Exploring even the most seemingly impossible futuristic conflicts can often lead people to reflect on battles that are plaguing modern society. That’s certainly the case for the ensemble group of diverse characters, and the viewers who have pledged their allegiance to watching them the past four years, of the realistic sci-fi television series, ‘The Expanse.’
The mystery drama, which is set in a colonized solar system, began with the governments of Earth, Mars and the Asteroid Belt being locked in long-standing conflict. The crew of the illegally salvaged warship, the Rocinante, then stumbled on a vast conspiracy and a mysterious alien technology that’s threatens to upend the balance of power and the fate of humanity. The Hugo Award-winning, high-action adventure show broadens the vision of humanity’s path in the future, and also offers a deeply-felt examination into the most critical, raw and pressing issues of today.
‘The Expanse’ is based on the popular sci-fi novels series of the same name by James S.A. Corey (the collective name used by collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who also serve as writers and executive producers on the adventure show). The screen adaption was created by the Academy Award nominated writing duo, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby.
The sixth episode of the series’ current fifth season premiered last Wednesday, January 6 on Amazon Prime Video. The episode, which is titled ‘Tribes,’ was written by Abraham and Franck, who also serve as executive producers on the drama), and directed by Jeff Woolnough.
Season Five of ‘The Expanse’ picks up as multitudes of humans leave the solar system in search of new homes and vast fortunes on the earth-like worlds beyond the alien Ring. Humanity has to pay a heavy price for centuries of exploitation of the Belt, which leads to a reckoning. For the crew of the Rocinante and the leaders of the Inner Planets and the Belt, the past and present converge, which brings forth personal challenges that have wide-reaching repercussions throughout the Solar System.
Amos (Wes Chatham) returns to Earth to confront his past and the legacy of the life he fought to leave behind. Naomi (Dominique Tipper) reaches out to her estranged son in a desperate bid to save him from his father’s toxic influence. Bobbie (Frankie Adams) and Alex (Cas Anvar) confront the collapse of Mars as they chase a shadowy cabal with ties to terrorists and criminals. Holden (Steven Strait) wrestles with the consequences of his own past with the Protomolecule, the aliens who built it and the mystery of what killed them. Drummer (Cara Gee), who’s working with a new crew, fights to escape who and what she used to be, while Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) refuses to be relegated to the sidelines, and must therefore fight to prevent a terrorist attack unrivaled in history.
Chatham and Nicole generously took the time last week to talk about starring in ‘The Expanse’s current fifth season, particularly ‘Tribes,’ during individual exclusive interviews over the phone. Among other things, the actor and actress discussed how their characters’ pasts, including their relationships with their parents, has led them both to not only reconsider their morals throughout the season, but also learn how to trust each other again after the previous mistakes they’ve made towards each other. The performers also mentioned how having the books as source material has helped them better relate to, and understand, their respective characters’ emotions and actions.
The conversation with Chatham began with him delving into how Amos’ arc throughout the previous seasons of the show has shaped where he is in the current season. “Playing Amos has had such an interesting journey for me, because it started with me reading the first book and being fascinated by him. I then got the pilot script…and was able to start living in his circumstances. I’ve been doing that for about six years now,” he shared.
“It’s so creatively satisfying to be able to play such a complex character. Every year, I continue to be fascinated by him, and I discover more and more layers that the writers have given him in the books and the scripts,” the actor continued.
“I think it’s rare to find a character that’s I’m still so fascinated in six years later…I think he’s so interesting and complex. I’ve done a lot of work trying to understand him…As an actor, I couldn’t ask for a better character and story,” Chatham also noted. “I’m very fortunate and thankful to be able to work with all the directors, writer and producers, as well as everyone else on the crew for the show.”
Nicole started her interview by explaining how Clarissa’s arc throughout the entirety of the series has shaped where she currently is the present fifth season. “I’m enjoying the fact that I can really hone my craft because of her emotional depth and arc, going from vengeful murderer to someone who’s looking for a second chance. She wants a new start,” she shared.
“I think her finding that place where you’re looking for acceptance and validation from your family, especially your parents, is relatable to a lot of people. Moving that into letting go of that need, and finding yourself and being okay with who you are, and trying to move past your sins, is definitely a deep place to go,” the actress also noted. “Finding that (for Clarissa) was a journey and an adventure.
“As an artist and an actor…I look back at this season and think, I wish we can redo it because we’ve learned so much more by looking at our scenes, reading the books and learning more about our characters,” Nicole admitted. “Like any artist, you’re always growing as time passes and by reflecting on your work.
“I’m still honored and grateful to be able to take a character like this and bring her to life on screen. Clarissa has been such a fun character to dive into because of how much I’ve grown from her. I think she’s a beautiful character because of what’s going on in the world right now,” the actress divulged.
“Also, on an individual level, everyone makes mistakes, and some are worse than others. We all go through things in life that we all have to overcome, and some more than others,” Nicole added. “But we all deserve second chances, as well as new role models, mentors and friendships that give us hope and new light and ways of thinking.”
Clarissa’s relationship with her parents, as well as her ever-changing morals, is a large driving force in her determination to atone for her past sins. That drive is especially apparent in her ever-changing dynamic with Amos after he returns to Earth. His arrival allows him to confront his past, which leads to him talking to Clarissa about how their relationships with their parents have in part influenced their overall moral compass this season.
The actress then discussed how her character’s newfound morals guide her throughout the rest of the current fifth season. “She comes from a place where all she really wanted is love, validation and acceptance from her father (Jules-Pierre Mao). That took her on this journey of being completely tunnel vision to that one ideal of winning that love and respect from him,” she noted.
“Her sister knew that wasn’t possible. Other people also knew that Jules-Pierre Mao had done a lot of really bad things, and Clarissa wasn’t ready to see that; it was all about her own troubled journey,” Nicole pointed out.
“So when she found out that Holden had done something really good by putting Jules-Pierre Mao away, and justice was served, she started to realize that she was wrong the whole time. She started to think about what is right for her, and how she could make things right” in general, the actress divulged.
“When people were blowing up the ship, she burned a lot of bridges and created a lot of enemies. So at first, she doesn’t think that she deserves a second chance,” Nicole also emphasized. “But once Amos comes back, he tells her, ‘The world can really mess you up, so you deserve a new beginning, and you can be helped.’ I think that really helps her.
“Then they get out of prison, so she has this newfound physical freedom. That gives her hope that maybe she can start over and let go of her past sins, as well as her need for her father’s love and who she was, so that she can move on to something new,” the actress continued.
“During that journey, she starts to question what is right, and how she can find out what her morals are, and how she can be a better person. So she’s struggling with these new concepts, as well as trying her best to do better. She finds new ways to show up while being less selfish, and more selfless, in these next episodes,” Nicole added. “That starts affecting Amos’ journey as their arc together starts to unfold.”
Chatham also discussed how Amos atones for his past sins while he and Clarissa embark on their journey to Baltimore, and how his newfound morals also influences the way he approaches his survival tactics throughout the rest of the current fifth season. “I think (their new sense of morals) is what bonded them together. Amos grew up in a really cruel place, and he suffered a lot of trauma. That basically damaged him to the point where he completely lost his moral compass,” he noted.
“Amos wound up doing things that in retrospect, he realized weren’t really indicative of his character, but that’s just the way that the world molded him,” the actor continued. “That led him to realize that Clarissa isn’t a bad, evil person, and she was instead manipulated by her father. She’s also tied up in this identity of being in the family that she’s in. Amos said to her, in Episode 4, I believe, that the world is a messed up place, and sometimes, it can really mess you up, and it’s not necessarily your fault.
“So Amos and Clarissa are on a parallel journey to try to find who they are without the identity they grew up in. They’re also trying to find a sense of morality, which will really play out as the season continues, specifically in Episode 9,” Chatham added.
During their storyline in ‘Tribes,’ Amos and Clarissa embark on a journey to his hometown of Baltimore, despite the fact that she once tried to kill his crew mates. Chatham delved into what the process of working with Nicole to rebuild the trust between their two characters as they embark on their new journey together was like while filming their scenes together.
“Nadine’s first season was Season 3, so we knew going forward where our storylines were going, if we got to Season 5. So we started those conversations early, and work together to build this relationship between Amos and Clarissa,” the actor divulged. “It’s always an advantage having a talented co-star who puts in the work…I feel very lucky and fortunate to have her play this part, and create this character with her.”
Further speaking of Amos, the two characters have a fascinating dynamic, in part because of their mutually troubled pasts, and despite the fact that she once tried to kill his crew mates. The actress then delved into what the process of building the trust between the two characters as they embark on their new journey together was like during this season’s production.
“I understand that Clarissa is very grateful to Amos, especially while they’re trying to survive. She has someone to lean on, and she wonders what she would do without him,” Nicole admitted.
“But while Clarissa’s also on this journey, she wonders how she can make things right, and how she can steer her moral compass. It’s kind of questionable to turn to Amos for that! She trusts him in a way, but she also wonders if he’s the person to lead her in her new moral compass,” the actress divulges.
“You’ll see in the later episodes that she starts standing on her own two feet, and is led by her own moral compass, which is a big deal for her. That also helps Amos expand his own world view and perspective,” Nicole continued. “I think that’s where they start affecting each other on deeper levels. They start to be able to look themselves in the mirror and respect themselves more.
“It’s interesting because in Episode 6, Clarissa is asking those specific questions. She wonders if they’re trying to be good people, and if they’re doing it right. She needs to ask Amos-and herself-those questions because it doesn’t feel right, and she’s confused,” the actress added.
Throughout ‘Tribes,’ in addition to pondering her morals, Clarissa is also struggling with her physical health. Nicole explained how being sick also influences the way her character approaches her fight for survival.
“I think she’s on edge with her health; she knows she can just let go if it gets too cold because she doesn’t have the stamina or endurance to move on,” the actress revealed. “But that’s kind of like what her life was like before. Up until this point, she had nothing to lose because she was supposed to be in prison for the rest of her life.
“There’s still nothing for her to lose at this point, but she still tries to keep going. I think that’s why she’s okay with asking questions, as well as starting to stand up for herself, and thinking outside of the box on her own,” Nicole continued.
“I think the physical part is very challenging, as they’re traveling through the freezing, dark woods. But in another sense, they’re still completely free, and she has nothing to loose at that point,” the actress added.
Chatham also chimed in on the fact that as Clarissa is also struggling with her physical health throughout the sixth episode, Amos continues to feel protect of her, despite how she treated him in the past. The actor explained why he thinks his character feel drawn to protect Nicole’s character, despite the pain she previously caused him.
“I think what really bonded them together was at the end of Season 3, when the Rocinante transfers Clarissa back to Earth, in order for her to go to prison, they have a six-month journey together,” Chatham noted. “She worked in the machine shop with Amos during that journey, so they really got to know each other well.
“I think that’s when he really started to get to know who she was, including how her father messed her up in a lot of ways. He also realized that they’ve had a really similar journey,” the actor continued. “So that triggered some things in him, and made him care for her in a way that naturally bonded and connected them.
Amos “has also realized that he could be a better person and help other people, and can do that for Clarissa. He doesn’t know how to do it, but he does know he should go visit and talk to her, and at least let her know that there’s somebody who sees her for who she truly is, and what she could be,” Chatham added.
Like Nicole and Chatham both mentioned earlier, the show is based on the series of novels of the same name. They both noted that having the books as the source material influences and helps in the way they approach playing their respective characters.
Chatham revealed that having the novels to reference while he shoots his scenes “is extremely important. To have Ty and Daniel creating this story over so many years has given us the benefit…of having a framework and structure that’s solid and thought out really helps us create the television show.
“I think that a lot of times, if you’re doing something purely original, the amount of work that’s needed to create what happens next in the narrative can make it deluded. But the fact that we’ve had this incredible book series, and this relationship with, and expectation from, fans allows us to have really thought out characters in this multi-dimensional universe on the show,” the actor pointed out. “So you’re honoring the expectations that the fans have from the books. Overall, it’s really valuable to have the book series ahead of the show.”
Nicole also shared that “The part in the books that really helped me understand the TV show was when Clarissa was in jail. In the books, they go really in depth into her revelations and transformation, and it’s very abstract, surreal and spiritual. She goes through all of these epiphanies of who she is, and who her father was. That’s really beautiful, emotional and moving in the books.
“I think it exemplifies the kind of evolution we go through as humanity, as well as on an individual level…That’s what Clarissa did, which helped me understand that a lot of her transformation happened outside of what we see on the TV show. We can show that she’s become a little bit more free-spirited, careless and detached as she went through this journey that brought her to this whole other level,” the actress concluded.
In addition to starring on ‘The Expanse,’ Chatham also co-hosts the drama’s after show podcast with Franck, which is titled ‘Ty and That Guy.’ Each podcast episode provides viewers a chance to dive deep into the latest episode of Season 5. The actor shared what the experience of working on the podcast has been like throughout the season.
“That’s been a really great time, but it’s also been a surprise; I didn’t expect for it to happen,” Chatham admitted. “But my experience with ‘The Expanse’ fans has been really special; it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced before. There’s a bond we automatically have because we’ve been through the show’s journey together, and that connection is nothing I’ve experienced before on any other projects I’ve worked on before.
“So I’ve enjoyed going to Comic-Cons and seeing fans there, and also meeting ‘The Expanse’ fans when I go out to stores around town. I’ve had the greatest conversations with them,” the actor also continued. “What I’ve realized is that I have a lot in common with the show’s fans because I’m a fan of genre, as well, so we’re usually into the same thing. If I wasn’t involved in the show, I’d still be a huge fan of it.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, Chatham has missed having those conversations with the show’s viewers. “So Ty and I had a conversation about it, and I said, ‘Ty, let’s do a podcast where we’re basically having that same Comic-Con experience, and we can relate, and talk to, the fans. We can talk about not only about ‘The Expanse,’ but also broader topics that we think they’ll be interested in. We can continue that connection and relationship because I enjoy it so much,” he shared.
“So we talked to Amazon and they liked the idea, so they asked us to extend it to an after show. It’s been a lot of fun to see the reaction to it, which is better than I expected. So I’m really grateful to do it, and still be able to connect with fans,” the actor concluded.