Float to the top or sink to the bottom, everything in the middle is a churn-Amos
It is a truism that great science fiction uses a created world to teach us profound lessons about ourselves. And yet when it comes to The Expanse, more than any other show on television at the moment, the truism is one that bears repeating. Because despite being conceived, written and filmed pre-Covid, season 5 of The Expanse has still managed to perfectly capture 2020 and its impact on the human psyche.
From its narcissistic Trump-esque Belter populist, Marco, to its portrayal of humanity’s failings in the face of a true existential crisis, The Expanse remains the text for the modern era. As much as – or maybe even more than – Babylon 5.
And no other character expresses this better than Amos: our lovable (possible) sociopath with a heart of gold. Amos’ philosophy of The Churn is the perfect allusion to the way in which the average person is caught in a systemic maelstrom of unending change.
Amos: Ain’t nothing to do with me: we’re just caught in the Churn, that’s all.
Kenzo: I have no idea what you just said.
Amos: This boss I used to work for in Baltimore, he called it the Churn. When the rules of the game change.
Kenzo: What game?
Amos: The only game. Survival. When the jungle tears itself down and builds itself into something new. Guys like you and me, we end up dead. Doesn’t really mean anything. Or, if we happen to live through it, well that doesn’t mean anything either.
Like all of our characters in this season of The Expanse Amos takes the opportunity of an apparent lull in chaos to revisit his past. The show’s tagline for this season could have very well been You can never go home again. And when disaster strikes, Amos finds himself cut off from his emotional and ethical support framework and floundering between survival and morality.
For us who lived through 2020, his arc and his themes around how you respond to extreme and sudden social change resonate more strongly even than the writers probably intended (filming on The Expanse wrapped in February 2020). Amos, like the audience, spends most of this year’s season trapped in the Churn, desperate to return to the Rocinante and the certainty of the familiar.
But Amos, like the audience, also spends most of this year’s season trapped in a radically-shrinking Tribe, seeing everyone else as a threat and only being prompted to expand his definition of ally on the counsel of Clarissa Mao (aka Peaches), his unlikely moral compass during the tempest of the latest apocalypse.
As a show devoted to the way in which human tribalism, competition and xenophobia will ultimately doom all of us, The Expanse devotes Amos’ arc to showing us a way through in the same way it devoted last year’s Rocinante arc to the same purpose. Only by expanding their tribe do Amos and Clarissa escape to rejoin their offworld family.
Peaches: Amos says that humans are tribal, and that when things get bad, the tribe shrinks.-Timmy and Peaches
Timmy: That’s how it works. You should listen to him.
Peaches: I did. And he’s right. But he’s also wrong. On the road, he said we were a tribe of two. But if we hadn’t teamed up with you guys, we’d be dead now. We were stronger ’cause our tribe grew.
Amos and Clarissa survive the churn by refusing to sacrifice their morality or their ethics for survival – although both do get a little dented along the way. And while the arcs of the other characters (most especially Drummer whose choice between her people and her morality is the most difficult) mirror Amos’ journey, his storyline is the most straightforward discussion of how we respond to a crisis.
But The Expanse wouldn’t be The Expanse if he didn’t tease us with a very 2020 concept: that the world being created by this latest disruption is not one that we’re familiar with. That this time the change is permanent.