7:03 am EDT, August 2, 2018

‘The 100’ 5×12 review: More than just surviving

The 100 5×12, “Damocles, Part 1,” opens with a bang and continues to rumble for 40+ minutes of explosive action.

Well, here we are. The penultimate episode of The 100 season 5. Somehow this season has felt both insanely short and infinitely long.

“Damocles, Part 1” is, as the title indicates, the first of the two-part season finale. And as per tradition, it is action-packed and big on emotional confrontation, setting up for whatever twists and turns the finale will bring.

It feels like there are a million things to get into this week, but on rewatch especially, I really appreciated how fun this episode is. I don’t mean literally funny (though Murphy and his gun will never not be hilarious), but it looks like it was fun to make. Explosions, fight scenes, huge wringers of emotion, sacrifices, swelling music and one big hero rescue to end all hero rescues. A total blast.

Related: Everything you need to know about the final 5 episodes of The 100 season 5: Air dates, time change, synopses, more

The music from Tree Adams deserves a special shout-out this week, because it instantly hooks you and heightens the tension, from the creepy battle music that makes me feel nauseous to the nostalgic notes of Clarke’s Eden theme towards the end.

Justine Juel-Gillmer’s final episode (sob) not only delivers the action, but also some of the season’s strongest lines of dialogue and clever re-examinations of past mission statements and philosophies, in a way that suggests we might finally be ready to move on to something new in season 6.

The action-heavy “Damocles, Part 1” impressively does the work of several episodes in terms of positioning characters and relationships for the big finish. It served every function a ‘part 1 finale’ has to serve, beautifully beginning to wrap up season-long arcs even while setting us up for a presumably even wilder ‘Part 2.’

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Tell me about the mountain

“I bear it so they don’t have to.”

“Love is weakness.”

“Life should be about more than just surviving.”

Isn’t it funny how we all presumed the six-year time jump would propel all of these characters forward and allow them to let go of some of the baggage they’d been carrying around for the past four seasons, when in fact it’s been the most retrospective season yet?

This season has not only reversed character positions and ideologies and gone ‘back to the beginning’ by repeating the season 1 plot with new players, but it’s brought back so many repeated lines and themes and even character arcs all (seemingly) in an effort to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

It is particularly interesting that Clarke has found herself right back where she stood in season 2, alone in front of that mountain and left with ‘no choice’ but to do the unspeakable, backed into a corner because a loved one has betrayed her, cut to her core with no aim but to save her people. This was one of several defining moments for Clarke that season, and arguably one of the exact parts of the story that irrevocably broke her, and shaped her story moving forward.

It takes Madi (and/or Lexa) to make her realize that she is essentially recreating her own trauma by forcing it onto others (hey, that sounds familiar*). Tying up a thread that has been spun all the way from season 2, we finally reckon with the fact that no, love isn’t weakness and no, you don’t leave your friends outside mountains to fight off orcs Balrogs blood-sucking weathermen alone. Speak ‘friend’ and enter, Clarke.

(Interestingly, at the time, Lexa argued that she made that decision with her head, not her heart. Now, we appear to be led to believe that Clarke is making the same decision with her heart.)

Mama Bear vs Blodreina

*I’ve said it before, and it seems doubly true in this episode: Octavia and Clarke are very similar people. Headstrong, guided by a warped morality and beyond convinced that their chosen solution is the ‘only’ option.

While the Abby-Octavia parallel this season has been more overt (they’re both blinded by an addiction), comparing Abby and Clarke’s motherhood acts in this episode served to not only link Abby and Clarke’s stories, but Clarke and Octavia’s.

Season 5 has, for both Clarke and Octavia, been an effort in desperately pushing down a path towards an end that would ultimately justify all of their increasingly questionable means. They both picked up alter egos during that time jump — Blodreina for Octavia, ‘mama bear’ for Clarke — and they’ve both been doing everything they can to avoid confronting who they used to be and what they used to stand for.

For Octavia, the goal was getting her people to Eden, the promised land, where food was plenty and there could never again be a Dark Year. If she got them there, if she won, then all she had done would be worth it. Everyone she had killed would be acceptable losses. If she didn’t, then not only would everything she had done become inexcusable, but she would have to confront the monster that she had become.

For Clarke, the goal was creating some kind of permanent safety for Madi. If she got Madi to safety, if she ran, then all she had done would be worth it. Everyone she had abandoned or sacrificed or killed in the process would be acceptable losses. If she didn’t… well, that wasn’t an option.

As a character, Clarke has always been a lot more outwardly stable, and a lot less prone to showing the chinks in her armor, than Octavia. Octavia is fire; Clarke is ice. The harder things get, the harder Clarke gets, and things have gotten pretty damn hard for her this season. Even physically visceral as she’s gotten, you still see her compartmentalize and shut down pockets of emotion in her head as she zeroes in on her one goal.

Neither of them have been willing to stop and look back and second-guess themselves, but Octavia has at least seen (or been forced to see) the shadows of guilt dancing at the edge of her vision. Clarke’s vision is clear, and sharp, and in this episode, glinting with something like fanaticism. In a desperate effort to protect Madi, she has in fact become the one hurting Madi; this obsession (or addiction?) or hers has moved beyond protectiveness to become actively detrimental to Madi’s well-being.

Clarke being ready to sacrifice Bellamy, Indra, Monty, Raven, and everyone else she ever met is ultimately her version of putting the people she loves in the arena, because she simply can’t back down or surrender. She won’t give even an inch. She’s already lost them all. She’s already lost herself. Madi is all she has left. And, also like Octavia, she absolutely refuses to put words to those actions or emotions, shutting herself away completely and hiding behind her singular mission.

And their parallel reactions are perhaps born out of their parallel traumas. Clarke and Octavia have gone through (arguably) the worst losses of anyone on the show: they’ve both had people they loved violently ripped away from them — first a parent by floating, then a lover by gunshot — and those wounds were never allowed to heal. (In Clarke’s case, the world also isn’t letting her, because Lexa isn’t allowed to be really gone.) So they bottled up that grief and soldiered on, and those wounds have been festering ever since.

They’ve also both been thrust into positions of leadership. They’ve both felt like they had to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. They’ve both come to idealize their lost lover, and have both learned to use ‘love is weakness’ as a shield.

Will they heal? Will they grow? Will they move on? It is very hard to say, because The 100 doesn’t erase trauma, and it rarely offers characters chances to heal, psychologically (a meta commentary on how important mental health is? Perhaps!). And I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t like for characters to just forget their own history.

But I think they both took marginal steps in this episode towards something like progress. Octavia finally realizing that she broke Wonkru, and coming full circle on omon gon oson by stepping in front of Eligius’ bullets to save Indra, Bellamy and Gaia — her family, the people she put in the arena only a few episodes ago — feels like the beginning of something.

Clarke finding out that she didn’t leave Bellamy to die, and having Lexa-through-Madi acknowledge the mistake of leaving her outside of that mountain alone (and yes! It was a mistake! 3-years-ago-me feels so vindicated!), has a huge impact on her which, of course, she tries her best to not express. But we saw it, because Eliza Taylor is a master of conveying so much with the smallest changes of expressions.

Both characters have a bit of a turning point that ultimately pivots them away from following their own private plan for their own private endgame to doing what is best for the group. (‘The group’ is just another people. But they’re our people. Yes, I am biased. No, I don’t care. I am the mama bear now.)

It’s been a long time coming, and these are only small steps, but it is still immensely satisfying. I am never going to stop rooting for Clarke and/or Octavia being able to re-establish genuine friendships with literally anyone. (MAYBE EVEN EACH OTHER.) It might seem like a weird hill to die on, but it is my hill, damn it.

Whatever it takes

The Abby-Clarke parallel is obviously more textual in this episode than Clarke-Octavia, with Abby giving Clarke (dubious) parenting advice, telling her to do “whatever it takes” to save her child. Abby calls back to the very premise of the show, admitting that at the end of the day, her daring and clever plan to send 100 kids to the ground was motivated by avoiding Clarke being floated.

Clarke is already on the Abby Griffin parenting train, for better or worse, having been doing whatever it took all season. There is so much debate about ‘mama bear’ Clarke, and I just want to make this clear: I’m totally on board with both Clarke’s motivation and why she’s developed this overwhelming attachment to Madi. They were each other’s whole world for six years, and Clarke had already lost so much by the time she found her. Of course the very idea of losing Madi sends her into a panic spiral. I’m impressed she isn’t full-on catatonic.

What I am not impressed with is the lack of agency given to Madi by Clarke. Clarke doesn’t treat Madi like a human being, she treats her like her own beating heart on the outside of her body. Like a piece of herself, and therefore something she feels complete ownership and autonomy over.

And that’s hard to swallow. For one, even taking the Flame out of the equation, Madi is in no way helpless nor incapable of thinking for herself. She’s (almost) a teenager, whom we’ve been led to believe has been an almost equal partner to Clarke, so suddenly treating her like a helpless baby feels reductive of both Madi herself and their relationship.

While Clarke’s physical and mental dominance over Madi might hammer home how much Clarke loves Madi as a generic ‘child’ entity, it makes me feel like Clarke doesn’t really know Madi (or at least has no care or respect for Madi’s actual personhood). Or maybe we’re meant to understand that, as Clarke’s panic of losing Madi increases, the ‘kill or be killed’ mindset that she adopted during the time jump erases all nuance, and that this is why Clarke in fact only sees ‘child I must protect’ when she looks at Madi now. It tracks, but I still think it’s a shame, because it serves to undermine the personal connection between them.

But I will say that, if you feel uncomfortable with Clarke’s actions this week, I think you’re meant to. It certainly inspires some reflection. I’m sure a lot of viewers — whether they’re mothers or had close relationships to their mothers, or didn’t — can viscerally relate to this storyline in one way or another.

And if it is any consolation, there is a point to it all. Everything that happens in this episode is part of a bigger story of Clarke actually learning to trust and respect Madi — much as Abby had to learn to trust and respect Clarke, who (while a few years older) was in a similar position of having skills, knowledge and autonomy that made her an equal to her mother. And it took Abby a minute to understand and accept that, too.

The end of the episode sees Clarke beginning to accept Madi’s autonomy, finally opening her ears and listening to what Madi is trying to say, and accepting that Madi has to step up and embrace what is for all intents and purposes her destiny. (Clarke somehow stopped being Buffy Summers and started being Joyce Summers in this episode, didn’t she?)

It still feels like she’s only listening to the Commanders in her head, as opposed to taking Madi herself seriously (and Madi was plenty wise and brave even without the Flame in her head), but it’s a good start.

‘All I found were ghosts’

While Clarke is busy nailing Madi’s feet to the floor, and Octavia is busy getting herself killed, Madi and SpaceKru are actually trying to win this war.

Echo, who was always a general but never a leader, quickly realizes that Wonkru isn’t winning anything unless they have someone to unite behind. So they track down Madi (how?) and try to sneak her away, but mama bear Clarke is always watching… always waiting… always ready to strike down any friend to prove her mama bearness.

But RAVEN, Clarke? Raven. I need a minute.

Stepping out of Clarke’s head for a second, I wonder how everyone else will cope with post-time jump Clarke next season, presuming they survive of course. How do you reckon with someone who you thought was a friend, someone you loved and whom you thought loved you, but who turned out to be ready to feed you to the wolves as fast as if you’d been a stranger, dropping one ‘people’ for another and not even deeming you worthy of the words to explain why?

For all her loss and emotion and strength, there is a growing coldness in Clarke that set in the moment she killed Finn, and that (to me) doesn’t seem ‘heart’-driven at all. It’s scary, and makes her an unreliable narrator (if only because ‘her people’ is such a flexible category). I actually find it super interesting, as slowly-brewing development that could potentially be examined somewhere down the line. It feels to me like there is something so much deeper and darker than ‘she’s a mom now’ in Clarke’s motivation that I think would be an interesting road to go down with her.

But in this episode, Clarke does somewhat come around. It starts with Bellamy: Echo informing Clarke that he is not dead, but might be soon enough, rattles her enough to crack the facade. One thing is sacrificing Bellamy for her self-defined greater good (a price she wasn’t emotionally prepared to pay in season 4) and compartmentalizing yet another burden she feels like she has to bear; it is quite another to actively stand by and let her second chance to save him pass her by.

And yes, I know some fans have just completely written off Echo, and that’s your prerogative, but accepting her reality: how disappointed must she be, to find this woman who has been completely mythologized, whom she has mythologized and whom Bellamy has basically built his entire leadership style around, not only not on SpaceKru’s side but actively antagonistic and ready to betray them for her ‘new family’? Clarke has no obligation to live up to SpaceKru’s myths of her, but Echo is equally within her right to feel what she feels, too.

But ultimately, it could only be Madi that breaks the spell, speaking the words of the one remnant of her past Clarke evidently isn’t ready or willing to sever ties with. In a very emotional scene, Madi relays to Clarke Lexa’s regret at leaving her outside Mount Weather, in an effort to save her own people — strongly implying that this is exactly what Clarke is doing now.

I obviously don’t think Clarke has actively been parroting Lexa this whole time, but there is actually an interesting recurrence in The 100 of characters emulating those they look up to and adopting some of their personality traits — Kane and Jaha, Bellamy and Pike, Bellamy and Kane, Murphy and Bellamy, Octavia and Indra, Jasper and Bellamy, Emori and Raven, etc — and Clarke and Lexa were already beginning to emulate each other when Lexa was alive.

Certainly, it shakes up Clarke to hear ‘Lexa’ berate her for repeating what she considers her biggest mistake, using logic that Flame-Lexa now knows is flawed. And I think it’s so significant that Madi/Lexa is ultimately able to get through to Clarke with love, a love that Lexa appears to encourage Madi to hang on to (and which might be what separates Madi from past Commanders vis-a-vis breaking the cycle). Madi and Clarke’s love for each other is ultimately what shakes Clarke out of her spiral, and what gives them both strength to fight a fight that is so much bigger than themselves.

And let’s talk about Lexa, in the capacity that she ‘exists’ now. After Clarke calls her a ghost, Madi corrects her: “She’s not a ghost. She’s real. They all are.” And listen, I’m not disputing Flame logic — they are real, in some capacity; they exist on that hard drive same as any file — and I don’t want to regurgitate old City of Light debates and the murky technicalities of whether ALIE’s ‘saved’ consciousnesses counted as real.

But I still feel like it bears saying that, whatever Flame-Lexa (Flexa?) is or isn’t, the Lexa that experienced those memories and who felt those feelings and whom Clarke loved and lost is no less dead for it. Lexa’s death isn’t undone by the existence of the Flame; Lexa is dead, and an imprint of her still exists on that chip. Both things are equally true.

I actually really like the Flame continuing to have story relevance, because it’s a huge part of the mythology and it’s interesting to explore as a plot device. I think there are a lot of things the show can do with the Flame that might be interesting. But what I hope doesn’t happen is for this plotline to hold Clarke emotionally hostage. Grief is raw and good and important as story, and Clarke is owed as much grief as she needs, but at some point, dangling a piece of Lexa in front of her just seems cruel, you know? Let her live.

It takes me back to the beginning of the season, when Clarke entered Arkadia and told Bellamy, “I came here looking for food and water. But all I found were ghosts.” I think that Clarke has been finding ghosts all season. I think a part of her still feels like she lost all her friends in Praimfaya, and this is Hell, and nobody but Madi is really real. And the line about Flexa (sorry, it just feels right) not being a ghost almost feels like it’s feeding into that mindset.

Hopefully the return of “life should be about more than just surviving” indicates that Flexa (yup, it’s sticking) is indeed offering Clarke some much-needed… maybe not closure, because that’s too linear, but at least acceptance. Lexa wants Clarke to be happy, right? Maybe she can be. If the ghosts will leave her alone.

Since we’re quoting Lexa this week, I feel it pertinent here to call back to my favorite line of hers: “The dead are gone, Clarke. The living are hungry.”

Omon gon oson

Blodreina is dead, long live Octavia?

Hahahah just kidding, this is The 100. But still, let’s appreciate the beginning of the end of Octavia’s reign of terror, as she finally reckons with the fact that she ruined Wonkru. It’s an important realization. All through the season, she’s told herself that she is Wonkru’s hope, that she is their leader and their martyr and their god.

But when she is stuck on the battlefield, they don’t come for her. Only her family is with her, and not by choice. And they’re dying. And Wonkru is not going to win.

Initially, Octavia continues to refuse to listen to any semblance of reason. When Bellamy and Octavia were stuck in the mud, I was kind of hoping this might finally prompt a long-overdue serious talk that she couldn’t escape from, but of course she still tries to wriggle her way out of it. Octavia would literally rather die than listen to the truth, and she almost does.

Indra and Gaia are miraculously the only other warriors that survived (bless that trusty plot armor!), and after forming a hilarious family pile, the four of them are forced to reckon with reality: Gaia is injured. Indra won’t leave her. Trying to run will kill at least some of them. Octavia seems to actually care about that; Bellamy sees right through her. She needs Gaia alive to convince Wonkru to follow her.

When Bellamy says that he wants her to die I (like to) think that it is this part of her he is referring to. Bellamy wants Blodreina to die, and maybe he actually believed Octavia when she said that the person she used to be was already dead. Maybe, for Bellamy, this shell of a person is beyond the point of redemption or forgiveness.

And yet for all that, Gaia, Indra and Bellamy’s imminent deaths are what get through to Octavia. She realizes that she landed them here. She realizes that it’s their fault that Wonkru isn’t coming to save them.

And so it is for her family that she steps out onto the battlefield and buys them time, and then accepts her death — all of her for all of them, at last — with something like relief. Completion. “My brother, my responsibility.” This is how she saves her people.

But, in a beautiful stroke of irony, it is the unbroken factions — Bellamy and Clarke’s families — that come to their rescue.

So everyone we know and love appear to live to fight another day, at least. I’m relieved… for now.

Some killers are more serial than others

DID YOU HEAR ME YELL when Vinson ate Kane??? Because I did. Half-terrified, half-furious because I genuinely thought this might be it for Kane. Of course it still might be, but having chewed on it for a bit, I’m just glad this wasn’t the actual death scene. That would have been a hugely disappointing end for such a seminal character.

Whatever happens next, I can at least examine this scene like a rational human being. And I don’t have to point out the irony of the cannibal storyline cannibalizing itself… oops, I just did!

Before everyone’s hearts shattered, Vinson and Kane have an amazing conversation about guilt and conscience where Vinson makes what is possibly the most self-aware observation of the season: “If only a conscience was a free pass, and not just a voice in your head you pretend to listen to between unspeakable acts.” I feel like that is such a perfect antidote to Abby’s re-re-repetition of “first we survive, and then we find our humanity again,” which Kane rightly points out as having lost all meaning.

When survival is all there is, these self-absolutions are empty and hollow. Reckoning with the futility of hiding behind these idioms (like rejecting ‘love is weakness’) is still something I’d like to see down the line, but Vinson calling it so plainly is still a great moment. How fitting that the resident unapologetic serial killer is the most rational of the bunch.

And poor Kane, perhaps, needs to hear it. Because while he and Diyoza certainly did what they felt was best to save the valley, surely none of them really thought McCreary would spare their friends. They made another choice they have to live with, and at some point, you do have to reckon with that.

Abby killing Vinson is such a great way to symbolize what her throwing away the stray pill also told us: she is killing her addiction; slaying her demon. Vinson was not only her partner in crime, but her enabler. He was her path to a darkness that she is now actively giving up.

Kane asked her earlier this season to choose between him and the pills, and here, that is exactly what she does (in true, dramatic, people-eating fashion just the way we like it).

Sidenote, it is amazing to me how Kane and Abby, for all their talk of peace and the greater good, are so willing to burn the world to the ground for each other. I forgot to bring this up in my “The Dark Year” review, but as others have said, Abby was at least partially motivated to cheerlead for Team Cannibalism in order to force Kane to eat and survive.

This is incidentally similar to what she claims she did for Clarke, “sending 100 kids to the ground to avoid her daughter being floated.” When Abby Griffin loves you, the world should tremble.

It is great to see her take the first steps towards getting clean. But nobody is out of the woods yet — Vinson is right that grief can propel someone right back into addiction, and Kane’s situation is critical. I’m scared.

For your consideration

  • Murphy and his big gun that he cannot control is hilarious and almost impossible to write about without innuendo sooo… I won’t.
  • Wow. A Monty, Harper and Miller moment, finally. I so wish it had come earlier! Not all good things have to be saved until the very end! But I still appreciate it. Harminty forever. + Jackson.
  • And poor Miller. This episode really hammered home that he is exactly as desperate to win that valley as Octavia.
  • Shaw and Raven’s little pre-torture scene was SO SWEET (aside from the whole pre-torture thing). He wants her to kill him, because he knows he’ll break when they torture her. I love them. <3 <3 <3
  • Raven and Madi’s little meeting was CUTE as hell. If they both make it, please let them be best friends in season 6!
  • However, Raven and Clarke’s reunion was in no way cute and I am very salty about it.
  • JUST MAKE OUT WITH EACH OTHER. All three of you!
  • That Clarke-Echo scene where they call each other out on their hypocrisy was amazing. “How is your head?” “How’s yours?” It’s funny because it’s true.
  • Clarke telling Echo that she is ‘good for Bellamy’ is an interesting choice, considering she’s hardly seen them together. But I mean, she’s not wrong. Bellamy is one of the only genuinely sane people this season, and whatever made him that way, I’m into it.
  • Bellamy keeping Gaia alive with words alone?! Talk about a motivational speaker. Remember when Clarke told him “you inspire them” in the season 4 finale? Clearly he took that to heart (or… head).
  • ”You’re not dying for me.” “She’s right. I may never be able to fix what I broke, but I can save you.” I STAN TWO SISTERS.
  • Indra continues to be the absolute MVP of this season-slash-the entire show. I love her so much. Indra and Gaia’s relationship has been a subtle, but beautiful part of season 5, and that they should (almost) die on the battlefield together is so tragically poignant.
  • Was that the same pass as in “The Tinder Box?”
  • After several seasons of “there are no good choices,” Echo tells Clarke “good choice” when she chooses to stand with SpaceKru. Symbolic?
  • Lola Flanery is an absolute star. It must be incredibly difficult to balance Madi with the Commanders in her head, but she does it perfectly. When Madi hugged Clarke goodbye, that was all Madi, a small and vulnerable child so at odds with the old soul who had just been giving her words of wisdom.
  • And Marie Avgeropoulos, man. Like Lola, Marie is capable of switching between Blodreina and Octavia with just a shift of the eyes. Right before she goes to her ‘death,’ that is all Octavia.
  • ”It’s simple. You may be the Commander, but I am the Commander of Death, and I say: we will meet again.” // “It’s simple. I wonder, why haven’t we seen any animals?”
  • If you go ‘full circle’ enough times, are you in fact spiraling (into Dante’s Inferno)?

Next week on ‘The 100’

Next week is the SEASON FINALE, you guys! Are you ready? They always say “you’re not ready” about every new episode of The 100, but I believe in us. We’re ready.

“Damocles, Part 2” is, in a word, thrilling. But don’t take my word for it. According to Jason Rothenberg, your exact reaction will be “O. M. G.”

Check back to Hypable later this week for a preview of the episode, and then a longer interview with Rothenberg after it’s aired where he sets up season 6!

The 100 5×13 “Damocles, Part 2” airs Tuesday at 8/7c. Don’t miss it!

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