2:26 pm EDT, September 24, 2020

‘The 100’ season 7, episode 15 review: The dying of delight

The penultimate episode of The 100 was a masterclass in tension and emotion, but it also contains some potentially very harmful content, and viewer discretion is advised.

It is the penultimate hour of The 100 ever. And, once again, I am pondering how to approach an episode that I genuinely really enjoyed, but which builds on such a poorly-laid foundation, it is hard to appreciate it as much as I want to.

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It is also hard to care about the fiction at all, considering the very problematic implications of the final scene.

As always, I can only promise to do my best to balance criticism and praise, which I firmly believe can and should go hand in hand.

But before we get into any of it, I do want to genuinely say that — apart from the final scene — this was probably my second-favorite episode of The 100 season 7 after “The Garden.”

That bodes well for next week’s series finale, right? At this point, it seems very unlikely that I’ll buy the premise, but I just might still enjoy the ride!

But first, the second-to-last.

“The Dying of the Light” was written by Kim Shumway and directed by Ian Samoil. A winning combo, to be sure, and the episode is probably better for it. Certainly, I was more engaged and interested in what was done and said than I have been for most of this season.

I’ve said it before, and I stand by it: Kim Shumway has always been one of this show’s best writers, teasing out the truth of who she believes these characters to be, in a way that I really appreciate even though we don’t always see the show the same way.

Over the course of the series, she has consistently delivered episodes that re-centred what — let’s be honest — were often plot-driven storylines on the emotional core that make us care, either by letting the main characters touch base with each other (“Nevermore,” “A Lie Guarded”) or with themselves (“Nevermind”).

And if ever there was a time the show desperately needed to remind us why we should care about any of this, the penultimate episode was that time. “The Dying of the Light” definitely delivers, even if the circle of characters we still care about has been drastically reduced.

We get to check in with Raven/Emori/Murphy, Clarke/Gaia, Gaia/Indra and of course Clarke/Octavia, a long overdue duo that – ironically – seem to have been firmly bonded by Clarke killing Bellamy, who used to be the only thing that ever united them. (If this had happened mid-series, and there was actually time to explore the psychological consequences of this… well, that would have been interesting.)

Having said that, the season’s overall structural inconsistencies and narrative problems obviously weigh it all down — the rushed slaying of Bellamy, the character assassination of Clarke, the completely preposterous and underdeveloped premise of “becoming the light” — and the experience is further marred by the very serious real-world implications of the final scene with Madi, Clarke and Octavia.

This scene in particular cannot be discussed on par with the rest of this episode, so I’ll tackle it at the end of the review. But first, the good stuff.

Boom, in

We start with Clarke, Octavia, Indra, Gaia, Jordan, Hope and Miller stuck in the arena after the explosion. They can’t get out, because unfortunately, the Eligius crew never drilled a giant hole into the ceiling.

Eh, whatever. Let’s just say the Earth regenerated the bunker, too.

Clarke is, as ever, single-mindedly obsessed with getting to Madi. She and Octavia immediately swallow the teleportation pills, that don’t work, because they need a someone to pull them through now apparently. Sure.

To kill some time, we return briefly to the sweet, but could-have-been-so-much-sweeter friendship between Clarke and Gaia that abruptly began to blossom at the the beginning of the season, only to be dropped on the floor when Tati Gabrielle had to go be a witch for a while.

Gaia follows Clarke to the place where Clarke first threatened to shoot Bellamy – the story doesn’t care to make this connection, but hey, I do! – and the pair share a scene that is part moving, part… super awkward?

Tl;dr: Gaia cares about Madi too. Gaia clearly also cares about Clarke. Clarke cares about no one and nothing but Madi. She is “nothing” without Madi. Gaia quietly slips the promise ring back into her pocket. And then they meditate for some reason.

I feel like I would be really invested in the Clarke/Gaia friendship/potential romance if they’d set it up much earlier (at least season 5), but it doesn’t seem to exist here as more than a way to fill time, and let us hang out with Tati Gabrielle (which is almost reason enough in and of itself).

As it is, it doesn’t even feel shoehorned in anymore. It’s more just like a footnote now, or a vague implication of a could-have-been.

I find the snippet of Indra/Gaia interaction much more interesting, with Indra once again offering her daughter some comfort and solidarity, turning Gaia’s own condemning words about faith around on her.

We are nearing the end, and so it makes sense that we spend our time with Gaia and Indra now pondering the self-contradictory nature of faith, which is obviously at the heart of The 100’s take on humanity: faith is an ingrained, unquenchable part of the human experience, which simultaneously drives people to inflict pain and suffering on each other and gives people the strength to endure and survive, even when all hope seems lost.

There is a good point buried somewhere in here, and maybe I’ll look back and talk more about it someday, if I feel inspired to do so. If you want to read more of my thoughts on this topic, consider checking out this article I did speculating about the implications of humanity transcending in the series finale. (Cough cough.)

Everybody loves Emori

The best part of this episode is the arc of Raven, Murphy and Jackson desperately trying to keep Emori alive, while Emori fights with every breath to get them to give up on her and save everyone else.

Let’s be real, The 100 season 7 hasn’t lived up to my expectations in almost any way, but Emori’s storyline continues to be the standout exception.

Even as they seem to have lost sight of many of the other characters, for some reason the show has managed to maintain an absolutely rock-solid handle on who this character is: what defined her before we met her, how her relationships with Murphy and later SpaceKru changed her and let her embrace sides of herself she’d spent her whole life trying to bury, and how she has ultimately risen up to become one of the most selfless, conscientious and truly good characters the show has ever seen.

And now, in the most twisted of circumstances, this episode lets Emori bask in the glory of all that she has become and all the love she has not only learned to give, but finally comes to understand that she has earned and received in return, too.

When Emori keeps insisting that they give up on her and focus on saving everyone else, it is not just proof that she is a good person; it is a heartbreaking acknowledgment of how she (still) views herself, and assumes she is viewed by other people.

This is a character who spent her entire life being told that the world didn’t care about her. That she was expendable. That she didn’t deserve to live. Even finding love with Murphy initially only reinforced that ‘knowledge’, because Murphy and Emori might love each other, but before the time jump they were still considered expendable to everyone else.

Nowhere did we see that more clearly than when they needed someone to test the Nightblood in season 4, and Emori was so sure that she would be the one deemed most expendable that she framed the Grounder thief to make Clarke pick him instead. (And nowhere did Clarke shine as brightly as when she chose to inject herself rather than Emori, but I digress.)

Six years of peace the ring fundamentally changed Emori in ways she never would have been able to otherwise, not by circumstance alone, but by allowing her to make a choice: she could have gone off with Murphy to sulk in a dark corner, or she could contribute. She could become useful. She could find value in community. And she did.

She learned to love these people, and she learned to believe that they considered her valuable – but did she learn that they loved her unconditionally, that they would put her self ahead of contribution and value and the greater good? Watching her in this episode, I imagine she probably never truly believed that she was someone they would ever put first, until this moment.

Murphy was a given, because they are each other’s persons. But Raven? To choose Emori over the vague ‘everyone else’? That’s a huge, validating, beautiful thing that she has definitely earned and that she probably would never have been able to fully believe without being put in this situation, and I love that the show let her do this. If Emori were to die, then this would definitely be the way to send her off.

(It is probably also an important point to make, in the penultimate episode, to juxtapose the harmful and self-destructive way Clarke is exercising her tribalism regarding Madi. In the case of Murphy and Raven towards Emori, it is shown to be beautiful, not selfish, that they won’t abandon her in the name of the abstract greater good.)

Surprisingly Emori (barely) lives to see another day, and is taken back to Sanctum to presumably be put on life support. Significantly, this makes both her and Madi ‘safe’ as far as being allowed to transcend with the rest of the human race. (GrumblegrumbleBellamy grumble.)

Lindsey Morgan and Luisa d’Oliveira give some of their best performances to date, which is saying a lot – but so, frankly, do Sachin Sahel and Richard Harmon. This is just a great storyline and a great set of performances all around. You can really feel the love these people have for their characters and (I assume) for each other, and how close they are to the end.

While Murphy’s desperation and agony over very probably losing Emori aren’t surprising, the intensity with which Harmon delivers his lines are. And the lines themselves are beautiful – Murphy vocalizing that Emori is the most important person in the universe, in particular, being very moving to me.

Scenes like these also make me go back to my recurring wish that Clarke and Murphy had had more overlapping storylines over the course of the series, because they really are two sides of the same coin in so many ways.

For this final stretch of the show, they’ve basically been given the same impetus, of their worlds narrowing down to a single person for whom they will do and sacrifice anything. And meanwhile, Madi and Emori are the real, self-sacrificial heroes, now hovering on the brink of death – coincidence? Probably. But it’s still pretty neat.

The point of no return

Going from one big damn hero to another, Madi arrives on Bardo.

(Her stab wound seems to have been mended, just like Sheidheda’s wound was mended, because hey guys, remember how Bardo has futuristic body-mending tech? No but really, guys, were you aware of how futuristic Bardo’s body-mending tech is? Because otherwise I can just keep reminding you how Bardo has body-mending tech that is very futuristic. I wouldn’t want anyone to forget this.)

At this point Madi is still compliant, and Cadogan still plays nice. After all, she’ll give him the information he wants, because she thinks she can, and she thinks this is how she can save people. A mini Clarke, indeed.

Unfortunately, as Levitt soon learns, the ‘memories’ Madi has been drawing are not so much in her mind as engraved somewhere at the core of who she is, which means that the non-invasive procedure soon becomes very delicate and dangerous.

Madi tells Cadogan that the final war is a test, which he takes in stride — war is a test, after all, of “might,” he says. And, as usual, Cadogan isn’t wrong. He’s just a hypocrite.

He finally reveals the full extent of his hypocrisy once he gets a glimpse of Callie, and he starts pushing Levitt because he wants to see her again. (The show has left it up to us to call him out on his hypocrisy all season, which really irritated me, so it’s nice to get some confirmation.)

And this is when Madi becomes fully conscious of Becca’s memories and the implication of taking the test, and understands that Cadogan must not get the information, at any cost. So she starts fighting, suddenly realizing that not just her people, but the entire human race is at stake. Yes, Madi really is the hero Clarke wishes she could be.

Luckily, Levitt is dismissed but not apprehended, which leaves him open for pulling Clarke and Octavia back by their convenient tethers (someone’s been watching 12 Monkeys, hmm), which he does. Only for them to get arrested and thrown into a cell.

Luckily Levitt is still not apprehended lmao, so it’s fine.

Believing they are stuck there, Clarke and Octavia indulge in another spot of recreational Bellamy-retconning. (They’re really doing the most to minimize his importance and role in the story, aren’t they? Y’all killed him already, just knock it off.)

But in fairness, we also a bit more foundation for what really is a great last-minute relationship between Octavia and Clarke.

Pretending for a second that Bellamy really did pull Clarke’s gun to his chest and forced her to pull the trigger, which is how the show seems to want us to remember it, Octavia and Clarke coming full-circle regarding Bellamy’s once-all-consuming love for his sister does feel right, on some level.

Clarke spent half the show reiterating that she understood the choices Bellamy made for Octavia, after all, so it’s only fitting that Octavia now gets to return the favor by extending that same understanding to Clarke re. Madi.

And – as much as I hate everything surrounding it – Octavia offering to pull the trigger for Clarke also has a certain poetry to it, which at the very least speaks to Octavia’s characterization and the sense of, for lack of a better word, unity she truly feels like she has found with Clarke.

If only there was more show left for them to build on this. If only, if only, if only.

Carrying on the proud tradition of interrupting Clarke before she can speak her innermost truth out loud, Levitt arrives to break them out, and they use Sheidheda (…but why?) to create a distraction.

Sheidheda obliges, then immediately disappears. Which I’m sure is fine. (Good thing he’s not threatened to kill Madi or anything! Good thing they couldn’t just have used Octavia to knock out that hallway of guards!)

And then, they make it to Madi. Fierce, wonderful, brave Madi. Who has been left abandoned, alone, and locked inside her own mind. Levitt explains it as a massive stroke, which has left her “conscious, but unable to move.”

What follows is, I should emphasise, a fantastic performance by Eliza Taylor. It seems wildly inappropriate that she had to give it, and that she had to speak the lines they made her speak. But she nailed it, as she always does. How lucky The 100 always was to have her as its Clarke.

And of course, Lola Flanery continues to absolutely slay all of the insane challenges that are thrown at her, this scene being no exception. Absolutely chilling, just like when she was possessed by Sheidheda last season. What a talent.

Alright. The acting was amazing. That’s the only good thing I have to say about it.

Everything wrong with the final scene of the episode

Now, there are two aspects of this scene that we need to discuss. The first is the fictional, in which I am only going to talk about the logic of the story. I’ll get to the real-world implications afterwards.

What happens is this: Clarke learns that Madi is locked in – that is, her mind still works, but her body does not – and immediately draws the conclusion that Madi is ‘lost’ to her and therefore has to die.

Mind you, this happens two episodes after she drew the exact same conclusion (albeit under very different circumstances) with Bellamy and decided that he had to die.

To save Madi.

Who Clarke is now going to kill.

Once again, Clarke is made to be incredibly reactive, short-sighted, and frankly just very stupid, in order to propel the plot along.

And what really gets me is that it didn’t have to be this way, even if she (for some reason) had to make these choices to get her into a certain state of mind for the finale!

Why weren’t these huge and should-be poignant developments spaced out over the course of the season and allowed to breathe? Why couldn’t we have been allowed to go on this journey with Clarke, rather than see this shell of a character rush to perform these rushed, unbelievable, horrific actions?

Because it was very important to spend two thirds of the final season farming on Penance and playing chess on Sanctum? Or because someone somewhere was conscious of the fact that none of this would make any sense if Clarke had been given more than a second to think about it?

The irony is that the Clarke Griffin of this episode is, somewhat, reminiscent of who she used to be pre-season 7. Her love and worry for Madi feels more human than robotic, and Clarke and Gaia’s conversation about Madi being Clarke and Clarke being Abby does, at least, attempt to tie some loose strings together.

(Although I’m disappointed that they seem to be completely missing the hypocrisy of the fact that if Clarke was once the person putting herself in danger to save everyone else, and Madi is now doing the same – thus becoming ‘the new Clarke’ – then season 7 Clarke is essentially putting everyone else in danger to save the younger version of herself. I feel like Murphy or Hope would have been able to make this point.)

But what I have to imagine was an attempt to bridge the gap between ‘season 7 Clarke’ and who she used to be unfortunately only further serves to ruin the character’s credibility, and makes her motivation wildly inconsistent within this episode alone.

At the beginning of the episode, we are dealing with a version of Clarke Griffin who doesn’t care one bit about anyone who isn’t Madi. She admits to have nothing, and to be nothing, without Madi.

Then, upon finding Madi immobilized (but not, lest we forget, unable to think and potentially communicate though the neural device in that very room), Clarke immediately decides to kill Madi, without hesitating or considering any alternative — despite standing in a facility where people can be fully healed from fatal wounds in the blink of an eye.

She doesn’t even ask if it’s possible to restore some of Madi’s mobility. She just decides that Madi has to die. (Remember, once upon a time, when Clarke Griffin thought with her brain, not her gun? Good times.)

And then, literal seconds later, upon learning that Cadogan has the code, Clarke just leaves Madi lying there — something she expressed horror over Cadogan doing earlier in the same scene — prone, defenseless and now fully aware of the fact that she is going to get shot if and when Clarke and Octavia return.

And why does Clarke go after Cadogan? To stop him from ending the world. A world we just learned was meaningless to Clarke if it didn’t have Madi in it.

(To be fair, Clarke rushing off after Cadogan could retroactively make more sense if the finale insinuates that Clarke knows and understands that if she takes the test and makes humanity transcend, she can save Madi. The problem with that of course is that, at this point, Clarke doesn’t have any of the information she would need to draw this conclusion. But does it matter who knows and believes what anymore? I honestly don’t know.)

If I were to take a stab at making sense of all this, I would say the discrepancies in her characterization have occurred because it needs to be unclear whether Clarke is able to pass the test on behalf of the human race, which she is almost certainly running after Cadogan to take.

Clarke Griffin has in previous seasons been positioned as the one who “transcended her tribalism,” after all, so in order to make her worthiness-status more ambiguous, they’d need to make her as ‘tribal’ (I really hate using that word) as possible in the final season. And they’ve definitely done that, at the expense of most of her nuance and development.

But… what do I know? I’m grasping at straws just like everyone else.

Alright, now that I’ve tacked the fiction, we do also need to talk about the reality of this scene, because it has upset a lot of viewers, and it deserves to be talked about.

It is obviously always a challenge to incorporate discussion of these very real issues into my reviews (that are supposed to be entertaining, though I admit that finding the humor in anything has been difficult lately), because as a rule, I always try to adhere to the rules of the show’s own reality when I evaluate the choices made within the story.

But there are certain lines that The 100 sometimes crosses in its quest to out-gore Supernatural to become the bloodiest show on The CW (and, sorry, but it’s not even close), at which point you simply can’t conscientiously ignore the real-world implications of decisions made within the story — regardless of how ‘valid’ the choices may be in the context of the fiction alone.

Past instances of reviewers having to break the fourth wall of the story’s reality include Lexa and Lincoln’s horrible, trope-filled deaths, Ontari violating Murphy, and Jasper’s suicide. More recently, the repeated violent murders of men of color have been flagged as very problematic. And now, it is the harmful, ableist assumption made by the text that Madi needs to die because she has lost the use of her body, and that Clarke and Octavia have the right to mercy-kill her regardless of what Madi might wish for herself.

I feel the need to preface this discussion with a brief personal disclaimer: I have a family member who has ALS. He has no speech and almost no use of his body, but he can use his arms and can communicate in simple sentences using an alphabet sheet. He is a human being. He has nieces and nephews and loves family gatherings and books and TV shows. He is 60 years old. Nobody expected that he would live this long, and it is a miracle that he has. He and his mother have lived a wonderful and challenging and imperfect and important life together.

I don’t mean to imply that the fact that I have someone in my family with ALS in any way makes his experience my experience, and I don’t want to speak for anyone who is or lives with someone who is disabled. I bring it up only as context for why I personally had such a strong gut reaction to seeing a scene like this, where Madi’s humanity is instantly and callously dismissed by not just the characters, but the narrative itself, because of something that is described – within that same narrative – as a very similar disability.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt a personal connection to something that happens in the show, and I know The 100 is not reality. I never expect a 1:1 real-world correlation. I am perfectly capable of setting aside my own knowledge and experience in order to consider the fiction of a thing, and in this case, the fact that the fiction is a trigger-happy post-apocalypse obviously changes the rules of these people’s existence in many significant ways.

Exactly because this is the post-apocalypse, I could potentially allow for the possibility — just as Jasper killed himself because there was no community infrastructure to give him the help he needed (until suddenly Jackson was a therapist in season 7, but ok) – that Madi really couldn’t survive without the use of her body, regardless of whether her mind still worked. (Even then, however, I still don’t think it would have been okay to put this scene on air without critical examination or commentary, which is also how I feel about Jasper’s death.)

But we can’t actually apply that argument in this instance, because the characters are currently in the opposite of a post-apocalypse: this violation of Madi’s mind and body was done in a place with some of the most advanced medical science equipment in the universe.

Even if they had bothered to state that nothing could be done to restore her motor functions, they canonically have the tools and skills and knowledge available for Madi to express her thoughts and needs to Clarke — in that very room. And even if they had to leave Bardo, there is still plenty of accessibility tools and medical equipment in Sanctum. Plus, they have the technology to make brain implants. Which Clarke knows, having herself been trapped inside her own mind, being unable to move and being presumed dead by everyone (with one ironic exception).

There is no logical reason for the characters to act like they have no options here, nor for the narrative to not at bare minimum allow for Madi to express some form of consent.

If you want your viewers to accept the reality of your fiction when it comes to such serious, potentially triggering topics like these, the fiction needs to at least accept the reality of itself, which is just not the case here.

Instead of anything resembling a fair and considered approach to a topic that should not be thrown in for shock value in the show’s 11th hour, we have to contend with the fact that in this universe, upon learning that Madi is paralyzed but fully conscious, Clarke and Octavia instantly reach the conclusion that she has to be murdered. They make this choice for her, without hesitation: that death is better than living in her disabled body.

And not only do they make this choice; we really stew in the moment. We milk the emotion. The music swells, everyone cries, we keep cutting to Madi’s dead eyes (that we have been told are still full of life and emotion), as the fiction lulls us into sympathizing with Clarke.

(Clarke, who is once again making Madi’s existence all about herself, with this scene bringing us to the apex of her selfishness regarding this child, for whom she has now removed all autonomy: Madi is hers, to the point where she feels entitled to put her down like a sick pet. “Motherhood,” this is not.)

See? the scene says, see how sad this is for Clarke? She’s lost Madi now, too, just like she “lost” Bellamy. Isn’t it tragic, how these losses keep happening to her? And not only is Madi ‘gone,’ Clarke is left with no choice but to ‘end the suffering’ of her child herself. Because now that Madi is disabled, she obviously can’t have a life and must to be instantly euthanized. Poor Clarke.

Typing it out, hopefully it is very clear how unconscientious and poorly considered this storyline is. This scene simply should not have made it to air. And without as much as a trigger warning ahead of the episode, as far as I’m aware? It speaks to a complete lack of understanding or empathy for the viewers, many of whom will undoubtedly be hurt and upset by this, because of their actual, real life experiences – that are infinitely more important and valuable than this television show.

To be clear, this isn’t a dig on any one person involved with this scene’s existence, because it takes a village to make an episode of TV. No one person is responsible for the good or the bad. Not even the showrunner. There is (supposed to be) an entire network of writers, producers, agents and executives that act as a safety net for both the creators and the viewers regarding content like this. This is a CW problem, and a really, really big one. The damage a scene like this can do is immense, even on a relatively ‘small’ show like The 100.

And no, it doesn’t matter that Octavia didn’t ultimately pull the trigger, or that transcendence will (I assume) ultimately ‘save’ Madi in some way. What comes next has no bearing on this scene or the implications of these choices. The plot is once again driving these characters to wild, unbelievable, senseless action in the name of an endgame that we haven’t even been given a valid reason to believe in.

It just didn’t need to be there. Particularly in the penultimate episode of the show. What a downer note to (almost) end on, and what an unfortunate sequence to inflict upon your audience. It’s 2020. Read the room.

For your consideration

  • I’ll be honest, that moment Sheidheda takes the gun, and it’s empty, and he takes all the guards out anyway, is the first time I’ve ever found him entertaining. (It’s a little bit of a repeat of Diyoza’s escape sequence but whatever.)
  • I also enjoyed him singing the Grounder anthem.
  • “I am saving you. And then I’m saving everyone else. That’s kind of my thing too.” Guys! There she is! Raven, where have you been all season?
  • There’s an Azgeda symbol on the floor? So… is this the proof that Reese started Azgeda, and hid the stone after Cadogan went through it?
  • There have been some scenes this season that have felt very floaty and detached, and Clarke coming into the empty room to find Madi unresponsive, without us seeing it happen, was one of those scenes. I fully expected a reveal that this was either a test or a simulation by Cadogan.
  • And, really, humming Atom’s song? Bellamy is not even cold yet. Smh.
  • Considering that it was Jordan who discovered that the war was a test, and how he now talks about ‘feeling’ the truth of it all, I’m more convinced than ever that the original plan was for Jordan to have the true believer arc instead of Bellamy.
  • Do we think Jordan and Hope will be left alone on Earth to become the ~cosmic Adam and Eve~ and start the new cycle of humanity?
  • I really wish they had put more effort into making us believe the premise of the final test thing. I simply do not understand how any of these characters can speak about transcendence and “becoming the light” as though this is a thing that should be afforded any level of credibility.
  • And isn’t this just a big City of Light rehash anyway?? How has that not been brought up once?
  • Between the hammers, the word “might,” Sheidheda’s “is that the best you can do” line and delivery — oh, and Raven actually calling Murphy Thor — I feel like we went a liiiittle too hard on the Avengers refs.
  • Does calling the episode “the dying of the light” and then almost killing Emori and Madi imply that those two characters are the light? Because… I would love that.
  • I hate! fisheye! lens! shots! with a fiery passion!

Next week, it all ends with “The Last War.” Any predictions? Other than them “becoming the light,” of course? At this point, I’m kind of hoping for an “it was all a dream” ending…

Just kidding.

Kinda.

The 100 series finale airs Wednesday at 8/7c on The CW.

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