8:51 am EDT, July 27, 2018

‘The 100’ 5×11 ‘The Dark Year’ review: She bears it so they don’t have to

The 100 5×11, “The Dark Year,” offers some much-needed context for Octavia’s turn to the dark side, and sets us up for the big final battle.

Getting to watch this episode of The 100 at San Diego Comic-Con was a real treat (pun intended).

Every time someone bit into a Wonkru Cube, there would be groans, gasps, even laughs (hey, we’ve been waiting for cannibalism for a long time!). And so many other moments of the episode — Bellamy’s “enjoy your walk,” Raven and Shaw’s kiss (!), Madi calling Clarke out — prompted some great live reactions from the crowd.

Back home, I decided to watch “The Dark Year” and last week’s “The Warriors Will” back-to-back, which enhanced them both (and they were both already in my top five of the season!). While I tend to share the opinion that “The Dark Year” would perhaps have been more effective earlier in the season (allowing arcs and relationships to advance rather than be held stagnant until the end), there is an undeniable satisfaction in being completely stunned and outraged at Octavia destroying the farm only to then immediately get the context for how and why she did this.

Everything Octavia has done since the Dark Year has revolved around justifying and validating those actions. Everything Blodreina has done has, on some level, been a desperate attempt to absolve Octavia of this sin — not the people eating, but the removal of her people’s agency.

Octavia, to whom choice and freedom have always been paramount, saved her people by becoming the monster they ‘needed.’ She bore it so they didn’t have to. We already knew this, but seeing it happen still felt like a massive shift towards understanding it.

Going back and rewatching season 5 with this in mind will reveal so many new facets of her character and her relationships to other members of Wonkru. It is thrilling when TV shows can do that, without completely retconning what has come before. Octavia has still done inexcusable, unforgivable things. That doesn’t mean we can’t understand why, and wonder if there was in fact a better alternative.

The episode was written by Heidi Cole McAdams and directed by Alex Kalymnios. It was claustrophobic, tense, disgusting, and horrific. It genuinely made me realize that if one of my loved ones had the choice between dying or this, I’d have them choose this in a heartbeat. I loved it.

Let’s talk about the pen-penultimate episode of The 100 season 5, “The Dark Year.” (I already broke the first rule!)

Forbidden fruit

Only choices.

Since the very beginning of The 100, this oxymoron — self-deprecatingly called out as such in the season 4 finale — has served to guide and absolve our ‘heroes’ as they go down increasingly murky paths in the name of saving their people.

Sometimes it seems like no choice at all: children rigging up a bomb in a desperate last-ditch effort to save themselves from an onslaught of bloodthirsty warriors; fighting to escape from Mount Weather; kill or be killed. Instinctual self-defense.

Other times, these kill-or-be-killed scenarios leave more room for ambiguity. Do you kill one group of innocent people to save another? Abby, Kane and Jaha did it on the Ark. Clarke, Bellamy and Monty did it at Mount Weather. Clarke (almost) did it by closing the bunker doors and, for all her good intentions, Octavia did it by picking 100 people from each clan to survive Praimfaya rather than the entirety of one.

And, once in a while, the tortured humans of The 100 are faced with a dilemma so gruesome, the audience is forced to ponder if life really is worth preserving at any cost. Luna came to the conclusion that it was not; Octavia killed her, proclaiming, “There are people worth saving.”

After winning the bunker for the people she claimed as her own, becoming the self-made leader of what remained of the human race, Octavia gave her people a choice: be Wonkru, or be the enemy of Wonkru. If you chose to be an enemy, you would be treated as one; if you were Wonkru, she would fight for you. But the choice was yours.

And what ended up breaking Octavia, what ended up corrupting her soul and spirit, was the realization that the only way to save her people was to take away that choice. Not to fight them, or make them fight each other, but to execute them — with a gun, just like Lincoln was killed with a gun, just like she almost killed Ilian — crush their spirits in order to preserve their bodies.

By removing their agency, she also removed their guilt. That Wonkru became cannibals was her choice alone, and while Clarke is completely justified in her reading of the situation — that Octavia killed her people to force compliance — Madi is equally jusified in hers.

Octavia bore it so they didn’t have to. Just as Dante Wallace took responsibility for bleeding Grounders dry to give their blood to his people (cannibal-adjacent, I’d say), and just as Clarke took responsibility for exterminating the mountain to save her own people. These are all shades of the same situation, and where we draw the line of reason and empathy is purely up to us.

As Abby pointed out, the only alternative was to let all of them die, slowly and painfully. Letting them choose not to eat their friends would have meant that when they died, the rest of her people would not be able to survive off that meat. To Kane, individual agency would have been worth that sacrifice. To Abby and Octavia, it wasn’t.

All of the people Octavia chose to save when she won the conclave would die, unless she saved them again. There were children in that bunker. The human race would — she believed — be eliminated, and only she could stop that from happening.

What is amazing is that, through this scenario, we see exactly how much perception matters in shaping a moral ‘truth.’ In Madi’s eyes, Octavia’s actions makes her a hero. To Kane and Clarke, it makes her a villain. To Indra, her actions here might have made sense but everything she did afterwards (the fighting pits) came from a place of true darkness.

What is the truth? I would be as bold as to say there isn’t one, because this is not about truth. This is about perspective. All we can do is understand, and try to put ourselves into each of these characters’ states of mind. Humanity is not black and white, and The 100 portrays these intricate, conflicting nuances better than almost any other show on TV.

Regardless of your opinion n her character, Octavia was 17 years old when she was told that she did not have a choice, and was told that this was her burden to bear. And if Octavia took away her people’s agency, we might say that Abby took away hers, pushing the responsibility, the blame, the power fully onto her shoulders.

The Blodreina that Octavia crafted herself into, the manifestation of the monster she morphed into in this moment, was the result of burdens that the adults around her thrust onto her shoulders. Jaha. Indra. Abby. Kane. Cooper. Octavia still did the things, and she should not be absolved for doing them, but Blodreina is a weapon that they’ve all wielded for their own agendas.

Everything Octavia has done since the Dark Year has been done to justify the necessity of what she did. Every choice she has taken away from her people since in an effort to keep herself in power and keep her people focused on the mission — getting to Eden, the promised land, the salvation — has been in an effort to make it all worth it. To make it meaningful. To absolve her, to end the nightmare that she has been trapped in.

Knowing what she did in the Dark Year, of course she would eliminate the possibility of staying in the bunker, of using the hydro farm, of potentially ending up right where they started. Of course she would consider the ‘other’ human race a threat, because their existence invalidated her actions. Of course she would do anything to get them to Eden and never have to worry about enduring another Dark Year.

Abby, of course, was also saving her people. Just as she did when she sent the 100 to the ground, and when she experimented on innocents to create Nightblood. Everything she told Octavia was right, and it was Abby’s responsibility to tell her. And the guilt for putting Octavia in that position has been gnawing at her ever since, making it impossible for her to quit taking those pills.

We absolutely should be able to find sympathy for both of these characters, as indeed Madi does. (Meanwhile Clarke betrays the bias of personal opinion that is definitely more true to life.) Abby once again repeating that desperate line, “first we survive, then we find our humanity back” in the finale trailer makes my heart break for her, it really does. Five years in, the words ring hollow. These characters became who they had to be to survive a long time ago.

Just as Octavia can’t just shed her Blodreina skin and go back to ‘normal,’ this is their humanity, for better or worse. I think it’s high time for these characters to realize this and make the best of the reality they have, rather than treating conflict after conflict as an isolated extreme circumstance.

Trouble in Paradise

The conflict between Clarke and Madi comes to a significant head this week, Madi’s perspective offering as much insight into Clarke’s storyline as the flashback did to Abby and Octavia’s.

For most of the season, many fans (myself included) have called out the continued emotional isolation of Clarke, and the short-sighted and reactive behavior that has shaped her arc. In this episode, Madi makes that textual, telling Clarke exactly how selfish and short-sighted her actions are.

Referring back to the fairytale narrative that fed Madi’s heroes-and-villains worldview, Madi — who appears to now have access to Clarke’s memories as well as everyone else who ever had the Flame in their head (do we think this also extends to Emerson or nah?) — has come to realize that while Clarke has been painting her friends as the heroes of their stories, Clarke, too, was the hero. (Madi is of course a unique character in that she is still able to view people in terms of ‘hero’ and ‘villain.’)

Eerily, this exchange reminds me of Clarke and Jasper’s in the (fantastic, evocative, emotional) season 3 episode “Nevermore,” where Jasper lay all the burdens of Mount Weather onto Clarke’s shoulders because she was the one he trusted to save them. She was the hero of his story, too, and finding out that she was as human and fallible as the rest of them played a big role in destroying his faith in humanity.

(Looking at the fandom right now, I might be tempted to wonder if there is a meta element to this, too: don’t we also look to fiction for heroes right now, to keep our own faith in humanity alive? Do we expect Clarke to be this hero? Is that fair to her, or the show, considering its ‘there are no good guys’ mission statement?)

Clarke herself points out the consistency in her behavior. Now, as then, she is acting to save her people. Only instead of ‘transcending tribalism’ in season 4 to consider the entire human race her people, Clarke is now fighting for a tribe of two.

But while it is true that her motivation hasn’t changed, her methods certainly have. Gone is the tactical, thoughtful, responsible Clarke we know. In her place… this. I think it bears saying that you don’t have to be a ‘hero’ archetype to be empowering. You just have to be rational.

Speaking of heroes, however, I would still argue that Madi is positioned to truly be one. Already before she got the Flame in her head, she displayed a compassion and nobility that curiously reflect what Clarke used to be, as well as obviously Madi’s own uncommonly safe and happy upbringing. She believes in ‘good guys,’ either in spite of or because of Clarke’s stories (has Clarke poured all of her optimism and hopefulness into Madi, leaving none for herself?), and that belief has only been amplified by the Flame.

Commander Madi eerily acts more like Clarke, now, killing her enemies without remorse and coldly assessing threat levels to ‘her people.’ Clarke is unnerved by that, a little hypocritically, and it is unnerving, but there remains a willingness to consider others’ points of view and show them compassion in Madi that should give us some comfort. That she can hear Abby’s story and understand Octavia’s perspective, even after everything that happened, is admirable.

I also think her pseudo-omniscient perspective is important to (hopefully) shake some of these characters out of their personal hells. That Madi can look at Clarke with a mixture of her own, Lexa’s and Clarke’s own perspective and see her as a hero reflects Abby’s words last season, that Clarke can be a good guy — if that is how she chooses to perceive herself. And that is ultimately what it’s all about, right?

I think that is a very significant, overlooked aspect of the ‘there are no good guys’ philosophy, which The 100 will hopefully eventually get to: that good isn’t something you are, it’s something you choose. Without going full The Good Place, every day we make decisions that reflect who we want to be and what we want the world to look like. Forget archetypes and extreme black and white: the true meaning of grey is that we’re all ambling somewhere in the middle, doing what we can (or choosing not to) to be our best selves while acknowledging that we will never be perfect — and that that okay.

That mindset, in turn, goes back to the self-delusion of ‘who we are versus who we need to be to survive’, and the notion of choice as it pertains to the moral dilemmas of The 100: these characters keep telling themselves that they have a moral free pass as long as they are doing ‘what they have to do,’ and Clarke is no exception. Her little “kill or be killed” speech in the season premiere proved that.

But in actuality, the idea that we can be two separate people, just as “there are no good guys” when used as an excuse for making bad choices, are empty absolutions that mean absolutely nothing. These people are choosing who to be every single moment of their lives (just like us), and the best thing any of them can do, at any time, is their best. If you want to re-frame the word ‘hero’ to use in the context of The 100, we might point to the people that choose to be heroes, and do good, and fight for a better world. It is an active choice and it shifts from season to season. The key is motivation.

More than giving us heroes, or good guys, I honestly think this is the way in which The 100 can offer us hope, even while retaining its dour and apocalyptic tone: by showing the power and agency that lies in choosing to be as good as one can be under even the worst of circumstances.

Right now, Clarke is not choosing to be a hero. She is not choosing to do the best she can under the circumstances. Madi calls her out on that. On the other side of the battlefield, Octavia is also not doing her best, or being her best, instead letting Blodreina take the reins in her desperate quest to validate her own choices and absolve her guilt.

Will either of these good/bad, flawed/extraordinary, selfish/selfless, multi-faceted women be able to wake up and realize that they have a choice? Will they, in fact, choose to be their best selves before the end of the season? There is very little time left, but then again, The 100 is nothing if not a master of the last-minute turnaround.

Found family

Speaking of people who choose to be heroes, by genuinely trying to be their best, and do their best: right now, Bellamy stands out as the clear voice of reason, alongside Indra, Madi, and (at least until the end of the episode) Diyoza. Simply by being rational, and by trying to play peacemaker.

It is tragically hilarious how done Bellamy is with everyone (very similarly to Clarke, even if they express it differently) and this “monumentally stupid,” unnecessary conflict. He is the embodiment of “I’m surrounded by idiots” in this episode and I love it.

After spending six years in space with the people he has come to love, dreaming himself back on the ground with his sister, the events of this season have made Bellamy realize who his true family is. Now, all he wants is for this ridiculous conflict to be over so they can have peace (because peace is rational), and he can retire to his 80 acres of land with SpaceKru — a slightly more comfortable version of what they had on the Ring, which he was ironically trying to escape from. The grass is always greener, right?

Bellamy and Monty’s friendship, scattered as their scenes have been, has really been a highlight of the season for me. Monty and Harper staying behind weirdly doesn’t fill me with comfort, but I suppose it’s better than walking into a death trap. I still believe the farmer will save the world before all is said and done.

(Also, I don’t know if this was a direction thing or a Bob Morley thing, but I definitely felt the weight of Monty sharing his rations with Bellamy — considering what happened with the last two people he shared his rations with, Clarke and Octavia.)

Meanwhile Echo, Emori, Raven and Murphy are the ultimate superteam, the best representation of what I still kind of wish the delinquents were, with Echo stepping into the role of general like she was born for it (oh wait, she was).

Murphy gets a gun (!), Emori and Echo share a hug (!), and they all conduct an excellent plan that will give Octavia the victory, if she agrees to show mercy to the other side and pave the way for genuine peace (it helps that Octavia genuinely does want this — as soon as she gets her people to the promised land, Jaha-style, peace can be possible).

Too bad that Kane, now firmly Team Diyoza, is as willing to betray everyone he’s ever known as Clarke is in order to ensure that the devil does not corrupt the garden of Eden.

And too bad that SpaceKru have had so little interaction with Clarke all season that it will be hard for them to see her as anything other than a stranger who has transformed into their enemy — unless that Clarke/Echo finale interaction teased by Jason Rothenberg earlier this year somehow, against all odds, manages to put them on the same page. (Don’t hold your breath.)

A sliver of happiness

For all that misery, Raven Reyes can still find love, and what a gift that is.

Zaven (#fightme) was signposted all the way from Jordan Bolger’s original casting announcement, but its inevitability hasn’t made it less satisfying to watch develop. There truly are very few people good enough for Raven, but Shaw has proven himself worthy of the very short list.

Naturally, Raven is terrified of letting herself love after one (and a half) relationships that ended in tragedy. Pouring her heart into another person and then having that person disappear out of her life, taking her heart with them, has already devastated her beyond belief.

Letting herself care about Shaw also means making herself vulnerable to another potential loss. I always knew Raven was brave, but daring to let herself love again, after everything, is a sign of almost inhuman strength. (It proves that the ability to carry on is what ultimately helps characters survive on The 100.)

So she and Shaw finally share a kiss in the woods, with Echo even accepting him into SpaceKru’s inner circle. It’s all very adorable and hopeful, and exactly what The 100 desperately needed at this time.

Even though everything is headed for hell (what else is new?), “The Dark Year” was surprisingly optimistic at times, with SpaceKru in particular serving as the ‘family’ element that the season has otherwise lacked.

Time will tell whether this little family unit survives the finale, and whether it might even expand to (finally) include Clarke and the rest of the lost souls that have been floundering for most of the season.

For your consideration

  • What would happen if McCreary won? Really though. I know Clarke is only thinking one step ahead, but Madi would surely not be safe in Eden with McCreary in charge.
  • For all that it has taken to get here, The 100 season 5 finale will have set up a realistic scenario in which Clarke Grifin is fighting on the opposite side of a war against everyone else. Whoa.
  • Sorry not sorry, I would watch a SpaceKru sitcom about them all in Eden on their 80 acres. Little Kru on the Prairie.
  • Not only do Octavia’s actions as Blodreina make more sense now, but Wonkru’s adoration of her does, too. She did save them (or rather, forced them to save themselves). They all recognize the burden she bears for them, even as she continues to terrorize them. It’s a real Stockholm Syndrome situation, which is ironic, since that has pretty much defined Octavia’s entire life and all of her major relationships.
  • It is now canon that Abby, Kane and Diyoza all care about each other and I guess it is now my brand to advocate for OT3s, soooo…
  • Does Kane know that Abby was the one who enabled the monster Octavia became and which he now hates so much? It’s almost impossible to imagine that it never came up. And yet.
  • Abby’s rapid detox feels like a little bit of a cheat, but we know she’s been through this before and relapsed, so I wonder if we’ll still see her actively choose to go clean before the season ends.
  • That Echo and Emori moment was AMAZING. Even if the SpaceKru girls spend an uncommon amount of time talking about boys, considering what show they’re on.
  • MURPHY GOT THE BIG GUN.
  • Echo and Bellamy making a big deal about switching to Trigedasleng is kind of hilarious since almost everyone in their immediate vicinity will understand that as well as English.
  • Bellamy snubbing Miller’s handshake was very cathartic. Team Bellamy forever.
  • Murphy namedrops Eligius 3. I’m sure that means absolutely nothing.
  • I’m gonna say this right now, if any of you guys are stuck in a situation where you can either die or eat a dead person to survive, I’d want you to eat the dead person.

Next week: ‘The 100’ 5×12 ‘Damocles, Part 1’

The 100 season 5 finale kicks off with “Damocles, Part 1,” in which the monumentally stupid war for Eden begins.

Fighting on one side is Octavia and Wonkru and Bellamy and Spacekru, with Madi potentially being a surprise addition (if the part 2 stills are anything to go by).

On the other side is McCreary and Eligius, joined by not only Clarke but also Kane and Diyoza, who of course know every move Wonkru is poised to make.

Who will win? Who will die? And will Eden still stand once the dust settles? Tune in to find out Tuesday at 8/7c on The CW!

What did you think about ‘The 100’ 5×11 ‘The Dark Year’?

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