The fifth Expanse book, Nemesis Games, is the first book in the series in which Naomi is one of the point-of-view characters. The adaptation’s writers, directors, and actress Dominique Tipper have done a beautiful job of developing and expanding Naomi’s perspective, especially last season, when she was stuck in space while so much action was on the ground. But nothing in the past few seasons has been as deeply Naomi-centric as what’s going on now.
Let’s board the Pella. Spoilers for episode 7, “Oyedeng,” follow!
“Oyedeng” is the Belter word for “goodbye.” (After “Gaugamela,” I looked up the rest of the single-word titles in case they too were notable battles.) It’s a heart-crushingly familiar goodbye: Once again, Naomi has no choice but to leave her son behind. Once again, she steps into an airlock. But the way she steps out is entirely different.
Writer Dan Nowak knows exactly what he’s doing here—how to retell Naomi’s history, how to show us Marco’s manipulation, how to structure and build a picture of the past these characters shared, and then show us how it’s repeating. Naomi is the lens through which we have no choice but to see the truth about Marco, but she never stops being her own person with her own broken heart. It’s a masterful balancing act, and one that creates tension in every seemingly calm conversation in this episode.
There are times when Marco’s allure is tempting. He says all the right things. He wants to liberate the Belt, to enable them to feed and care for themselves, to free them from the tyranny of the Inners, and of history. Naomi, with her singular rage and her differing perspective, threatens all of that—and by bringing his mother onboard, Filip has become responsible for that threat. Her stories, her version of the past, challenge everything Marco cares about, which is to say: his position, his power, his control. Of course he takes it out not just on Naomi, but on his son, too.
It’s Naomi’s insistence that Filip is his own person, that he can be his own person, that inspires the boy to go to his father and ask for more responsibility. And oh, Marco’s response. It makes my skin crawl the way he immediately turns Filip’s request back on his son: Oh, he says, you think I need help? You think you deserve any of the credit for this? You think you matter? And then he twists it, at the end, to offer Filip the way back into his good graces: Don’t worry, son, you’ll be my heir someday. You matter because of me. It plays into every one of Filip’s uncertainties, his insecurities, crushing his desire to be his own person. His only option is to follow in his father’s footsteps—or to defy him. And Filip isn’t ready to do that.
I loved the scene where Naomi and Filip connect. She’s so careful, so delicate, moving and speaking slowly so as not to spook him. She doesn’t know exactly what will anger her son, or what will soothe him. She frames everything in terms of her experience with Marco, not saying out loud that she sees the same thing happening to Filip. “Everything I thought and did was to please him,” she says, and you can see recognition on Filip’s face, though he denies it. What he comes back to is the truth Marco has instilled in him: Naomi left him. Marco is the one who matters. Not even Naomi’s story about almost walking out an airlock is enough, in the end, to shake him free of his father’s influence. Not even when you add in his reading up on what she did on the Behemoth.
“Walking away is the only choice anyone ever has,” Naomi says.
There’s so much here—so much layered, gorgeous writing that weaves in guilt and love and the things parents do and don’t do for their children, the way you can love someone and truly fuck them up, and how once you’ve decided you believe in someone, it can be hard to step away from that. Every single thing out of Marco’s mouth is a knife: Claiming he wouldn’t have used the Gamarra code if he’d know what would happen with Naomi. Asking Filip for the Chetzemoka, making sure he doesn’t want to keep the one thing his mother has given him.
And amid all this, there’s Cyn, right in the middle between Marco and Naomi—a man who believed in the cause and yet still carries a ton of guilt for his culpability and his mistakes. He’s not guilty enough to really change anything for Naomi and he’s not in Marco’s pocket enough to just go along with everything Marco has planned. He’s a mess, and I kind of wish we got to see more of him. This week, he’s the most visceral embodiment of one of this season’s biggest themes: Where do you draw the line that divides bad things from necessary evils? Can you do terrible things and still be a good person?
And, maybe: Is that even the right question?
Cyn doesn’t die because of what he did in the past, but his confession, I think, frees Naomi to plow ahead on the path she’s chosen. If she wants to live—if she wants the slightest chance to save Holden from whatever Marco has planned for the Chetzemoka when the Roci shows up—she doesn’t really have a choice. Cyn just picked the wrong time to come talk to her in the airlock.
Marco says a lot of garbage, this week, but there are a few things that almost slip past in his endless self-aggrandization. One is that he tells Filip that the boy will be his “heir,” which is sure an interesting note: so we’re freeing the Belt, only to instill a hereditary governing body? Cool, cool.
There’s also something weird about the way he tells Cyn that somehow the Rocinante has found the Zmeya—just moments before, he’s offscreen saying “Zmeya has their instructions and knows what to do.” Is it just that he doesn’t trust Cyn and so is being vague about his plans? He certainly gives the older man an earful afterward, a whole guilt-trip of a speech about how Marco used to look up to him, how everything Cyn feels guilty about is something he should be proud of. I wonder if he listened to Cyn and Naomi’s whole conversation in the galley.
Marco also says that the Zmeya successfully delivered the protomolecule to him. It’s not surprising—the ship didn’t just accidentally blow itself up—but how that happened is a little mystery. (Side note: Does it not seem dangerous to explode a ship with protomolecule on board, like Bull wants to do? Do we not remember what happened when Eros landed on Venus? Do we want that shit floating around loose in space?)
On the Roci, Monica is starting to put things together, starting with the fact that Marco would have to offer Mars something in exchange for his fancy ships. The recent kidnapping of the scientist Cortazar snags her attention, too. Holden reminds her that Fred said the Belt needed to keep the protomolecule sample until it had its own navy with which to defend itself against the Inners. Now Marco’s the one with a navy and the protomolecule and, in short, way too much power. But what about Mars? In one of the shots of Marco’s screen, he’s watching what looks like two fleets, one moving toward Mars and one heading toward Earth. In another, there are three ships approaching the Sol Gate: one Martian, two UN ships. What is he keeping tabs on? What would we see if we went back and paused on every shot of Marco’s display?
Everything is sliding into place for a major confrontation: The Razborback keeping an eye on Marco, Holden drawn inevitably to the Chetzemoka in hopes of saving Naomi, and Marco’s fleet moving toward something, though we know not what. Does Holden know about Drummer’s position? She hadn’t met up with Marco yet when Alex and Bobbie scanned the fleet profiles, so her situation is probably a mystery to everyone else. (What does her family member make of everything happening on the Pella, I wonder?)
Filling out an emotionally crushing episode with space chess moves is a smart choice: all those pieces lining up lends even more tension to that stunning final shot. “Oyedeng” ends the way Naomi knew her time on the Pella would have to: With her out an airlock. But she sent herself out into the dark on her own terms, just like she did last time she left Marco.
BOOK NOTES FOR BOOK NERDS
So here’s my theory: With Fred Johnson gone, Monica Stuart will be the one to piece together certain aspects of Marco’s organization—not using familiarity with Marco, like Fred did, but using her journalistic skills. She’s on the trail already. But I was thinking: In the book she’s investigating the missing ships. Those haven’t come up at all yet, unless I’ve forgotten something, and they’re going to have to before too long. For reasons. (But book six reasons, so I guess we’ve got a minute.)
I’m not at all sure what to make of Bull’s little heart to heart with Holden about how he could never tell how much of Fred was bullshit, how he knew that Holden didn’t trust Fred, how he doesn’t want to respect Fred’s wishes about being put in the recycler. Bull showing up at this point in the series is intriguing. Maybe it’s just to give us a new perspective on Fred and Tycho, to have another Earther voice in space, but I don’t know. There’s something odd about him. Though I did like him pointing out that Fred and Holden are a lot alike, and that’s probably why Bull and Holden don’t get along.
FLOTSAM & JETSAM
- They use straight razors in space?
- I love the little detail of how Filip interprets Naomi’s actions in the Ring as saving a lot of Belter lives; she immediately says “It was not just me alone. It was all of us together.” It’s her habit to share the credit, which Marco would never do.
- Jesse Chase-Owens is an absolute wonder in that heart to heart scene with Naomi.
- “Nah, it just itches a little bit.” Bobbie Draper, super casual about getting shot to hell.
- It was a Free Navy ship Alex and Bobbie took out last week—that wasn’t clear in the episode.
- The little detail that Amos’s quarters are well-stocked is all the mention we get of him this week, but it’s a good one.
- Naomi has been wearing a Chetzemoka jumpsuit this whole time, and suddenly I find myself wondering if you inherit the jumpsuits of a ship’s former crew, no matter how dirty and smelly they are or how badly they fit. Marco’s crew’s jumpsuits have a whole variety of ship names on the back.
- Alex and Bobbie really don’t have a lot to do, and in a way it’s making their characters seem a bit redundant—which may be a hint as to what will happen next season, with Cas Anvar off the show. If Bobbie Draper winds up taking his place on the Roci, I for one will be thrilled.
- We still don’t get to know what Naomi’s message to Holden said.
- “Oyedeng” is Marisol Adler’s first time directing on The Expanse and I’m so glad to see she’s also the director for next week’s episode—which I expect will pick up right where this one left off.