Email Roundtable #55 – The 100

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In this week’s roundtable, Kerri, Will and Mike attempt to discuss the CW sci-fi teen drama The 100. There are SIGNIFICANT DEATH spoilers galore for The 100 and also a few for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Black Sails. So, read on at your own risk.

Kerri: You presumably are NOT the target audience for this show, why do you watch it?

Mike: I’d like to start out by saying that I was the first one to start watching The 100 and by constantly emailing about it, I convinced everyone else to watch it (or at least bump it up in priority on their list). The reason why I decided to watch it was because Netflix had recommended it to me and it seemed to have good reviews. I had heard of it before, but never bothered to find out anything about it until that happened. I think what also helped was the fact that I had just finished watching the third season of Black Sails where Zach McGowan’s character is killed off after being one of the main characters since the start. I looked him up on IMDb because I was curious about what he was going to be working on next, and when I saw that he was in The 100, I decided to give it a shot.

After a few episodes, I was hooked. Sure, it has the silly CW teenage drama stuff (which can be super satisfying for my inner teenage girl), but it also combines a ton of other things that are cool. The basic premise of the show isn’t a particularly new one as far as science fiction goes, but way they combined the different elements is what I found interesting. They don’t bother explaining much about the back-story at first beyond “there was a war and civilization got blown up” so it leaves a lot of room for fan theories. There was a lot of sci-fi stuff in the first season. There’s the whole post-apocalyptic Mad Max thing going on, which I’m a huge sucker for. There are groups of people with different life experiences (Sky Crew vs Grounders vs Mount Weather) essentially trying to solve the same problem of how to survive. Plus, there’s all the usual cliché stuff that you can see coming a mile away and it’s full of hot chicks. What’s not to like?!

Will: Despite my wife’s constant teasing me about watching “that stupid Twilight show again”, The 100 has turned out to be a much deeper and darker sci-fi show than the first few tween drama-style episodes let on. It explores complex moral issues and doesn’t shy away from death, torture, and the horrors of war, including serious questions about why we fight and who our friends and enemies are. It rarely fails to introduce a completely hate-able villain or group, only to have us rooting for the very same people a few episodes later. The redemption arcs are many, and for the most part make sense and work. They work so well in fact that you want to resist it, “No”, you say, “That guy’s too much of a jerk! You can’t redeem them!” But in the end you start to like that character anyway, with only a few exceptions (Monty’s mom will forever be the WORST… meanwhile I’m secretly terrified that they might actually reform Jaha and make him likeable again).

Kerri: Yes, it’s true, Mike badgered me, Will (and a few other friends) incessantly until we started watching. Thank you, oh wise sage, Kurz. But I think we all deserve credit for how quickly and deeply we committed to the show once we started. The 100 (pronounced somewhat obnoxiously, The Hundred – less obnoxious than my insistence on calling it The Hundee, but I digress) is, ostensibly, a show about a group of teen prisoners living on a space station who get sent to earth, after a nuclear apocalypse, by their parents and the space station’s dickwad council (believe me, they’re dicks, their stance on crime and not utilizing their resources is maddening), to either find that it is inhabitable or find instead a slow and painful death. And, SPOILER ALERT, they find a little bit of both! OK, sure, a lot more of the latter (#moredeadfriends). There is war and genocide and sex and guns and romance and swords and underground parking garages and tons and tons of death. The premise is decidedly ridiculous and the show is fairly no-holds-barred in terms of both its content and pace (sometimes this is to the show’s detriment, more on that later), especially for a show aimed at a teenage audience broadcast on The CW. I’m not a person who always loves sci-fi (I find that clean aesthetic that most sci-fi loves to use super boring – luckily everyone on this show is even more gorgeous with dirt and scars on their faces) and I’m not super keen on violence. THANKFULLY, I do love shows centred around teenagers, especially ones with female leads, so it was pretty easy for me to buy in. Although it’s not as good, I’d say if you liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Lost, you might find something to like in The 100.

The other thing that I love about the show is its ethos surrounding sexuality and the fact that its main character and our heroine, Clarke, is bisexual and, refreshingly, it’s not commented on. It’s pretty damn rare on TV, let alone on a show for teens.

Where does this season rank for you in terms of quality – storytelling, character progression, etc.? Did the season finale change your opinion of the season as a whole?

Mike: If I had to rank the seasons, it would go 2, 1 and then 3. This third season as a whole is definitely the weakest for a few reasons.

For starters, I think Season 2 was super good, so it was going to be really hard to follow that up. Anything you put beside it is going to look even worse by comparison just because of what it’s sitting beside.

Secondly, Pike is too much of a cartoon villain that provides a distraction from the real bad guy. He’s got his motivations (Grounders killed all his dudes because they had the misfortune of crash landing in Jerkland) but they’re all contradictory to what we saw happen with the rest.

Thirdly, I think the main problem with Season 3 was the mess of plot lines in the first half. It jumps ahead a few months so there are suddenly a lot of changes which don’t get explained (as opposed to Season 2 which starts one day after Season 1 finished) and many of the characters are acting in ways that don’t really jive with what we’ve come to expect. Clarke is just chilling out in the woods, so the show tries to follow some of the other characters. The problem with this is that, at its core, I think The 100 is really “The Clarke Show.” When Clarke’s not doing stuff, the plot isn’t moving.

The season finale definitely changed my opinion of the season for the better. In fact, I’d say the whole second half arc was a big improvement. The first half tried to do too much so there isn’t a lot that ties it all together. The second half dropped all the side plots and gets everyone pointed in the same direction.

Will: This season definitely had some high notes but overall it was a bloody mess. The first two seasons where very straightforward. In the first, the kiddos land and spend the season exploring around and getting in the odd fight, climaxing with a big battle, along with a well done side-plot of the Ark coming to earth. Season two was straight up Mount Weather as the villain and everything being all about how to deal with that.

Season 3 starts us off with classic Grounder wars. The Ice Nation looks like the new bad guy, everything is going along as expected. And then all of a sudden they just start killing all of the major players they just introduced (Ice Queen for example), a new batch of Ark survivors come along and start indiscriminately committing genocide, and to top it off Jaha shows up and just outright enslaves everyone and the whole thing turns into an AI zombie clusterfuck.

I’m not saying I mind a good AI intrigue plot. It is sci-fi after all. My problem with this is how rushed it felt and how it rendered so much setup completely meaningless. Ice Nation? who cares. Ontari commander? Nah, lets just chip her. Ark politics? Again, just chip everyone. All those complex characters that spent two seasons growing, redeeming and becoming badasses? Chip them too!

I felt like the whole thing could have just been a few episodes tangent rather than the whole season. To top it off the ending was pretty dumb. Once again we get Clarke with her hand on a lame genocide lever and she has to decide whether to use it or do nothing. The arguments from both ALIE and Becca were pretty dumb and most of the final scene just had ALIE making her stupid faces at Becca and Clarke looking around all worried while a timer counts down, exactly like the end of season two. Just pull the damn lever, you know you are going to!

Kerri: I’d have to agree with you on the season rankings, Mike, (season 2, season 1, and then season 3) for almost entirely the same reasons that both of you mention. I think that character development stagnated for some characters and was utterly ignored for others (ahem, Bellamy) in the third season. Season 1 started laughably and un-ironically teen soap-esque but, after episode 5 or so, it hit its stride. Season 2 was the most consistent in terms of both story and pacing and the character arcs almost uniformly made sense.

Season 3 is rather universally considered a bit of a mess and I would contend that there were only three really strong episodes this season, “Wanheda: Part One”, “Thirteen” and “Perverse Instantiation – Part 2” (there is an argument to be made for “Nevermore”, due to Lindsey Morgan’s consistently stellar work as Raven, given a deserving grand showcase). Interestingly, these are the episodes that mark the beginning, (almost) halfway point, and end of the season, respectively. The elephant in the room, of course, is that “Thirteen” is the episode where Lexa dies and it would be strange in a review of season 3 not to at least mention the blowback that the show received from the fans because of this (in historical TV terms, Lexa is sort of like the Angel to Clarke’s Buffy but she goes out more like Tara). Lexa and Clarke were, fairly briefly, quite the formidable power couple both on the show and in the hearts of many fans. I think getting into any kind of debate about what the fans and show runners did before and after Lexa’s death would get into some murky territory so I will link to this rather superb article about what happened. (The comments section is also unusually respectful and informed – fair warning: this is a bit of a rabbit hole). I will say, though, that the reason I consider “Thirteen” among the best episodes this season is that it is as structurally sound an episode as we’ve seen on The 100 and it also serves to tie together what, up to that point in the season, had been a mishmash of storylines. That isn’t to take anything away from what I think is a valid criticism about the trope-y way that Lexa died (I realize it feels dismissive to bring this up and then just walk away, but it is something that deserves more time, discussion and frankly more context than I can give it here).

The finale was exciting, fast-paced, fun and it was nice to see Lexa Warrior Princess again but, when I’m looking back at the season as a whole, I’m sure I’ll still remember it as the season where Bellamy changed into an entirely different character. ALIE and the Matrix-esque City of Light storyline was promising but it eventually had the effect of rendering the peripheral characters useless (and the showrunners really came within a hair’s breadth of painting themselves into a corner here) until they were out of ALIE’s grips.

Now, if the question was to rank the seasons in terms of the characters Clarke kisses, as cute as Finn was, this season would be tops.

This is going to be a kind of complicated question but one I’m hoping that we can at least contemplate because it’s something that The 100 often attempts to discuss (sometimes in rushed, unconvincing ways). As a show that examines the violence, sometimes torture and often murder that its characters inflict on others, often because they simply don’t have enough information and have convinced themselves that what they are doing is their “only choice”, where do you think it stands morally? That is to say, is this a show that loves vengeance as plot, the “blood must have blood” mantra of the Grounders, or do you think there is room for some semblance peace in this world? I guess what my giant heart is saying (and hoping) is do you think love will win out?

Mike: Hmm… this is a tough one.

I think that since we, as viewers, are privy to more information about the goings on than the individual characters, it affects our judgement of actions because we can see when two characters are working against each other completely unintentionally. I don’t think there are many true “bad” guys on the show, though. Since survival is one of the main themes, I think it’s only natural that, when in doubt, characters act in their own self-interest or that of their friends/clan/crew/whatever. Even Pike was doing “bad” stuff, but for the “right” reasons.

Ontari is probably one of the only recent exceptions that comes to mind, but the show also doesn’t go much into her background so we don’t really know her motivations. She wants power and a sex slave named Murphy, and that’s all we ever really find out. Ostensibly, she wants Ice Nation (aka Canada) to be the strongest, but even her own people are tiptoeing around her. We’ll never know the truth now.

In terms of the show, I think that as long you’re doing stuff with good intentions, all is forgiven; and if bad stuff happens as a consequence, you can always frown for half an episode as you contemplate your actions.

If you think about it, though, “blood must have blood” (basically, an eye for an eye) is a pretty common way that societies have operated throughout history. If you’re living in a post-apocalyptic world, you don’t exactly have time to put people in jail and keep them there. You may not even have a jail, or want to spare resources taking care of jerks, in which case you may as well just chop them up! I think that after most of the Grounders have been exposed to the City of Light, they might want to start going back to a more chill lifestyle, so things could be looking up for a relatively peaceful existence.

Do I think love will win out? Maybe for some. Bittersweet endings are more interesting than happy ones.

Will: I would say they try pretty hard to make the case for peace, mostly through Clarke (Luna was a pretty big pacifist statement as well). Characters who act out of vengeance pretty much always turn out to be wrong, and the motives for going to war are consistently shown to be misguided at best.

But with Clarke they also make the case that sometimes killing is necessary. She is the commander of death after all and her kill count is probably the highest of anybody on the show. But her kills have pretty much always been out of necessity, she never really kills because she is angry at someone, in fact she has resisted that urge on multiple occasions, Emerson being the most obvious (and clearly sparing him was the wrong choice all the same). It’s always the mercy kill with her, or the big genocide switch to save all her friends. She never wants to do it, but she for the most part always makes the right choice.

I think this show is going to keep having characters that act irrationally killing people for vengeance or sport, but it’s going to keep throwing the tough and complicated kills at Clarke’s feet. I fully expect season 4 to end with “Pull this lever to save your friends from the nuclear disaster. Oh, but it will kill 95% of the planet in the process. But do nothing and 100% of the planet dies”. Clarke just can’t catch a break, and her kill count will just keep growing.

Kerri: For me, a good majority of this season was about the way that we choose to deal with pain, tough/bad decisions and death. Some of us choose to make the pain go away completely as our chipped friends do by entering the City of Light and some of us choose to “overcome pain” like Clarke says to ALIE before she pushes that lever. I think in some ways we were given an exploration of what happens when the pain of seeing your friends and loved ones get murdered becomes too much. And, frankly, what we learn is that watching a bunch of blissed out, pain-free people roam around a fake city is kind of boring, even if they are inflicting real pain on real humans in the real world.

The thing that I think the show knows extremely well is that you need real, convincing relationships in order to make anything resonate. So, yes, they pair up these kids and make them fall in love with each other so that when dramatic moments happen, when people die, the intent and hope is that the audience feels something. Sometimes these moments work more than others. When Lexa died, for instance, I was left a blubbering mess. When Lincoln died, not so much. The most interesting aspect of this season, for me, was this character realization that “blood must not have blood”, that as a society, as a world we only get through things together, and, profoundly, Lexa’s realization that love does not make you blind to what is going on around you, in fact it can make you more powerful.

The show has set up factions and from season 1 – 3 these factions were in constant, violent conflict. And conflict and violence can be dramatic. Like you say, these societies have built their criminal justice systems on this kind of eye for an eye, blood justice mentality. For the kids living on the Ark, surely many of their family members were “floated” for petty crimes, so all they really know is death as punishment for criminal behaviour. In a lot of ways we are dealing with a future that feels a lot like the past. But leaving things there ignores what the show has been grappling with the start, that the people doling out the punishments or making these horrific choices end up dealing with them, if they survive, because dealing with them, going through the sometimes torturous pain of them, overcoming them, is human. (And yes, the irony of me basically saying, “if you ignore the past, you are doomed to repeat it” while talking about a season that went out of its way to create conflict by completely ignoring its own recent past is not lost on me). You are right, these people are generally self-interested and they want their friends to survive. For the most part there are no true villains but they are all monsters. And they are also human. I haven’t talked yet about how refreshing it is for me to see a character like Clarke, essentially an action hero, cry. Clarke cries a lot, she’s emotional, she feels things deeply because she loves. And that makes her interesting.

Now, Clarke is set on saving the world and she needs everyone’s help to do that. And then there is our peacenik friend Luna and her merry band of misfits. There was love and peace out there on that oil rig until those asshole teens showed up. This is a really roundabout way of saying that if love doesn’t win outright (and the cynic in me says it won’t), it will have a hand in whatever saves the day. It already did once, this season, after all (albeit ultimately in a super violent fashion).

Who is your MVP this season? Who is your secret MVP this season?

Mike: My season MVP is Murphy. He just moves from scene to scene getting shit done, usually with a sarcastic remark about how no one else is doing anything. He started out as a jerk, but has steadily risen to the top while taking a crazy amount of punishment and abuse. He’s been hanged, tortured, stabbed, locked in solitary confinement for three months, beaten, tortured more and forced to be a sex slave to Ontari.

My secret MVP is Harper. As one of the few supporting characters that hasn’t died yet, she’s obviously got some kind of super power. We just haven’t seen it yet.

Will: MVP would have to be Murphy for holding his own and making a difference, without having to really be part of any of the silly groups.

My secret MVP is Monty, because he pleasantly surprised me. I was predicting for a long time that he would cave and eat the dumb chip just because of his terrible Mom being in the City of Light. I would have never thought he would have the stones to just delete her and move on, but he did, and I have to give him respect for that.

Kerri: My MVP of this season and every season is the Commander of Death, our Wanheda, Queen C, the fabulous Ms. Clarke Griffin.

My secret MVPs of this season are the two utility players, Murphy and Raven. You can throw them into any scene, any situation, with any other character and that scene is instantly better. My hope for season 4 is that Raven will get a bit more to do (something, anything where she isn’t just standing in front of a computer would be an improvement) and Murphy will continue to be his hilarious cockroach self.

The show plays fast and loose with romantic relationships. The pairings are often surprising and usually really fun. Who are you are hoping will pair up in season 4?

Mike: I think Bellamy should hook up with a tree because he’s so wooden.

Raven really needs someone to love. She’s had a lot of tough luck, so it would be nice to see her being happy about more than just robots.

Will: Clarke and Bellamy is pretty obvious, seems kind of inevitable at this point. I’m gonna go out on a limb though and say Roan is still alive and Clarke is definitely gonna get together with him.

Kerri: You know who has been really unlucky (like, I mean, REEEAAAALLLY unlucky) in love? Our boy and emo-king, Jasper. I’m hoping that Jasper falls in love with something that can’t die, like a rock. Although, now that I’m thinking about it, most of our teen heroes have lost at least one significant other (some more significant than others) throughout these three seasons. Octavia’s boyfriend – dead, Bellamy’s girlfriend – dead, Clarke’s boyfriend and girlfriend – dead and also dead, Raven’s boyfriend – dead, everyone Jasper even dares to look at with moony eyes – dead. Maybe it’s better if these kids don’t hook up.

Speculation time! Where does the show go from here? What do you think will happen in season 4?

Mike: Now that we know the world is going to be completely irradiated in six months, I think the next season is going to be all about convincing people about the impending doom and making everyone work together. This is probably going to involve using some broken technology that they find that only Sky Crew people can understand. Of course, there’s going to be some people who don’t believe it so they’ll think this is just another crazy Clarke moment.

There’s also the whole Luna situation. She could still show up and decide to be the Commander instead of pouting on that oil rig. I think there’s a really good chance that there’s going to be more of her in the next season.

Will: Well, the logical thing would be that all the chip zombies learned stuff from the City of Light and will now be more amenable to working together, so that probably won’t happen. I expect the beginning of the season will setup some sort of alliance where the skaikru are legit members of the coalition and everyone is playing nice. Then somebody will do something incredibly asinine and it will all turn to infighting again.

Obviously, they have set up this new nuclear apocalypse thing, because you know, radiation is something this show has never done before… I fully expect that the promise of a concerted effort to fix everything will quickly make way to everything going to shit, meaning we will get Clarke and Bellamy leading a rag-tag group of teens on an epic quest to just fix everything themselves like they always do.

My biggest prediction though, is that Jaha will redeem himself and end up being important. He wasn’t killed, and as I said, this show can’t resist a redemption arc, the bigger the better. I hate Jaha and I’m sure you all do too. I’ll spend several episodes cursing him and refusing to accept it. But eventually we all know he’s going to pull some world saving revelation heroics out of his ass, be the big hero and drag himself back into our good graces. Most likely ALIE told him a bunch of important stuff that nobody else knows.

Just watch, first couple episodes everyone will want to kill him, they’ll probably lock him up, and schedule an execution at dawn. But he’ll tell Clarke something helpful, she will stand up and give a passionate speech about “blood must not have blood”, everyone will listen to her because reasons, and he will be a free man, possibly even leading again before long.

Kerri: The 100 moves at a breakneck pace and this can be really fun but it can also hinder both story and character. What I think takes this show from good to great (and what I’m suggesting here is that it is not great yet) is meaningful character work. What this or any show needs to do in order to explore the really great characters it has created is SLOW THE FUCK DOWN. I’m not saying the show needs to be slow all the time, part of the joy is the rollercoaster, but every so often it needs to think a bit more about who these people are in time and space. The 100 is pretty damn good at moving fast but I haven’t yet seen it be very good at moving more slowly. The 100 often stalls and pads when it could expand. I’d take a full episode where Clarke and Abby talk (and probably cry) about their feelings over and episode where a moustache twirling villain stalks the kid crew in the Ark. All great shows change the pace every so often and I think The 100 would greatly benefit from stretching out. Think about it, slowing down could have saved the Bellamy-Pike mess as it would have allowed us to see Bellamy change and be swayed by Pike rather than just being told that he had.

In addition to a hope for a slower season, I’m betting that we will continue with world-building and world-navigating, seeing more groups of people/survivors from different areas. I also want ships and not the space kind! I’ve been saying this since mid-way through the season but I think ships could be fun, especially since they’d have to contend with SEA MONSTERS (yep, there are sea monsters on this show). Also, once and for all, I’d like to know where the women on this show find their unending supply of mascara.

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