The 100 isn’t your average dystopian teen series.
Over the course of the past two years, The 100 has built up a powerful, passionate fan base, while also attracting the attention of critics who (unfortunately) might usually give this particular niche genre a pass.
After all, when has a teen sci-fi series with a strong female lead ever turned out to be noteworthy?
Almost every single person who actually gets over their genre bias and gives The 100 a chance will tell you the same thing: it’s a damn good show.
Not only are The 100‘s characters layered, realistic and engaging, but the stories told from week to week are full of shocking twists and turns.
We tune in expecting greatness, and we usually get it, but sometimes the show goes above and beyond our wildest imaginings.
Here are five times we were genuinely – and pleasantly – surprised by The CW’s The 100:
1. ‘The 100’s’ approach to sexuality
Expectation: Rumor has it The 100 introduces a same-sex relationship in the second season.
Reality: The 100 casually reveals its main character to be bisexual and it’s a complete non-issue.
The 100‘s same-sex kiss in season 2 was definitely a welcome surprise for most fans. Lexa, the badass Grounder commander, hinted at her sexuality and her attraction to Clarke earlier in the season, but most fans didn’t dare to hope that the show would actually go there, especially since Clarke had never openly shown interest in women.
It was a reasonable apprehension. Most shows probably wouldn’t go there. Unfortunately, even in 2015, some executives still believe that the sexualities of their characters can make or break a show.
But The 100, of course, is not most shows. Despite spending most of season 1 angsting about Finn, Clarke recognized and acted on her attraction to Lexa with absolutely no fanfare. Her relationship with Lexa is complicated as hell, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they’re both women.
It’s almost like — gasp! — sexuality isn’t actually a big deal on The 100. Maybe we should think twice before we call this show “dystopian.”
2. The second coming of Thelonious Jaha
Expectation: Isaiah Washington plays the Chancellor of the doomed Ark. He goes down with his ship, because it’s the season finale, and someone’s probably gonna bite it.
Reality: Thelonious Jaha does not die, comes back in season 2, and has an intense and completely unexpected character arc.
The 100 season 1 ended, tragically, with Chancellor Jaha sacrificing himself for his people, staying on the dying Ark so that Kane and the others could make it to Earth.
He was given a halting description of the home he’d never get to see, and died knowing that at least he’d be reunited with his son.
…Except he didn’t die. He survived, making it to Earth full of crazy hopes and dreams. His arc was the most removed from the central conflict of season 2, and although some fans (ahem) were skeptical about his Jesus quest, we can all agree that Jaha’s story came to a very interesting head in the season 2 finale!
In retrospect, keeping Jaha alive was definitely the right move, and a brave one, since killing him off would have been the “easy” way to end his storyline.
3. The (lack of) love triangles
Expectation: The 100 is a CW show. There’s probably gonna be romance and love triangles, and lots of teen angst.
Reality: The 100 is a CW show. There’s romance and love triangles, but a refreshing lack of angst.
When people first discover The 100, they usually go through the same set of reactions – from “Huh, this show is better than I thought it’d be,” to “WHOA, what’s up with that deer?!” to “Hmm, I hope that whole Clarke/Finn/Raven/Bellamy square thing doesn’t end up ruining everything.”
Well guess what, it doesn’t, because the characters have bigger things to worry about. (And as soon as new viewers figure that out, most of them traipse right along into the final stage: “Damn, this show is amazing! (And I’m still waiting for another glimpse of that deer.)”)
Of course characters on The 100 fall in and out of love, have crushes, and hook up with each other. They’re human beings. But the total lack of drama speaks to how mature the storytelling is. The characters on The 100, unlike most TV show characters, simply understand that there are more important things going on than who’s making out with who.
4. Clarke’s character development
Expectation: Clarke is the main character, so she’s probably the most bland and boring one.
Reality: CLARKE IS A F***ING AWESOME BADASS BOSS AND EVERYONE LOVES HER.
You ever hear of “main character unlikability syndrome”? Probably not, because we just made it up, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a thing.
Unfortunately, in most ensemble shows, the main character is usually the one fans connect to the least. They’re at the center of most storylines, which means they take screentime away from the more mysterious, interesting secondary characters, and they are given more flaws to justify their beefed-up storylines. Alternatively, if they don’t have flaws, people think they’re boring.
Jack from Lost is a prime example of an unpopular main character. Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is (arguably) another, as is Elena from The Vampire Diaries.
The 100 might easily have encountered this problem with Clarke, not because she’s not fantastic, but because there are so many fantastic characters on that show who might have stolen the audience’s hearts: Octavia, Raven, Bellamy, Lincoln, Murphy and Lexa, to mention a very select few.
But somehow, The 100 has managed to strike an almost impossible balance. Fans adore the secondary characters, but most of them still love Clarke, and count her among their absolute favorites.
Clarke is a badass, flawed, complicated hero and 99% of the fans love her to pieces. How many other shows can boast such universal love for their main character?
5. The ‘strong female character’ trope
Expectation: The 100 is a fantastic, feminist show full of strong female characters.
Reality: The 100 is a fantastic show full of characters.
The 100 is known for its great female characters, and it’s one of the aspects most often celebrated by fans and critics. Yet when new viewers discover the show, they’re still surprised by just how great the female characters really are, because they’re not “strong.” They’re human.
They’re strong and weak and bold and flawed and smart and selfish and heroic and stubborn and afraid. They place their trust in the wrong people and have weird senses of humor, they get hurt and feel betrayed, they have fun (er… that one time?), and they lead armies into battle.
Each character is different, and reacts differently depending on personality and situation. The female characters’ development never comes at the expense of the male characters’, who are just as layered and relatable.
The 100 exists in a post-sexist, post-racist, post-homophobic future, and is completely unapologetic about that fact.
The show isn’t trying to push an agenda — it’s delivering the much more powerful statement that there is no agenda. Characters are just characters. And on The 100, they all feel real.
The CW’s ‘The 100’ is currently on hiatus, but will return in early 2016 for its third season.