After an episode spent almost entirely on Marco’s ship, The Expanse dives into what it does best: a far-flung story, told with many characters, all of whom are separate, but who will almost certainly join up again in twists of fate and after a lot of determination. While I wouldn’t call “Hard Vacuum” one of this season’s best episodes — the first half of this season has so far been stronger than the second half — it does shove a lot of pieces into their endgame.
For example, Amos and Clarissa are desperate to get back to space, especially after seeing a collection of dead bodies, tastefully arranged under a tarp, older people who died after the asteroid impact in their old folks’ home. Clarissa spots a shuttle heading towards Luna, presumably, and gets an excellent idea: the rich folks on Earth had shuttles dotted throughout their vacation homes, apparently in New Hampshire, which apparently is quite the destination in future times. What if they stole a shuttle and got the heck out of Dodge? Amos gets the less bright idea to meet up with Erich in Baltimore again, so they can use him and his supplies to make the trek the vacation homes.
Clarissa gets more great lines in “Hard Vacuum” as they convince Erich to help them out, which is honestly what we love to see. Nadine Nicole does a beautiful job crafting this woman who had everything and lost it all; she has an edge but still a softness which is just great to see. Erich is convinced by Clarissa’s point that Baltimore is lost; Earth is lost, essentially, and our characters have to accept that.
Speaking of people who need to accept this, the new Secretary-General, Paster, gives a rousing speech about how Earth has to fight back against the Belters, and it becomes clear rather quickly that the point isn’t to hunt down Marco, or at least, not entirely. The point is to re-subjugate the Belt, which Admiral Delgado only reinforces with his suggestion to wipe out Pallas Station, which we saw earlier this season. The reasoning is that because Pallas is sympathetic to Marco, that they deserve to all die. And while the causalities would be far less than on Earth, it’s still a terrible response to a flammable situation.
Chrisjen is concerned about this proposal, clearly. Admiral Delgado brings up Deimos, which she proposed destroying all the way back in season 2. She points out that it was a Martian military base, not a civilian target. And she is very, very right. Pouring more gasoline on the situation is just a bad idea, but Chrisjen is, as usual, the smartest person in the room. Somehow, I get the feeling she’s not going to get her way.
Back with “Space Family Melodrama: The Show,” the melodrama seems to have subsided in “Hard Vacuum”. This might be because Naomi has finally freed herself from Marco…sort of. Cyn is really and truly dead, Marco is mean to Filip, and Filip walks away, yet again dejected. Truly, this is an endless cycle. Naomi wakes up on her ship, which has been jury-rigged to explode if any other ship approaches it. There’s also a fake distress call hooked up to it, with a simulation of Naomi telling anyone who hears it to contact Holden.
Naomi spends a good amount of time screaming, grunting, or crying in this episode, and it’s painful to see in two ways: one, she’s completely alone, with a nigh-impossible task; two, while it’s a powerfully physical performance from Dominique Tipper, I hate seeing Naomi reduced to this state. She’s onboard a ticking time bomb, with very few means of shutting it off, trying to warn a man she loves to stay away, with little hope of herself being rescued. I don’t want to say Naomi’s given up, but…it feels a little like she’s given up. On herself, at least.
But she very determinedly works to get her own distress call out, which no one seems to get, and after Alex picks up the fake distress call and sends her a message saying they’re coming to rescue her, she repeatedly puts herself through oxygen deprivation to shut off the message, in a really well-edited sequence that stands out in “Hard Vacuum”.
Camina also picks up the message, which is genuinely heartbreaking. Karal, who was exchanged for one of Camina’s polycule crew in the previous episode, tells her that Naomi is most certainly dead, which leads Camina to just a full-on breakdown. Karal and Oksana are later shocked to hear the fake distress call cutting in and out, meaning someone is on the jury-rigged ship. Whether or not they think it’s Naomi is not made clear.
The end of “Hard Vacuum” has Naomi’s fake distress call playing over the credits, cutting in and out, and it’s genuinely one of the cooler effects this show has done in a while. Props for that. I hope Naomi gets rescued, but how the hell that’s going to happen? I don’t even know.
Watch The Expanse Season 5 Wednesdays on Prime Video.