The Expanse: Naomi Nagata Deserves All The Awards

SyFy Channel

I am in love, and I don’t say that lightly. TV had disappointed me so many times, I had stopped messing with her. I was heartbroken. Into this empty, non-episodic life, came a weekend when I was allergic to everything, leaving me pumped full of DayQuil (I’m a mom, I still have to function), stuck on the couch surrounded by tissue boxes and unfulfilled plans. This was the weekend I binged the entire first season of The Expanse (currently available for free on Amazon Streaming and showing season 2 on SyFy). This was the weekend I met the crew of the Rocinate — accidental ship captain James Holden (Steven Strait), engineer and tech genius Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), pilot Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), and bruiser Amos Burton (Wes Chatham). I’m hooked, y’all. Binge-drunk in love.

These guys are no Firefly, but they are a crew, and a fascinatingly tight one at that. They form one-third of the plot threads of the show, with Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), the sharp-tongued United Nations politician who’s trying to start, or maybe stop, a war, holding down her third mostly by herself with her clothes (because GOOD BAST ALMIGHTY ARE HER CLOTHES GORGEOUS). The third thread is that of failing spacestation cop Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane). He’s looking for a lost rich girl, and getting in way over his head in the process.

What got me was the crew of the Rocinante — a crew that had been flying together for a while on the ice freighter Canterbury, but doesn’t actually know that much about each other. A crew that includes the fantastic character of Naomi Nagata as the only woman. Anytime you have one female character in a huddle of male ones, I think that woman deserves credit for an extraordinary level of patience. But when that character is interesting — complicated, unashamed about her sex and her sexiness, unrepentant about her choices, unreliant on any of the male characters for purpose — then I’m all in. It is the character of Naomi Nagata that drew me in.

So as any love-struck woman would, I want to give Nagata a few awards. I want her to know I appreciate her, that I know she’s out there fighting the good fight. And that maybe, in a few years, she’ll be ready for the coveted Top 5 Dead or Alive spot in my heart.


**Spoilers for The Expanse season 1 follow.
This is your only warning.**

The Ellen Ripley Award for Knowing When to Run from a Rampaging Xenomorph

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The big bad secret of The Expanse season 1 involves an “extra-solar entity” that’s been found on Phoebe (a moon of Saturn) and purposely nurtured by some terribly misguided scientists (perhaps even evil scientists, depending on your perspective). These evil scientists (now you know my perspective) unleash the entity, called the Protomolecule, onto space station Eros, give it a dose of hard radiation, then retreat to watch as it consumes every human on the rock…tens of thousands of Belters. The crew of the Rocinate is there, chasing revenge for the death of their friends on the Canterbury. This sets up Naomi and team to try to GTFO of Eros when the Protomolecule starts…doing whatever it does.

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Following in the footsteps of the immortal Ellen Ripley (May You Follow Her Lead and Nuke the Site from Orbit), Naomi is the only one with the smarts and skills to lead the team out, using the old builder tunnels that are under/behind the station, cored directly into the rock.

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As they run, they collect a few locals who are still well enough to run, along with the obligatory small child. Thus Naomi follows even more closely in the steps of Ripley — not only running through tunnels from a brain-eating monster, but also dragging a child along. This is perhaps the best metaphor for motherhood ever.

The Sarah Connor Award for Fighting The Man to the Literal End of Time (or in this case, Space)

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Where there are evil scientists, there is an evil mastermind. Naomi’s got some experience with the naive, idealistic life:

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But she’s not about that any more. Like Sarah Connor, she’s about crushing the corporations that only have their own interests at heart and getting things done — for Belters first and foremost. Naomi doesn’t sport an explicitly OPA (Outer Planets Alliance) tattoo, but she does have the neck markings of a sworn member of the rockhopper class. We’re not 100% clear on her path through space, but she’s definitely been on lots of stations and rocks before joining the Cantebury, and now, with the Rocinate, she’s been to Eros, Tycho, Ceres…And the whole time, she’s defiant and unbroken.

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She’s so dedicated to fighting science with science, that she steals a sample of the Protomolecule and hides it from her crew mates. I have no doubt that, at the end of it all, Naomi would bomb the living hell out of Earth to protect her Beltalowda mates. That’s not nice, but it is trill as fuck. I get tired of women characters always having to fit into molds — badass (the most overused adjective for a physically strong woman EVAR), mom, sex kitten — you know the list. Naomi breaks all those. And she does it with strength that is both mental and physical, even trying to achieve Sarah Connor’s “my biceps inspire dreams” look.

The Zoe Washbourne Award for Putting up with Two White Guys Who Really Don’t Deserve You

L-R:Alan Tudyk, Nathan Fillion, and Gina Torres in the movie SERENITY. photo by Sidney Baldwin. Universal Studios

L-R:Alan Tudyk, Nathan Fillion, and Gina Torres in the movie SERENITY. photo by Sidney Baldwin. Universal Studios

Through the magic of the churn, Naomi is the moral compass of both Amos and Jim. This is about the shittiest job in the solar system, mostly due to how different they are. Amos is immediate, violent, instinctive. Jim…well, I bet he has to do some deep soul searching just to put milk in his coffee (but think of the cows!). Yet, she still manages to keep them both going in the same direction.

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Even if sometimes, Amos has to flex his muscle.

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The parallel here between Zoe and Naomi is so strong I could almost write a whole article just on them. Both are space born and raised, both have pasts that they don’t talk about, both are destined to spend an inordinate amount of time on a spaceship with a bunch of dudes who can only barely get over themselves long enough to do some good in the ‘verse. Most obviously, though, they are both Black women in the space-faring future, representing our possibility hundreds of years from now.

Really, we know we Black women are going to space. Some of us have already been. We know we’ll be running that shit when we get there. They haven’t stopped the Black woman yet, and they’re not going to. It is about time media showed us a real future, one where we are represented and respected. We are the future, good and bad, and The Expanse gives us a new sci-fi peek, with Naomi Nagata driving that ship. Straight to my heart. I’m so glad I found The Expanse and will be watching religiously now into Season 3.

whole damn crew

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  1. Zainab Amadahy on March 20, 2017

    So nice to read about Naomi by someone who loves her as much as I do. On my first viewing of season 1 I failed to see how crucial Naomi is to the Roci crew’s survival. But when I binge watched it again it became so clear and in season 2 she risks her relationship with Holden and her place on the crew, staying true to her beliefs amid all the giant male egos that take her for granted as their nurturer and moral compass, yet want her genius in their corner.

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