This The Expanse article contains MAJOR spoilers for the series finale. It does not contain any book spoilers past Babylon’s Ashes.
The Expanse just wrapped up its six-season run, which spanned two networks (or technically one cable channel and one streaming platform) and covered the first six books of the nine-novel source material. While The Expanse left many narrative threads up in the air—most obviously, the mystery of Laconia and its strange dogs, as well as the larger Protomolecule vs. Ring Entities plot—the final, six-episode season did a fantastic job of wrapping up the emotional and political plot beats that have defined so much of this phenomenal series. Let’s break down how The Expanse brought its story to a satisfying end in “Babylon’s Ashes.”
Who Defeats Marco Inaros?
Because of the short season order, Season 6 has had to narrow its story focus a great deal in this season. One major plot thread it held onto was the rise (and demise) of Marco Inaros, leader of the Free Navy. While Marco started out his turn on the show as a quasi-sympathetic figure, at least on the political level (as Holden puts it in this episode, “Inaros wasn’t all wrong. He was evil and he was cruel, but he tapped into something real.”), he turned full villain in this final season, as his quest for Belter freedom often became overshadowed by his quest for personal glory. In the end, it is fittingly Naomi who ultimately takes Marco out, though she has some help along the way…
After Marco and his Free Navy fleet get past the combined military forces of Earth, Mars, and the Belter dissidents, the Roci and a handful of assault team members, are all that stood between Marco and control of the Ring Gate. The Roci is willing to take a stand, but the odds are not their favor. Naomi comes up with a plan: throw as much mass as possible through the Ring Gate at the moment of Marco’s crossing, triggering the mysterious Ring Entities. It works, and Marco is unable to escape his science fiction fate.
What Are the Ring Entities?
We know from show that the Entities are a separate alien force from the Protomolecule builders. While the Protomolecule builders built the Ring Gate (and other structures across the galaxy), the Entities took out the Protomolecule empire. James Holden first encounters the Entities on Ilus in Season 4, when he and Okoye discover a glowing black sphere deep inside of the Protomolecule artifact. While the orb doesn’t affect humans, it does take out Protomolecule—more specifically, Miller’s Investigator. Suffice to say, the Entities seem to be anti-Protomolecule.
In Season 6, Naomi studies the Entity-related disappearances of vessels that have failed to safely make it through the Ring Gate, including the Barkeith. She discovers that the phenomenon occurs when a large amount of energy has passed through the network. Holden has theorized that the continued passages through the Ring Gate are making the Entities angry and, if humans continue to make use of the gates, the god-like alien species may be awoken for good.
Admiral Duarte Sets His Sights on “Gods”
One of the twists in this series finale that plays a role in Marco’s defeat is Admiral Duarte’s abandonment. Marco is expecting Duarte, who he has had an alliance with up until this point, to send additional defense through the Laconia Gate in order to help the Free Navy. As we see in his message to Marco, Duarte could care less about the wars of humans. As he tells Marco: “You were a useful distraction, but I have gods to kill.” Presumably, he is referring to the mysterious Entities, though only book-readers will know the answer to this question. With humanity continuing to set its sights on the space and worlds beyond the gates, it’s not a question of when the Entities will awaken, but when.
Kara and Xan Head Into the Laconian Wilderness
The Expanse Season 6 has managed to do a lot with its Laconia-set episode prologues, but, like Duarte’s future plans, the fate of fearless kid Cara and her Protomolecule-enhanced brother Xan remains to be seen. (For those of us who haven’t read the books.) In this final Expanse Laconia installment, Cara returns home to show her parents the new and not-dead Xan. They are horrified, afraid of whatever Xan has become despite Cara’s insistence that it is still their family member.
They lock Xan into a cupboard and call the colony’s soldiers, but Cara is far too smart for them. She hides, tricking her parents into leaving the home in order to go look for her in the forest. With them gone, she frees her brother from the cupboard and they make for the Laconian wilderness, the strange dogs at their periphery. Xan worries about his sister, as there is no human food to eat in the forest. “It’s OK,” Cara tells him. “If I die, the dogs will fix me.” Damn, this kid is all in and I am rooting for her.
Earth, Mars and the Belt Form an Alliance
With Marco Inaros defeated, it’s time to restore order in the system—but what will that order look like? Earth, Mars, and the Belt are at the negotiating table and have decided to create a Transport Union to control traffic through the Rings. As Chrisjen describes it: “The U.N., Mars, and the Belt have formed a new authority to administer trade to the Ring colonies. Old enemies, new friends are working together to ensure the Entities inside the Rings do not obliterate us all.”
Chrisjen and the Martian Prime Minister want a governing body composed of a representative from Earth, a representative from Mars, and a representative from the Belt, but Drummer is not OK with this structure. (And neither is Ceres station administrator Nico Sanjrini, who has been a cool supporting character to see recur this season.) “An authority with two Inner votes and only one for the Belt isn’t sharing power, it’s a puppet show,” Drummer tells the table. “I will not be reasoned back into my place. Belters are promised a future, so long as it remains convenient. We are given a voice, so long as Inners control the comm. We have a vote, so long as we can always be voted down.”
While Chrisjen and the Martian PM refuse to consider giving the Belt more power, Holden attempts to broker some compromise, pointing out that Marco was only able to gain power because of the generations-long oppression of the Belt: “He was able to do what he did because so many people were angry and frightened. They saw the future, and they weren’t in it. That’s what this has to fix.” (Take note, American politicians.)
Chrisjen hears Holden’s words and, rather than listening to their message, sees an opportunity. She proposes the Transport Union be independent, and that it be governed by an “apolitical” leader, as if such a human exists, who is agreed upon unanimously by all three parties. The table agrees, and Holden gets the job… but, in his first act as President, he resigns, ceding the role to Vice President Drummer.” It’s time for Holden—and The Expanse as a story—to put its money where its mouth is, and to give us a different kind of story, one that doesn’t give power again and again to the same people, but works towards restoring justice in an incredibly unjust system. “I am an outsider, and I always will be, and there’s a problem with that,” says Holden before he resigns. In this case, justice looks like an Inner (played by a white man), giving up power for a Belter (played by an indigenous woman), who, in part because of her Belter identity and lived experiences, is more qualified for the position. James Holden is a good man, and Drummer is the right person for the job. (Side note: Drummer’s family, including Michio and Josep are back by her side!)
Chrisjen is not happy with Holden, as this means a less powerful political position for Earth—Chrisjen has more faith in her ability to manipulate Holden and/or appeal to their commonalities than she does Drummer. Unlike Holden, Chrisjen is not an optimist, and she fears this move will be bad for Earth. When she shakes his hand after his very public resignation, she smiles for the cameras, but that doesn’t mean her hope for Holden’s future is not authentic. Chrisjen may not be an optimist, but she has always put her faith in James Holden, and that says something too.
What Happens to the Roci?
With Holden’s resignation, the Roci family is free to go wherever they want. We see them depart Medina Station, setting off for destinations unknown. Bobbie has officially taken over as pilot, messing with Holden when he gives her advice on how to steer the ship. Clarissa, despite getting a complex endocrine collapse syndrome diagnosis that comes with a five-year life expectancy, seems happy to be a proper part of the Roci crew. (“I wanna earn my keep.” “This was a good start.”) Amos is Amos, which is to say he is content on the Roci, watching the people he loves’ backs. And Naomi and Holden are happy together, and in love. “Let’s just stay here for a minute,” Naomi tells him, as they’re curled up in bed together, with Holden brainstorming all of their possible next steps—anti-piracy security, colony consultants, Protomolecule investigators! For now, just for a moment, they will all rest, together with the family they have found.
The Expanse Season 6 spent a great deal of time on the character of Filip, with his storyline culminating in a powerful choice that might seem anti-climactic to some, but, for me, was not only realistic, but incredibly moving. Following Rosenfeld’s death under his hands, Filip confronts his father once again about the life they lead: “How do you do it … so easily cope with all the people we’ve killed?” he asks his father, probably hoping for some kind of answer that could stop the ugly picture he has of his father and of himself solidifying in his mind. But his father doesn’t give it to him, too caught up in his own ego-driven machinations to stop and think about the kind of trauma his son has suffered, or how his disregard for Rosenfeld’s humanity might look or feel to others.
All Marco can manage is: “After all we’ve done, you still can’t see what you’ve been given.” “I do now,” Filip tells him, and he finally, finally does. When Marco gives a pretty speech and leads the rest of his bridge crew in a “Beltalowda” chant, Filip takes a moment to compose himself, gets another crew member to cover his station, and leaves the bridge, the ship, and his father. Because, over the course of this season in particular, Filip has come to realize how hollow that chant is when it comes from his father’s mouth. It means “all Belters,” but Marco is not fighting for all Belters; he’s not even fighting for all Belters who are loyal to the Free Navy. If Amos and the other members of the Roci have gone to define “the right choice” as being there for those who are there for you, then Filip is coming to realize his father is doing the other thing, and that it feels like the wrong thing.
When Filip changes the I.D. on his escape vessel, he uses his mother’s surname: Filip Nagata. Naomi may not have physically been there when Filip made the decision—it was something he had to come to himself—but she played a role in setting him on this course. She didn’t fail in saving him. In the end, Filip saved himself, but it was the result of many other people following their own consciences and showing Filip what it looked like. It was Naomi, coming back for Filip and telling him he was loved and that his murderous actions were not OK. It was repair tech Tadeo’s show of love for his brother, and the agony he felt over the role he played in his brother’s death. It was Liang Walker, pointing his Belter ship towards the Pella in a collision course and taking out Rosenfeld, the straw that broke the camel’s back for Filip.
I’m just going to leave Naomi’s series-ending quote here, in its entirety, because isn’t this a summation of The Expanse itself?:
“You followed your conscience in the hope that others would follow theirs. You didn’t do it for a reward, or a pat on the head. 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. More important that someone else’s life gets better, then for you to feel good about yourself. You never know the effect you might have on someone, not really. Maybe on cruel thing you said haunts you 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.”