Choice and Tragedy: A look at Season Three of The 100

The 100 has always been a tragic show. Characters engaging in actions that are best questionable and at worst, genocidal, are committed in order to protect their people. The strength of the show has been that by and large, these actions have been understandable and organic. Events are set in motion that no one person can stop and are forced to respond to in kind. Season’s 3 biggest failure at the halfway mark is that the horrible actions committed aren’t so organic. It feels like an intrusion to the world, retread previous plot points and straining the suspension of disbelief. Let’s not waste any time and jump into it.

The main problem with this season is Pike, a hitherto unknown member of the Ark who has spent his entire time on the ground fighting Grounders; as a result he’s become an expansionist xenophobe who has plunged Arkadia/Skaikru into yet another war with the Grounders. There are some good ideas here: expanding the cast by having more survivors from the Ark show up and expressing a less than conciliatory view than Kane. It’s just that Pike had ‘warmonger’ written all over him from his first scene and his actions make little sense given what has already been established.

Pike’s introduction as someone who has been fighting Grounders for the past four or five months and losing at least a third of his people to them is a fine enough character idea. But we never saw any of these people on the Ark, never heard them mentioned in season two and what little information we had about the Ice Nation before season three was that they were more brutal than the Grounders we’ve seen so far. Pike is an expansion of the world, he isn’t a character we’ve grown attached to over the seasons, there’s no goodwill or any other type of buy in like there was with the Mountain Men. The concept is fine, a leader within Arkadia who doesn’t trust the Grounders, but the actions taken are what make him unsympathetic and unbelievable.

Skaikru not trusting Grounders makes perfect sense. The most interaction that the average person has amounts to being threatened by them in various capacities and Lexa’s betrayal at Mount Weather, followed by an uneasy peace and Azgeda shenanigans. On one hand, you have Kane and Abby, who accept that this world they live in and want to make a new world, a better world. The only way to do so is to have Skaikru become the 13th clan; which makes just enough sense given the rushed GoT vibe that the Polis plotline had. To the average Arkadian, becoming the 13th clan would be a bitter pill to swallow at best.

The first problem we encounter is blowing up Mount Weather. The conflict in the season premiere of how the 12 Clans would respond to Skaikru occupying the mountain and having Pike be the one to push for occupation is a good source of friction that can lead to other things. It blowing up escalates tension really fast and to a place that’s unbelievable. The decision to slaughter 300 people sent to protect you, the decision to slaughter 300 people without provocation is morally abhorrent in a way that no other action on this show has been. Every other action has had justification to it, a sense that it has to be done by the characters because there’s no other option for your people to survive in an action, reaction sort of way. This massacre was taken completely on Pike’s initiative and was the platform he got elected as Chancellor on.

Even if you set aside the morality of the action, the viewer is left wondering how anyone thinks this will end well for them. The Grounders have mobilized thousands upon thousands of warriors to surround Arkadia before and have the power to wipe them out if they were willing to pay that high a price in life to do so. How do a handful of more guards and guns change that equation? How does Arkadia have enough people to maintain any sort of lebensraum?

Factoring in the morality, that this was what Pike became Chancellor on, the promise of doing this, it means that everyone who voted for him bears some of the blame. While Pike’s election has some unpleasant connotations of democracy being an impediment to the heroes, on some level you have to look at the text and not the metatext. Arkadia bears collective responsibility for what happened, and it makes harder to be invested in saving the place. It also means that everyone who sides with Pike are tainted and the show will have to work to redeem them.

Everything since the massacre has been further downhill, which is surprising. There’s the forced relocation of a village, which is essentially ethnic cleansing. There’s also instituting domestic surveillance, which for all the horrors that the Ark had as daily life didn’t do. It’s hard not to agree with Harper’s assessment of the situation “shock lash Pike’s fascist ass”.

Of course, you can’t discuss Pike without discussing Bellamy, whose descent into villainy has been contentious to say the least. While Bellamy doesn’t trust Grounders as a whole, having him go along with all of Pike’s horrible stuff because his love interest got fridged is incredibly weak writing. Bellamy’s character has essentially been destroyed for many, myself included and am skeptical that he can be redeemed.

All in all, this puts in a place we’ve seen before. Two sides teetering on the brink of war with the death of a single person needed to resolve this without wholesale slaughter. The different being that the show contorted itself to make Finn committing a war crime believable and the show actually spent time on it.

In order to be complete, there’s the City of Light plotline with Jaha, which started off slow and shaky and has skyrocketed in quality. There’s not much else say at this point.

Choices have consequences and beget their own choices. The context of these choices matter and what is perceived as tragic necessity is radically different than seizing the initiative. Till next time.

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There’s always a reason: Death on the 100

 

This season of The 100 has been a rollercoaster of quality so far. While season 2 was a slow burn to get things underway, season three started off with action. Not only that, but it has learned how to balance multiple storylines in a way that makes each of them more engaging. This week I’ll be talking about the Polis plotline and its midseason climax with 3×07 “Thirteen”. Let’s not waste any time and jump in. Spoilers up to 3×07 of the 100 CW: Death

The Polis plotline started off of as a Game of Thrones wannabe, the scheming between Lexa and Azgeda, with all of its death and plots could have easily fit into King’s Landing. It’s only fitting that we, and Clarke, were properly introduced to this plot by Lexa’s reappearance. In a way, all the machinations were a backdrop and catalyst to Clarke and Lexa’s relationship, and it worked well enough. While this season has been plowing through plot points, sometimes to the detriment of credibility, this part holds together.

Before continuing, it’s relevant to layout my opinion of Lexa as a character, as it informs the rest of my thought process. I am not the biggest fan, while I was happy about Lexa being a lesbian, as it meant more representation and showed that Clarke was bi, I didn’t like her for much else. I saw her introduction, relationship and influence on Clarke as the show running headfirst into nihilist misery and all the tired antihero tropes of the past decade-plus.* So season three had to do a lot to win me over that this wasn’t a waste of time, and by the time of “Thirteen” it did. The fact that Titus was the one pushing the “hard men making hard decisions” ideology and its refutation certainly helped. So with all that said, let’s turn our attention to where most of the action happens, 3×07 “Thirteen”.

This episode does a lot. It ties together the world’s mythology, expounds upon parts that were already known and sets the stage for the future. It has Clarke and Lexa actually be intimate and enter a relationship, or as much of a relationship as those two could have given their responsibilities. It also has Lexa anticlimactically killed by a stray bullet in a manner that is highly reminiscent of Tara’s death from Buffy the Vampire Slayer 14 years earlier.

Yes, it was well done within the context of the episode. Yes, it made the most sense given the contractual obligations that Lexa’s actress has. Yes, it fit in with the story that the writers have decided to tell and told us a lot about the world’s mythology. Yes, this is another case of a MOGAI woman being killed on TV, often in grisly fashion.

I can’t personally relate to what it’s like to have representation of yourself dangled in front of you and killed, time after time after time. Or having your interest in something stoked with hints and innuendoes instead of clear and open representation. I can understand on an intellectual level, the problems with the writing. I can understand on a moral level, and to some degree on an emotional level, but it’s not the same as seeing yourself. It is always important to hear those voices on this issue, such as this blog here. And this wasn’t all for all for naught, as fans have decided to capitalize on this to raise awareness.

Life is what you make of it. People don’t inherently have arcs and their worth is intrinsic. This isn’t the same case in fiction were good characters experience arcs and narrative cohesion is based upon things like narrative cohesion. Characters are made so the people telling the stories can say something about life and entertain the audience. So when a character ides, it’s to serve a purpose. Not all characters are created equally, not all deaths are created equally and the stories we tell ourselves reflect on ourselves and back again. There’s no reason why “Thirteen” had to end the way it did except for what the writers chose to do.

Ultimately, fiction comes down to the choices that its creators make. While The 100 has always been a mixed bag, this particular mixed bag has more issues and depth to it. Next week, I’ll be looking at the other major plots in The 100’s season three: Arkadia and the City of Light. Till then.

 

*The betrayal at Mount Weather in the season two finale also didn’t sit well with me, but the writers appear to have written off the Reapers and that decision makes sense in-universe.

 

 

Comparison in Disabled Representation: Daredevil and Toph

Netflix has reminded me that Daredevil is a thing they make, and as of the writing of this post will have a second season next week. It reminded me of a problem I had with the first season that I didn’t touch on in my review; Daredevil isn’t good representation of the blind. Now given how few disabled characters there are, let alone, blind characters on TV this is a problem. In order to illustrate this I thought it would make sense to compare him to a case of good representation: Toph Beifong from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Let’s not waste any time and jump in.

Before continuing, I myself am legally blind and this is just my personal opinion. Also I’m only talking about the Daredevil show.

So what’s the problem with Daredevil? The premise of his powers, that losing his vision has enhanced his other senses, is nonsense. There’s a difference between having to utilize your remaining senses in order to come up with tricks to function in a world that isn’t designed for people like you. But this a common misconception as conveying that idea to the abled, or the less aware disabled even. That his blindness came from a chemical spill isn’t a meaningful counter though. First, because of the aforementioned ideas in the real world, secondly Skip, his mentor is similarly blind with no explanation and finally because chemical spills are mundane. Becoming bind from a chemical spill is mundane. It’s not the same as being bitten by a spider that’s been experimented on or being exposed to radiation or being infused with the powers of an ancient god via holy relic. The show wants everything to be relatively mundane so that’s how one reads it.

The other problem is how rarely Daredevil being blind comes up. It comes up for Matt Murdock all the time, but for Daredevil? There’s maybe one scene where he does something with the lights to his advantage. Also the fact that he has quasi sonar vision with everything on fire is tacky. All in all Daredevil’s blindness seems like a negative character flaw you take in a tabletop game to get extra points and then set it up so that flaw never actually comes up.

Toph is a blind character whose blindness actually matters. Her parents don’t let her do anything. She “sees” through her feet, a workaround that causes problems multiple times throughout the series. At the same time, she’s able to manage her disability. It’s how she was able to learn earthbending and figure out metalbending. Toph is a fully realized character whose disability is a part of her and it impacts her.

And there’s the core of writing disabled characters: having them be fully realized characters. The other trick is write about their disabilities truthfully. As I’ve written before, it’s not hard, except for all the things that make it hard. Till next time.