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.

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.

 

 

Review: The 100 Season 2

            The 100 on the surface sounds like little more than a focus group tested, demographic pleasing triumph of mediocrity. It’s based off of a YA dystopia series with a female lead and it airs on the CW. But despite a rocky start, the first season developed a compelling cast of characters who shone through a less than fully developed setting. While it had its bad moments, the first word I always thought of to describe the show was ‘competent’. It was the moments that rose above that competence and were able to evoke some emotional response that had me stay through the rocky start and look forward to the second season. Now that I’ve been able to watch it a second time, as it’s available via Netflix streaming, it seemed like a good time for me to gather my thoughts and share.

While season two retained the core of season’s one appeal, it also seemed to gather a lot more crud around it. This is partly because of the longer season and partly due to the tonal shift that the show takes. Season two is 16 episodes, three more than season one, and it does not use them well. Plots meander to a conclusion and there are a lot of B plots that don’t really go anywhere. (This also makes the show pretty poor when binge watching it compared to spacing out episodes) These plots are entertaining enough, but they don’t connect well together in a cohesive whole. It’s a testament to the characters, the acting and writing carries them above the incomplete world they operate in. What matters is that you are entertained in this scene, in this episode, not that the whole season makes sense, because it doesn’t.

In terms of tone, the show was never cheerful, but the characters were never cavalier about the terrible things they did. There was always a moral voice of dissension; but those protestations wear thin over repeated use and become less frequent. The territory that show goes into by the end has me calling the show downright nihilistic. A post apocalyptic set up where all factions find they have no choice in doing horrible things, repeating the sins of the past.

On a technical level, the show has either improved or maintained its competence. The scenery is what you’d expect, well-made indoor sets and the woods of Vancouver. The actors have grown into their characters and the new characters are unremarkable at the very worst. The special effects and fight cinematography are fairly impressive, considering that this is a TV show. The music is the only downside, as the usage of whatever flavor of pop is in vogue is gratuitous and annoying.

Despite these flaws, it’s worth repeating that the characters still work and that there are still moments when something shines through. It’s flawed, but it’s still entertaining enough that if you liked the first season and don’t mind the problems I outlined then you should at least give it a shot.

Trigger Warning: Alcohol, Guns, Medical experimentation, Death, Mass Murder

Beware of spoilers ye who enter

 

When talking about season two, it’s important to start with the show’s structure. There are 16 episodes, that aired as two half seasons. The first half is concerned with the fallout from the season one finale. Fallout in this case means several things: getting everyone who isn’t in Mount Weather back together, hashing out the leadership of the Sky People, ending the conflict with the Grounders and setting up the Mountain Men as the new antagonists. A lot of these plotlines involve Finn, so it makes sense to focus in on him compared to a more thorough but less substantive checklist view.

Finn was the one who saw history repeating itself and did everything he could to stop it from passing. His was the dissenting moral voice that often got drowned out by forces beyond his control but he served as a physical manifestation of moral boundaries. In the second season, this is discarded as he becomes obsessed with finding Clarke. He has no problems in ambushing Grounders, executing prisoners, leaving someone to die, or massacring a village. The ideas that Finn would go to great lengths to find Clarke and that all the shit he’s seen have finally started to get to him aren’t bad, but it’s a note that the writers keep hitting so the impact is dulled with each subsequent use. But those sequences, however good they may be in their own right, aren’t taken as a whole; they cease to exist once the episode is over. Hitting that note over and over again is a poor writing technique, but it’s one that works on some level. Furthermore, it’s just a buildup to what Finn’s purpose in the season: the village massacre.

Finn’s credibility as the moral dissenter is wiped away, his crime largely ignored by the rest of the Sky People and used to reinforce the conflict with the Grounders. It’s incredibly tacky and distasteful. The build up to the massacre itself strains credibility and the response from the other Sky People is disturbingly muted. What should be a major event is quickly brushed over by everyone until the Grounders force them to deal with it.

The Mount Weather plotline, for the entire season, works with exception. The fact that it is entirely predicated upon poor communication is sloppy. Dante never reaches out to Abby or Kane or gives a reason for just banking on the 47 to fix the radiation problem. While one can argue that it’s a part of the season’s theme of how humans are doomed to poor communication and war, it’s executed in a poor manner.

One of the conceits of YA fiction is that adults are useless, and The 100 follows on that trope, at least with the Skye People. It goes out of its way to make Abby, Kane and Jaha useless. The first two rehash their conflict from the first season, which is annoying, moreso because the show points that out. All of three of them are focused on the whole and are willing to sacrifice the people inside Mount Weather in order to keep everyone else alive(or just act contrary) in order to engender conflict with Clarke. Our heroes, through crafty planning and circumstances outside their control, end up calling the shots. It works well enough, but the circumstances involved aren’t terribly engaging once you move out of the target demographic.

So the half season ends with Finn killed to cement and the Mountain Men moving onto bone marrow to fix their problems. (There’s some spectacularly bad science this season) Which sets the stage for waging a war on Mount Weather….that somehow lasts for eight episodes. The show can now engage in retreading history and engaging in the worst accepts of human nature largely unstopped. A lot of these plotlines are actually good and it’s a not the worst attempt at being an ensemble, but there are two worth talking about: Clarke and Jaha.

Clarke shows that she’s from the Ark as she becomes hardened, with encouragement from Lexa and only stops after committing genocide. While she does at least recoil at the end of the season, I’m really not interested in watching grimdark shows where the Heroes are Hard People making Hard Decisions. While Lexa being the exact opposite of Finn and pushing Clarke to be harder is something I’m not on board with, I am happy for more diversity with Clarke being Bi (the show not saying the word is a different matter though) I’m also not really keen on shows being self aware of things and thinking that their self awareness means recycling tropes is good; but Kane’s exchange with Abby in the ruins of Tondic really sold me this time, even if it is short of payoff.

                        Kane: Clarke escaped? She knew it was coming?

Abby: Yes. How could she do something like this?

Kane: Because she grew up on the Ark. Because she learned things from us.

Abby: She let this happen. She could’ve stopped it.

Kane: She made a choice. Like executing people for stealing….medicine…and food. Like the    sucking the air from the lungs of 300 parents so they could save their children.

Abby: Like floating the man you love to save your people.

Kane: Yes, we have to answer for our sins Abby.

Abby: After everything we done, do we even deserve to survive?

Jaha is a man who has lived his life making impossible decisions and feeling sorry about it. He’s a finished character, while Kane and Abby have some degree of self-awareness and want to move beyond that, Jaha can’t. He’s sorry that he made those decisions, but he’s not sorry that he carried them out. Not only that, but he needs to believe that his story isn’t over, that everything means something, and he won’t tolerate anyone getting in his way. He’ll sacrifice anyone to further his own story. Jaha isn’t exactly a good guy and his whole arc this season was set up for next season.

Which brings us to the other problem that the season has with a lot of build up and not a lot of payoff. Clarke needs to answer for what she did, not just self imposed exile. Jaha needs to be guided to burn the world again for starters. But the status quo being shaken up by the Grouder-Sky People alliance dissolving is somewhat nonsensical in and of itself, but it throws a lot of stuff sideways. The ending is fine, but there’s no real denouement so it’s just leaves the feeling of now what? And not in a good way. Sadly, we have to wait till next year for season three.

The 100 isn’t the best show on the air right now, but it is an entertaining and interesting show. I just hope that season three can move past the flaws of the first two seasons. I don’t know what I’ll be talking about next week. Till next time.