10:02 pm EST, February 1, 2017

‘The 100’ season 4 premiere review: Turn the page, and don’t look back

The first episode of The 100 season 4 drops us right into the heart of the action, confident in its vision and ushering in a new, more mature era of the series.

After a lengthy hiatus, The 100 is back for its fourth season. Can you believe it? Our little show that could is officially not that little anymore, having emerged on the other side of its tumultuous season 3 with what feels like a newfound confidence and clarity of vision.

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One of The 100‘s greatest strengths has always been its ability to burn through plot (and then rise from the ashes like a burnt plot phoenix), but season 3 arguably suffered from being just a little too fast and disjointed. Season 4 appears to have narrowed its focus, re-centering on the core characters and shifting the conflict inwards — all the while setting up a huge, external threat.

There is a lot to say about the epic episode “Echoes,” and we’ll get into all of that in this in-depth analysis of The 100 season 4, episode 1. But first, some overall impressions:

It’s the end of the world (and they feel fine)

The 100 season 4 Bellarke united

The first thing that struck me about this episode was how confident it felt, and a lot of that came through the characters themselves. Three seasons in, the people of Skaikru are no longer scared space n00bs who crashed into an overwhelming hellscape: As we enter season 4, they’ve finally cracked the code to survival, which turns out to be very simple: You fight or you die.

The 100 has a tendency to be eerily prescient when it comes to real-life political developments, and although we aren’t currently facing an apocalypse (at the time of writing, anyway), it is still incredibly heartening to see how our heroes react to the news of their impending doom. No one hides, or runs, or breaks down in despair even as the odds seem overwhelmingly stacked against them. Instead they stand a little taller, square their shoulders and collectively ask: How do we fix this?

If there was ever a time to take courage from your fictional idols, now is that time, and The 100 inspires courage at every turn. Don’t say this show isn’t important.

Clarke The 100 season 4

For Clarke, our main squeeze (I already regret writing that, sorry Clarke), there is a sense of resigned weariness even as she battles on as ferociously as ever. Because at this point, whatever happens — even if she somehow does find a way to save everyone — she knows there’ll just be an even bigger battle waiting for her on the other side.

She’ll keep fighting these battles, because she’s Clarke fucking Griffin and that’s what Clarke fucking Griffin does, but at this point she’s lost too many people she loved, and there is more blood on her hands than she can ever wash off. She can never go back to being the smart, talented doctor/artist-in-training that she might have been in another life, and I think she’s beginning to realize that.

Related: Interview: The 100 showrunner teases “dark, relentless, but surprisingly hopeful” season 4

It reminds me — yep, you probably guessed it — of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which told the story of a girl who fought tooth and nail against the destiny that she had been born into; she was the Slayer, the Chosen One, the one girl in all the world to stand against the forces of darkness, but she certainly wasn’t happy about it. Yet slowly, Buffy came to accept and even take pride in her strength, as she came to fully understand that not only would ‘the Slayer’ always be a part of her life — it was her life.

Perhaps Clarke’s journey won’t be that extreme, but for all intents and purposes Clarke is the designated ‘Chosen One’ of this story; she is the one who has to fix the world, and she has accepted that responsibility. (Of course the question about whether she’s truly the most suited to make the decisions is something I expect we’ll see the show deal with as this season moves along, so watch this space.)

The 100 season 4 Octavia

And it’s not just Clarke. You see a similar undercurrent of resignation in Bellamy, Abby, Raven, Octavia (whose carving her way out of a body bag symbolizes a rebirth for the character: The old Octavia died with Lincoln, and she has now ‘risen’ again as a new, colder version of herself), and even Roan. Kane is perhaps the exception here: Ever the optimist, he is driven as always by his intense desire to do better, a way of life that Bellamy seems poised to adopt as well. (More on this in coming recaps.)

These people have — to put it bluntly — seen some shit, and they hardly break stride even as they walk headfirst into their biggest battle yet. At the top of the episode Clarke and Bellamy stride confidently into season 4, ready to face whatever comes next, offering each other unconditional support (and gratitude — that “thank you” was long overdue!). After the events of the season 3 finale they are now truly united in leadership, their partnership emblematic of the episode’s overall theme of togetherness: Aside from Echo causing trouble, most of the main characters are ready to let go of their grudges and fight this new threat together, the last vestiges of petty teen angst giving way to adult pragmatism. At this point, the generational divide between the characters is pretty much non-existent.

Poli(s)tical Animals

The 100 season 4 episode 1

Through Lexa, The 100 season 3 introduced us to the Grounders’ political system, and season 4 looks set to pull more on this thread, reminding us that even when the stakes are literally life or death for the whole planet, the ‘little things’ like who is actually in charge of making the decisions still matter a hell of a lot (as, unfortunately, real life has also made us pointedly aware).

It seems like this might be the year we finally get a version of the elusive Azgeda/Trikru ‘civil war,’ even if Trikru are now seemingly weak and without a leader. In fact, as Echo points out, Lexa’s death and the ensuing ALIE chaos has left both Trikru and Skairu ready to fall, and if it were up to him, Roan would dispel with both of them and usher in the Age of Azgeda (incidentally, a possible title for the next game in the Elder Scrolls series and/or Roan’s secret punk-rock cover band).

Thankfully, however, Roan appears to share Lexa’s peaceful sensibilities. Those three years in exile have clearly left their mark on him, because Roan has shown himself to be cut from a very different cloth than most of his Azgeda kinsmen. When Clarke told the others that, “We need him,” I could totally see that being an echo of a conversation in the writers’ room as they were breaking season 4: Of course Roan had to come back, because he is literally the only Grounder left who a) has any power aspirations that we know of and b) has any semblance of motivation for indulging Skaikru’s seemingly nonsensical whims.

The 100 episode 4 Roan

And Roan is even more important than we may have assumed: In this episode, the entire fate of the world hinges on him keeping his word to Clarke — and his subsequent ability to keep that ill-fitting crown on his head. (Grandpa Theo’s head must have been enormous!)

If Clarke is the Queen of this symbolic chess board, Roan perfectly embodies the role of the King: The centerpiece that needs to be protected at all costs while everyone else make their moves around him. Unfortunately, while keeping him in power to stave off open war is a good plan in theory, it’s not one I imagine Roan will be able or willing to play along with for very long.

For now, however, all we know is that Roan is hard but sensible, fair within reason and willing to listen before chopping all their heads off. He’s also refreshingly unimpressed with Clarke; she may be Wanheda, but he just became the crowned king of everything, and is arguably wiser and more hardened to the realities of this world than any character since Anya. His ability to separate feeling from fact means that, even if he remains an ally to Skaikru for now, Clarke and Roan are going to have to earn each other’s respect the hard way.

The 100 episode 4 Clarke Roan

In order to establish this alliance, Clarke had to give Roan the last piece of Lexa she had left, in one of the episode’s most important and emotional scenes. The death of Lexa still hangs over the show like a dark cloud, and it was equal parts painful and beautiful to see Clarke — who’d held on to that chip for so long — finally give it away in an effort to save herself (so she in turn could save the world).

In an episode that devoted a substantial amount of time to Lexa’s legacy and Clarke’s grief, it felt like a worthy reason to give up the tangible bit of Lexa she still held onto. Because Lexa was, in a symbolic way, saving Clarke’s life one last time.

‘I loved her, Mom’

The 100 episode 4 Clarke crying

I would argue that the moment when Clarke gives away the Flame wouldn’t have felt so earned without the scene that preceded it, in which Clarke broke down and admitted to Abby, “I loved her, Mom,” and Abby put on her best Han Solo voice and said, “I know.”

Not only was this a beautiful mother/daughter moment, further establishing Abby and Clarke as one of the best dynamics of the series, but it also affirmed The 100‘s commitment to sexuality not being something you need to justify or explain. Clarke loving Lexa was as obvious to Abby as Clarke loving Finn, and the parallel to their exchange in “Remember Me” was certainly not an accident.

This moment, along with Clarke giving Roan the Flame, is beginning to add up to something that feels like closure for Clarke and Lexa. Not romantically, because Clarke’s love for Lexa will never go away completely, even if/when she does find love again; but the sharpest edges of her pain have now been dulled, leaving Clarke free to put her full energy into saving her people.

The 100 episode 4 Abby with Clarke

I also want to weigh in on the inclusion of Kane and Bellamy’s reaction shots in this scene, because I think they’ll probably be dissected a lot. I personally don’t think Bellamy was showing jealousy here (though I’m sure the argument can be made that he was); instead, I read his look purely as sympathy for Clarke’s loss and helplessness because he can’t comfort her — and, simultaneously, as visual confirmation for the audience that if he wasn’t already fully aware of the extent of Clarke’s feelings for Lexa, we now know that he knows.

It’s not something we’ve seen them discuss on screen, after all, and now they don’t have to; any last traces of confusion he felt about why she chose to stay with the Grounders — what exactly made Lexa so special? What made Clarke put so much faith in this (in Bellamy’s eyes) dangerous potential enemy? — have been wiped away. It’s one of many loose ends this episode ties up, allowing these two characters to move forward without this big unsaid thing hanging between them.

As for Kane’s reaction: Aside from his personal investment in the happiness of the Griffin family, let’s not forget that he, too, held Lexa in extremely high regard. He is also grieving for her.

Kane bearing witness to this exchange between Abby and Clarke also nicely parallels another of my favorite moments of the episode, where Clarke notices Kane and Abby’s intimate moment and smiles. Kabby is Clarke-approved! It was one of the episode’s very few no-strings-attached squee-moments. And yes, I did.

The tragedy of Jasper Jordan

The 100 episode 4 Jasper

So much for that reprieve, eh? Because this is The 100 and there are no emotional takebacks, Jasper Jordan’s spiral down Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell continues mercilessly. (Writers, you’re torturing me with this Lovers’ Whirlwind painting, it is literally at the center of all my craziest theories.)

It was hard to watch Jasper in this episode, after the relief of knowing that the writers changed their minds about his planned suicide in the season 3 finale. But it was also necessary; as painful as his storyline is certainly going to be, I’m relieved that the show hasn’t done Jasper the ALIE-like injustice of taking away his pain and imposing a forced happiness on him for the sake of plot convenience.

His ‘reprieve’ instead means that we get to see him carry on under these startling new circumstances, even if he is still just as broken as before. And this is the brave choice, artistically speaking: So often in fiction, character death is used as a substitute for development/conclusion, and the default way to end a depressed/suicidal character’s arc is with death or a magical mental ‘fix.’ But the writers are instead choosing the road less traveled: How does a person carry on, when they’ve already passed the point of choosing death?

The 100 season 4 episode 1 Raven

The answer, in Jasper’s case, turns out to be the end of the world. Unlike the other characters, it’s not fear or turmoil he feels as Raven breaks the news — it’s relief. Jasper has suffered so much and carried a weight much heavier than he’s equipped to bear, but now, the burden of his own death has been lifted off his shoulders; he doesn’t have to choose between fighting and giving up anymore. He can just be, knowing that the end is coming for everyone. He doesn’t even have to worry about leaving anyone behind who’d grieve him.

We already know based on promotional material that his initial reaction will be a burst of euphoria and a snarky attitude toward Clarke and everyone else who actually wants to take this seriously, but my hope for Jasper is that he eventually finds something to live (or die) for, a reason to fight that lies beyond his own mind or the promise of romantic love.

But whichever way the story goes from here, let’s just appreciate what a wonderful arc this is for a character who started the pilot episode seeming like comic relief at best, redshirt at worst. I’ve been so impressed with how the show has evolved Jasper and used his tragic love story with Maya to really dig deep into the recesses in grief, the upside-down of apocalyptic narratives in which not everyone can be a hero, not everyone can persevere, not everyone has the mental capacity to ‘ge smak daun, gyon op notodaim.’

And, unlike Finn, the breakdown of his mind wasn’t the end of Jasper’s story. His decision to end his own life wasn’t the end of his story, either. He goes on, and the writers have a unique opportunity to give us some of that elusive thing called hope through the one character who seems the most devoid of it.

Echo and Bellamy, sitting in a Tri, what-the-hell-is-hap-pe-ning?

The 100 season 4 episode 1 Becho Echo

Looks like Echo is gonna have to keep a hold of that BFF bracelet she made for Bellamy for just a little while longer.

Like Roan, Echo returns in a big and unexpected way in The 100 season 4, serving as the closest thing we currently have to an antagonist as she tries to poison Roan’s mind against Skaikru. Echo is a force of nature, a viper ready to strike at any moment, and based on Tasya Teles’ interview teasers, she’s set to have a great arc over the course of the season.

While King Roan deals mainly with Clarke, Echo squares off against Bellamy not once, but several times over the course of the episode. And their intense exchanges open up for all kinds of intriguing possibilities.

It’s particularly intriguing because Bellamy is one of the characters who has yet to form a personal connection to the Grounders (discounting Lincoln, whom Bellamy only initially connected with because of Octavia, and later because Lincoln aligned himself with Skaikru).

He hasn’t had a Lexa or an Indra or an Emori to give him a personalized Grounder crash course; they’re still on the edge of being the enemy to him, and Azgeda is, arguably, an actual enemy. Yet Echo, even with all the bad blood between them, is the closest thing Bellamy has to, let’s say, an Anya to his Clarke. Their connection right now is amounting to a grudging personal respect formed though their shared trauma.

The 100 season 4 episode 1 Becho

But Echo betrayed Bellamy’s trust once before, with deadly consequences, and her ‘but I did save your life that one time’ argument doesn’t hold much water with someone who is struggling under a mountain of survivor’s guilt. Add to that her actions in this episode — most damningly her treatment of Clarke and the rest of Skaikru — and of course Bellamy has no desire to trust or deal with her ever again.

But a big part of why I enjoy The 100 so much is because alliances are constantly shifting, and characters rarely get stuck on one emotion for very long. And there’s clearly a basis for a more intricate dynamic between these two moving forward, as story complications will undoubtedly force them to set aside their differences and work toward a common goal. At any rate, I’m really enjoying Echo’s energy and am intrigued to see what she’ll bring to the show moving forward.

‘Echoes’ fade: So what now, Princess?

The 100 season Kane Bellamy

At the end of “Echoes” we’re left with Kane, Abby and Octavia in Polis, tasked with keeping Roan on the throne, while Bellamy and Clarke go off to Arkadia to find a way to save humanity, reuniting with the rest of what the brilliant Toni at TV.com has nicknamed ‘The Adventure Squad.’

Kane, realizing that Bellamy is struggling with the guilt of his actions in season 3, sends off his should-have-been son with a beautiful piece of advice that could easily double as a message from the show to its audience: “You turn the page and you don’t look back. You do better today than you did yesterday. Before you know it, you’ll deserve to survive.”

And ‘turning the page’ is exactly what it feels like The 100 has done. Although this episode was full of heart-pounding action, helped along by speedy camera movements, worm’s eye angles and extreme close-ups that added to the frantic, claustrophobic sense of impending doom, it also served as a transitional chapter, implying through its title that it would resolve some of the ‘echoes’ from last season and soft-launch new storylines, putting the pieces in motion for a story that, based on the first episode alone, could go anywhere from here.

With the vast majority of the episode taking place indoors (and the copious use of prison-like wire framing to visually fence in the characters), the episode feels intentionally closed off, giving us a limited view of what’s to come. But in a way, that is also comforting; I maintain that, after the relentless season 3, an episode devoted to processing everything that had happened and (relatively) calmly outline what comes next was exactly what the show needed before we can truly move on.

And then in the final, horrifying scene, we literally speed all the way across the Atlantic ocean, moving further away than the show has ever taken us, only to reveal that there is, literally, no place like home because everything else is crumbling into nuclear dust.

Next week’s episode, “Heavy Lies the Crown,” will move the story forward in a big, unexpected way, as some of the characters are put in the impossible position of having to decide between the needs of the many and the needs of the few. It’s a big episode for everyone, though maybe Bellamy and Monty especially — and Kabby fans also have a lot to look forward to.

For your consideration

The 100 season 4 episode 1 blasphemy

  • Here you have it, our first look at the girl from the season 4 trailer played by Tati Gabrielle. Get hyped about this one, kru.
  • Octavia begins her journey as Skai Rippah in this episode, and it was wonderful to learn that this entailed working with her people, not against them. I’m intrigued by the set-up of her as the person who essentially does the other characters’ dirty work, though. Much like Jasper, Octavia’s trauma from last season isn’t going to magically go away, and at this point, I’m beginning to get really strong Arya Stark vibes from her: The two are essentially on parallel quests to kill everyone who has ever wronged them in an attempt to find inner peace through ‘justice.’ But, just like A Very Potter Musical‘s Voldemort had to realize that killing people “just makes them dead,” Octavia will eventually have to admit to herself that her attraction to the vicious side of the Grounder lifestyle is rooted in deeper issues than wanting justice.
  • Jaha’s exclamation of “what have I done” possibly marks the first time he’s been mentally ‘sober’ since landing on the Ground. Of course, Jaha’s mind was shot long before he took the ALIE chip (hence my theory about his mind being permanently damaged from the oxygen loss on the Ark), and he’s probably gonna go down some other weird path soon, but I was still happy to see him work with our heroes for a change. Helpful Jaha is a nice change of pace.
  • Also notice how Abby saved the day. Again. “Abby will come though,” and she did.
  • Marper were so adorable this week, their shy declarations of attraction providing a nice break from all the drama. ♫ They found love in a hopeless pla-ace

  • The 100 season 4 Murphy
    The 100 season 4 Emori

  • And, since we’re singing, how about a round of Memoriiiii-es! Oh, those scheming cuties. Although it was initially disappointing to see Murphy abandon Bellamy when he needed him (RIP Murphamy?), I understand his perspective: Murphy literally just wanted a safe place for himself and Emori, only to walk right into a brand new kerfuffle. Very wisely, if selfishly — but hey, this is Murphy we’re talking about — he then decides that he’s had enough of their nonsense and peaces out. (Side note, I also loved Emori’s reveal that she took the chip in the hope of seeing Murphy again. These two are the Bonnie and Clyde of The 100 and I love them a lot.)
  • The first word spoken in the season was “Indra.” I don’t have an insightful comment; I just think it was cool.
  • Raven’s pain is back, AND her face faded into that skull on the wall in Polis. Nope, not ominous at all…
  • How about that final scene, huh? Egypt. I guess when we asked the writers to show us what was happening in the rest of the world, we should have known their reaction would be to rub their hands and cackle as they decreed, “LET’S DESTROY IT!” I’m never asking for anything ever again.

  • God, Roan, we get it. You’re hot.

‘The 100’ returns next week for season 4, episode 2, ‘Heavy Lies the Crown’

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