10:00 am EDT, June 4, 2019

‘The 100’ season 6, episode 5 review: Prime by Prime

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The 100 season 6, episode 5 shows us the world through Josephine’s Lightbourne’s eyes… and what a world.

Not to alarm anybody, but we’re almost halfway through The 100 season 6 already. It’s flying by, and I’m having so much fun!

With a whole-ass moon to explore, our heroes have somehow found themselves smack-dab in the middle of another Mount Weather/Grounder-esque conflict, battling Becca Pramheda-branded tech and continuing to put assorted computer chips in each other’s heads.

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the worlds… you know how it goes.

The 100 season 6, episode 5 “The Gospel of Josephine” was directed by Ian Samoil (“A Lie Guarded,” “Sic Semper Tyrannis”) and written by newcomer Georgia Lee (The Expanse). And what a debut for Lee, who comes with some hefty sci-fi cred and puts it to good use!

It strikes me how elegantly The 100 has switched its focus almost completely from the original cast members to the newcomers, yet despite all the new characters and the new setting and the new world rules (and the new main character), it still feels like I’m watching The 100; with all this change, it should feel like a handful of delinquents+ have been dropped into a fantasy AU, but so far, it’s just a lighter, brighter, wilder version of the show I love.

That said, of course you can only send Emori and co. off to repair the ship (and leave Indra in cryo, grr) for so many episodes before it starts being obnoxious — though better off-screen than dead, right? And since The 100 is never not going to play to its core strengths, which are world building and ‘villain’ POV-nuancing, this is a great compromise.

And what an amazing new bunch of characters (and actors!) they’ve added to the mix this time around. Tattiawna Jones’ Simone continues to be my absolute favorite, and Ashleigh LaThrop deserves so much praise for her portrayal of both Delilah and Priya.

Eliza Taylor has the challenge of boxing everything she’s learned to be over the past six years and embrace a totally different character, but Ashleigh LaThrop had only two episodes to make us understand and care about Delilah enough so that, when the Priya switch came, we’d immediately be able to see and feel the difference in their souls and hurt for the loss of Delilah right alongside Jordan. So shoutout to her, and shoutout to The 100’s casting department, the show’s secret superweapon that never gets enough recognition.

This episode is all about Josephine (and… Murphy? #Josephurphy?), but not to be outdone, Octavia and Diyoza have an intense, compelling, and visually stunning storyline. I can’t wait to talk about all of it, so let’s dive in…to the glop-glop.

She’s back, bitches

Clarke WHO? Am I right? Hahaha (nervous laughter).

As every single person on this planet and probably some aliens and subterranean beings have already said, Eliza Taylor is fantastic as Josephine. She doesn’t overdo it, and she doesn’t undersell it; she changes the pitch just enough and she twists her facial expressions just enough that it “””simply””” feels like it’s Eliza Taylor in a different role in a different story in a different genre. (Simple, of course, it ain’t.)

Despite the more obvious comparisons that have been made to Altered Carbon and The Host, the tone of this bodyswap episode (if not the exact scenario) is actually a whole lot like Buffy’s fantastic two-parter “This Year’s Girl” and “Five By Five,” in which Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy and Eliza Dushku’s Faith swapped bodies.

Taylor’s take on Josephine is more than on par with Gellar and Dushku’s phenomenal performances, and fans are still blown away by what those two actresses did, 20 years later! I hope it’ll be the same in this case.

(Speaking of Buffy and those episodes… there’s also a Spike/Murphy-related comparison that I’m not going to go into, but if you know, you know.)

In typical The 100 fashion, they don’t do things halfway: Taylor isn’t just singing and dancing and being delighted about murder. She’s rapping in French and speaking Mandarin; she’s layering years of character work into Josephine, not just syncing up her performance with Sara Thompson’s but evolving it into a Josephine who has literally lived half a dozen lives since she inhabited that body.

Did she ever grow old in one of those bodies? How much of those past 300 years did her chip spend on ice? Did she ever fall in love with anyone but Gabriel, or did he grow in her mind like an obsession? How much of her mental state is because of her original personality and how much has it degraded over time? (Is it really the most preserving environment to keep the chip inside a necklace as opposed to, say, an ice box in storage? What if it rains, Simone?!)

Has Josephine always been this unhinged? She did talk about testing poisonous plants on kids when they first arrived in Sanctum, right? But I wouldn’t be surprised if each transfer corrupts the chip a little bit, frays the soul kind of like Voldemort’s every time he makes a new Horcrux.

There’s also probably the lingering trauma of having lived through your own death(s), and the fact that, however well Gabriel perfected the serum, we’re still talking about a disk-stored conscious having to exist in a foreign brain.

But of course underlying all that, there’s the madness of considering yourself a god and coming to truly believe that you personally deserve to live forever at the cost of others. Russell and Simone clearly try very hard to convince themselves and each other that they act out of love; that this is a ‘my people’ decision on par with slaughtering one group of innocents to save your own (not unlike what Clarke and co. have done in the past).

As Dante Wallace once called his people the keepers of history, fundamentally of greater worth than the “savages” he bled in the basement, Russell similarly considers the Primes necessary to preserve (or at least works hard to convince himself of this fact). Josephine is different. She does this because she can. And she might be the sanest one of them all because she doesn’t harbor any illusions of altruism.

To a certain extent, obviously all the Primes must consider themselves — or at least their loved ones — worthy of rebirth at the cost of another person’s life. It’s the show’s core ‘us vs them’ dilemma taken to a new extreme; on paper, not unlike when Clarke and Bellamy eradicated one set of innocent people in Mount Weather to save their own set of innocent people, but that decision was made in desperation, under duress, and their people had been placed in imminent danger by the other side. This is calculated, devised, and repeated with fervent self-devotion.

(…It’s funny how our brains sort through intent and circumstance and make what feels like definitive value judgements based on these thought processes, isn’t it?)

But it wasn’t always that way. Russell and Gabriel spearheaded the human trials and find a way to bring Josephine back, an effort that started out from a place of passion. It seems that Josephine is the one who made it an art form, taking it beyond a desperate quest to save an individual loved one and into cold, calculated territory that fundamentally weigh the value of one group’s lives over another. She’s Mount Weather’s Lorelei Tsing, but part of the ruling family, and with nobody to curb her power.

Where Russell might tell himself that he made the host of humans brought onto the planet as embryos — he is responsible for their safe-keeping and they need him — Josephine doesn’t need the comfort of such a lie, and she doesn’t hide herself behind sentiment. They are equally self-aggrandizing, but Russell considers himself a benevolent deity. Josephine considers herself smart enough to take advantage of advantageous circumstances, and she’s gonna look hot doing it.

At least that kind of psychopath is easier to deal with (IN FICTION!) than the ones who stroke your hair as they kill you and thank you for your sacrifice. It’s a straightforwardness that someone like Murphy probably does genuinely find refreshing, whatever else he might think about her.

And then there is Gabriel, still an uncertain entity despite what we know he spent 25 years of his life doing. Even though he has done horrible things, he might be said to have acted out of love, and this singular purpose to save Josephine drove him to further and further extremes. (There’s a clear parallel between Gabriel’s harrowed video diaries and how Abby acted during the Nightblood trials in season 4.) He and Russell probably egged each other on and convinced each other that what they were doing was justfied.

But what happened when that purpose had been achieved? What happened when Gabriel was faced with the actual Josephine, not his idealized memory of her, and she wanted to turn his science into a religion? What happened when the rest of the Primes wanted him to hollow out bodies for them to use, too? What happened when it was his own turn?

Wherever Gabriel is now, if he is indeed this “old man” the Children speak of (is he still in his original body but super old? Can he only exist inside the temporal anomaly?), clearly his ideological differences with the former love of his life has led the factions to literal war, and clearly it has something to do with the treatment of the hosts and maybe even the potential loophole in this so-called brain-wiping serum.

Is it too idealistic to imagine Gabriel as our heroes’ eventual ally and the person who knows how to get Clarke back? Possibly. But if he’s still around, I’m sure an eventual Josephine-Gabriel showdown would be interesting.

My instinctual love for Simone proved well-founded, because despite her frosty demeanour when our heroes first arrived, she’s clearly the most level-headed Lightbourne.

Russell is a little bit blinded by his residual guilt about killing Josephine that one time, and they’re both so touchingly happy to see their child alive again. But absence makes the heart grow fonder, and they both remember very quickly who, exactly, Josephine the person is.

There is clearly a lot of nuance in how the Primes feel about their self-enforced deification — sidebar, I love this, it would have been so easy to make them a washed out and identity-less mass — and Kaylee clearly saw Josephine for what she was in a way her parents could not.

Priya might be the Prime who relishes in her position the most, aside from Josephine. She’ll probably prove an ally even as her son, and maybe others, begin to turn away from the Lightbournes. But Josephine’s new knowledge, that they can make more Nightbloods, is very likely going to unite most of the Primes in newfound purpose… the question is how all of their subjects are going to feel about it. (You STAY AWAY from Cookie Man!)

Watch out Bellamy, there’s a new heart in town

One of these days, I’m going to stop making surprised proclamations about how Shannon Kook’s Jordan is somehow surpassing the sky-high expectations that fandom had for him, but not today!™

In another show or played by another actor, a character like Jordan might have fallen a bit flat, reflecting his isolated, limited upbringing. But Jordan, though clearly different from everyone who has grown up surrounded by more than two people (so… everyone but Madi and Octavia), is still a fully complex human being who is ruled by the prevalent force in his life — love — but who is intelligent enough to adapt to his overwhelming new circumstances.

Everything our heroes experience on this new planet isn’t just new because it’s new, it’s new because they, and we, are seeing it through Jordan’s eyes. Jordan, who has grown up on stories of these people — just like us — but who has never had to live the lives they’ve led. Just like us. (Though I know it feels like we have sometimes, fandom can be a rough place.)

As terrible as the experiments and the revelation that the Primes are hollowing out bodies for their own immortality are, you can see the weariness in Bellamy, Murphy and even Gaia’s eyes as they take it all in, because they’ve been here before; Mount Weather, the bunker, the City of Light, Praimfaya, the Grounder clan wars, the Ark; they’re all shades of the same horror done in the name of survival for one ‘us’ or another.

Faith, though not touched on too much in this episode, is also an interesting aspect when it comes to debating what actions are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in what context.

Jordan’s mounting horror and his “Did we just watch someone die” is such a poignant way to remind us that murder isn’t normal, and that what the Primes are doing — and have done — is appalling beyond just being a new inconvenience for our heroes to fight off.

I also like that they don’t overdo his ‘voice of the audience’ role, because when he does voice an extenalish concern, it doesn’t feel forced. Like missing ‘heart-Bellamy,’ a sentiment that has been voiced by a lot of fans.

I’m still not sold on the show’s definition of the head/heart categories, by the way, and I’m still not sure I don’t prefer this new level-headed Bellamy, who hasn’t lost his heart as much as his temper.

But I agree that Bellamy has perhaps lost the spark in his eyes, the drive to fight for something other than adequacy; even at his ‘happiest’ on the Ark, he still seemed defeated, and even now, it’s like he doesn’t dare to hope for anything, at least not for himself, because he knows he can only stand so many more defeats.

Bellamy was beaten down and beaten down in season 4; then he lost Jasper, then the world ended, then he lost Clarke and got separated from Octavia (and, while they ended on good terms, their relationship was already fractured as hell before Blodreina). One and a half seasons later, he’s still trying to rein in all that anger and grief that we never saw him process, maybe because he never really did.

Maybe that’s what Jordan means when he says he preferred heart-Bellamy. Someone who doesn’t try to be the one who holds it all together to make everyone around him feel better; someone who maybe uncages his heart a little bit and confronts some of the things and fears and demons inside him that manifested as murderous rage in the psychosis.

Men have broken for less than what Bellamy has been through (and is still going through) on this show, and this show breaks a lot of men. I think Bellamy’s heart needs a big win soon, or he’s going to end up like Kane.

The last good man

The first few episodes of this season were amazing for Abby. It showed her committing to giving up the drugs and it showed her stepping into a leadership role in a way we haven’t seen since season 2.

But Abby, like so many of these characters, is broken. Her breaking point came in season 4 when she began the human trials to make Nightblood, and Kane’s decision to save her against her will in “The Chosen” did nothing to make her feel worthy of life. Everything that happened after that — cannibalism, stealing medicine and getting Kane thrown in the pit, joining forces with Diyoza, Vinson — has pulled her down, down, down.

She’s got strength. She’s got purpose. But she’s also got a boulder of guilt chained to her leg every time she tries to take a step, and that’s on top of her drug addiction and the constant effort it is to keep the overwhelming urge to give into it at bay.

What Abby says to Jackson encapsulates how she feels about herself; how she feels about anyone who isn’t Kane, her lifeline, the only redeemable part of herself and the spark of goodness in the world that she feels she owes it to redeem. Kane right now serves as a concrete object of manifested goodness that Abby can actively work to restore to the world, redeeming herself in the process (or giving herself a reason to believe she has survived this long while others have not for a reason).

Whether Kane survives or not shouldn’t be what defines Abby’s journey, but somewhere along the line Kane’s leadership/vision of the world/personhood became Abby’s ideal that she herself feels is impossible to live up to. I hope the show examines that a little bit, what her obsession with Kane really says about her.

A possible way we’ll see this is if/when the Primes recruit her to make more people into Nightblood, essentially setting her back to her formative ‘act of evil’ and maybe allowing her to make a different choice, on her own terms.

Into the glop-glop

Diyoza and Octavia this week somehow manage to be absolute comedic gold while also having an incredibly heartbreaking and unnerving exchange about suicide where Diyoza essentially offers to kill Octavia so she doesn’t have to do it herself. How? And did I mention that Georgia Lee is a first-time writer for this show?

Dressed in their Grounder finest, they get themselves stuck in a perfect metaphor, aka. the glop-glop, aka. that place where you literally die faster the harder you fight, aka. the natural predator of Octavia Blakes.

There’s also a bit of a mother-daughter layer in the visual, which has Octavia sinking down to look up at Diyoza like a petulant child would a parent as Diyoza passes on her life experiences and gives advice to someone struggling in an earlier stage of the same journey.

It’s important, what Diyoza says to Octavia, for her understanding of herself and for making her understand that there is an after that isn’t utterly terrible. There is, very literally, life in Diyoza’s future, not just death; the baby is a representation of that life but obviously not the sum of it — Diyoza herself is the proof Octavia needs that someone can literally be in a history book next to Hitler and still work to do good and improve the world and fight for a better future for their loved ones.

Meanwhile, Xavier blows my mind by flirting with Diyoza, not Octavia (am I really wrong on this one? I refuse to give up on my Xtavia endgame. I REFUSE), but also by being a terrific third in their traveling tragicomedy troupe.

Then the temporal flare happens and, well… The 100 does love its rebirth metaphors.

After letting Diyoza go with a heart-wrenching “save your baby!”, Octavia goes under the floor into the glop-glop — significantly, as the script-to-screen confirms, in an effort to survive the flare, not give into it — and emerges, resurrected (rebirthed) by Diyoza, now with the knowledge that she indeed would and did die before she sold out her people. You might even say she died a hero. It’s the ending Blodreina needed, and she just got it.

She doesn’t emerge unscathed, though. Her hand looks aged, withered (not to make another Harry Potter reference but this also happened to Dumbledore in Half-Blood Prince, and that didn’t end well), maybe reflecting the true age of her cryo self, probably somehow related to the “temporal anomaly” zone we saw on the map.

Hopefully it’ll just be her hand — imagine Octavia without the use of her sword hand, yikes — and it won’t be some disease that starts to spread.

Also… Xtaviyoza endgame?

Everything’s coming up cockroach

So John Murphy has been seduced by the dark side… maybe?

Murphy sees an opportunity and he takes it. Even when other people would have been blinded by shock or rage or grief (and by “other people,” I mean Bellamy), Murphy is clear-headed enough to think half a dozen steps ahead.

Josephine will never know what hit her.

But exactly because Murphy is an opportunist — even if lately he has been opportunistic on behalf of his flock, not just himself — we don’t know exactly why he is taking Josephine’s offer and what his endgame is.

Could it be that Murphy — excuse me, John — is really on Josephine’s side because he’ll do anything to save himself from certain hell? Is it a quickly thought-out long con to ultimately help Bellamy and their friends? Is it a little bit of both? I genuinely don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t quite know yet, either, because it all depends on what further opportunities present themselves, right?

Murphy is probably the only character on this show that you can realistically pull off a personality-based ‘twist’ like this with. It works not because we don’t know Murphy well enough to understand his intention; it works exactly because we know him well enough to know that it’s equally likely that he gives into the temptation to save his own soul and that he chooses to pretend to be on Josephine’s side to buy Bellamy and the rest time to save Clarke and find a way out of this.

Contrast the satisfaction of this episode’s twist ending with the reveal at the end of “Die All, Die Merrily” that Clarke had stolen the bunker. The twist worked, but only because her motives and the extent of her desperation had been obscured for the past few episodes. Murphy is never obscured; Murphy is probably the most real character this show has because we’re allowed to see the best and the ugliest parts of his soul. He’s evolved, yes, but it’s not a linear or viewer-friendly evolution. It’s human. He’s fully flawed in a way characters in stories are so rarely allowed to be.

I would be equally satisfied whether Murphy’s alliance with Josephine was truly self-serving or if it was ‘altruistic’ (or should I say: self-serving with the endgame of winning himself eternal life and saving his own soul, or self-serving with the endgame of helping his people and saving his own soul). Because either option will feel true to who Murphy is — it’s just a question of which wolf he feeds.

It will of course be devastating if Murphy is truly out for himself at the potential cost of his SpaceKru family’s safety; this episode made a particular point to highlight his relationship with Bellamy (I felt a stirring in my withered Murphamy heart, but alas, I fear ’tis not to sail), and Bellamy is incidentally also one of the people who will be hurt the most by Clarke’s ‘death’ — and fight the hardest to get her back.

But right now, Murphy believes that Clarke is dead, and he’s thinking quickly to save himself (and potentially even imagines he can save his friends). You can’t fault that logic. The question is what happens if he gets any indication that Clarke is saveable. What when/if he has to make a choice between saving himself and saving Clarke? For Clarke, for himself, for Bellamy, for Abby? Who will John Murphy be then?

And/or: what if him being on Josephine’s side actively puts Bellamy, Emori and Raven in danger? Would he really choose himself? Because, sure, deus ex hell-vision, but it’s been like a week since he a) got shot to protect his friends and b) told Emori to save herself and let him die in Praimfaya 2.0. He’s not the same John Murphy he was in season 1, or even season 3 (though that part of himself is obviously still very much accessible), and I think that matters.

For now, I’m mostly just excited for the potential of Eliza Taylor and Richard Harmon working together, and to see these two characters square off against each other! And it’s going to be great to see Murphy continue to struggle with the reality of Josephine; whatever else he felt in that moment, he was horrified and devastated by Clarke’s death, and even if he can be level-headed enough to use it to his own advantage, I imagine his feelings towards Josephine-Clarke are going to be muddled at best.

For your consideration

  • Who else has been dancing around their room listening to “Alors on danse” by Stromae on loop ever since this episode? Nobody? Hahahaha no, same, I definitely have not done this.
  • 13 Primes! 13! I knew it!
  • Is Josephine bullshitting Murphy (very likely) about being able to make him a Prime, or is there a way to make more memory chips? Could everyone get them? Could we in fact get actors playing each other’s roles, answering the question asked at a million fan conventions? Is the musical next?
  • Let’s all just acknowledge Eliza Taylor and Richard Harmon’s insane chemistry and Murphy and Clarke’s super Spuffy-esque energy and quietly move on…
  • There were a lot of great WTF interactions between Josephine and Clarke’s friends, but Gaia’s reactions to Josephine were my favorite. She was so scandalised!
  • Did I save this reaction gif or did this reaction gif save me?
  • By the way, it was lucky that Bellamy was wearing all that plot armor in the Josephine confrontation scene huh, or else it would have been super weird that she didn’t just…….. kill him.
  • What did the first resurrected Josephine mean by “Is it real this time?” Was she referring to broken memories of past experiments, or something else?
  • Do we think Octavia had a similar vision of hell as Murphy did when she ‘died’? Or was that an exclusive side-effect of the water/snake combo?
  • Sigh, bye Kaylee(‘s body)… there goes another fantastic actor! Sarah-Jane Redmond, you are a sci-fi legend, miss you already.
  • That was a heck of a lot of Trig they were suddenly speaking, huh?
  • So listen, I know there’s probably leeway on this sci-fi trope, but are we all agreed that when a mind is taken and put onto a memory chip and then put into something else, it’s a copy of that person’s mind? Like, these are for all intents and purposes the ‘real’ version of Josephine, Russell etc, because it’s an exact replica, but it’s still essentially a memory stick and the originals are still dead, and Eliza Taylor-Josephine isn’t in fact the same Josephine as Sara Thompson-Josephine… right? Anyway, that’s how I feel about memory transfer storylines, I just don’t buy the idea of a digital soul I guess.
  • Ohhhhh nooooooo they know about Madi!!!
  • Is there a Planet Beta?

‘The 100’ returns Tuesday, June 13 at 9/8c on The CW

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