s talking, we get a flashback to Marco’s last speech on the Pella. Amid the fist-pumping and chanting, we see Filip rise from his chair and leave the room after one last glance over his shoulder. We see a tiny ship zooming away from the Pella as Naomi continues in voice over: “You never know the effect you might have on someone… maybe one cruel thing you said haunts them forever, maybe one moment of kindness gives them comfort or courage. Maybe you said the one thing they needed to hear. It doesn’t matter if you ever know, you just have to try.” We see Filip type his newly chosen name in: “Filip Nagata,” a tribute to Naomi as well as a way to sever ties forever with you-know-who.
Holden’s mind has already drifted to the future — piracy will be an issue around the Ring, maybe they can get a consulting gig for one of the colonies, and hey, whatever happened to that protomolecule sample? — but Naomi stops him. “Let’s just stay here for a minute.” We see the Rocinante zooming through space toward an unknown destination… and with that, The Expanse is over.