Everyone sees themselves in the oppressed Belters of The Expanse, from liberal champions of the poor to elite-hating blue collar conservatives. On social media, fans proudly declare, “We are beltalowda!” using the collective pronoun in the Belter creole language to show their solidarity with their fellow downtrodden. But with Marco’s more extreme faction taking charge in season 5, how do the writers reconcile audience sympathy with the devastating terrorist actions on display?
Writer Daniel Abraham, who is in the writers room and who writes The Expanse novels with collaborator Ty Franck under the name James S. A. Corey, has a simple answer to that question. “You just lay it out there and go, ‘Really? You thought these were the good guys because they were the underdogs? You still think that?’” he said in our exclusive interview before the December 16 premiere.
Franck pointed out that the first episodes of The Expanse season 5 address that issue head on. “We actually put that line of dialogue in a character’s mouth this season,” he told us. “Bull says to Fred, ‘You think that just because somebody’s the underdog, that means they’re the good guy.’ Really that is philosophically what we are exploring with the Belters.”
Abraham recalled the irony of a season two marketing campaign which asked fans of The Expanse to “choose a side.” He noted, “One of the things that keeps happening all the way through, has from the beginning, is people ask, ‘What faction are you? Are you a Belter, are you a Martian, or are you an Earther?’ And it’s a trick question. If you watch the show, any of those answers is wrong.”
Showrunner Naren Shankar agreed, but insisted that holding to one faction or another has always been one of the central problems presented by The Expanse. Referring to the sixth episode of season two called “Paradigm Shift,” Shankar reminded us, “Holden actually says it to Fred; he says, ‘That’s the whole fucking problem. There shouldn’t be sides. We should be on one side.’ And that’s way back!”
Franck noted that insisting that there should be no sides is why Holden is the hero of The Expanse. “Holden is the only one who ever says that, and everyone treats him like he’s a naive idiot because he believes that’s true,” he said. “That level of idealism — that we should all be on the same team, that we shouldn’t be fighting over these petty things — is treated as naive and stupid. That’s really the core of the problem.”
Fans of The Expanse would do well to remember that the next time they decry Earther exploitation of hard-won OPA resources or Martian blindness to any problems other than their own. If there’s one thing that The Expanse season 5 has made clear, it’s that no one is innocent, and a lack of unity is exactly why the protomolecule is still being hoarded as a symbol of power despite proof that no one can control it.