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Why Expanse fans are talking about ships 'going Dutchman' in season 5

There's a lot going on in the season 5 trailer for Amazon's The Expanse, and it's all going on at a massive scale.

On the level of interplanetary conflict, Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander) proclaims himself the commander of the Free Navy and launches an attack on Earth, potentially starting a war neither side seems fully confident of winning. On a personal note, Rocinante mechanic Amos Burton (Wes Chatham) visits Baltimore, while executive officer Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) learns the whereabouts of her son from an OPA informant. There are mysteries and conspiracies alongside fistfights and explosions, but in among all this conflict there's a brief moment fans have picked up on. This brief frame from the trailer suggests a potential revelation is coming regarding a few grander theories about the universe and its workings.

This fan theory hinges on a shot in the trailer in which Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman) appears surrounded by a translucent orange substance –– it appears to be both liquid and fire simultaneously –– pulsing and writhing in likely holographic suspension. As u/TimDRX put it on Reddit, "Looked like Fred watching something very similar to what Elvi experienced inside the Void Bullet." He and others speculate that it's a glimpse into the show's handling of one of the book series' big mysteries: What exactly happens when a ship "goes Dutchman?"

What does it mean to 'go Dutchman' on The Expanse?

In the universe of The Expanse, a ship goes Dutchman when it disappears while transitioning between normal space and ring space or vice versa. Ring space is the wormhole-like region that can only be accessed through an alien ring that assembled itself outside the orbit of Saturn back in season 3. Practically speaking, these ring gates allow for travel to other solar systems — except when they super don't. A certain percentage of ships traversing the ring gates simply vanish without a trace, and this phenomenon likely tied to whatever entity annihilated the ring gate engineers. The phrase "going Dutchman" is a reference to The Flying Dutchman, the nautical ship of legend that's said to sail endlessly and never make port, and that's supposedly a portent of doom.

According to u/dochdaswars, unravelling the mystery of the ships that disappear is a major plotline for Rocinante captain James Holden (Steven Strait) in the fifth book of The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey, on which the TV series is based. "Holden's story revolved around him and Fred and Monica trying to track down the reason for the ships going Dutchman, they have video of it happening which is what we see here." 

u/Vythan says the name on the bottom of the recording attributes it to Elvi Okoye (Lyndie Greenwood). "Dr. Okoye might be doing some of her own research into the bullet and/or ships going dutchman." Introducing the Dutchman element to season 5 makes sense, since – SPOILER ALERT — it plays a major role in the Rocinante crew's ultimate plan to deal with Marco Inaros — at least in the books. 

Viewers will get a sense of how much Okoye was able to find out when season 5 of The Expanse premieres on Amazon December 16.