The Expanse review: “Why We Fight” sets up the show’s endgame


The penultimate episode of the final season The Expanse is now live, and my god was it a punch straight to the feels. I thought last week’s outing, “Redoubt,” was emotional, but “Why We Fight” topped it in that department in pretty much every way. The Expanse has always been good about delivering heart and action in equal measure. Considering how much emphasis was put on the heart side of that equation this week, I can only imagine what to expect from the explosive series finale, because I teared up three times during this episode (I blame Camina Drummer actor Cara Gee).

As always, there’s quite a bit to discuss here, so we’re going to get right into it. As always, SPOILERS for this week’s episode follow.

The Expanse

If it looks like the protomolecule and it acts like the protomolecule…

“Why We Fight” begins with our weekly trip to Laconia, and this sequence is tighter and more unnerving than the preceding ones. Cara (Emma Ho) has brought her dead brother’s body out to the woods, and falls asleep after shouting herself hoarse in hopes of attracting the creatures she calls “dogs,” which are alien life forms that have the ability to seemingly repair both mechanical and biological beings. Yet for all Cara’s cries, they don’t appear.

Until she wakes up, and realizes her brother’s body is gone. As a search party comes into the forest looking for Cara, she evades the grown-ups and stumbles on a small clearing in the woods where three of the dog creatures await. And there, behind them, is her dead brother…sitting cross-legged and very much alive.

But of course, he’s not quite the same. His eyes look weird, and he’s acting strange. “Never seen that before,” he says, while staring at a perfectly normal looking bunch of trees. Then he asks, “What does it mean to be substrate?”

I don’t know the answer to that question, and clearly neither does Cara. Though she is overjoyed to see her brother, this scene is ominous as hell. After the extreme slow burn that has been the Laconia scenes this season, it’s exciting to feel things are coming to a head. There’s only one more episode of The Expanse left to see where Cara and her brother’s story is going. It’s hard to imagine how it’s all going to wrap up, but for now, it’s cool to get such an alien scene amidst a season that’s been mostly dominated by a war between human factions.

A bigger problem

In a nice change of pace, Laconia wasn’t the only alien stuff we got this episode. Things start to go south pretty immediately after the opening credits, as the MCRN fleet that left Ceres last episode arrives at the Ring Gate. Things don’t go well for them, as they are pretty immediately wiped out inside the Ring Space by Marco Inaros’ brand new rail guns that he’s had installed on the Ring Station.

Those rail guns, as it turns out, are a pretty enormous problem. It was thought that nothing could be attached to the Ring Station (the huge alien orb floating in the center of the Ring Space, which activated all the gateways to other solar systems back in season 3). But Laconia seemingly has advanced engineering, and gave Marco this extra leg up. That means the Free Navy will now effectively control the gateway to every other solar system outside of our own…if Inaros can get his fleet there fast enough to secure his position.

It’s a dire predicament for the U.N. combined fleet. And it’s only made worse when Holden (Steven Strait) arrives on Ceres and lets Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) know about his crew’s latest alien discovery. Remember how the rogue Martian ship the Barkeith disintegrated at the end of season 5 while trying to go through the Ring to Laconia? Naomi (Dominique Tipper) outsourced all the data that Holden had gotten access to about that event earlier this season, and this week it’s concluded that there is a max energy threshold for going through the Rings. In other words, any time anyone goes through a Ring, there is a chance their ship will just vanish. And apparently, the danger is greater the more mass and energy there is in transit.

All this adds an extra layer to an already complicated situation. Especially because Holden seems to think that whatever this anomaly is, it’s tied to whatever beings wiped out the builders of the protomolecule. I’ve been missing the protomolecule stuff this season, so I was all about it.

But the real heart of “Why We Fight” lay in its human moments, and this episode had arguably the best ones of the season.

The Expanse Season 5 — Courtesy of Brendan Adam-Zwelling/Amazon Prime Video
The Expanse Season 5 — Courtesy of Brendan Adam-Zwelling/Amazon Prime Video /

No winners in war

Where to even start? There were so many standout scenes this episode that it’s hard to even pick which ones to touch on. Amos (Wes Chatham) and Bobbie (Frankie Adams) have a fantastic scene at a bar on Ceres, where the Martian gunnery sergeant finally finds out that Holden disarmed the nuke that would have killed Marco Inaros. (A choice which is now having serious ramifications.) Given how upset Bobbie was about the nuke not going off earlier in the season, I fully expected her to lose it…but instead, she just laughs. She and Amos talk about war, about how the only thing that matters at the end of it is that you have to live with what you did during the conflict…and that you watched the backs of those you care about. These two actors have amazing chemistry, and their characters fit so well together as the muscle of the Roci crew.

And apparently, they to know it. The scene leaves it ambiguous whether Bobbie decides to join Amos at a brothel. When he asks if she’ll come with him, she says, “with you…or with you?” “Whatever,” Amos replies. I love the ambiguity, and would certainly root for that power couple if it became a thing.

Another big moment is when Filip (Jasai Chase-Owens) finds out his new friend, the mechanic Tadeo (Joe Perry) was sent to the brig for trying to discover the fate of his brother on Ceres. After chastising Tadeo for breaking radio silence, Filip gets the information for him…and it turns out Tadeo’s brother was killed in the explosion that vented Ceres’ water into space a few episodes back. Tadeo was on the crew that set up those explosives, and seeing him break down when he discovers he’s responsible for his brother’s death is heartbreaking. Chase-Owens nailed Filip’s restrained conflict here, trying to hold back tears as he holds his mourning friend.

The Expanse

“I never loved you because you were fighters. I loved you because you were builders.”

The main emotional weight of this episode, however, is with Camina Drummer (Cara Gee), who delivers an absolutely standout performance. In some ways, Drummer returned to Ceres victorious this episode. In last week’s episode, she and her Belter allies captured one of the Free Navy’s supply depots, and now they are bringing the supplies back to the very people that they were stolen from.

In others, well…I won’t say it’s a hollow victory — it certainly isn’t, and Drummer’s return to Ceres propels much of the episode. But it feels hollow, because it has come at such a high cost for Camina. The new arm that her polyamorous family member Josep (Samer Salem) was growing after his brutal amputation in “Redoubt” doesn’t take, and has to be removed so that a prosthetic limb can be fitted on. It ends up resulting in both Josep and Michio (Vanessa Smythe) deciding to stay on Ceres, living “under the yoke of the Inners” in order to get him the treatment he needs. Initially Drummer tries to fight it, but they all know she can’t stay with them. She has too much to do for the war effort. So she delivers some heartwrenching lines and gets back to work.

But Drummer’s heaviest scene comes when she talks with Naomi. These two characters haven’t seen each other since Drummer made the decision to break with Marco Inaros last season after he ordered her to destroy the Rocinante. Their reunion is bittersweet. It’s awkward and tense at first, and things only get worse once Drummer realizes Naomi is there to convince her to join forces with Avasarala and the Inners against the Free Navy. But by the end, Drummer is sobbing in Naomi’s arms, cursing her while they hug.

It might have been my favorite of Cara Gee’s scenes for this whole season, and that’s counting her awesome “unbent, unbroken, unbowed” speech from last week. Drummer is the character who has changed the most from the book series. She has a much more prominent role in the show, and this week Gee and the writers reminded us why that was an incredibly good choice.


It’s hard to believe that one week from now we’ll be watching the series finale of The Expanse. “Why We Fight” set up the show’s endgame with all the care and patience we’ve come to expect from this series. There were no rushed plotlines, no feelings that the show was moving characters from A to B because that was what the plot demanded. Instead, we got moving emotional payoffs and difficult decisions which felt warranted and powerful. There was not a single real action scene in this episode, yet it managed to be one of the season’s best.

Grade: A+

Next. The Expanse stars talk about that emotional reveal in “Redoubt”. dark

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