Another week, another reminder that The 100 was never meant to be pleasant. But man, is it good television.
One of the most important functions of TV drama is to make you uncomfortable. The old adage “characters suffer so you don’t have to” reminds us why we have fiction — to live out some of our worst fears and biggest dreams — and is particularly relevant here as it refers to the traditional “After School Special” episodes of teen dramas, in which a show takes it upon itself to spotlight a problem area and raise awareness through its characters.
The 100, like all the best sci-fi and fantasy shows, is using its fantastical narrative to explore very serious real life topics. This week that included non-consensual sex, the loss of free will, and violent behavior. All what you might call “triggering” issues, and all very much expected from a dark supernatural drama.
In fact, between the Shondaland dramas and The CW’s adventure slate (including Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries and Arrow), it’s becoming increasingly obvious that network TV is adopting the cable and Netflix model of storytelling, hoping to keep its viewers tuning in by adding more death, more sex, more torture and more misery.
Does it work for everyone? Definitely not. But it certainly works for me, because I love stories where characters have to overcome suffering and fight against oppressors, without it ever seeming like oppressive behavior is somehow okay or justified.
The performances by Lindsey Morgan, Marie Avgeropoulos, Bob Morley, Rhiannon Fish and Richard Harmon in particular blew me away this week, and I’m here for all the moral dilemmas the show throws at me. Bring it on.
Welcome to the Hunger Games
Lincoln is dead, and Octavia is (understandably) distraught. The episode opens with the scene which has caused quite a stir in fandom, as Octavia lets all her anger and frustration out on her brother’s face — and Bellamy just stands there and takes it.
It was awful to watch, but the rawness of it kind of speaks to the heart of who Octavia is, and the extremely dysfunctional and co-dependent dynamic the Blake siblings have always had (don’t get me wrong, I love them, but that childhood, man. No wonder Octavia is all messed up).
The thing about Octavia is that she has always been an extreme character who exists in a wild, instinctual space, and this moment more than anything else proved that the writers haven’t lost sight of that. Very often on TV, a character’s traumatic formative backstory is swept under the rug pretty quickly, and they start acting ‘normal’ in order to uphold the show’s status quo. This is not the case for Octavia; she carries those traumas with her and has piled on a few more along the way, and this is the result of her grief. She’s beating up Bellamy, herself, her life and the world.
Octavia will always be the kid who had to hide under the floorboards, who didn’t interact with anyone but her mother and brother before the age of 15 (and was then promptly thrown into a cell to await execution), never given the opportunity to develop nuanced social skills. She’s the girl who loves too hard and too quickly, who fights until she bleeds and who believes in actions, not words. She trusts only what she can see and feel, and this is why she has been so quick to embrace not just the Grounder lifestyle, but the pain that comes with it.
In order to prove herself “worthy” of being a Grounder (to herself, more than to anyone else) Octavia has taken beatings, willingly, because it makes her so truly, tangibly human and real in a way she has never been allowed to feel before arriving on the ground. Pain and violence is second nature to her now, real in a way nothing else is. And never has this been more apparent than in this episode, where she — as she has before — became one with her emotions and acted out of a primal, physical need to hurt like she had been hurt.
The fact that her rage overrides all rational thoughts, and the fact that she is inflicting on Bellamy the very same pain and blood as she has come to associate with humanity, is an extraordinary commitment to character, once again skirting the line of what the audience can and will accept of its main characters. But I think The 100 writers know they can do this without fully vilifying Octavia, because this is who she is and this is how she feels. Gutturally, completely, painfully, visibly. And in this moment, she wants Bellamy to feel how she feels.
And don’t forget that this isn’t about what Bellamy deserves, because we all know that he does not deserve this. But what characters do or do not deserve is not up to the narrative to decide, that’s what fandom is here for: for us to interpret the narrative and debate it. Within the show, the characters aren’t (and shouldn’t) be acting rationally based on the audience’s consensus of right and wrong. What TV does, and what The 100 does particularly well, is to present complicated and troubling moral quandaries, allowing the characters to hold nothing back, and then letting the viewers and other characters decide whether they think an action or reaction was “fair.”
No one gets what they deserve on The 100 (or on any other good, dark drama). Lincoln, Lexa and Finn didn’t deserve to die, Pike didn’t deserve to be Chancellor, Harper and Raven didn’t deserve to be tortured and Bellamy doesn’t deserve to be beaten bloody, and yet all of these things (and more) happen within the unfair, brutal and cruel world they live in.
What Octavia’s reaction and Bellamy’s refusal to defend himself both show is that Bellamy is as convinced of his own guilt as everyone around him is. This doesn’t mean that he is guilty, of course. It means that within the narrative, Bellamy feels like he deserves everything he gets and worse.
And from here on out, while he’ll also be working to earn the others’ trust and respect, the most important thing will be for Bellamy to earn back his own self-respect, and to forgive himself for siding with Pike and standing by the man who imprisoned and killed his friend, his sister’s love. Even after finally doing the right thing and leading Pike out to face the Grounders’ retribution, that’s a hell of a lot of guilt he must be feeling right now (regardless of whether you think he’s guilty or not).
And if your thoughts right now are straying to the season 2 finale, in which it was Clarke feeling that sense of crippling, overwhelming guilt while Bellamy was more pragmatic and willing to forgive both her and himself for their shared trauma, then I think that’s probably exactly the storyline symmetry the writers intended.
A montage of suffering
Raven, oh Raven. She continues to be the character who fights the hardest and suffers the most, tortured first by ALIE’s presence in her brain and later by her absence. She’s strong, of course, the strongest!, even managing to push ALIE out of her brain for a short while.
But after an intense reliving of all her pain (Finn! I’m still not over it), ALIE finally takes over, and now commands Raven completely. And can I just say, Lindsey Morgan… that was the best ALIE impression I have ever seen. It’s also the only one, but that’s not the point. Wow! What an episode for Raven, huh? This character continues to have some of the most intense, meaty storylines on the show.
In an absolutely harrowing scene, ALIE slits Raven’s wrists as Abby watches, helpless unless she agrees to take the chip. It says a lot about how much the show has done to build up the relationship between these two women that this, of all things, was what it took for Abby to take the chip. Not that she would have let anyone die, but the pain and anguish on her face was very powerful. I’m 100% here for the Abby/Raven mother-daughter dynamic.
Also, not gonna lie, guys, that’s as close as I’ve ever come to throwing up since all the delinquents got that eye-bleeding sickness in season 1. That was very, very dark.
Abby is now Team ALIE with the rest, and with her endorsement, the rest of Arkadia follow suit. Ironically, the only “sane” person left in Arkadia now is Jasper, who sedates Raven (who luckily was bandaged up!) and escapes with her in the van — only to almost run over Clarke!
Clarke is given the tl;dr on what’s been going on (basically she swapped out one burning world for another), and the pair escape in the Jeep of Happiness. And knowing that the gang is all back together next week just makes me so giddy, you guys.
Meanwhile, in Westeros
Let’s see. Non-consensual sex? Check. Eyes being poked out? Check. Now all we need are dragons and The 100 has officially become Game of Thrones.
In Polis, Murphy finds himself in the clutches of someone who, unbelievably, is more messed up than himself. I will say that this episode did a lot to make me more sympathetic towards Ontari (largely thanks to Rhiannon Fish’s nuanced portrayal; she beautifully convinces me of Ontari’s genuine desperation to live up to her life’s purpose, born out of a lifetime of mistreatment and brainwashing), but damn, she really just turned Murphy into a sex slave. That happened. If we had any doubt that Ontari was a villain, we sure don’t anymore!
And, dare I say it, I actually think it’s an interesting story to tell with Murphy. Despite his growth and his enjoyable sarcastic commentary, Murphy is still the closest thing the show has to a ‘traditional’ dominant male, a lingering symbol of toxic masculinity in a world where gender roles have essentially been erased.
And now, he has been officially stripped of all agency; the narrative has forced him into not only a very sympathetic position (how can we not take his side in this situation?!) but also illustrated a usually very overlooked (even mocked) side of rape culture: That men, even those considered ‘traditionally’ masculine, are victims too. No matter who you are, what you’ve done, you can still be a victim. Murphy is now a victim. This is such an unbelievably important subject to raise awareness about, and yet I haven’t seen many other TV shows (barring Outlander) dare take it on.
By telling this story with Murphy, The 100 has effectively flipped the conversation about non-consensual sex, and challenged society’s usual assumptions about authority figures (older males) abusing their positions of power to take advantage of others (women and children). There’s no doubt that Ontari is abusing her power here, and that Murphy deserves our sympathy.
And honestly, the fact that we feel uncomfortable about it is a very good thing. I think the way this scene played out makes it very clear that the show does not expect us to condone Ontari’s behavior. In that last shot, Murphy did not look happy, and I don’t think the show expects him (or the viewers) to forgive Ontari for this any time soon. One way or another (either by Murphy or Emori’s hand), Ontari is going to answer for her crimes. I truly believe that.
On a somewhat related note, the camerawork in their scenes also did something super interesting to their power dynamic. Watch it again and bow down to the talents of director Matt Barber. This is only his second The 100 episode, but his work is just stunning!
For your consideration
- Jaha may have smashed the wristbands, but of course, there is another! With none other than Clarke’s close personal friend Niylah. Hmmmm.
- Y’all heard Miller’s willingness to go rescue Monty, right? Just checking. (No JK I like Bryan now, I’m good.)
- Seriously though, POOR MONTY. His mother is the actual worst, I cannot believe she turned her own son in to Pike! Luckily, she’s not the only family Monty has. I’m getting the sense that in many ways, this season is all about the discovery that family is something you choose — the delinquents choosing each other, Octavia possibly choosing the Grounders for good. And I’m into that.
- I’m not into Kane setting out on his own to speak to Ontari though. There’s no possible way that can end well, is there?
- Someone mentioned to me that Rhiannon Fish would be perfect for Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s Xena reboot, and I could definitely see that!
Next week on ‘The 100’ season 3, episode 11 ‘Nevermore’
Say it with me: THE GANG IS ALL BACK TOGETHER!
I have no problem with The 100‘s dark tone, but I think we can all agree that the delinquents have been split up for way too long. The show is always at its best when they’re working together, and I can’t help but wonder if one of the reasons they’ve been kept apart is because there are too many things left unsaid between them all.
Hopefully that’s about to come to an end. Here’s to Clarke, Bellamy, Monty, Raven, Miller, Bryan and Harper (and Octavia if she sticks around) taking down Arkadia, and setting off to find Luna in season 4. Bring it on.
What did you think about this week’s episode of ‘The 100’?
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