6:30 pm EST, July 13, 2018

‘The 100’ 5×09 ‘Sic Semper Tyrannis’ review: The enemy of my enemy…’s enemy

The 100 5×09 “Sic Semper Tyrannis” breaks the rest of the season wide open, bringing many long-building storylines to a head in unexpected, yet long-anticipated, ways.

How do we get to peace? How to we break the patterns of the past and find a way to avoid perpetuating the endless cycle of violence, of war, of us vs them?

Do we do it by building on what came before? Do we draw on history, of experience, of memories – our own and those who came before us? Or do we build something new, fresh, untainted?

Related: The 5 best character evolutions in The 100 season 5

The 100 has asked these questions since the very beginning. And it is really beginning to feel like season 5 is, at least in part, attempting to answer them.

Between Diyoza (a visionary who remembers life before the war), Madi (the last ‘good guy,’ who now carries the wisdom of the leaders that came before her) and the people working tirelessly to break past patterns – Kane, Bellamy, Monty, Indra – peace feels more possible, more tangible, than it ever has before.

Even in absolute chaos, when friends become enemies and everyone is fighting us vs them battles on the micro level, for nuclear families, peace feels possible.

But so does death. Destruction. Broken fences that can never be mended. Octavia’s tears at the very end is a representation of just how horribly twisted everything has become, and how hopeless it seems. I speak a lot about the possibility of peace and resolution in my reviews, but I am well aware of what show I am watching. Heartbreak is just around the corner — but that doesn’t mean we can’t have Hope.

Here is my review of the absolutely breathtaking, emotionally devastating episode of The 100, “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” written by the brilliant Miranda Kwok and directed by Ian Samoil.

Head vs heart

So much for “together.”

One of the main reasons for doing the time jump was to allow the character dynamics to reshuffle, and to bring in an additional layer of tension between who they were (to each other) and who they’ve become (to other people).

For Bellamy and Clarke, who were always each other’s primary confidante, the obvious story choice was to give them each their own separate family and create a hotpot of tension where each manoeuvre for peace left one family unit exposed.

For a while, their reunion was effortless: alone with Wonkru, united against the weirdness, the two of them had a brief window in which to reconnect before they had to face their new realities — and what six years apart actually meant for their relationship.

(It is interesting that what drives them apart is actually Octavia — Bellamy’s original family, who he already betrayed in favor of both SpaceKru and Clarke.)

Clarke threw the first stone, as it were, by making a deal with Diyoza that required ‘taking out’ Octavia. Bellamy’s relatively calm reaction to that decision already proved how much he’s grown into his leadership role: he’s certainly a long way from the last time Clarke gambled with Octavia’s life, in 4×11 “The Other Side,” where he was the one chained in that room, screaming at Clarke, for the life of his closest family member.

Bellamy not only went along with Clarke’s plan to kill Cooper; when that fell apart and Clarke, too, was on the brink of being taken from him, Bellamy actively chose Clarke, his people, and peace, over Octavia.

And while he poisoned her with the intent to put her in a coma, this episode suggests that Bellamy was indeed ready to accept that Octavia might actually die as a result of his actions. He even went so far as to obscure the source of her illness and prevent Jackson from being able to properly care for her!

And let’s think about that: Bellamy was ready to let his sister die for the greater good. Not since Clarke watched Abby hang because she couldn’t bring herself to save her mother at the cost of the whole world have we seen a character make such a sacrifice.

After crossing that line, there was no going back for Bellamy. Stubborn as he has ever been, as they all are, Bellamy is now 100% committed to the method he believes will bring them to peace. There is no show like The 100 where characters bullheadedly cling to their ‘only choice’ du jour and barrel ahead in a desperate effort to avoid admitting that perhaps they might have gone too far. Backtracking is not an option! (I am a lot like this too, actually. Maybe that’s why I like the show so much.)

Anyway, it shouldn’t be hard to understand that once Bellamy poisoned his sister, there was nothing he wouldn’t do to stop the war, which would justify that initial choice in the process. The end only justifies the means if you achieve that end, after all. Making Madi the Commander (like Clarke wanted to make Luna the Commander in season 3) is an extreme, but logical, last-ditch effort to save the day, so he does it. (All things considered, the fact that he still gives her a choice is noteworthy.)

Bellamy solved his trolley problem when he let the train run over Octavia rather than Shallow Valley, and that train is still rolling. “Clarke will never forgive you,” Madi tells Bellamy. And he knows that. But he’s already accepted that Octavia won’t, if she even survives what he did to her. Now Clarke might hate him too, but she’ll live. They all will.

We can debate whether Madi was too young to make this choice, if she made it under fair circumstances, and/or whether Clarke really should have the right to make autonomous decisions on Madi’s behalf. But ultimately – as always – there is no right option, and no obvious right side. Each character draws their own moral line (killing Cooper, poisoning Octavia, letting Clarke be executed, putting the Flame in Madi’s head), on the basis of their own morality, priorities, and personal attachments. Bellamy is no different. Clarke is no different.

While Bellamy might not have let a proverbial train run over Madi, he did put her at risk, and even assuming the ascension wouldn’t be dangerous, he still painted a massive target on her back. When Clarke says he made his choice, she is right (even though she might not be fully aware of what and who he chose).

So backed into a corner, Clarke acts out of desperation, not willing or able to spare one thought for the big picture. And can you blame her? Madi is not just her family, she is her only family (or so it feels to Clarke), and she is her responsibility. The people she thought she could trust are gambling with the life of this child that has come to mean the world to her. Believing that Bellamy has chosen his family, Clarke chooses hers.

But being so easily manipulated by Octavia, literally making a deal with the devil that ruins every chance of peace, and likely gets all of her allies in this fight executed, for one chance of leaving the war behind with Madi? That is beyond a full-circle moment; beyond a heart/head reversal.

The decision to burn everything to the ground and run for the hills speaks to how much those six years alone have truly impacted Clarke’s psyche: in this episode, she feels every bit of that overwhelming emotional isolation that audiences have picked up on throughout the season.

I’ve said before that the continued narrative isolation of Clarke, which has really been building since season 3, is not exactly my favorite thing about the show. Giving her an all-consuming bond with a new character (Lexa; Roan; Madi) in isolation from the main group is great in its own way, but it doesn’t quite make up for her diminishing lack of personal interactions with her would-be friends.

And that is exactly why I like seeing the conflict between Bellamy and Clarke come to a head here: because I hope it finally leads to this isolation being vocalized — and then for the show to finally move on from it.

“Eden” was such an excellent episode, partially because of how self-sufficient it allowed Clarke to be, but also because we got to see her feel things for her friends, both those she lost and those she hoped one day to find again. She missed them desperately, she told Madi stories about them, she talked to them every day… but once reunited, she went right back to feeling like an outsider. And in this episode, she acted like one.

The events of this episode is proof, to Clarke, that she isn’t part of Bellamy’s new family — so she shuts him out of hers. Suddenly this big void around Clarke is made textual, because if Clarke had gotten to reconnect with anyone besides Bellamy over the past eight episodes, this betrayal might not have cut so deep.

But she didn’t. She has no real significant bond, or sense of loyalty, to anyone else in Polis. Not Octavia, or Monty, or Harper, or Miller, or Jackson, or Niylah. Aside from Madi, Bellamy was literally all Clarke had, and now that he has (in her eyes) betrayed her, there is nothing to do but grab the only person she considers her true family and run for hills, for Eden, for her mother.

But we know Bellamy does consider her to be part of his family; we know SpaceKru, at least, missed Clarke as much as she missed them. We know there are (a few) people in this world that still consider Clarke their friend.

So hopefully this big emotional void that has dominated Clarke’s story for most of the season will be vocalized and cleared up in the last few episodes, with their biggest conflict yet forcing Clarke and Bellamy to finally have this big, difficult conversation that will maybe, hopefully, put them all on the same wavelength for season 6.

Ascension Day

All bow to Commander Madi kom Clarkekru, rightful heir to Shallow Valley and bringer of peace. ‘Commandi’ for short.

As shocking as it was to see her ascend under these circumstances, it was obvious from the beginning that Madi was made to take the Flame. Everything about her and her place in the story have led to this moment.

She is this story’s Chosen One, and the way the Commander lore has been threaded through the entire story, it was inevitable that we would one day see a trueborn Nightblood put the Flame in their head.

And I love that it is Madi. I love that it is this fresh, pure soul that rose from the ashes of Praimfaya, raised by Clarke, that should continue the Heda line. She might well be the last Commander they ever have, but she’ll be a worthy one.

I know I keep referring to Madi as ‘the last good guy,’ but that’s really the best way to describe her. Not only she she a good person, but she has the rare capacity to see good in others, and to extend compassion to her would-be enemies. She wants to spare lives; a sharp contrast to Clarke’s newfound ‘kill or be killed’ mindset.

She and Clarke might be family, but they see the world very differently. Despite the traumas in Madi’s own past, the world has not broken her like it’s broken Clarke. Since her introduction, Madi has acted independently of Clarke, usually heroically, proving herself to be smart, strong, brave, and noble. An archetypical hero in a narrative that usually shuns such unambiguity.

But if we can have a pure villain in McCreary, we can have a pure hero in Madi. We live in a tumultuous time, and have started to look to fiction for heroes. Even on The 100, we look for heroes, which is why the narrative suddenly has room for someone as good as Madi, and why she is such a refreshing addition to the story.

Of course all that isn’t to say we should expect the reign of Madi to be good and prosperous and without complication. For one, she isn’t even technically done with her ascension, seeing as she didn’t recite the lineage. Octavia is still Blodreina, and Madi – for all that she’ll want to throw herself into the fight and help set things right – is still a 13-year-old girl under the guardianship of ‘mama bear’ Clarke Griffin.

For now, I’m very excited to see the Flame story continue through her eyes, and to learn more about how it actually works. What exactly does she now have access to? We know she won’t have previous Commanders’ memories, since Lexa didn’t have Becca’s memories, but it seems she might have been ‘fed’ some information from the Commanders that now live in her brain.

What things might they tell her? What else could the Flame unlock? As someone deeply invested in the mythology of this world, I am thrilled at the possibilities. Madi might be the key to everything now, not just by the power she wields but by the information she has access to.

And, just as I hoped Octavia would listen to Indra’s wisdom, I hope Clarke takes a moment to listen to Madi’s.

Thus always to tyrants

I believe I noted a few weeks ago that Octavia sentencing Clarke to death and leaving Madi without a mother was a total full-circle moment from the Octavia who had been harboring so much hate and resentment for the leader that did that to her family.

But maybe it is the sentencing of Indra – who is as good as her mother, and even regards herself as such – that truly marks that full circle being completed. Octavia hated Jaha, and the system he worked within, for killing her mother. Now, she is not only following in his footsteps, she is reenacting her own trauma beat for beat.

And it’s not just Jaha. As has been noted, Bellamy falling to his knees in the arena was a perfect mirror of Lincoln falling to his knees right before Pike executed him. Octavia did that to him. Octavia is becoming Pike, too. By sentencing what remains of her own family to death, she is hurting herself like those past leaders hurt her.

Whatever chance at becoming a better version of herself Octavia had back when she first founded Wonkru, she didn’t take it. Instead she chose the darkness, and to punish herself for that, she is actively transforming herself into her own worst nightmare.

Obviously Octavia is driven by power, vengeance, and a perverted sense of righteousness. What she is doing is, irrefutably, horrific, and Indra and Bellamy were right to (try to) put an end to it. But there is more going on with her: it is so clear that Octavia is in so much pain, and not just because her loved ones betrayed her.

I could be wrong, but I think a lot of what is driving her desperate actions to keep Wonkru together is the gnawing, all-consuming guilt a part of her feels for whatever happened in the Dark Year. She tries to blame Indra for what she did, but she did it, and she knows that. Which is why nobody is to speak to her about the Dark Year.

Octavia has become so harsh, so unyielding and cruel in an effort to keep Wonkru together because only its endurance now can justify what she did then (incidentally, this is the same logic that drives Bellamy’s actions this week). Blodreina is Octavia’s punishment, too.

And for all that, Octavia has so far been working very hard to overlook both Bellamy and Indra’s transgressions (and probably Gaia’s, too; there was no way she didn’t know about their ‘secret’ praying sessions). She didn’t want them in that pit. But there was no sweeping their transgressions under the rug this time. Her family tried to kill her, and everyone knows it.

Bellamy, Indra and Gaia are enemies of Wonkru. Octavia doing anything but put them in the fighting pits would essentially undermine her own command, possibly leading to Wonkru’s dissolution. Obviously I want her to do this — and she still might — but I understand why she doesn’t. Why she won’t break everything she built for the people she loved and who conspired to, at best, usurp her, and at worst assassinate her.

When she was left sitting on that throne, alone, crying, I realized that I want Octavia to reach a turning point for her, not for Bellamy or for big-picture peace. I want this to be the line she can’t cross, because I want her to come to some sort of reckoning with who she has become and who she wants to be. I’m not sure if we’re quite there yet, and I fear that we’re in for some major heartbreak before/if it happens, but man. I do hope she manages to find some way to break out of this self-destructive (and generally destructive) spiral.

I also, obviously, hope that everyone makes it out of that pit alive. I ask for so little!

‘Real warriors hate war, Gaia’

Honestly, the most unbelievable thing about this show is that Wonkru didn’t immediately follow Indra after that incredible speech! Emmy Award Nominee Adina Porter™ is doing such a spectacular job this season, and it is just so wonderful to see the show finally giving her the space to command the screen that she clearly deserves.

As I noted in a recent article, Indra is the character who benefited most from this time jump, because it boosted an already incredible character evolution that has been ongoing since her introduction in season 2.

Not only has the character been expanded and nuanced over the seasons, but she has genuinely learned from her experiences and evolved, now reaching a place where she is ready to take drastic action for what she believes to be in her people’s best interest.

She takes responsibility for her own and Octavia’s actions, because she recognizes that Octavia won’t. She, like Bellamy, is willing to risk everything to set things right. She believes so strongly in what she is doing that she puts both her children at risk in the process.

As any other character, Indra is not uncomplicated. But in this situation, there was no good choice, and she really did the best she could to right Octavia’s wrongs. Hopefully, hopefully a part of Octavia sees that.

Once in the arena, there is no telling what Indra will do, but I have a feeling she’ll want Gaia to walk out of there alive. (And who doesn’t?!)

The more I see of Gaia, the more I love her. If the story allowed for it, I think there is so much good they could do with her.

In this episode, Gaia acts as ever in the interest of her faith, but she is guided as much by conscience, and a stoic sense of principle. She is the one who insists that Madi has a choice. Of course she wants Madi to ascend, but not by any means possible. And she doesn’t want Indra to join her cause for the wrong reasons, either.

But Indra has a point when she says that Gaia molded Blodreina, too. The three of them do, to a certain extent, deserve both the credit and the blame for what Wonkru has become, making this horrific scenario as sickly inevitable as everything else that happened in this episode.

Gaia was willing to stand by Octavia, probably in part because of that sense of responsibility. Indra, meanwhile, argues (convincingly) that Octavia was the leader they needed then, not now. This isn’t the first time The 100 has touched on the importance of different leaders for different times, but it is the first time it has been so actively, pressingly relevant.

Octavia was the only one who could get them through the Dark Year, but the bunker is open now. Wonkru formed out of necessity and under very specific circumstances; if Wonkru is to endure against competing peoples, it needs to adapt and evolve. Red Queen theory. That is the point of view Indra represents.

But in the here-and-now, she still conspired against Octavia, whom she loves, and who (somewhere, deep down) loves her. And she still landed her daughter in that fighting pit with her. Yet more wounds that might never heal, for whoever is left standing.

The best-laid plans…

First of all: SpaceKru continues to be my absolute favorite found-family unit on this show. Even with Monty and Harper peaced out, literally, the core four remain loyal to and trusting of each other to a fault — and none more so than Murphy, who tentatively seems like he’s finally given himself the kick in the ass he needed to pull himself together in a way he couldn’t manage on the Ring.

These four have, thankfully, remained on the same team even despite obvious points of tension. How did they manage such a seemingly impossible feat? Simple: they talk to each other. So much of the tension this season has been because of a lack of communication, leading to misunderstandings. Hopefully they’ll change up that model of conflict for season 6.

Unfortunately, while SpaceKru remain talkative and willing to compromise (their discussion of how to handle Shaw, and their consideration for Raven’s attachment to him, was so refreshingly straightforward), their time apart has armed them with conflicting information that causes them to mess everything up.

Based on the snippets of information they’ve managed to piece together, Diyoza is the only thing standing between them and peace, and eliminating her will solve all their problems. And Murphy going ahead and throwing the first stone (lol) to launch Eligius: Civil War was an excellent strategy, if only their intel had actually been correct.

So it is not malintent or warmongering, but rather the lack of communication — in this case between SpaceKru and Kane — that leads to things going south in Shallow Valley.

Of course what Kane doesn’t know is that the peace negotiations with Clarke were already going south because Octavia has regained control, and is marching on the valley. So maybe having McCreary in charge will actually end up being in their best interest after all! It’s hard to say. And maybe that’s the point.

A bright spot of the episode, of course, is the beautiful little moment of connection between Raven and Shaw. (If you’re looking for a reason why love stories matter in a narrative like this, here it is.)

It is tragic, really, how out of place such a bright smile has come to feel on Raven’s face, but it’s great that Shaw can bring it out in her. One ship, two pilots – is it safe to say this one is taking off soon?

Also heartwarming is Murphy choosing to stay behind for Abby. Quietly, steadily, John Murphy’s heart is growing size after size before our eyes: over the course of the series he has gone from being a survivor looking out only for himself, to being willing to actively risk his life first for Emori, then Raven, and now Abby.

And Abby, unlike Emori and Raven, isn’t even someone he necessarily loves — rather, it’s someone he respects, and feels a sense of loyalty to. And a sacrifice for her thus becomes much more powerful, because it is a truly selfless one.

Is Murphy maybe, finally, finding it in him to change for the better? I think it’s too soon to say, but this would certainly indicate that he might yet become the good man that Abby believes him to be.

Team Diyoza forever

I feel like I dedicate a section of my review every week to talking about how great Diyoza is, but hey, SHE IS. SUCH. A. BAMF.

Kicking ass. Pregnant. With a bullet in her shoulder. This has possibly shot past the Clarke/Anya mud fight to be my favorite action scene ever on The 100. (Another close contender is the Pauna-Clarke-Lexa showdown in season 2.)

There were a lot of ways the writers could have handled this Eligius story. The fact that the prisoners are still mostly a faceless mob, and them being from our time means almost nothing, is still weird to me. But Diyoza, Shaw and McCreary have been seamlessly weaved into the narrative, and I am amazed at how genuinely invested I am in them — not just in relation to the existing characters but as individuals and in relation to each other.

Diyoza and McCreary’s relationship is like season 1 Bellamy and Clarke on steroids. Diyoza genuinely wanting to build lasting peace is incredibly compelling. McCreary’s “we are Grounders” speech, way more extreme and full on colonialist, sent chills up my spine.

McCreary is truly terrifying. I wish he would cut it out with his sexy voice, because it’s making things very confusing. Still, it is almost refreshing to have such a purely dark player in the middle of all this grey, where we constantly have to ‘consider both sides’ and ‘put ourselves in their shoes’ and all that exhausting crap (jk the exhausting crap is literally my favorite thing about the show). We don’t have to do any of that with McCreary, soon to be father or not.

But Diyoza? Diyoza is the quintessential The 100 character. Fierce, complicated, ruthless, smart as hell, but ultimately fighting for what she believes to be right. It feels like there was a hole in this world that only she could fill, and no matter what she’s doing on screen, I am riveted by it.

Although obviously I don’t like seeing the baddies in charge, I am super intrigued by how Diyoza handles the power flip, and (hopefully) wins back the valley from McCreary and his thugs, with the help of Kane and SpaceKru (and maybe Clarke and Madi, depending on how the pieces align in coming weeks).

For your consideration

  • I just can’t shake the feeling that Baby Hope somehow ends up with Kane and Abby, and the fact that they’ve now both actively saved the baby only feeds my conspiracy theory-brain. Once a Kabby Baby truther, always a Kabby Baby truther.
  • I LOVE the idea that Vinson, of all people, might somehow end up being Diyoza’s secret weapon because he happens to have taken a liking to Abby. All the awards to Mike Dopud, who is really doing so much with what might in another actor’s hands (get it?) have been a very minor role.
  • When Gaia said “the child must choose for herself,” do you think she was also partially recalling the fact that she, herself, actively chose another path that the one her mother had picked for her… and how hard it was for Indra to accept that?
  • So everyone having those black marks on their foreheads in the BTS images must be Heda Madi’s people, huh?
  • My god, just make out already.
  • I feel like we should point out that having the Flame in her head doesn’t make Madi Lexa, and it doesn’t give her Lexa’s memories. It will however give her access to a whole lot of information, and she has the ability to communicate with the pieces of past Commanders in her head.
  • I wonder how Clarke actually feels about Madi being Commander – is she totally against it, or is her resistance only because of the circumstances under which it is happening? Her pivoting to wanting to shoot Octavia to keep a Flamed Madi safe suggests the latter.
  • Octavia’s appalled “she’s a child” is a little bit heartbreaking, not just because it reminds us that Octavia still does have her limits, but because it proves that her interest in and affection for Madi was not only a ‘keep your enemies closer’ strategy. Despite Clarke’s (warranted) fears, Octavia wasn’t going to hurt an un-Flamed Madi.
  • When I said I wanted an Octavia/Clarke team-up this is NOT WHAT I MEANT. I am just gonna stop asking for things. Maybe. Next season.
  • I have to say I did NOT expect Miller to have changed the way he did, but it adds a really great layer of tension to have him essentially work as an antagonist against Indra, being (seemingly) one of the only members of Wonkru that are truly ride-or-die Octavia stans. In fact, if Madi comes back to try and claim her people, the former Skaikru characters might be the only ones who stay loyal to Octavia.
  • Jackson’s sweet little “you had us all so worried” was so precious. AND THEN HE GOT STABBED IN THE NECK. But he’s okay, so call off the hounds, I guess… for now.
  • Lol so how do we think Harper and Monty will react to Bellamy being in the fighting pit?

‘The 100’ 5×10 ‘The Warriors Will’ airs Tuesday at 8/7c on The CW

Read more: Everything you need to know about the final 5 episodes of The 100 season 5

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