DISCLAIMER: This recap of The Expanse episode “Hard Vacuum” is riddled with spoilers. You’ve been warned, Beltalowda. Proceed at your own peril.
Welcome back, Screaming Firehawks! “Hard Vacuum,” the eighth episode of The Expanse‘s fifth season, was a bastion of female support and strength. Seriously. In my humble opinion, the women predominantly carry this show and “Hard Vacuum” is no exception. Dominique Tipper and Cara Gee put forth exemplary, gut-wrenching performances. Tipper’s work last week was an example of bravura in every sense of the word. Her momentum never slowed as she continued to impress this week. Gee ripped my heart in two with the scene wherein Drummer believed Naomi was dead. On another note, we got to check in with everyone for this outing as the chess pieces of our crew inched closer together for an eventual reunion.
Ready to delve into “Hard Vacuum”? Let’s get to it.
Now, we open with Amos (Wes Chatham) and Peaches (Nadine Nicole) racing through a cold, wet terrain on their newly acquired bikes. It looks like February in the Midwest, honestly. Patches of muddy snow here and there. Anyway, they make a pitstop to pop a squat. We get to watch them urinate together and by golly is it riveting. Peaches is starting to feel like herself again. The mod blockers are finally wearing off. She can smell again! She can taste again! Even protein bars smell like heaven, apparently.
Suddenly, she wanders over to a massive tarp fluttering in the wind. She pulls it back to reveal a slew of corpses. All of the elderly variety. Amos remarks that chances are they hailed from a senior facility and were the unfortunate ones who couldn’t survive in the real world. Ever since Marco dispatched his rocky gifts the whole of Earth has been enveloped in chaos.
Meanwhile, Marco (Keon Alexander) is standing over Cyn’s (Brent Sexton) lifeless body. More dead bodies! He’s mourning his beloved friend. He drills Filip (Jasai Chase Owens) regarding what the latter witnessed when Naomi threw herself out of the airlock. Marco urges Filip to tell him “how she died.” Of course, we know Naomi is alive. Then, Marco blames his son for Cyn’s death, even though the dearly departed Belter chased after Naomi of his own volition. What a wonderful father, right?
Next, we see Naomi (Tipper) floating into what looks like the bridge of the Chetzemoka. Her skin is utterly ravaged from her time in the hard vacuum (Title of the episode!) of space. Her eyes are bloodshot. Naomi’s face and hands are swollen. In short, she looks worse for the wear. I love how accurate The Expanse is when it comes to their depiction of space. They’re not brushing off the fact that Naomi spent more time than any human in space sans a suit. And without dying to boot. Anyway, Naomi’s in an immense amount of pain. She notices that the comms are down. Marco probably ordered his goons to destroy the vessel to the point where it’s inoperable.
Then, Naomi hears a faint noise. She follows said noise to a VAC suit that has an active voice message emitting from it. It’s Naomi’s own voice and she’s sending out a distress signal — a call that’s supposed to reach James Holden. Something’s fishy.
Later, we see the Rocinante surveying the wreckage of the Zmeya. Holden (Steven Strait) has his crew searching for any possible remnants of the protomolecule sample. Alas, there’s nada. Monica (Anna Hopkins) and Holden muse whether any comms transmitted from Zmeya to Marco’s ship could give them some clues. But the wreckage is proof positive that nothing pertinent remains of the Zmeya. Now, it’s time to hunt for Naomi. Holden leaves. Bull (José Zúñiga) admits to Monica that he’s not willing to go on a suicide mission to pinpoint Holden’s “girlfriend.”
Meanwhile, Drummer (Gee) and her crew are scavenging through the debris of a ship. She reveals that said ship belonged to a Belter faction that, in the past, voted to kill Marco amid a tribunal. Apparently, Marco fired on them. This is what happens when you go against the grain. Death and destruction. Oksana (Sandrine Holt) learns from Karal (Olunike Adeliyi) that Marco initially let the Belter faction go free. Then, the faction turned on him and unleashed the first shot.
Next, we see the new Secretary-General, David Paster (Sugith Varughese), deliver an impassioned speech to the masses on Luna. Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and Delgado (Michael Irby) are watching him on the sidelines. He makes sure to shower the pair with praise for their efforts in curbing Marco’s subsequent attacks and saving lives. Everyone appears to be firing on all cylinders. He deems Marco and the Free Navy to be “terrorists.” The whole scenario is eerily similar to current events. I’m starting to wonder if The Expanse is a predictor of our future. Or humans are just so damn predictable and history is doomed to repeat itself.
Then, Amos and Peaches have arrived in Baltimore. We see them being led up some staircases to a rooftop. Amos gives a pack of tequila his best bedroom eyes. We’ve all been guilty of doing that, especially this past year. Anyway, we see his old pal Erich (Jacob Mundell) is brooding into the distance with his back turned. Of course, he’s none too happy to see Amos meddling in his territory. Amos introduces Erich to Peaches. Peaches gives Erich a proposition. There’s an island off New Hampshire called Winnipesaukee. Loads of the elite live there.
Additionally, each lavish home is equipped with a ship. Amos and Peaches are planning to head back into space. Presumably, so Amos can reunite with his crew. So, what does Erich get out of this? A free ride off the planet. Erich doesn’t want to give up the empire he’s built. However, the city is practically one with the ocean. Ever since the asteroid hit, city blocks have been decimated by the onslaught of seawater. Buildings were destroyed. People died. Essentially, there’s nothing left for Erich to rule. He reluctantly acquiesces. Road trip time!
Meanwhile, Sec-Gen Paster hosts a UN council meeting. Once again, The Expanse excels at being one of the most diverse shows on TV. The council is comprised of wonderfully diverse characters. In most cases, those leadership councils would be primarily white. Avasarala and Delgado are also present. Paster asks for updates regarding Marco’s whereabouts, but nobody can find him. He’s like a needle in a haystack. The council starts to muse over possible retaliation plans. Some folks propose certain areas to strike in the Belt. Delgado mentions Pallas station, which we know is where Naomi reunited with Filip. He reveals that it mostly consists of radicals. Belters that would gladly hide Marco. In addition, there are roughly 13,000 people there.
Of course, Avasarala is not up for decimating civilian stations. However, Belters don’t have military bases like the “Inners.” Everyone else appears to be on board with blowing up Pallas station except for Avasarala. Even Delgado is in agreement with the majority. It’s an “eye for an eye” scenario. Avasarala argues that should they attack Pallas, Belters who were undecided will undoubtedly side with Marco. I’m with Avasarala on this one. Find another way. Don’t kill more innocent people.
Later, Naomi desperately searches the ship for ways to create a radio to send a message. It’s quite clear that the distress signal she found with her voice wasn’t actually her. Rather, it was Marco’s construction as a luring tactic. A way to bring Holden into the crosshairs since the Chetzemoka is essentially a bomb. This scene is so great because it highlights Naomi’s resilience and her resourcefulness. She’s a damn good engineer and watching her work is fascinating. After a handful of futile attempts at finding something useful, Naomi dons a VAC suit that’s bereft of oxygen. She fiddles around with more tech outside the bridge, but obviously, her time is limited since she doesn’t have oxygen support. Finally, she snips some wires and constructs a makeshift radio with an old helmet.
Now, Naomi records a message that’s the truth — the fake call that Marco constructed is a trap. She urges all ships to not heed its signal and steer clear of the Chetzemoka. Naomi doesn’t know if anyone will receive her message or if she’s even on a channel. But at least the truth is out there (cue The X-Files theme song). God, her ingenuity astounds me.
Meanwhile, Oksana finds Drummer working on a helmet. I love that this scene follows Naomi’s where she was also working with a helmet. Soul Belter Sésatas for life. Oksana isn’t a fan of Drummer’s dour attitude toward, well, everything. However, Drummer wasn’t game for joining Marco’s Free Navy in the first place. He was responsible for the deaths of two of her beloved comrades. I’d be sour as well. We see our Belter polyamory family (minus Karal) eating together in the kitchen area. Everyone is on edge. Tensions are rising. People are snapping at each other. That is until someone spills water. We see droplets of varying sizes floating throughout the space. Drummer, Oksana and the others begin to slurp up the droplets. Laughter ensues, slightly driving a wedge through the tension. But it’s not enough.
Later, Bobbie (Frankie Adams) and Alex (Cas Anvar) are speeding through space in the Razorback. They’ve noticed that all Belter ships, particularly the ones they spotted earlier, have vanished. Suddenly, Alex receives a distress signal from Naomi, but it’s not the new one she herself recorded. It’s Marco’s decoy message. But he buys it and sends it over to Holden. We see Holden processing the call, but it’s difficult to tell whether he believes it’s truly Naomi’s voice.
Then, Delgado pays Sec-Gen Paster a visit in the latter’s quarters. Paster noticed that Delgado appeared to be restraining himself during the council meeting. Possibly for Avasarala’s benefit since he knew she was against bombing Pallas. But Paster urges Delgado to be frank with him. Delgado wholeheartedly believes that their next move is retaliation. Sending missiles at Pallas. Making a move. Showing Marco that the Inners aren’t messing around. Paster thanks him for his candor.
Meanwhile, Naomi receives a message from Alex. Alex reveals that the Razorback (or Screaming Firehawk) is setting its course for her location. This is the opposite of what Naomi wants, but unfortunately, Alex and Bobbie heard the fake call. We see the wheels turning in Naomi’s mind as she tries to think of ways to disable the distress signal. She begins repeating the fake message to herself. Then, she makes multiple trips out with her oxygen-less suit, tinkering with wires until she runs out of breath. We see her make a tally on the wall to mark each outing she takes. Every go-round further wears her down. We see the sweat dripping from her face. That can’t be good for your body. But my girl’s a fighter.
Later, Karal gives Drummer and the team their orders. Next stop: Ceres. Drummer learns from one of her crew that a distress signal has been received. Naomi’s fake message, that is. Drummer, like Alex, thinks it’s real. Karal drops a verbal bomb on her: Naomi is dead. Marco constructed that call as a means of luring the Roci to its death. Naomi threw herself out of the airlock. Drummer doesn’t believe her. She angrily lunges at Karal, but Oksana holds her back. We see Drummer go off by herself to scream in private. Gee is terrific here. So raw and visceral. You can feel what she’s feeling.
Next, Naomi continues to make the trek in her VAC suit to fiddle with wires. Anything to cut off the incessant signal. Each time she grows more weakened from constantly losing and regaining oxygen. Finally, she figures it out. Naomi pinpoints the correct wire and snips it. The message stops. Huzzah!
Then, Karal joins Oksana at the kitchen table. Oksana reassures her that she’ll talk some sense into Drummer. If Drummer doesn’t fall in line, then she can’t be a captain anymore. Drummer is cradling the bottle of Scotch she received from Ashford. We can see her thick eyeliner is smudged from crying. It’s devastatingly heartbreaking. Suddenly, Karal notes that the fake Naomi message has ceased to be. Well, it’s broken up now. Only fragments of the original call are coming through. This shouldn’t be possible since Naomi is supposedly dead. Oksana muses whether she’s alive and on the Chetzemoka after all.
Now, “Hard Vacuum” paves the way for the final two episodes of The Expanse‘s fifth season. The pieces are falling into place. Amos and Peaches will swipe a ride on Winnipesaukee so the former can reunite with the Roci folks. The UN will bomb Pallas station, inciting another fiery response from Marco. Possibly even more so since the act will hit close to home. Naomi’s fake call will, most likely, see Drummer disband from her crew so she can find her friend. She could potentially turn her back on Marco as well despite their previous deal. Alex and Bobbie will race to Naomi’s location. Perhaps the disarming of the Chetzemoka, if it’s even possible, will come into play. So much can happen, y’all! I’m champing at the bit to find out more.
Do you think Holden and co. will find Naomi before they get her real message to steer clear? Will the UN really go through with bombing Pallas station? Will we get a full-on Roci crew reunion by the season finale? Join me next week as I recap The Expanse, here on Geek Girl Authority.
The Expanse streams new Season Five episodes Wednesdays on Amazon Prime.