‘The Expanse’: Steven Strait & Dominique Tipper Break Down the ‘Gratifying’ Series Finale
[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Expanse Season 6 Episode 6, “Babylon’s Ashes.”]
After six seasons of High-G burns and “juice,” close calls with deadly blue goo, politically fraught interstellar travel and lots and lots of high-adrenaline space battles, Holden (Steven Strait), Naomi (Dominique Tipper) and the rest of the crew have arrived at a place of peace. And as Holden and Naomi relax contentedly in the Rocinante, with terrorist Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander) eliminated and the galaxy’s politics stabilized, we get the sense that this time it just might stay that way.
For Tipper and Strait, giving the characters a happy ending brought a sense of relief. “Shooting that scene was just gorgeous,” Tipper said. “We had such a lovely time. That choice of ending the season on our characters witnessing each other’s growth, and even just the little dose of humor in there about who they are—I just think the season is so heavy, and to end on this moment of them disappearing into the solar system together in quite a good place, considering what’s happened to them, I think is gorgeous.”
Tipper also added that the ending was unique and meaningful to her, personally. “The joy of being a person of color and having an ending where the colonizers don’t win is so wild, but also really gratifying,” she said. “I think it’s important for everyone to see that that is an option, even for our current state of affairs.”
Strait noted that because of COVID and for logistical reasons, they had the unusual experience of shooting the beginning and the end of the season first. That included Holden’s huge moment at the end of the finale, when he resigns from the newly created position of President of the Transport Union to make Camina Drummer (Cara Gee) its leader. Strait said he looked forward to that scene all year; it was the moment he was most proud of the character.
“It really culminates a very long arc for Holden of him developing into this leader that the system really needs him to be,” he said, adding that the scene shows how Holden’s strength draws from his humility, his empathy and his heart. “He has the chance to break the wheel of violence and oppression… he has that moment, and he takes it. He knows he’s done the right thing, and so does Avasarala (Shohreh Agdashloo), it’s just not something she can say. I think that last moment when she says, ‘I hope you’re right,’ you can tell on her face that she does. Holden’s in this unique place to be able to make that choice, and it’s a wonderful, beautiful, brave moment.”
The resignation scene, Strait said, was a showcase in demonstrating that Holden’s leadership capabilities finally matched his ethics. For the actor, his character getting to that point was a long-standing goal. But another pivotal — if not as triumphant — “leadership-matching-ethics” moment arrived earlier in the season, when Holden made the controversial choice not to kill Marco, and Naomi’s son, Filip (Jasai Chase Owens) along with him.
“[It’s] very unusual to show something like that in a hero arc,” Strait said. “Strategically, one can argue whether it’s smart or not to do, but it’s that quality in Holden that doesn’t choose violence in that moment that inevitably brings everyone to the table together. It’s a very mature idealism… To me, that shows more than anything else his maturity and capability as a leader, in that moment. It’s a selfless act, and it’s an act full of humility and empathy. He just hopes that it sets an example, which is real leadership.”
On the subject of Holden’s mercy being uncommon, Tipper agreed. “It’s rare to see the hero of the season admit to—I wouldn’t say it’s a defeat, but knowing he’s not able to fulfill a certain thing that we as a people, as a solar system, as a human race need to be done in service of his partner’s heart,” she said. “We never see that on-screen. That’s so rare. There’s always the idea that that sacrifice has to be made at the cost of someone’s emotional state, and that it has to be done to save everybody.”
But of course, the Pella and its inhabitants were eventually vanquished, reduced to atoms by the Ring Entities… save for Filip, who, unbeknownst to his mother, safely escaped. The scene where Naomi believes her son has been killed was a heart-wrenching one, and Tipper improvised a key moment. “The scream that I do wasn’t on the page,” she said. “I remember it was just what came up after pressing that button, and on the whole set, you could hear a pin drop.” She mentioned that they weren’t always sure whether Naomi would collapse in Holden’s arms given the role he played in what she believes happened to Filip, but in the end, she says it was perfect. “Very sad, but perfect.”
Of course, when a show ends, the subject of props and costumes and their final resting places surfaces. Surprisingly, Strait has only one item from the set, and it’s not necessarily what one might expect. “I didn’t steal anything!” he laughs. “I do have a cup from the Roci, but that was given to me.” In hindsight, he said there’s one prop he wishes he’d held onto (maybe someone at Amazon can help him out with that). “Looking back, I wish I’d kept the XO badge,” he said. “It’s funny, I actually carried that around in my pocket all the way through the series as a sense-memory thing to use. It was a physical thing, to always remind me of where Holden has come from.”
With its attention to scientific detail and mind-blowing complex worldbuilding, it’s no surprise that many place The Expanse among the all-time sci-fi greats—just as there’s no denying it’s left its mark on the genre. On the subject of the show’s legacy, Strait said he hopes The Expanse is remembered as an example of what’s possible when people behind the scenes are truly committed to a story—and that if humanity hopes to tackle the issues that divide us, the decision-making has to come from a place of innate goodness.
“There is a strain of humanity and humility through this story that anchors all the characters and that anchors the whole thing, as vast as it might be with systems and spaceships and other things,” he said. “I hope that the themes and the way we told it have the same impact going forward over time. The themes themselves are universal, and the challenges we face as people are cyclical and seem everlasting. But there is an appeal to the goodness in people in this story that shines with a little bit of hope. I hope that’s what folks take from it.”
Some might think “Babylon’s Ashes” rings with the notes of a season finale, rather than a series finale. They wouldn’t be wrong; A plot involving a child’s resurrection via alien creatures doesn’t get much resolution, the protomolecule is mentioned once more in the show’s final minutes, and the Ring Gate turning red at the end of the credits all seem to hint at… something. Asked about the possibility of the show continuing again, Strait gave a good-natured laugh.
“I don’t know!” he said. “If The Expanse has proven anything, it’s that one never knows. We’ve been dead before. I will say that six was the plan. That was the intended target, and as much as there is a through line through the final three books, it is its own complete story in its own right. I’m deeply grateful that we’re able to tell the beginning, middle and end of this story on our own terms.”
All of that said, he certainly sounded willing to step aboard the Roci once more if the stars so aligned. “If the opportunity presented itself to work with these people again and to work with this character and these stories again, it would be wonderful, of course,” he said. “But we’ll see. I’m not sure!”
The Expanse, all episodes now streaming, Amazon Studios