Principled, determined, and unafraid to reveal their anger, Camina Drummer and Naomi Nagata are two of the most intense characters in The Expanse.
Historically angry women in television series are not taken seriously, with female characters depicted as helpless “shrews” or “hysterical.” The Expanse creators have challenged stereotypes of women in television, which feels like a breakthrough moment for viewers like me.
Naomi (Dominique Tipper) and Drummer (Cara Gee) portray the trauma and fury of being an oppressed woman living in outer space, with the spirit and candor that Ripley from the Alien series would be proud of.
From assassin to ally, Nadine Nicole discusses Clarissa Mao’s unlikely friendship and uncertain future as The Expanse comes to an end.
A Woman’s Place is the OPA
The Belters are a marginalized group cast out, quite literally, to the periphery of outer space. They live on huge space stations in the deepest darkest space, undertaking precarious and frankly dangerous jobs. They speak their Belter creole language with their cultural customs and distinctive attire. They live their whole lives in space, and live with the medical consequences, unable to live on Earth or Mars due to the harsh effects of gravity on their bodies. There is not just a hostile Belter, Earther, and Martian divide to contend with, but also great divisions sowed within factions of Belters themselves.
The Expanse universe is divisive and corrupt. In Season 1 we are offered a glimpse into the horrifying reality of life for Belters. We learn about the leader of the Outer Planets Alliance, Fred Johnson (Chad Coleman)’s past, and how he earned the title, “The Butcher of Anderson Station.” A choice that led to his defection to the OPA. We are then introduced to his right-hand woman Drummer who lives on the hidden Tycho station too. Her character evolves throughout the series, from assistant to Fred, to captain of her ship, Behemoth, otherwise known as Medina Station. Drummer then became a rebel to protect the future of her people, hiding out in space as she concocts revenge for the killing of her friend Klaes Ashford (David Strathairn) by terrorist Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander). “I sacrificed too much of my life to adopt the tradition of my enemy” she informs Ashford curtly during a heated exchange in The Expanse episode ‘Fallen World’ (S3, Ep11).
Naomi and Jim Holden (Steven Strait) are the power couple in The Expanse although their relationship does not go smoothly. Naomi and Drummer become close friends from the start and have a lot in common. They want a better life for the Belter people. Drummer grows frustrated and jealous of Naomi’s relationship with Earther, Jim Holden as the seasons progress. There is more than a hint at an unrequited love for Naomi, which burns throughout the later seasons, despite them not physically seeing each other from Season 3 to Season 6. As a viewer, I feel like there is a fire burning inside Drummer and it is how she manages it that makes her so memorable to watch and react to what The Expanse universe throws at her. One of her most profound moments in the series is in The Expanse episode ‘Jetsam’ (S4, Ep2) when she says, “Truth is truth. How you deal with it is up to you.” Indeed.
How realistic is The Expanse? Space anthropologist Cameron M. Smith explains how Belter language and mutations mirror real-world changes.
The Righteous Anger of Naomi Nagata
When we first meet engineer Naomi, she is a member of the Canterbury crew along with Jim Holden, Amos Burton (Wes Chatham), and Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar). She appears to be a textbook model Belter, even adjusting how she speaks with her crew, from her normal creole Belter accent. Her secret is revealed when we find out she used to be a member of the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA), a rebel Belter group and enemy of Earthers and Martians. “I fix ships, not people,” is a line (‘Back to the Butcher’ – S1, Ep5) that neatly sums her attitude up. Fixing ships became a distraction from secrets she holds after all.
As The Expanse progress, we discover that she is a mother to a child, Filip (Jasai Chase-Owens). She was forced to leave him, due to her being tormented by her then-boyfriend Marco Inaros. We have two motivations for her anger here. Not only is she angry at how Belters are treated, which led her to join the OPA in the first place, but she is traumatized by the horrific relationship she endured at the hands of fanatic Marco Inaros, who took her son away from her. Her anger leads her to take on a compassionate but steely leadership role in the series. Naomi’s anger feeds her motivation for her hope for a better universe where Belters get the seat at the table of power that they deserve. Naomi’s line to now-grown Filip in The Expanse episode ‘Oyedeng’ (S5, Ep7) is, “Walking away is the only choice anyone ever has.” It is one of the saddest and truest lines in the whole series, as she prepares to leave him all over again.
The Righteous Anger of Camina Drummer
Klaes Ashford and Drummer have a competitive relationship at first, disagreeing over who would be the better captain of Behemoth, however, that all changes when Drummer is severely injured and offers to sacrifice herself when trapped by machinery. They have an intense conversation, and thankfully she does not die, but it sets the precedent for a more collaborative relationship between the two captains. In Season 5 she finds out Ashford died at the hands of Marco Inaros. She enters his ship stunned at the number of Belters who previously hated Inaros and who are now members of his crew. As if all of this was not sickening enough, he then informs her that Naomi is a traitor and plays a faked sound recording. Drummer earlier saw her walk out of an airlock. Despairing at Inaros’ mind games, Drummer screams out in pure pain and frustration at the end of the episode. She then drowns her sorrows in alcohol.
The producers of the show bought the Belter culture to life using codeswitching in their language making them feel more real as repressed minorities within the narrative of The Expanse. In ‘Why We Fight’ (S6, Ep5), Drummer reluctantly admits, “This universe has no place for me,” and pledges her support to the Inners’ (resident of Earth and Mars) plan to overthrow Marco. She had lost all her crew and is left on a one-woman mission to seek her revenge.
As The Expanse unfolds we learn that childhood abuse is at the root of Amos Burton’s violent worldview, but his battle with trauma offers hope.
The Constructive Power of Female Anger
Drummer has a fitting end to The Expanse series when she becomes President of the Transport Union at the end of Season 6, thanks to Holden who resigns from the position immediately and hands it over to her. Despite Avasarala expressing complete outrage, you have to admire Holden for holding his nerve. All the anger which led to a myriad of conflicts is now being directed into something more optimistic for the Belter people. She has found her power but not without sacrifice. In her final scene, she is resolute to the end and says, “I will not be reasoned into place,” to Avasarala and her naysayers, which proves that she has turned all her anger into her superpower at the negotiating table of politics.
Naomi was angry at Marco, but she did not let that get in the way of her belief in a better world where good exists. Naomi was one of the most principled characters in The Expanse who often had to rise above the behavior of those around her who react with violence and bloodshed. Naomi was always quick to remind others of the consequences of their actions. I found her relationship with Amos interesting to unfold especially from the early seasons to
the end. You know why they are so protective of each other as they have been through so much as engineers on countless ships. Naomi’s loyalty shines through.
Drummer demonstrates her loyalty more aggressively but she is loyal nonetheless even if she has a huge amount of pride making the reunion at the end of Season 6 is so powerful. You know there is no other way forward than for Drummer to join the others against Marco Inaros. Naomi and Drummer’s reunion is symbolic of a change in how the Belter people see themselves. Despite all of the hardship that Naomi has endured as a belter she still finds the time to care for her friends, especially her crew mates on Rocinante.
She also balanced out Drummer’s stubborn and reckless tendencies despite going through tremendous loss herself. The producers did not refrain from portraying the complexities of female anger in all its forms. The situations faced by Naomi ranged from losing her child to the loss of identity and culture. The howling muted grief following the destruction of the Pella, Marcos Inaris’ ship is one of the most powerful moments in The Expanse. We know that Filip escaped Inaros’ ship in a pod however she is none the wiser. Naomi always handles herself with poise however when it came to her son she always wore her heart on her sleeve. Naomi would do anything to protect him, but the circumstances she faces across the course of the seasons are dire.
Drummer and Naomi’s characters were as complex and layered as the political discourse that runs through the series. The producers of The Expanse tested the true mettle of these female characters which is rarely depicted in television sci-fi dramas. Perhaps that is why viewers are so invested in the imperfect characters of The Expanse. They felt like authentic human women portrayed on-screen, complete with anger, frustration, grit, love- and most of all, strength.
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Amy is writer and linguist who has written for Wired and The Independent. She enjoys wandering in game worlds and asking life’s big questions.