9:05 pm EDT, July 8, 2020

‘The 100’ season 7, episode 8 review: Once upon an apocalypse

The 100’s backdoor pilot for the potential prequel takes us back to the first apocalypse and reveals Bill Cadogan and his family’s connection to Becca and the Grounders.

The 100 season 7, episode 8 does what many embedded backdoor pilots have attempted, but which few have accomplished: to be an exciting, informative and tonally resonant episode of the show it spins off from while totally selling its own unique premise.

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Being a fan of The 100 (and the kind of fan who always found the Grounders interesting), I went into this episode with simple expectations for a Grounder origin story that managed to be at least a little unexpected and would make me look at past events in the show in a new light. Hopefully, I thought, it would be more than a perfunctory connect-the-dots, and the time with the new characters would feel well-spent.

Hoo-boy, did this episode blow my expectations out of the water. Not only am I all in on Callie Cadogan and her quest to save the world, but I left the episode fully convinced that we don’t know anything about what went down on the ground during those 97 years between the apocalypse and when the Ark dropship landed.

Not only are there infinite possibilities for what groups of humans survived and how they eventually distributed Nightblood and fractured into religiously united, yet territorially divided clans; there are so many types of people and technologies and visitors from space that could have initially played a huge role in humanity’s survival on Earth, only to be lost and forgotten along the way.

After all, history is written by the victors, and collective memory is shaped by the stories we choose to tell, and how we choose to tell them. “Anaconda” is proof that The 100 understands its own world well enough to expand the story without breaking its own mythology, and that there are a million potential stories worth telling in the immediate post-apocalypse.

Nothing lasts; everyone dies, and the world is always going to end. So all that matters is what we do right now: how kind we are, how tolerant we are, how open-minded we are, and many individual lives we save today. How our light, big or small, illuminates the ever-present darkness.

That is the lesson Callie Cadogan learns in this episode, and that is why the story of how Earth-bound branch of humanity clawed its way back from near-extinction matters, even after we know that whatever they built was ultimately destroyed.

Hopefully, we get to see that story told. But for now, let’s break down how all of our old and new gods continue to fight for the future of the human race, hundreds of years and a dozen planets later…

Callie by her name

We pick up directly after last week’s episode, with Clarke learning that Bellamy, her ‘best friend’, is dead.

Rather than breaking down or going numb, she turns it into a bonding moment with Raven, her ‘sister,’ and decides to direct her energy into saving the ‘family’ they still have left, Octavia and Echo.

…I mean, I guess. These labels for how the characters view each other seem so arbitrary, they have kind of lost all meaning to me at this point.

Clarke meets Bill Cadogan – and more importantly, so does this guy — and everyone is surprised when he speaks Trigedasleng. It is a language that, as it turns out, was made up by his daughter when she was 10 years old. No offense to David J. Peterson, I’m sure!

(Cadogan might be a delusional cult leader with a god complex, but the fact that he went through the trouble of learning his daughter’s made-up language? Not gonna lie, that puts him in like, in the top 2% of all dads.)

Clarke recognizes him, seemingly from that one time six years ago she saw him on an iPad screen. (Niylah also seems like she’s trying to place his face, and hey, maybe she’s his great-great-great-great… whatever! Anything is possible, right?)

Just-Call-Me-Bill bristles when she calls Second Dawn a cult; he describes it as a “collective of great minds dedicated to the continuation of our species.”

While I can’t argue with the ‘continuation of our species’ part, who exactly does he think these other ‘great minds’ were, aside from his own? If there is any great-mind collective, surely it’s the Flame, right? Cadogan was a straight up one-man show and he knows it! “Not a liar,” my ass.

Gabriel reveals that the ‘key’ they want is the Flame, or as he puts it, “the AI inside Clarke’s head.” Which is an interesting thing to say, considering that Gabriel knows that the Flame isn’t in Clarke’s head, and he knows that Clarke knows that he knows this.

Luckily for everyone, Clarke immediately picks up what he’s laying down, and you can practically see her brain wheels turning as she pieces together what Cadogan does and does not know about the Flame.

When he asks if his daughter is “in there,” it tells Clarke that he doesn’t know that a) it went from Clarke’s mind into Madi’s and b) it was ultimately destroyed. This means Clarke can gain a temporary advantage by leveraging his phantom daughter.

Was Callie ever in the Flame? I don’t believe this episode definitively answers that question (as it shouldn’t, it’s more fun to guess). When we leave her, she has become the first Flamekeeper and is looking for the right mind to merge with the AI, but for all we know, that mind ends up being her own.

But whatever imprint of Callie may or may not have been on the Flame, it doesn’t matter anymore, since the Flame is gone. While Madi or Sheidheda might be able to tell Cadogan whether or not his daughter (or son?) ever became Commander, there is nothing left of her now, which means that Cadogan has lost both his daughter and the key.

It’s only a matter of time before he calls Clarke’s bluff. And once he realizes the Flame is no longer in her head, they’ll want to dive back into MCap to find out what happened after season 3, and that journey will likely lead them back to Sanctum. (The fact that they don’t already have this information speaks volumes about how ‘converted’ Octavia and co. really are.)

And speaking of collision! It’s time! We have to go baaaackkkkk.

The day after tomorrow

Hundreds of years ago — and 32 years from now — Callie Cadogan (Iola Evans) and her ill-fated best friend Lucy (Nicole Muniz) are tending to their wounds after clashing with violent police at a protest rally. They are part of an extremist environmental movement called ‘Tree Crew,’ fighting to save the doomed planet.

YEP. Amazing. (This was literally the moment that sold me on the prequel.)

On the television, there is police brutality and people wearing masks; so incredibly reflective of our current reality, it’s almost too real.

But seeing a story like this rise from the ashes of what could be our world makes me even more interested in this prequel. I want to see people go from a civil society into lawlessness; I want to see people look back and reflect on what was good and bad about the world as we know it and try to build a better one.

Something I loved about the first season of The 100 was the hope it instilled in me for an ‘after the end’, as distant and abstract as it was; amidst all the death and chaos, somehow, knowing that Callie didn’t even let the apocalypse slow her down makes me even more hopeful.

Callie, we learn, is a bit of a rebel: she dropped out of MIT because it was a ‘fascist regime,’ left her father’s doomsday cult, and refuses to take advice from her parents.

Her mother Grace (Crystal Balint) is being very cool about it, giving her the tools to survive the life she chooses rather than trying to curb her restrict her freedoms (just as she will, on a larger scale, later in the episode).

But Callie’s coming-of-age story is interrupted by the end of the world. Again. For the first time.

Cadogan and Callie happen to be on a holographic video call (Princess Leia, is that you?) when he gets the message (“Anaconda”). He calls a chopper for Grace and Callie; Grace takes it in stride and immediately springs into action, while Callie, understandably, is paralyzed with fear and disbelief.

Adding to her panic is the fact that Lucy, who was definitely trying to make a move on Callie in the previous scene, is not invited to the post-apocalypse.

In a moment that will come to shape Callie’s modus operandi moving forward, Grace convinces her that they need to leave Lucy behind because she is not a Level 12; there is no time to argue or fight or second-guess her mother, so Callie just… leaves.

This moment is sharply contrasted by the way we see August fight for his girlfriend a few scenes later: despite being a Level 12 himself (how?), August would rather not be in the bunker at all if it means leaving her outside.

But Callie doesn’t think she can save Lucy, so she doesn’t try (she also doesn’t have the wherewithal to put up any kind of a fight just now, as the reality of what is happening only hits her once she is inside the bunker). And this is what awakens the drive to fight for every single life she can: Callie had to ‘fail’ not just to save, but to even attempt to save, her best friend, in order to make a pact with herself to never again stand by when she has the chance to save someone. (It is somewhat reminiscent of the effect losing Wells had on Clarke.)

Not everyone, because she knows that’s already too late, but as many individual someones as she possibly can. In every person she gives Nightblood, she’ll see Lucy. And that makes her unique, I think, from most characters on The 100, who tend to fight for ‘my people’ or ‘all people’ as homogenous units.

What ultimately spurs Callie into action is finding out that there are extra spaces in the bunker, and that neither her father nor her brother are interested in saving lives they deem unworthy.

She rushes to the exit to literally pull people in by the street, and joins up with August (Leo Howard), a fellow Tree Crew activist.

While we don’t see much of Callie and August’s friendship after this scene, this is clearly a formative bonding moment for them. They leave the bunker side by side, seemingly the leaders of Tree Crew.

Also formative, I bet, is the fact that August’s girlfriend died because Reese (Adain Bradley) refused to help them save her.

Reese is a bigshot in the Second Dawn, all violent acts done in the hope of making his father love him. All the best cowboys, et cetera.

While he and Callie seem to have a good relationship at the top of the episode, it quickly deteriorates when Callie realizes that Reese is fully willing to compromise his own morality and blindly side with their father on all issues.

In fact, Reese does not do a single good thing in this episode. He is a follower, he is selfish, he is authoritative, and he is cruel… so obviously, over the course of the potential series, he is going to turn out to be the best of them, and I really hope we get to see that journey.

The cultists have been told they only have to stay inside the bunker for a few years, but Callie understands enough about radiation to know it’ll likely be their whole lives.

What she doesn’t know is that her father has a plan to part the sea and lead his people to the promised land — except the sea is space, and his divine power to part it comes from a space ball he stole from Machu Picchu.

Because: white people.

Cadogan believes that finding the right seven symbols will chart a course through space, but he still has to find the last two. Shouldn’t take long, right?

Two years later:

Just as things could not look more grim, the solution to all of their problems drops like an angel from the sky: Becca Franco, the creator herself, comes bearing blessings to all of Earth’s children: the AI in her head is the key to traveling through space, and the Nightblood in her briefcase is the key to living on the ground.

This episode directly continues Becca’s story from the season 3 episode “Thirteen,” in which we saw Becca, the ‘first Commander,’ discover that her AI ALIE had launched nuclear missiles and started a world war in her quest to reduce the population (and considering the 11-billionth child was just born, she kinda had a point).

When the world ended, Becca happened to be aboard her space station Polaris, the ‘thirteenth’ part of what was to become the Ark – except it was blasted out of the sky before it had the chance. Becca, consumed with her own redemption, put the Flame in her head and went back to Earth to distribute the Nightblood solution to whatever humans survived. She landed by the Second Dawn bunker, we now know, because its location wasn’t a secret (lol sometimes the right answer is just the easiest one).

The mysterious radiation-suit-clad survivors we glimpsed in “Thirteen” turn out to be the lead characters of the proposed spinoff, which is just a fantastic tie-in.

They bring her into the bunker, and Becca gets to prove her serum’s effectiveness almost immediately, when our Murphy 2.0, aka Tristan, collapses with radiation poisoning.

She makes Tristan the second Nightblood (foreshadowing?), and Callie fangirls her pants off about the whole thing. (I love the recurring trend of everyone in the known universe being obsessed with Becca Franco.)

When she enters Cadogan’s office, the Flame enables her to ‘hear’ and operate the Anomaly stone, they speculate, simply because it has heightened her senses. I suppose that might end up being the simple solution, but who knows? There might be more to it.

(We still don’t know who planted the stones on the planets in the first place, and whether they were more entwined with Becca’s technology than we think.)

But even though Becca can operate the stone, like Callie, she doesn’t believe in Cadogan’s self-made divinity, and certainly won’t gamble the human race on his narcissistic quest to be its savior.

It is your classic science versus faith debate: Cadogan believes himself chosen and is willing to leap into the unknown, convinced that his path is to salvation. Reese is on his side (probably less of a believer and more of a son desperate for approval), and even Grace is converted by what she takes to be proof of his destiny to take humanity “home.”

Callie and Becca, women of science, find it preposterous to risk probable extinction when they have a less glorious, but more certain, way for humanity to survive right here on Earth.

What is scary about Cadogan isn’t that he believes, it is that he refuses to give his people a choice. Jaha, at least, only led people across the desert that chose to come with him.

(Removing their choice vaguely recalls Octavia’s decision to burn the farm in order to make sure all her people followed her to Eden; she was as sure then as Cadogan is now that she knew what was best and right for everyone.)

But really, Callie is no less of a believer — she just believes in Becca. In so many ways, the humanity’s Odyssey on The 100 is a war between two self-made gods who both believe themselves to be the savior, and the one with the right answers.

Interestingly, the ‘faith’ and the ‘science’ got tangled up along the way, to the point where the Flame led a technology-fearing tribal people while Cadogan’s followers ‘ascended’ to something more futuristic and robotic.

The liberation that Callie initially gives to the Second Dawn members that follow her to the surface is eventually overruled by a faith in the Flame as extremist, if not more so, than the one Cadogan demanded of his people. (Was this Callie’s doing? Is she more like her father than we realize? Or was it Becca, through the Flame, who ended up buying into her own self-made higher purpose? Ascende superius.)

Callie and Becca manage to strike a temporary truce with Cadogan and make a plan to trick him into working on the stone, while they work to distribute Nightblood.

It is, in theory, a win-win. Especially because Becca is intrigued by the stone and wants to study it: she might not (yet) be a believer in its power, but she is a scientist, so of course she’s curious.

But this curiosity ends up being her fatal flaw. Becca follows a silent sequence and is sent into an abyss of cold white light, from which she emerges terrified, on her knees, with her hands in a prayer position.

“We are not ready,” she says. Hahahahahaha. Touché.

Becca claims that what she saw was judgement day, and that “If you saw what I saw, you would let me shut it down.” So what did she see?? It would be funny if it was just the inside of the Nakara beast, but I’m betting that’s not it.

Sadly, her refusal to share her knowledge with Cadogan leads to her being imprisoned. And once they discover the AI in her head, they decide to execute her in order to obtain the knowledge.

Before that happens, Becca shares the exit code with Callie and tells her to carry the Flame forward and find it a worthy host. Interestingly, Becca doesn’t point to Callie herself; they are so alike, I would assume Becca saw Callie as an obvious successor. But instead, Callie becomes the first Flamekeeper, taking the Flame out into the world in search of Becca’s successor.

Reese comes to take Becca to her execution, and threatens to lock his sister in the hole if she resists (yikes, man).

He watches Becca burn with something that is not the regret you’d expect at the fact that he is complicit in letting an innocent woman burn to death for what is essentially refusing to share her knowledge with a totalitarian leader (YIKES, MAN).

Sometime later, Callie and her new partner-in-crime August have rallied the Nightbloods, and Callie challenges Reese to what is to be the first ever conclave… which is hilariously cut short when Callie simply uses a gun to end the fight. (More fodder for my theory that Reese becomes Commander at some point, and this is why Grounders were not allowed to touch firearms.)

Callie gets the Flame and races for the exit, but not before making Reese a Nightblood and telling him where to find him. Callie, amazingly, still believes that deep down, her brother is a good person. And maybe he is, once removed from his father’s influence.

Tree Crew’s escape is aided by Grace, who might be a believer but has not let it compromise her humanity. Grace’s mutiny earns her a one-way ticket to the surface, sans Nightblood, with not only Cadogan but Reese, too, seemingly ready to let her die for her ‘crime.’

(Come on, Reese, goddamnit.)

Grace, once again taking her unfortunate life developments in stride, bravely puts on a radiation suit and sets out to find her daughter.

Jason Rothenberg revealed in our interview about this episode that if the spinoff gets picked up, the first episode will see Grace try to find Callie and get Nightblood before her air runs out.

I really hope she finds Callie in time. Or finds another faction of humans. Or is rescued by Reese and brought back to the bunker.

Grace is a great character with a lot of potential, and I’d love to see the spinoff continue to be a (fractured) family story that allows multiple generations to have active, independent agency.

The shifting allegiances of the Cadogan family were so intriguing to watch throughout this episode, and even without Bill in the mix, I’d love to keep exploring their dynamics.

Let my people go

While Callie, August and their people head to the surface, in search of survivors they can turn into Nightbloods, Cadogan leaves Reese and Tristan behind to find the AI, while he and his flock head through the Anomaly.

Thus, we have humanity split into two factions (that we know of), with the viewers left to decide which faction, if either, are the chosen ones.

There are obvious layers of symbolism to Cadogan’s quest and to the fracturing of his followers into the chosen and the not chosen: Cadogan is Moses, parting the seas of the universe and leading his people to the promised land. The bunker is purgatory, with one half of white-clad humans ‘ascending’ to a higher plane while the other is exiled to the dark, scorched surface of the world.

The Bardoans enter the Age of Enlightenment while the humans on Earth eventually devolve back to something like the Dark Ages (with the eradication of science, art and medicine). The future-Grounders and future-Bardoans become two sides of the same coin, or two players on the same chessboard. Light and dark.

More than anything else, however, this story reminds me of a particular (very problematic classicist) Grimms’ Fairy Tale, “Eve’s Unequal Children.” It takes place after Adam and Eve left paradise and had countless children; some were beautiful, some were not.

When an angel announced that God himself was coming to see them, Eve hid her ugly children from view. God gave his blessing to the beautiful children – they should be lords, knights, scholars — but when Eve brought in the rest to be blessed as well, they were given ‘blessings’ like becoming peasants, sailors and servants, so that one half of humanity could serve the other half.

There is a Nordic variation of this story in which the ‘dirty’ children never received God’s blessing and fled into the forests, to become the goblins and trolls that permeate our folklore. I’ve thought of this story in relation to The 100 before, with the recurring juxtaposition of peoples rising up/burrowing into the ground, but I don’t think it’s ever been quite as relevant of a reference as here.

I make this analogy not to claim that one half of humanity is elevated while the other is made lesser, but to point out that the story hasn’t yet told us which half (if either) of the Second Dawn was ‘blessed’ and which wasn’t; which half was right or wrong, or light or dark. Because despite dividing, they fundamentally remained on the same path: they both ascended from the bunker, and they both ultimately ended up shepherded by a false, self-made God.

(And so did the Eligius crew, for that matter, whose only connection to the Second Dawn seems to be that their gods, too, were powered by Becca Franco technology.)

And now, depleted in numbers and no closer to ascension and very far from home, what remains of this fractured people are on the cusp of coming back together (maybe now we know why the show has made a point to keep so many Trikru clan members alive), perhaps in time to discover that none of them are the chosen ones. That whatever chance to ascend they were given; whatever society they could have built when they rose from the ashes, they blew it.

Maybe the point is that none of them were ever blessed with more than their own individual power to do whatever good they could in the time they had to do it, and judgement day is some form of reckoning with the fact that no sin done in the name of a false god is forgivable. That dividing ourselves into an ‘us’ to be elevated above a ‘them’ is humanity’s prevalent, original sin, and that to save humanity, this is what Clarke must somehow overcome on everyone’s behalf. Or, at the very least, free humanity to make individual choices for themselves rather than be herded into these homogenous constellations.

Because for all that Cadogan and Becca and Russell got their respective people to the end, we all agree that living legend Clarke Griffin is the one who must end it, right?

(To be fair, that is a very tall order for the final conclusion of the series; I’m not expecting The 100 to actually propose a solution to this very real problem that is embedded in our human nature.)

We don’t have all the pieces of the story yet. We still need to know how Cadogan finds out about the war to end all wars, and whether it is the ‘judgement day’ that Becca sees and decides that he is not ready for. If he never gets the knowledge on the Flame, what other sources of information does he come across in space, and who exactly does he believe humanity’s enemy is?

And speaking of that war: since we’re on the allegory train, might we wonder if this final war could be inspired by War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls that prophesies an apocalyptic battle between light and dark? The Sons of Light, notably, are the united 12 tribes of Israel, that will conquer all Darkness and live in peace for eternity.

It sure sounds similar, at any rate, to the Grounder-Wonkru formation and Cadogan’s endgame. And the analogy becomes even more interesting if we assume that the fracturing of the human race continues to be relevant to the season 7 plot – yes, the Grounders are mostly gone, but Wonkru and a few Commander fragments remain – and that Cadogan has perhaps been presuming to be leading the Sons of Light when they are in fact the Darkness, and the (currently fractured, but sure to be united) branches of humanity on Sanctum (who are not called, but whose two-sun planet literally has, a Second Dawn) represent the Light.

That is a story that will probably come to its end in The 100’s final season, where we will hopefully discover what the final war is all about and why the stones were planted on the different planets in the first place.

But there is so much more still to be revealed about what happened on the ground after Callie took the Flame and the Nightblood and set out to save the world.

Who became the second Commander? What other branches of humanity, aside from the Second Dawn and Mount Weather, survived the apocalypse? Was anyone from the Ark aware of humanity’s survival on Earth (were the ‘suicide by Earth’ stories in fact a cover-up for the people that went down to join the Grounders)? Was there still technology, maybe even spacecrafts? Were there whole other clans that went extinct, or left Grounder lands, long before the dropship landed?

It really does feel like The 100 was only the beginning. The possibilities for new stories within the framework of this world are endless. This spinoff could take the things The 100 does best — character- and world building — and expand the already rich and fascinating mythology to tell a contemporary, relatable story about real people forced into impossible situations and constantly failing and learning and growing.

In my opinion, picking up The 100’s prequel is a no-brainer. A story about a fractured humanity’s scramble to survive in a post-apocalyptic world has never been more relevant, especially told with a diverse, female-driven cast. (And what a cast! Jason Rothenberg has a unique ability to write and cast characters that audiences instantly fall in love with, and Iola Evans’ Callie Cadogan is no exception.)

With the right creative team, Second Dawn could be The CW’s answer to Amazon’s Fallout, or The Walking Dead, or whatever network lands the inevitable The Last of Us series. “Anaconda” certainly is proof, if anyone needed it, that there is a real, good, relevant immediately post-apocalyptic story to tell within the existing mythological framework of The 100, seen through the eyes of the wayward daughter of a self-made god who wants to save the world.

But whatever happens, I’m glad we got to spend this time with the Cadogan family, and rewatching the bits of Grounder origin story scattered across the seasons will always feel more satisfying.

For your consideration

  • Callie. Reese. August(us). Tristan. These are all names of minor characters in the first season of The 100. Coincidence?
  • Callie refuses to take part in the ‘fascist regime’ at MIT and Cadogan says “what’s wrong with fascism” LOL WHAT.
  • So the Cadogans had a dog they had to give up because it could hear the Anomaly Stone? They totally gave that dog to the Lightbournes, and it is cryosleep-Picasso, and she’s gonna save humanity, mark my words!!
  • Where did the stone go, after Cadogan went through it? Did the next Commander shut if off and hide it away because the Flame retains the knowledge of ‘judgement day’ and/or to make sure Cadogan couldn’t come back?
  • Could Lucy have survived? I suppose it isn’t impossible, since even after the bombs hit, people were still scrambling around on the streets, and August’s girlfriend was still pounding on the hatch door after a bomb hit them head-on! That would certainly be a revelation for Callie on her quest to save humanity: to be confronted with the person she didn’t try to save.
  • How did August make it to Level 12, anyway?
  • So cute that both Callie and Becca pretended to be reading Metamorphosis and we later see that book with Octavia in the bunker. The book survived two Earth metamorphoses!
  • Some other fun Grounder origin story details are that August made up the name Nightblood and that the fire burning at the top of Polis tower might be a relic of that first fire Callie lit in order to call survivors to her.
  • Do we think Callie and/or Reese had any living descendants when The 100 started? If yes, I think the best candidate would be Lincoln, because of his unusual (for Grounders) kindness, his penchant for healing and the fact that he was an artist. But it would obviously be more poetic if it was Indra and Gaia, since they are still alive and very relevant to the story in season 7.
  • I’m just going to commit to this theory right now: Ice Nation was founded by an Ark survivor who did suicide by Earth. Boom!

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