Image: The CW via Spoiler TV
Genre: Post-apocalyptic, sci-fi
S1: A nuclear war has left Earth uninhabitable, and the air on a spaceship containing remnants of the human race is running out. Out of desperation, those governing the spaceship decide to send 100 criminals under the age of 18–as an criminals over 18 are immediately executed, and only children are incarcerated–to Earth, to find out if conditions on the planet have become survivable.
Clarke was a member of the elite class on the spaceship before she was imprisoned, and now she finds herself surrounded by rowdy delinquents, who she’ll need to depend on to survive. If that wasn’t enough, it turns out the Earth wasn’t as uninhabitable as they’d imagined. Because there are people already there, warlike people who take exception to strangers showing up on their turf.
S2: A third party is introduced into the conflict between Clarke’s people–the Arkers–and the grounders. These people have survived underground, and as such haven’t developed the resilience to radiation that either of the other groups have. Outmanned by the grounders and outmaneuvered by third group, Clarke and her people need to forge an alliance with one to stop the other. But forming an alliance with a people they have so much adversity with is dangerous in and of itself.
S3: The Arkers and the grounders are left with an uneasy truce after the defeat of their mutual enemy, during which the grounders abandoned their allies to their fate. Clarke is on the run, hunted by groups of grounders who want the power inherent in killing someone who’s accomplished what she’s accomplished. And the Arkers find another group of survivors, whose conflicts with the grounders have been even more brutal than their own. Is the diplomatic situation salvageable? Or will another war break out, until one of the two groups are finally wiped out?
Series: Two seasons.
I’ve Watched: Early and late S1 (missed the middle), all of S2, up to episode 7 of season 3.
Verdict: S2. S3 – Uh…
Let’s start with the elephant in the room. (Major spoiler alert.)
A powerful, complex, gay female character was killed off immediately after she’d finally attained a moment of happiness with the woman she loved. A large segment of the fanbase practically rioted as a result. I wasn’t as personally hurt by this as a lot of people were, but I see why this hurt. Lexa was unique, a fantastic character with a fantastic story arc, and she fell prey to the Bury Your Gays trope.
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other characters like Lexa. We met her without knowing she was the Commander who united the twelve warring clans under her leadership. She was pretending to be some low-ranked, timid grounder who stayed with the prisoners because of her lack of importance. Then the moment we found out that she was actually in charge, that she stayed to find out the true characters of the men she was judging–it was like she became a different person.
And then we saw her be the most powerful leader in the series. Someone who wasn’t given her position, but created it herself, out of nothing. Someone with loyal advisers who might disagree with her, but never directly challenged her authority. Someone who came to respect and love another young woman who, like herself, led her people with a willingness to make difficult decisions if that’s what it took to do right by them.
And then her arc in season three–the third season couldn’t match the nuances and complexity of the second for the most part, but Lexa’s story, before it ended, was one of its high points. Lexa is a visionary who grew up in a brutal, violent culture. She’d introduced new ideas and restructured her society, but still made certain decisions based on the expediency of what she’d grown up with.
In season three, with Clarke by her side, she starts trying something completely different. She begins introducing her people to the concepts of mercy and peace. And despite being a warrior from a warrior culture, when Clarke speaks to her of that forgiveness and peace, of a world where the current conflicts didn’t turn into another war if only Lexa herself would reach out and stop it–it was in her eyes, how badly she wanted that. It was moving.
Lexa was unique, and she brought an energy into the show. She inspired passion in much of the fanbase. She had so much more potential as a character. And if there aren’t any other characters like Lexa, there aren’t any other relationships like hers and Clarke’s, either.
They didn’t have to kill her. There were other ways of removing her from the immediate action, if the actress was going to work on something else. I get the impression that the show was trying to recreate the tragedy of Finn’s death from the previous season without understanding what actually made that plot point so powerful and unpredictable in the first place.
And this wasn’t the only such thing that the show failed to recreate this season, though it is certainly the most contentious. Another huge missed opportunity is Pike’s characterization, and by extension, some of Bellamy’s.
We are shown literally nothing else about Pike’s character aside from the insistence that his people need to be protected from every grounder. Every scene he’s in, this is the only point he ever makes. Every time he interacts with another character on camera, this is what he’s pushing. The show gives him nothing else to care about, spares no time to humanize him.
Season two was great because it showed us fully developed characters making decisions that were understandable even if they were terrible. It put the audience right there with them in that no-win situation, showing us the full array of awful choices available to them. The characters came to the conclusion themselves of what was necessary, and they generally accepted the consequences of those actions–knowing that what they’d done wasn’t ideal, but it was the best they could do. Knowing that it might even be unforgivable.
Pike didn’t need to have that, but there were other options to make his character add to the narrative. He could’ve been a man broken by his losses. He could have felt responsible for not being able to protect his people in the past. He could have hated the grounders not just with a reckless anger, but with a desperation, a personal need to hate them.
But he doesn’t get any of these things, because none of his appearances are about him. He’s there to show the complexity of the alliance on the Arker’s side without actually having to explore that complexity. He’s there to represent a point without actually embodying it. And it’s a missed opportunity, when he could have been used to make us feel the conflict and distrust instead of just telling us about it.
That same conflict and distrust is happening on the grounders’ end too, kindled by the Ice Nation. But it feels more real on that end, because we’re shown more about those characters than just one thing–and it really doesn’t take up that much screen time. The Ice Nation queen has a complicated relationship with her son. Titus disapproves of the alliance with the Arkers, openly displays that opinion to both Lexa and Clarke, and yet remains staunchly loyal to Lexa (at least until the show decides to do what it did with that storyline). These things hint at a depth of character even though both characters get very little screen time.
So why doesn’t Pike get something to make his character feel complex and real, too? It wouldn’t have to take that much time, and it would have gone a long way towards making the conflict among the Arkers feel as real as the one among the grounders.
There were still some great scenes, and the show managed to have different strengths than the previous season. But overall, I really don’t have the same confidence in The 100 that I had before.
“He really believes he’s doing the right thing.”
“Everybody always does.”