10:00 am EDT, April 17, 2019

‘The 100’ season 6 advance review: A thrilling new chapter

Get in bitches, we’re going to Sanctum.

The 100 season 6 premieres April 30 on The CW. Here is an advance review of episode 1 and episode 2.

Six seasons in, and The 100 is still finding ways to breathe new life into its old premise, staying true to the core ethical questions of the series — are we born good or evil? Can human beings ever break free of our ancestors’ patterns of destruction? Does power always corrupt? — while confidently inventing new aesthetics, tackling new themes in fantastical new locations.

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After season 5, which everyone thought was going to be a soft reboot but turned out to be a mirrored companion piece to season 4, I have been hesitant to proclaim season 6 another reinvention, despite the promising “End Book 1” closing out the season 5 finale.

Having screened the first two episodes, however, I no longer feel hesitant to call season 6 a soft reboot of the show we love.

‘The 100’ season 6 review

We’re back at the beginning — a mismatched group of spacelocked humans with conflicting interests land on an assumed-to-be uninhabited planet full of unpredictable dangers — but we’re also 125+ years into a story rich with complex mythology, even more complex character relationships, and deeply traumatized wannabe heroes.

The thematic reset means that The 100 season 6 is the perfect time for new viewers to jump in, because everything is fresh and the premiere episode provides some handy dialogue-recaps that tell you (most of) what you need to know.

But the commitment to core character arcs and sweeping mythological links between old and new means that devoted fans can look forward to another season of exactly what they love about The 100… turned up to 11. This is Book 2, baby, and this show is not f***ing around.

The 100 season 6 embraces its new planet with fresh energy and evident enthusiasm, and there is a new playful excitement in every aspect of production. Nowhere is this clearer than in the props and set design (and, as we know from the trailer, the costumes).

The talented props and set design departments were tasked with the daunting task of making the show’s primary mise en scène, the woods of Vancouver, look and feel like a genuinely different alien planet, and somehow they managed while still honoring Canada’s wild natural beauty.

There is an otherworldly, underwater-y quality to the new planet; colors are more intense without being too distracting, and the set design we’ve seen so far is sort of industrial-meets-medieval-meets-preschool, and somehow it works. Think Shannara Chronicles on the ground and The Expanse in space, only less constrained by genre convention.

The actors, too, feel invigorated by the new space and the less reined-in versions of their characters. Richard Harmon is a clear standout in the first two episodes, getting to do something I never expected to see on The 100 (though I suppose I should have, they always doth protested too much).

Bob Morley gets to stretch his comedic muscles in a way we’ve never seen before, and in personal news, I am happy to report that Sachin Sahel and Jarod Joseph both start the season out strong (for one thing, they’re on screen!).

There are also lots of performance-related surprises in store for us in space. We finally get to see (a bit) more of Shannon Kook as Monty and Harper’s son Jordan, and he is exactly as precious as I hoped he would be.

Lola Flanery’s Madi makes what is hands-down the season’s most iconic entrance, and Ivana Milicevic slides back into our lives and immediately confirms that yes, Diyoza and her 100+ year old unborn baby are exactly what The 100 never knew it always needed.

Previewing ‘Sanctum’ and ‘Red Sun Rising’

The 100 season 6 review

The two first episodes of The 100 season 6 will overwhelm your senses, invoking every possible emotion in quick succession, without mercy, and without giving you time think much besides “WTF just happened?”

Based on the episodes I’ve seen, this season promises to be chaos, color, death, joy, panic, pain and light, and proves once again that The 100 is the most unapologetically unfiltered show on television.

The premiere episode “Sanctum” is an incredibly exciting, high-impact season opener that sets the tone for the season ahead. It stands in sharp contrast to the season 5 premiere, which took a breath and re-centered the story on Clarke’s emotional journey; this year, literally no time has passed, and all of the fallout from season 5 has to fight for attention with the brand new, overwhelming reality of the new planet. It’s a lot of everything in a very short amount of time.

There are some absolutely phenomenal moments in which the characters allow themselves to be wowed by the new world (the best line award definitely goes to Jackson); the least exciting parts are, paradoxically, the ones where the plot simply moves too fast, compromising impactful emotional or introspective moments in the process.

The episode definitely sets up more than it knocks down — but again, it’s only the first episode. A lot of what happens in “Sanctum” is designed to set up and whet your appetite for season-long arcs, and it certainly accomplishes both.

The second episode, “Red Sun Rising,” is where The 100 season 6 really shows its true potential and leans fully into the weirdness and potential for reconfiguration and redefinition of what kind of show it wants to be (spoiler alert, the answer is all the kinds).

Directed by the brilliant Alex Kalymnios and written by returning writer-producer-doodler Jeff Vlaming, “Red Sun Rising” is, without hyperbole, unlike anything The 100 has ever done before. Watching it straight after the already gut-punching premiere is genuinely overwhelming.

The cast and crew like to throw around the words “you’re not ready” about new episodes, and at some point last season the sentiment began to fall a bit flat, but I can honestly say that I wasn’t actually ready for that second episode, if only because it was set up to be more introspective and centered on the characters’ inner lives and relationships, and so I expected that meant slowing things down a bit. I clearly forgot what show I was watching.

Even when The 100 gives you pretty much what you expected, it finds a way to do so in ways you definitely didn’t, and the reckless abandon with which season 6 throws itself into the pain, love, guilt and hate these characters feel for each other — and for themselves — is true to form for this psychedelic, hyperrealistic-absurdist new version of the show.

Just as all the exciting lights and colors are actually used to indicate an increased sense of danger, every bit of character development and growth is clearly going to be accompanied by terror, pain and wrenching heartbreak. There’s a lot to feel. And yes, there are definitely moments of joy and levity in there, too.

To be or not to be (the good guys)

One of the premiere’s most pleasant surprises is Abby Griffin, who would appear to take on more of a leadership role in season 6 than we’ve seen in quite a while.

Last year, Paige Turco had the daunting challenge of authentically portraying an addict in a storyline that neither sugar-coated addiction nor held the audience’s hand to make sure the addict would come off sympathetic (The 100’s biggest strength and weakness has always been that it expects the audience to think for itself).

This year, she has the arguably even bigger challenge of portraying a recovering addict who is forced by circumstances to put herself back together way too fast, having to take responsibility for her own actions and just generally taking up a lot more space (pun intended).

Abby’s ability to quickly adapt to her radically altered circumstances and step up to the new challenges is incredibly refreshing. It also serves to highlight how immediate and reactive a lot of the other characters have become over the past five seasons, and most of them clearly feel no urgent need to shed their season 5 skins despite the fresh start Monty and Harper handed them on a silver platter.

Viewers might experience an interesting discrepancy that ironically mirrors what we felt at the start of season 5: then, we had to contend with an emotional disconnect because while we had only been away from these characters for a hiatus, they had been living full lives for six whole years; this season, all-encompassing conflicts and character dilemmas that the audience laid to rest when we put our heroes to bed a year ago literally happened yesterday.

Fandom might have spent nearly a year dissecting character decisions and making up theories and ideas about where we want the characters to go next, but when season 6 opens, everyone is still very much in the emotional and mental space of season 5.

Some of them simply have too much unresolved trauma weighing them down to fully be able to handle the reality in front of them; Raven, for example, is still so wrapped up in the events of season 5 (plus the fresh shock of losing Monty and Harper) that she hardly seems to register the fact that she’s hovering above a brand new alien planet.

Octavia (understandably) also has no wherewithal to pay attention to her new surroundings. While the season 5 finale appeared to have brought some emotional resolution for Octavia and Abby, the season 6 premiere makes it clear that Octavia is in for a slow, intense, painful and complicated healing process that will likely get a lot worse before it gets better.

To be honest, it’s a relief to see The 100 not going for the easy option with Octavia (not that they ever have before) or abandoning her Blodreina arc just because it’s no longer ‘her season’. Octavia’s character development has never conformed to a linear structure, and it’s not about to — and she wouldn’t be Octavia if it did.

But here is hoping this is the season that doesn’t only show us how Octavia is feeling through continued extreme action, but allows her to vocalise some of those feelings, form a personal connection or two, and move in a new direction.

Based on the first few episodes, it would appear that Clarke and Octavia are going to be the main focal point characters in the season’s over-arching ‘face your demons’/’be the good guys’ narrative, and I really look forward to seeing how these two women (hopefully) develop and (hopefully) move forward to a more constructive state of being.

Notably, it also seems that The 100 is sharply narrowing in on Bellamy’s relationships with both of them, Bellamy and Clarke’s relationship in particular seemingly being set up for further exploration in future episodes.

But, while Octavia embraces her demons the only way she knows how, Clarke appears to have been made the main scapegoat/emotional punching bag taking the blame for everyone‘s bad decisions in season 5.

This is frustrating from a viewer perspective, because we have the benefit of a bird’s eye view of events, but as always, The 100 stays unflinchingly true to what the characters know and feel individually rather than what the ‘right’ thing for them to know and feel would be.

The reality is that if Clarke is ever going to reintegrate into the group she has been physically and emotionally isolated from for several seasons, it’s not going to happen with a few quick patch-up conversations. It will require her to forgive herself and it will require other characters having some empathy for her experience and taking a long hard look at their own choices. Clarke is clearly being set up for a satisfying arc, just like Octavia; hopefully the season accommodates for moments of introspection for everyone else, too.

What to expect from ‘The 100’ season 6

It is hard to make predictions about what the rest of the season is going to be based on just two episodes. Together, they felt like a tantalizing prologue that threw the viewers straight into the action without fully preparing us for what we’re really in for. The story could go anywhere, and probably will go a bunch of ‘wheres, before the season is through. But, in my experience, the best way enjoy The 100 is to just be ready for anything.

I can only hope that the rest of the season knocks down what the first two episodes set up and maybe — dare I say it — slows down just a tiny bit in order to let the characters stop and reflect on all the wild and breathtaking things they’ve experienced. (Seriously, more happens in these two episodes than in the entirety of season 4.)

But my wishes and expectations, as much as it is my job to express them, are actually irrelevant. The tagline for season 6 might be ‘Face Your Demons,’ but the overall tagline for Book 2 should be ‘No F***s Left To Give’.

The show throws itself into the new world with reckless abandon, and it’s not even giving the illusion of trying to be everything every single individual viewer wants it to be. Six seasons in, The 100 has a clear mission, and it is to make its viewers go “WTF” on a weekly basis.

The 100 knows what it’s about, but it isn’t afraid to try new things and take risks. And, even if those risks sometimes end in disaster, it’s not going to stop taking risks. The show doesn’t care what you think about it; the characters don’t care that you don’t understand or agree with their choices; the show wants to make you think and feel but it’s not going to tell you what to think and feel.

I have a feeling this entire season is going to read like the Rorschach test on the poster, and I have absolutely no desire to try to predict how anyone other than myself is going to feel about it.

For what it’s worth, I think I’m going to feel great about it. Sometimes annoyed, sometimes ecstatic, sometimes confused, sometimes all of the above. There truly is nothing else like The 100 on television, and no matter how you feel about it, there aren’t many shows out there that can make you feel quite this much.

If you watch The 100 with the expectation of taking a ride in a tumble-drier of emotion, and if you want to see real humans make real human mistakes and refuse to own up to them (just like real humans do), you’re going to have an absolute blast in season 6.

And even if you don’t, one thing is certain: it’s going to give us a lot to talk about.

‘The 100’ season 6 premieres April 30 at 9/8c on The CW

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