The Expanse: Hard Vacuum
January 19, 2021 4:58 PM - Season 5, Episode 8 - Subscribe

Amos returns to Baltimore with Clarissa. On Luna, Avasarala's alliances begin to shift. Alone and adrift, Naomi becomes a deadly lure.
posted by ShooBoo (64 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A repeating message from a princess and an R2 head.
posted by whuppy at 7:03 PM on January 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Srsly tho, is "I'm in control" their safe word?
posted by whuppy at 7:05 PM on January 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Naomi in the spacesuit disconnecting the sensors with the repetition of the recorded messages gave me shades of "2001" when Dave in a spacesuit is disconnecting HAL while he's singing "Daisy."
posted by ShooBoo at 9:15 PM on January 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Oh god how much do I want Carmina to space Karal. There has not been nearly enough shouting of Beltalowda In this season.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 10:05 PM on January 19, 2021 [8 favorites]

Carnina’s snarled “Watch me!” was so perfectly delivered to Karal.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:08 PM on January 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Naomi's ordeal on the Chetzemoka was one of the most harrowing sequences in the books, drawing out each little step forward and subsequent setback in agonizing detail. Tipper did a great job selling the coexisting utter despair and indomitable will, and whoever did the montage has definitely watched their Mike the Fixer scenes from Better Call Saul.
posted by whuppy at 8:20 AM on January 20, 2021 [12 favorites]

Given that the sequence is all about Naomi problem-solving her way out, and the writers and set designers had to communicate that without dialog to a nontechnical audience, I can forgive the junction box contents looking like.. a bus bar and a bunch of fat wires? I’m not really sure what they were going for there. Then again, they sold it, so I can’t complain.

Big ups to Dominique Tipper for really stepping up as an actress this season! She also really sold it. You could see the arc of her emotions clearly while she worked through the various bits of problem solving, even though on-screen we could not have access to her inner monologue.

The into-the-end-credits bits have been spot-on this whole season, this episode in particular.
posted by Alterscape at 8:35 AM on January 20, 2021 [6 favorites]

i didn’t realize Naomi was hitting up a different junction box every time 🤦🏻

a very good episode.
posted by sixswitch at 8:36 AM on January 20, 2021

I didn't understand what Naomi was doing at first exactly, but she was obviously trying to find a "hole in the system" and when she did, things became clearer.

Possibly having her mark each junction with paint or something, to communicate she was working through a bunch of them might have helped, but not a big deal. It was a pretty gripping sequence once you realize that she's got little hope, is exhausted and probably dying, but she's still doing her best.

I would think that Holden or someone on the crew would recognize the trap though, but again, not a big deal.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:42 AM on January 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

As I've mentioned before, I am a big fan of not over-explaining what's going on, and Naomi's struggles are a prime example of exactly the right level. All the important information (she's in bad shape, she's trying to figure things out, she's having huge setbacks and tiny triumphs) is communicated without a single scrap of dialog. A lesser show would have Naomi muttering to herself as she went about the ship ("Now, let's see if I can get the nav working. Damn, there's a motion sensor on it, linked to the reactor. Clever."), and to hell with previous characterization. I love this show.

Also, did Filip just lie to his dad? I'm not sure if he saw the injector in Naomi's hand as she left the airlock.
posted by Mogur at 10:15 AM on January 20, 2021 [11 favorites]

Yeah, this show has always erred on the side of not overexplaining things. I was confused by the "core dump" scene earlier this season, but the writers have earned enough trust that if I don't understand a scene in the moment, I'm willing to commit and look up the information later (or figure things will become clear as they go).

Everyone's been in grave peril this season, but as it's gone on they've foregrounded Naomi more and more. While I'm eager for scenes of the rest of the Roci crew (and Avasarala), this is unquestionably the right decision. Tipper is always great, but she was just fantastic this week. So painful to watch failure over and over. Amos is a force of nature, Holden is bullheaded, (Alex is the obviously weak link, though he's good-hearted), but Naomi will stubbornly work through a problem until it's solved.

I enjoy watching people solve engineering problems, and this was as good as any sequence from The Martian or Apollo 13.
posted by rikschell at 11:59 AM on January 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don't think Filip lied -- I obviously can't vouch for his certainly not seeing the injector but he was on the other side of an airlock door and had only seconds to observe a very dramatic set of circumstances. My money is on the kid thinking she's really dead.

Camina Drummer and her crew continue to be The Absolute Best.

Glad to see Erich again. That scene on the rooftop (along with the observations above about Naomi on the Chetzemoka) is a good example of why I enjoy this series so much: a lesser show would have had an impassioned speech or a shouting match to get that trio out of Baltimore. Clarissa's anecdote about the woman in prison is subtler but far more effective, putting the point out there but letting the other person come to the understanding on their own.

Curious to see where things go between Avasarala, Admiral Delgado and the Minister of Being Overwhelmed* Secretary General. In a game of persuasion my money's on our girl, but power affects people in unexpected ways.

Aside: Marco and Filip's scene together is a useful reality check for those times I think I've finally achieved Frankie Boyle levels of cynicism, as I was really expecting to see some remorse from Filip after literally (to his eyes, anyway) watching his mother commit suicide immediately after being told she would be used as bait to kill her family, humiliated in front of the entire ops crew, and then struck by her own son before being dragged away, but the only words he could muster were contempt for taking Cyn with her. These two really are the worst.
posted by myotahapea at 12:23 PM on January 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

Oh god how much do I want Carmina to space Karal. There's a moment on the bridge - you all know the one - where Karal sealed her own doom. She's got a date with an airlock now.
posted by Mogur at 1:50 PM on January 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

Whatever else the Belters are short of, they certainly seem to have an unlimited supply of eye make-up.
posted by Paul Slade at 2:40 PM on January 20, 2021 [15 favorites]

I didn’t realize Naomi was hitting up a different junction box every time

Nor did I. But now you mention it, I guess that's why she was keeping count of her trips with the scratch marks on the wall?

Was she doing something different at each box or simply looking for one that had a vulnerability allowing her to edit the message?
posted by Paul Slade at 2:59 PM on January 20, 2021

As per Reddit: The marks on the wall were tracking the volume of air left in the pressurized compartment (assuming every time she uses the airlock, she loses some air). I originally thought the marks were tracking which boxes she'd already looked at, but the Reddit commenter notes that she looks at the ship's data plate just before her first excursion outside, and it prominently includes the volume of the habitable section. In hindsight, this explanation makes more sense, because how would a count remind her which boxes she'd already visited?

Regarding what she was doing at the j-boxes, I interpreted it as testing which one provided power to the transmitter.
posted by Alterscape at 3:09 PM on January 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

Wow, I thought she was just keeping track of the boxes too, but the dwindling supply of air, she really was going all out in finding a solution.

Her editing of the broadcast was a one-time thing right? She won't need to keep on doing it?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:39 PM on January 20, 2021

I think all she did was interrupt the power to the transmitter to blank out some words, so she'd have to keep doing it if she wanted to continue modifying the signal. Karal obviously heard; we don't know if the Roci or the Razorback noticed yet.
posted by Alterscape at 8:16 PM on January 20, 2021

If you look at some of the cans stacked near the tequila that Amos is eyeing, apparently Khlav Khalash is available outside New York in the world of the Expanse.
posted by pykrete jungle at 8:58 PM on January 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

Good eye pykrete jungle!

The case is 'Casa de Lola' tequila (made in Canada! climate change!) but the two bottles look like the bottle of bourbon that Erich shares with him in e02, which Amos admires and acquires, hence the greedy eyeing.

The 'Pur & Kleen' water is the company that the Canterbury (ice hauler from s01) belonged to.

Completely missed it the first go around, but evidently, in s05e02 at about 21:25 when Amos is scoping out the street scene, there's a Khlav Kalash food cart, with a picture of the crab from the can of Crab Juice on the side of it no less.
posted by porpoise at 9:54 PM on January 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

I just assumed the bottle was an añejo.
posted by pykrete jungle at 10:31 PM on January 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

For there being so much detail in this episode I thought it was a bit odd to have a scene focused on lifting a massively heavy grate, in a ship which did not appear to be rotating fast enough to provide even a slight false gravity. I guess they just forgot?

Awesome episode though.
posted by Happy Dave at 10:33 PM on January 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

The ship is under thrust. That's where the gravity comes from. The decks are perpendicular to the plane of travel.

My complaint about that scene is that it'd have been more efficient for her to use more of her body weight and her leg strength by making a sling around her waist/hips.
posted by kokaku at 11:01 PM on January 20, 2021 [6 favorites]

Oh I missed that. I thought when she leapt across to it last episode it was on the float and it was the Free Navy ship that was boosting away.
posted by Happy Dave at 11:04 PM on January 20, 2021

I think it was on the float when she jumped to it, but then it got underway while she was passed out. It looks like Marco's plan (from the screen an episode ago, and Marco/Filip this episode) is to fly it out somewhere that Holden will find it, so that he triggers the sabotaged reactor to blow when he tries to dock, and destroys the Rocinante and his crew.
posted by Alterscape at 11:12 PM on January 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

this was as good as any sequence from The Martian or Apollo 13.

Funny you should mention. The city on Luna is Lovell City, presumably named for the commander of Apollo 13.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 12:24 AM on January 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

For the grate, even under 1g thrust, it shouldn't be made out of material that gratuitously heavy on a spaceship, even with the efficiency of the Epstein Drive. It's a minor nitpick, but one that really took me out of the moment. If you really fridge-logic it, the grate should have been secured to the hull with a latch or something in case of zeroish-g.

That aside, the way Naomi was left without food, water or new oxygen was another great case of underexplaining things to the viewer. The realization dawns that the ship isn't a refuge at all, that the Belters stripped everything useful or life-sustaining out of the ship -- not because of any fear of someone being on board (apart from all the smashed displays), but just because stripping abandoned ships is what they do to survive. The flip side of that, that space is an extremely hostile environment without those intentional necessities, was emphasized like I've never seen before in a sci-fi show.
posted by cardboard at 5:59 AM on January 21, 2021 [10 favorites]

1. Veerrrrrry satisfying episode. Naomi's generally battered condition (after being suit-less in space) - was, I took it, why the grate was so hard to lift. It would have been 'hard' under normal conditions but now she is messed up and it's that much harder. I missed the air volume point as well and wondered that there was air at all - and then, how much of anything is in these ships? Is air/ water a bi-product of other ship systems (which would be the smartest design as it provides a sort of fail-safe/ default marginally habitable environment.)

2. The re-assessing looks between Amos, Erich and 'Peaches' ('Timothy' 'In Jail') were kind of funny/ kind of too overt, considering how subtle Peaches' pitch for help getting to New Hampshire was.

3. The fade away to the credits, Naomi's edited message, and the ramifications it implies was very well done.

4. I hate the weekly drip of episodes. And I hate that there are only a few more this 'season.'
posted by From Bklyn at 6:37 AM on January 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

I love the weekly drip of episodes, FWIW. Season four dropped all-at-once and we didn’t get anything like this level of fun suspense and FanFare chat!
posted by migurski at 7:34 AM on January 21, 2021 [15 favorites]

I agree; while I'm super impatient and I'd love to be able to go from one episode to the next, it's been nice having something to look forward to.

Also, in a 2020 sort of way, having something that can mark the passage of time is not a bad thing.
posted by ChrisR at 7:44 AM on January 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

I hate the weekly drip of episodes.

I'd just like to remind you youngsters that all television used to come in weekly episodes - and it wasn't all that long ago either. Arguably, it's only the possibility of binge watching that allows for the much more complex and slow-burning story arcs we're able to enjoy today.
posted by Paul Slade at 9:50 AM on January 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

I was happy to see Peaches stop to pee. This is a thing women do when out on roadtrips and it doesn't need to be a big dramatic moment.

I'm still confused about what Naomi is communicating.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:38 PM on January 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

She's sending a completely contradictory message to the one that was being broadcast by default

So the message goes from
"This is Naomi Nagata of the Rocinante. If you get this message, please re-transmit. Tell James Holden I am in distress. Comm link's not responding. I've no nav-control. Please re-transmit."


"This is Naomi Nagata .........Tell James Holden I am in........ control.."

She's hoping (I assume) that contradictory messages would mean any rescue by Holden and team would be done more cautiously as they would know something is not right. Maybe more "scans" of the ship before they approach etc. Also my guess is it also tells them *where* on the ship she is (the control room). My wild speculation is that will come in use as maybe they end up doing something where the ship gets broken up (core separated) or otherwise her physical location on the ship becomes important to avoid the traps.

Edit: Or maybe she's trying to tell him not to be rescued by saying she's in control? To avoid him coming and being killed.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 3:44 PM on January 21, 2021 [5 favorites]

And yeah, I didn't get enough of a look at the specs plate to tell that she was calculating how much of a volume of oxygen she was losing to space every time, so I figured she was just marking a tick for all the comms relays she'd tried, and there was a magic number on the plate so she'd know when she'd run through all of them. Given the trauma of going out and checking, it wouldn't necessarily be a given that she'd keep track of how many she'd tried, right? Either way, grounding the signal, smart job.

I'm still not sure about Filip's loyalties, or if he's figuring out that his dad is a jerk who cares more about himself and his revolution than anybody else.

I'm kind of waiting for someone to remind UN Secretary General that Inaros still has the protomolecule retaliation. So yeah, blowing up a station would feel good, it might not be great tactics.

And I was sort of wishing someone on the Roci, I dunno, maybe Miranda, would notice the torpedo that GTFO in the fight.

I am _maybe_ concerned that the show is getting particularly incomprehensible for the visually impaired, but I haven't gone to see if there's a descriptive track for the visually impaired. They're rare, but I've heard them every now and then. But if the show is really really leaning on the audience recognizing what the cast are doing with nothing but visual hints? That might be tricky...
posted by Kyol at 6:14 PM on January 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think just the replies here show that people miss all kinds of visual clues regardless of their visual acuity. In the end, she (visual equivalent of technobabble) and then the transmission changes.

My first thought on seeing that plate (and the sign that said the area was not pressurized during flight) was that she was going to stack things up in there to reduce the airlock volume. Maybe there weren't enough large objects left around.

My real question : is khlav khalash real? I've only ever heard of it from that one scene in the Simpsons decades ago. I thought it was a fictional thing!
posted by Acari at 6:50 AM on January 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I wish they'd reinstate the show's original habit of identifying each ship with a quick caption as its establishing shot appears. With the week's gap between episodes, I'm finding it harder and harder to remember which ship is which from its exterior appearance alone.

There's a few little things like this and the missing gravboots sound effect in an earlier episode which I hope they get the chance to fix in a future directors' cut.
posted by Paul Slade at 7:21 AM on January 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

but I haven't gone to see if there's a descriptive track for the visually impaired.

I just checked, there is.
posted by Pendragon at 10:16 AM on January 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I really liked not having a any idea what Naomi was up to. She's up to something, it's difficult, it involves wires, it's maybe not working, oh it is working, she's doing something to the message, "This is Naomi Nagata ... Tell James Holden I am in ... control."

It's chilling. What a successful achievement of a planed and appropriate effect in story telling.
posted by bdc34 at 11:20 AM on January 22, 2021 [7 favorites]

I definitely prefer the once a week episodes; it seemed like last season came and went and was over in a flash. This season seems so much better and so much more intense to me. And the discussion is so much better here :-)
posted by oneirodynia at 11:59 AM on January 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

Is space full of torpedoes that missed that never stop? Is this a known hazard, like land mines?
posted by small_ruminant at 12:56 PM on January 22, 2021

Yes, I believe someone (Alex?) in-show (or books?) mentions PDC (point defense cannon) rounds zipping around the solar system.

There are also natural micro asteroids zipping around too.
posted by porpoise at 1:12 PM on January 22, 2021

Yes, but space is big. Really big. [etc]. The torpedo runs out of propellant pretty quickly, and after that? At spacecraft speeds, there's not much difference between hitting something that does explode and something that doesn't. The ships must have a way to avoid and/or destroy little rocks.
posted by dmd at 1:12 PM on January 22, 2021

I would assume you’d want them to self-destruct to avoid them being picked up, refueled, and used against you. Or disarm themselves to allow safe recovery by the original owner (the sense I get is torpedos are expensive and very valuable in the story).

Also space is pretty big......on average...given a clear day with the wind behind it. You’d have to have an awfully large number of torpedoes floating around to make it an issue that was a risk more than any other random object (like the ships that the successful torpedos blew up would produce way more trash to hit)
posted by inflatablekiwi at 1:15 PM on January 22, 2021

@Acari: Nice catch with the khlav khalash. I'm not sure how I feel about the show breaking the wall and reference other pop culture, but that was well done.
posted by monocultured at 11:52 PM on January 22, 2021

"Moonshine River," the Simpsons family goes to New York City, the first time since the classic 1997 episode "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson." It turns out that the Khlav Kalash vendor, originally with a food cart at the base of the World Trade Center, has made it big, with an enormous restaurant in Times Square. Oct 1, 2012
posted by porpoise at 11:57 PM on January 22, 2021

I assumed Naomi was cutting cables to sensors that would trigger an explosion if another ship came near. A couple of questions (which may be answered in the book):
• Can someone explain how her cutting cables was altering the message being sent?
• If she was just cutting cables to change the message, why isn't she also disarming everything?
posted by ShooBoo at 1:12 AM on January 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think one thing this episode did really cleverly was create questions you had to answer. Like, why is Naomi repeating the message? Is she going crazy? No, she’s just trying to get the timing right for when she interferes with it.
posted by corb at 3:48 AM on January 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

My own guess at the time was she was memorizing the message because she was going to cut the wire and immediately start parroting the message so Marco wouldn't know there was a problem. Then, when she was further away, she'd just start talking normally. I realize now that, lacking sensors, she would have no idea when to stop the parroting - but you have to admit, the thought of her working frantically on the ship while also reciting the message that was designed to kill Holden over and over is pretty freakin' bleak. I'm rather proud of it.
posted by Mogur at 6:22 AM on January 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

• Can someone explain how her cutting cables was altering the message being sent?

I can only really explain it if you understand how radios work - she wasn't cutting the cables, she was scraping the insulation off them so she could use the tool to ground the signal before it got to the antenna to be transmitted, massively affecting transmission power and range.

On the other hand, she was sticking her helmet up against the bulkhead to the pressurized portion of the ship so she could hear whether it was working, so maybe she was just interrupting power (by shorting it out?) to something upstream of the actual radio?

There's a few options and none of them are really better or worse than any others. It's delightfully vague.
posted by Kyol at 6:38 AM on January 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Filip says about Naomi going out of the airlock and Cyn's death, "She wanted to die. But she didn't have to kill Cyn." Then Marco immediately replies, "She didn't kill him, you did." What does Marco mean by that? In what way is Cyn's death on Filip?
posted by mono blanco at 6:58 AM on January 23, 2021

I'm guessing in Marco's twisted mind he blames Filip because Filip brought Naomi to them unauthorized so anything that happens that's even slightly related to Naomi is now Filip's fault.
posted by some loser at 9:01 AM on January 23, 2021 [8 favorites]

yea, Marco is trying to control Filip by making him feel terrible about anything he does that is his own choice. The portrayal of Marco is such an accurate portrait of a narcissistic abuser it's almost painful to watch sometimes.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:02 PM on January 23, 2021 [14 favorites]

the air situation was Gully Foyle 100%. destroyed ship, one pressurized compartment, only the air in the suit for excursions. i liked the message suspense. what was she trying to do? the absent exposition is a real delight. drummer, wow.
posted by j_curiouser at 9:08 PM on January 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

the air situation was Gully Foyle 100%. destroyed ship, one pressurized compartment, only the air in the suit for excursions.

"I kill you, Marco. I kill you filthy."
posted by Mogur at 10:53 PM on January 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Appreciate the discussion here. Wondering if any of the folks who fully understood what Naomi was doing (the air measurement, the finding the right junction box) figured that out entirely from watching the show and not having read the books or read Reddit threads, etc.

I read the books and remembered the broad plan and I had no idea what the fuck Naomi was doing. OK, the ship is stripped and she's locked out of all systems so she can't do her normal super-engineer tricks to take over the ship. So instead she keeps suffocating herself cutting wires on nearly identical looking boxes.. why? Is there any indication the ship is running out of air after all these runs? I get it all now that we've explained it in detail, but I think the show made this far too opaque to follow casually. And while I appreciate the lack of Nigel Narrator telling us what's happening, this kind of thing sure works better in writing where you just expect narration of the action all the time.
posted by Nelson at 8:28 AM on January 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

It was obvious to me that she was trying to brute force edit the message, and that she was time limited on each trip by the oxygen in her suit, but the purpose of the marks wasn't obvious to me.
posted by Tabitha Someday at 10:24 AM on January 25, 2021

The marks seemed to make sense after the closeup on the air capacity plaque. It wasn't clear that she was trying different junction boxes on each trip back.
posted by kokaku at 11:38 AM on January 25, 2021

She makes the first mark before going out to try shorting cables, so totally makes sense that it's about oxygen. If you wanted to remember which junction box you had visited, you'd make a big scratch right near them, not back in the oxygenated area.

Naomi is visiting junction boxes to find the cable that carries the distress call. She scrapes away a bit of insulation, then uses the tool to ground the wire to see if that interrupts the message. She doesn't cut anything (I know there's a sort of snip sound sometimes, but I've watched these scenes multiple times now and she doesn't cut the wires). When she finds the wire carrying the message, she interrupts the transmission by shorting the wire with the tool touching the junction box at particular points, changing the message to tell James Holden I am... in control. She modifies it four times, and then ends the transmission by cutting the wires. Karal then receives a notification that the transmission has ended, and they listen to the recorded final four messages.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:27 PM on January 25, 2021 [7 favorites]

The marks have to be about oxygen being let out of the oxygenated area every time she opens the doors- she has a notification on her suit so marks don't make much sense for that. Any time you open a pressurized area to a vacuum you are going to lose a lot of atmosphere.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:31 PM on January 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Well I thought she was sending some kind of morse code. Could tell she was searching different boxes but missed the O2 gauge, well need new glasses and was tired and didn't pause to read carefully. All this detail is going to make a rewatch rewarding.
posted by sammyo at 8:38 PM on January 25, 2021

Late, but:

🎵Baby's got the bends. Oh no.🎵
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:22 PM on January 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

One more bit of restraint I really admire. It would have been easy for the writer to word the distress call so that Naomi's message ends up being more blatant, something like "This is Naomi....tell James not...assist...danger..."

The ambiguity of the message may end up being a plot point, but it's also so much more realistic.

Also, wow I liked Sugith Varughese in this a lot. I did not expect the new Secretary to come out of the gate with a speech like that. And maybe it's framing from the bits of vulnerability in the hallway, but I got this great sense in the staff meeting and his conversation with the general of the Secretary watching himself and trying to sound like he thinks a secretary should sound.
posted by straight at 9:42 PM on May 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Is space full of torpedoes that missed that never stop? Is this a known hazard, like land mines?

Mass Effect had a very good scene about the importance of not missing your shots in space.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:34 PM on May 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Is space full of torpedoes that missed that never stop?

Way back when Fred Johnson salvaged the missiles that missed Eros.
posted by ckape at 7:32 PM on March 14, 2022

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