The Expanse review: “Babylon’s Ashes” delivers a powerful ending

The Expanse Season 6 -- Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video
The Expanse Season 6 -- Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video /
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Over the past seven years, The Expanse has taken us from the surface of Mars and Venus to the asteroid belt; from distant solar systems to the alien Ring Space and beyond. Of all the science fiction shows to come out in the past few decades, it stands as one of the strongest offerings the genre has ever seen on the small screen.

Based on the bestselling book series by James S.A. Corey (a pseudonym for authors Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham), The Expanse has had anything but a traditional TV run. The show got its start on the Syfy Channel in 2015, where it ran for three seasons before being cancelled. Due to a dedicated #SaveTheExpanse movement and the personal interest of Amazon head Jeff Bezos, the show was eventually renewed for an additional three seasons at Amazon Studios.

Even now, with us watching The Expanse series finale, it doesn’t quite feel like the end for this show. There are nine novels in the series, with a time jump taking place between books six and seven. The latest episodes, “Babylon’s Ashes,” covers the climactic events of book six, with which it shares a name. That means that even as The Expanse is ending, there’s still a lingering question of whether this is truly the end.

Regardless of whether we’ll ever see more of this fascinating science fiction tale, for now, we’re here to celebrate the finale. “Babylon’s Ashes” is one of the finest episodes of The Expanse to ever air, and while I was left with a few lingering questions about its future, there’s no denying the towering achievement of this super-sized 63 minute episode.

As always, there will be SPOILERS for the episode below, as well as for the entire sixth season of The Expanse.

Why are the parents on Laconia so awful?

As has been the case in every episode this season, we begin on Laconia. The Laconia sequence this week is bookended with an ominous shot of Admiral Duarte, the ghost of a smile upon his lips as he stares up at the massive ship-thing that’s been orbiting around the planet all season. It’s now glowing with an ominous protomolecule-blue light. Book fans will surely know what this portends, but for show watchers, it presents a mystery. We’ll discuss that a bit later, but for now, I’ll say that I have really enjoyed the Laconia story this season and love how it sets up a potential future for The Expanse. I wish it tied into the main story of the season a bit more, but knowing that it’s setting up an even greater story we may one day get to see makes that a little easier to forgive.

Something that’s less easy to forgive, however, is how ridiculously awful the parents are on this planet. Cara (Emma Ho), our intrepid child explorer who has been at the center of the Laconia plotline, comes back home to find her parents worried sick about her. They immediately start bombarding her with questions while not giving her anything even remotely resembling an opportunity to answer. Eventually, she shouts out that the “dogs” fixed her brother, who as far as the parents know was dead as a doornail.

On cue, her brother enters the building. Now that we can see him in the light, it’s clear that he looks preeeetty creepy. He has blackish-blue eyes and is moving in a jerky fashion. He’s still speaking with his voice though, and clearly has the same consciousness, even if it’s been somewhat changed by his resurrection. In spite of that, his parents freak out. Perhaps that’s reasonable; they’re seeing their child return from the dead, after all. But to me, it just felt so frustrating. This whole season Cara’s parents have been caught up in their work and ignoring every single thing she says — and considering that they’re living on an alien planet and their daughter has been actively getting to know a species of clearly sentient aliens, that is a pretty horrendous parenting oversight.

Cara’s father tries to stab his reanimated son with a knife, but ends up only causing a minor cut to the hand. Black blood drips out, and the wound quickly heals. So the parents, continuing to freak out, lock the kid in a closet and call the military. Cara tricks them into leaving the house, frees her brother and they escape into the forest. We get a POV shot from her brother’s eyes, and sure enough he’s seeing through the lens of the protomolecule. It’s beautiful, and terrifying, because as he points out that Cara will starve without anything to eat in the alien forest, she just shrugs and says if that happens the “dogs” will bring her back to life.

And thus concludes our stay on Laconia. The overarching plotline for Duarte becomes relevant a little later in the episode, but for Cara, that’s it. As much as I enjoyed Laconia, one of my only gripes for this finale (and the entire season) is that it didn’t cross over into the main story more. We’ll talk about this more in the wrap-up, but for now, we’re off to our solar system.

The theater of war

After two seasons of hit and run guerilla warfare, the conflict between the Free Navy and the combined fleet of Earth, Mars and Drummer’s Belter allies has finally reached its unavoidable conclusion. The first scene sets the table for the battle to come, with various factions pointing out their own ideas about how best to proceed. Avasarala keeps everyone from each other’s throats long enough to form a plan to force Marco Inaros’ fleet into a pitched battle outside the Ring Space. Should they fail and Inaros slip past into the Ring, they are convinced he’ll be able to take command of the crossroads to a thousand new star systems and control the fate of humanity. So yeah, some pretty high stakes.

Holden, however, has a back-up plan in case the Free Navy are able to overcome the allied fleet. Last week it was established that the Ring Station was outfitted with six huge rail guns that will allow it to blast anything that comes through the Rings. Holden and the Roci crew have devised a scheme to get a small strike team onto the Ring Station and capture the rail guns, turning Marco Inaros’ ace-in-the-hole against him.

The whole thing is one daring plan on top of another, but at this late point in the war that’s all anyone has left. There are no more safe options.

Next comes the inevitable clashing of spaceships and wills. Aka, we have finally made it to the opening credits. You didn’t think this was going to be a quick affair, did you?