The 100 has concluded with its 100th episode, titled “The Last War.” Here is our review.
The 100’s epic saga of humanity, told on over the course of seven seasons, spanning centuries and galaxies, ended with a proposal for how our species can ultimately break the cycle of violence and reach a new evolutionary stage.
The solution? Having an ancient alien race judge the actions of a random few people and invite 200+ nameless soldiers and a handful of children to leave behind their mortal shells and join a hive-mind cosmic conscience.
Well… we sure weren’t ready for that.
Before we dive into the discussion of The 100’s series finale, I want to reiterate one last time that, to me, this was all about the journey. The ending was never going to change that.
My own journey with The 100 sure has been an interesting one. I started watching it by mistake, because I had gotten it mixed up with The Tomorrow People, which I had actually been assigned (and never did end up watching). I fell in love with it almost instantly and started covering it for Hypable, because I wanted to help others find it and fall in love with it too. I believe I succeeded in that. (I’m sorry?)
I was a 20-something Danish girl just out of Journalism school, and I had no idea that picking up The 100 on a whim would take me as far as it did. I interviewed almost the entire cast. I visited the writers’ room. I started going to (and came to understand the point of) fan conventions. I even moderated panels at a handful of them.
I know I wasn’t the only young female entertainment journalist trying to break into the industry by covering this show, only to encounter gatekeeper after gatekeeper who blatantly tried to shut the doors in my face. So it is important to thank all the people who didn’t do this; who opened a door for me along the way, or vouched for me, or drew attention to my work. Most especially Jason and Joy Rothenberg, Kim Shumway, B.A. Johnson, Aaron Ginsburg, Richard Harmon, Jo Garfein, Tiffany Vogt, Sachin Sahel and Sabrina Hutchinson.
A story is a story, but the real human kindness you have shown me, and your willingness to let me into a space I was often made to feel I didn’t belong to, gave me an invaluable sense of confidence that I have been able to use to advance my career, within and beyond entertainment journalism. That matters. And I only hope I was able to pay it forward, in whatever limited capacity I could.
Hypable also benefited immensely from the coverage and exclusives I was able to produce, largely because of these people’s kindness. And although my affiliation with the site effectively ends with this article, I hope you will all continue to visit Hypable for its insightful and passionate fandom coverage. Our slogan “by fans, for fans” has guided every word I ever wrote about this show, be it praising or critical. I was always a fan first and I hope, wherever my career takes me, that I never stop being a fan first.
And I hope my coverage of the show has seemed fair and honest, regardless of how I have approached any given storyline. As a fan, that is all I ever had to offer.
With that, I submit to you my final review of The CW’s The 100, a series I have followed through its many ups and downs, and which I am proud to see through, to whatever end.
♫ When two become one ♫
Continuing from last week, Murphy, Raven and Jackson arrive on Sanctum with a flatlining Emori.
Although Raven initially refuses to leave Emori’s side, she ends up accepting that she can do more good elsewhere (and in doing so, she ends up fulfilling her promise: she does save them all, Emori included).
Raven runs off to save the world, starting with some (unfortunately off-screen) rallying of the various scattered troops: Raven’s former/current? arch-enemy Nikki and her Eligius friends, along with Wonkru, are apparently easily convinced to help, and they even agree to make a pit stop to pick up the wayward people on Earth before moving on to Bardo.
(Wasn’t there something about a time difference? Who can say.)
As a nice little surprise, Miller chooses to go back to Sanctum to be with Jackson rather than go to war, which is great for me personally, and also a neat prelude to the speech Octavia makes towards the end of the episode.
As we’ll get into later, The 100 has always been ambiguous about whether it considers love to be the solution to war or the cause of it, but in this case, it is definitely the former. Mackson is the key to breaking the cycle, didn’t I always say so?
But then they experience a tiny little inconvenience in the form of Emori violently and horrifically dying.
Not to worry, however! Memori never dies! Unable and unwilling to live without her, Murphy puts her mind drive in his head, combining their life forces and marrying their bodies and souls together for however long Murphy’s heart continues to beat.
Not to undercut the beauty of this modern Shakespearean tragedy, but the only thing I could think when watching this scene was how this is just the ultimate expression of how over-the-top extra Murphy has always been about Emori.
Of course he would pull a Romeo and Juliet. Of course he wouldn’t let a little obstacle like one of them dying stop them from being together forever. Of course. (Edward Cullen and Bella Swan look like a summer fling in comparison to these two.)
I’m also surprised by how much I genuinely did love ‘ending’ this for them (and honestly would have preferred it as their actual ending), because the last time I came across this type of storyline, I really didn’t.
In the series finale of Dollhouse (spoiler alert), the main character Echo loses the man she loves. But because his mind had been copied onto a disk – i.e. a mind drive – she could insert it into her own head, and they could be together inside her mind.
I thought that was such a creepy, sad ending for them. But in this context, and for these characters, it works really well. Probably exactly because of how intense and extra this particular relationship has always been.
And the scene with Murphy and Emori in Murphy’s mindspace is just stunning. Far and away the best scene of the episode.
The acting by Richard Harmon and Luisa d’Oliveira is out of this world. These two have the kind of on-screen chemistry that comes across once in a lifetime, and it seems like an understatement to call them The 100’s best couple.
The soft lighting and tranquil scenery are perfectly contrasted by the visceral horror Emori initially experiences when she realizes that Murphy is essentially killing herself for her, before she ultimately accepts his choice, and the pair share a very sweet dance before transcending.
While Murphy’s character this season has been washed out and hero-fied to an extent I think betrays the core of the character, I really like that his ending was ultimately one of sacrifice and reward: Murphy had to be ready to lay down his life for love, and only then could he and his love be saved by it. (Dumbledore would be proud.)
It’s a worthy death, or would have been, and once again a nice little statement to make about the restorative and healing powers of love. Look at where Murphy started, and how motivated his violence was by hate and revenge. Look how love changed him.
And look how love changed Emori. It inspired a compassion and empathy and a willingness to self-sacrifice that, once upon a time, the story wanted us to associate with Clarke.
The 100 is in so many ways a study in how our experiences with having and losing love can shape our worldview and how we treat other people, and in a surprising (and welcome) twist, Emori and Clarke really ended up being the opposites that met in the middle and rose/fell to the other’s starting point over the course of the series.
(Maybe because Emori got to go to the ring, and Clarke didn’t? Maybe that was where it split? Ugh, my heart.)
Luisa d’Oliveira may never have been officially made part of the main cast, but I think we all consider her a main anyway. Emori definitely ended up being one of the most important characters, emotionally and thematically. And it’s what they both deserve.
Clarke Griffin has entered the chat
Bill Cadogan enters the test arena, where he finally gets to reunite with his beloved daughter Callie – except it isn’t Callie. It is a representative of the superior alien race standing by, ready to dole out judgement. For brevity’s sake (yeah right), let us call this alien and the collective consciousness it represents “the Entity.”
The space Cadogan visualizes is conveniently similar to the ‘mindspace’ created by the mind-drives. It represents an important location in the test-taker’s life, which in Cadogan’s case is a bridge where he and Callie went fishing. (JR+JR? Cute.)
Before Cadogan can complete the test, however, Clarke shoots him in the head. Good riddance. (Although it’s a bit of a copout that all of the actual villains are killed off before transcendence happens, so we don’t get to see whether the Entity really was going to Helga Hufflepuff humanity and ‘take the lot’, but whatever.)
At first, it seems like Clarke is actually going to try to take the test in his stead, but Clarke must have dropped her once so character-defining cunning and intelligence during one of her wormhole jumps, so she can only focus on her immediate, self-centered anger and frustration.
But she is what humanity has made her, isn’t she? This is a Clarke Griffin who has been broken by the world, standing before the dieu du jour in sharp and depressing contrast to the brazen, fierce, compassionate Clarke Griffin who went into the City of Light to shut down ALIE in season 3.
This is a Clarke Griffin who has lost everything, and whose losses have made her bitter and vengeful and self-righteous and (in this moment) unconcerned with the consequences of her actions.
This is a Clarke Griffin who fails the test.
While the Entity took the form of Callie to appear to Cadogan (and lingers in that shape just long enough for Eliza Taylor to transfer her protagonist mojo onto our new leading lady Iola Evans), it transforms for Clarke into her vision of a love, a teacher, and a great regret: Lexa.
My instant emotional reaction to seeing Lexa again was pure joy. Alycia Debnam-Carey slips so flawlessly back into the role that I thought it was old footage at first. I understand why people online, especially those who maybe don’t care as much about the story as some of us still do, have trouble differentiating this imposter from the ‘real’ Lexa, because she really acts and talks just like Lexa would have.
Much like Clarke runs to hug her, even knowing that it is not actually Lexa, but still taking comfort in the idea of her, I know I’m not alone in taking a lot of comfort from the sheer symbolic value of her. I’m glad Alycia Debnam-Carey agreed to come back for it, and I’m glad it brought some people joy.
And, while I know a lot of the show’s remaining fans don’t see eye to eye with me on this, I genuinely also think ‘Lexa’s’ finale appearance redeems what would otherwise have been an incessant and unnecessary refusal to just let Lexa’s memory rest.
Since her death, Lexa has been so infuriatingly almost-present (in the Flame, in Madi’s head, in the computer, in drawings, in conversations). Seeing her again somewhat makes up for them refusing to let Clarke and the audience move on, knowing that they always planned to revisit the character in a substantial way.
But. (You knew it was coming.)
They didn’t actually revisit the character in a substantial way.
Seeing Lexa again may be all well and good, but because of the show’s self-imposed rule about dead people not being able to transcend, Lexa is no less dead just because an alien judge wears her face. Her appearance here is very literally just for show, both in-story and outside of it.
And the million-dollar question for me, once the initial excitement wore off, was: why couldn’t it just have been the actual Lexa? Since they already had Alycia Debnam-Carey for the finale, why not have Lexa show up on that beach? Why not have that be Clarke’s reward? Hadn’t she earned that? Hadn’t they both? Hadn’t we?
I would be more inclined to accept the explanation that they ‘couldn’t’ bring Lexa back because The 100 doesn’t do resurrections if it wasn’t for the facts that a) they didn’t actually let Lexa truly die before the Flame was destroyed three episodes ago, b) Emori was literally resurrected in this episode through a mind drive and, oh yeah, c) the show ended with everyone turning into golden Groots and becoming one with the universe. Y’all, literally nothing is off the table when you begin turning people into Groots.
It is hard to ignore the element of performativity here, of The 100 flaunting the powerful iconography of Lexa and reconnecting that iconography with the show’s brand, even while putting the final nail in her coffin by smashing the Flame and excluding her from transcendence.
So while it is nice that people on Twitter are excited about “Lexa” returning and interacting with Clarke, it would be even nicer if those of us who actually watched the episode got to share in that excitement. The gifs sure are pretty though.
The Entity proceeds to judge Clarke, who judges it right back. Lo and behold, the Entity doesn’t like to be judged (the uncomfortable implication here being that the species it absorbs are intended to serve it, not be its equals), so it fails Clarke, on behalf of the human race, and she is ejected from the arena.
Before this happened, I actually thought for a hot second that Clarke would manage to outsmart the all-knowing-alien-deity-thingy. She made some valid arguments, after all: How dare it assume the right to judge her? How dare it commit genocide upon genocide and then condemn her for doing the same?
Turns out the Entity really doesn’t care about being a big stupid hypocrite (hey, just like Cadogan!), which means that Clarke essentially just gets to vocalize some glaring issues with the premise of transcendence that are never actually addressed or resolved, which is just… well, it’s super weird, isn’t it?
Clarke’s arguments, along with Raven’s later plea for the Entity to back off and give humanity more time (after which transcendence just happens immediately), are so dissonant from the rest of the finale that I almost wonder if there were two different endings for the show in play – one in which they won transcendence and one in which judgement was deferred and humanity was left to improve on its own merit – and they just ended up meshing them together.
Believe it or not, but Clarke failing the test is one of the things I like best about the finale. The past few episodes have, intentionally or not, worked very hard to prove that Clarke certainly is not (currently) worthy of representing all of humanity and winning transcendence in any form, and this cosmic rejection is, somewhat, a consequence for her horrific actions.
Yes, “love” made her do it, but love is an ambivalent concept. In Octavia’s case, love was what made her forgive. Once, love was what made Clarke self-sacrifice. Love is as destructive as it is redemptive depending on how it affects each individual person, and to The 100’s credit, it has always (if sometimes clumsily) tried to explore the nuance of this all-consuming and self-contradictory force.
So while it would have felt truer to Clarke’s overall arc and character to have her use her cunning and cleverness to actually beat the test, rather than get angry and emotional, and while it would have been more full-circley to have Clarke try to sacrifice herself for ~all mankind~ one last time, having the Entity just spit her back out feels right, under the circumstances.
It also feels right that Clarke should then pass the baton to Raven, who would have been a much more interesting choice to actually have taken the ‘test,’ if the test had amounted to more than a conversation. This episode does right by Raven, certainly, giving her the space and importance she always deserved.
Raven Reyes, self-made champion of humanity, enters the now-red orb, and finds herself in her version of the test-mindspace: the Ark, on which she meets the Entity, now wearing the face of Abby Griffin.
Basically, instead of the source of all evil taking the shapes of all the former Big Bads in Buffy, the almighty here takes the shapes of some of the series’ greatest teachers. (It would have been cool if they had taken that idea even further, having more characters take and fail the test throughout the episode or even just having Clarke and Raven see more faces of people that had influenced them, but alas. No Sinclair for me.)
Even though this isn’t in fact Abby, as with Alycia Debnam-Carey, it is simply wonderful to see Paige Turco again. It feels more like closure for the actors than anything else, but that in itself is a somewhat worthwhile use of your finale.
That the Entity puts on Abby’s face for Raven, but not for Clarke, is a choice I would have liked to linger on a little bit more, but then I could say that about a lot of things this season. The choice is justified by saying that Raven always considered Abby’s opinion of her the most important, which is certainly true. And relevant, seeing as the Entity’s opinions seem to literally be the alpha and omega of the future of the universe.
Raven argues that humanity has in fact learned to do better, but the Entity takes her to Bardo, showing her the Bardoan and Sanctumnian armies poised to attack. It counters that, despite the fact that we keep trying to improve, something will always happen to ensure that we fail.
This time, the devil on humanity’s shoulder is Sheidheda. A random wild card to prove the Entity’s point, for sure, but maybe intentionally so: there will always be Sheidhedas, in one form or another, to throw us off the path of progress. The Entity isn’t wrong about that.
What the Entity fails to account for, however, is that for every Sheidheda, there is an Octavia, stealing fire from the gods and giving the human race the power to evolve themselves.
(And this is where we take a beat to acknowledge the Bellamy-shaped hole in the story.)
While Raven argues humanity’s case to the Entity, Octavia proves her words true by coming between the two armies and tl;dr’ing her entire character arc: “I let fear [of the other] drive me for too long … I’ve been to war, and I know that the only way to win is not to fight.”
She also gives new meaning to one of the series’ most iconic statements, in one of the episode’s only moments of properly paying homage to itself: “Our fight is over.”
That the armies are partially motivated to stand down because they know their god is watching unfortunately undercuts a lot of this scene’s power in terms of proving anything about humanity’s capacity for self-improvement, but Octavia, certainly, proves the individual human’s ability to learn from experience and find a way to peace.
Octavia has always been the one character The 100 never lost sight of, and never dumbed down or ‘de-complicated’ for the sake of pushing a certain plot. The greyer she got, the more real she felt, and her ultimately rising from the ashes to save the human race because of her entire history rather than in spite of it felt as epic as it was intended to.
She really is the embodiment of humanity, the way I believe humanity should be embodied: we are capable of so much destruction, but we are also capable of self-reflection and self-improvement, and ultimately the hope is that we will be able to overcome our instinct for violence and conflict by looking into the eyes of our enemies and acknowledging the humanity in them.
And there is also just a real beauty and poignancy to the fact that it ends up being Raven and Octavia – the two secondary female leads, polar opposites involved in such separate storylines that they’ve barely spoken two words to each other throughout the entire series – who unwittingly join forces to do what Clarke had become too emotion-driven and ‘tribal’ to do.
After Octavia’s demonstration and Raven’s closing argument – that humanity might not yet be worthy of transcendence but will keep working to improve itself if the Entity leaves them alone – everyone begins glowing gold.
Raven’s proposition, which incidentally would also have been my preferred endgame, seems to be ignored by the Entity, who doesn’t seem inclined to wait around for the remainder of the human race to prove their ability to change their behavioral patterns. (Or maybe it just realized that if they didn’t scoop what was left of humanity up now, the species would in fact eradicate itself before they got the chance.)
So everyone gets raptured, melding their minds to the mass of the Entity and leaving behind only imprints of light.
…Everyone except Clarke, who encouraged Madi to let go of her body (that she wanted to cling onto, how about that, good thing nobody shot her without her consent, hm?), and Picasso, because in The 100, dogs do not in fact go to heaven.
Guys, not to be like whatever, but the Entity kind of sucks.
They meet again
Clarke spends most of this episode the way she unfortunately ended up spending most of the series: alone, surrounded by all her ghosts. And her ultimate punishment for having the audacity to live and love at all is to be cast out of Eden, doomed to walk the world alone like Elrond’s vision of Arwen from Lord of the Rings.
But there is a silver lining: the friends she made along the way. Just as she has resigned herself to a life of solitude, the Lexabot shows up to monologue some more about how weird it is that humans can love, and how weird it is that all of Clarke’s friends decided to abandon an eternal existence of bliss and togetherness to live a finite life with someone most of them barely knew.
And honestly, I’m with the Lexabot on this one. That is pretty weird.
Because the writers decided that transcendence was only an option for people who were alive at the time it happened (you’re telling me that Roan didn’t get to transcend? Monty? Harper? Jane Fonda? Barack Obama? Anya?? Sounds fake but okay), none of the people Clarke might, in a version of the story that was more true to itself, actually be happy to spend her life with actually get to come back to her.
No Bellamy. No Lexa. No Abby. No Jake, Wells, Monty, Anya, or Barack Obama. Not even her best and truest friend Riley. Instead, the characters who return for Clarke are basically just everyone left who has a name, and aside from Raven and maybe Octavia, I can’t help but imagine that Clarke would consider them consolation prizes at best.
The striking absence is Madi, who chose not to return because she allegedly didn’t want Clarke to worry about her ending up alone.
On one hand, Madi peacing out into the cosmos rather than choosing to live out her mortal life with Clarke and her new BFF Luca is a satisfying choice that honors Madi’s autonomy (I wouldn’t want to give up immortality for the woman who was ready to murder me for being immobilized either).
On the other, it is a super unsatisfying note to end on for Clarke, who literally spent the past three episodes proving herself willing to abandon and kill everyone and anyone who isn’t Madi. It is hard to believe that Clarke should so easily find peace without her, after a season hell-bent on convincing us that she was “nothing” without her.
(For not to mention the fact that Clarke was so distrustful of and spiteful towards the Entity, so why would she believe that Madi is safe inside of it? Why are we taking anything the Entity says at face value? Oh whatever, the show is over.)
As for everyone else – again, except Raven and Octavia, whom season 7 at least put (the bare minimum amount of) effort into re-forging Clarke’s connections with – it is very difficult to see anyone making the choice to forgo an eternity of bliss and togetherness for the sake of spending one finite lifetime with someone most of them were never actually close to.
In this very episode, Murphy/Emori and Miller/Jackson all seemed pretty set on just wanting to be together, wherever that was, which surely meant that transcendenceland was their best option. Indra would go where Gaia was, but Gaia surely didn’t love Clarke enough to make such a leap (she barely knew her). Maybe Indra followed Octavia, and then Gaia followed Indra? Either way, why would Gaia leave Madi? And don’t even get me started on Niylah.
(Unless transcendence was just super boring, which is a totally believable explanation tbh. Literally nobody would want to be a Golden Groot for all eternity. I would bail too.)
I think the closest we’ll get to an actual explanation is a chain reaction of de-transcendence: Raven chose to stay with Clarke; Echo and Emori followed Raven; Murphy followed Emori. Octavia chose to stay with Clarke; Levitt and Hope followed Octavia; Jordan followed Hope.
But you know what would have made perfect sense? If Bellamy had chosen to stay with Clarke, and Octavia, SpaceKru, and Miller had all followed him. That would have been completely in character for everyone. (Except Niylah. There is no explanation for her.)
Because Clarke was repeatedly removed and isolated from the group, while Bellamy’s stories were always community-driven, Bellamy came to serve as the de-facto link between Clarke and the others. (That old quote about Bellamy inspiring the masses and Clarke inspiring Bellamy remained true for all of the six seasons where they were still written in-character.)
So even if we were to write off Bellamy’s own significance entirely (haha, but why, that would be ridiculous), cutting out the character that has been established as the main emotional anchor for Clarke, and then pretending like he was irrelevant to her relationships with everyone else, undermines the integrity of every single person on that beach.
And what is so ironic about all of this is that if any of the original main characters had been as unmoored and unimportant as they’re pretending Bellamy was, to the point where they could realistically be lifted out of the narrative without it creating a catastrophic ripple effect, that would be a failure of the story too.
Pretending like the relationships you wrote were so flimsy and arbitrary that you can have one lead character shoot another and then not reckon with that action in any meaningful way only serves to undermine your own abilities as a storyteller.
Knowing that the original plan was for Bellamy to be included in the final shot makes it even worse, because if the writers knew it made sense, then they should have made it happen. Use a standin. Splice him in. Have Clarke see someone come out of the woods and let the audience guess who it might be.
There were so many constructive ways to minimize the damage to the story caused by Bellamy’s absence rather than exacerbate it. Instead, the ending scene was much weaker than it could (should) have been, a lot of the emotional growth Clarke and Bellamy did separately and as a unit was rendered meaningless, Octavia and Echo didn’t get the closure their arcs needed, and the show’s legacy will suffer for it. And that’s really all there is to it.
You call this doing better?
Now that we have left our heroes to live out their lives and let humanity die with them (whatever you do, don’t think about how much Murphy will eventually regret letting immortality pass him and Emori by), let us talk about how The 100 decided to answer its own question about how we as a species can eventually break our cycle of violence.
I actually already discussed the idea of transcendence at length in a speculative article that ended up proving pretty accurate (except for my optimistic presumption that dead people would get to transcend as well), so for this review, I want to focus less on how I feel about it as an ending, and more about what the ending might actually be trying to say.
While definitely more fiction than science in this case, transcendence is a fairly common sci-fi trope. The 100‘s take on it is basically a form of conscious evolution: it is based on an idea that that humanity will eventually become ‘one with the universe’, leaving the physical plane behind to join the great cosmic consciousness as pure energy.
It is not heaven, because it has nothing to do with dying; ‘we’ do not get to share in transcendence any more than the Turkana Boy got to watch television. He lived and died so that one day we could be here, and according to The 100, we now live and die so that, one day, future humans can take the ‘next step’ on our species’ evolutionary ladder.
The theory of ‘Higher Consciousness’ being the next step of human evolution is an actual pseudo-religious belief that seems to have been a source of inspiration for both the Second Dawn cult and the transcendence that ends up concluding The 100’s story of humanity.
The gist of this belief is that to achieve this evolution, we must consciously detach from our “instinct for tribalism” in favor of global cooperation; we must be less attached to our beliefs and – please pay attention here – our freedoms as individuals, in order to better serve the collective of humanity as a whole.
“This is about more than just surviving, it’s about thriving,” writes Robert Cobbold, the founder of Conscious Evolution. (He wrote this last year, making me wonder if The 100 is inspired by this man’s ideas, or vice versa.)
While Cobbold’s writing is particularly striking in its relevance to what happens in season 7, similar ideas have been put forth from a variety of spiritualists and scientists (and sci-fi authors), their viewpoints ranging from outright religious propaganda to technotopian utilitarianism to, well, speculative science fiction.
Common to most of the manifestos set out by people who genuinely believe this is the logical/best next step for our species is a cry for unity, ‘unity’ usually taken to mean oneness: a “wonkru” for all mankind, if you will, that must set aside that which divides us (but which arguably also individualizes us) to live by more universal, community-driven codes.
These beliefs all walk a very fine line between celebrating our ‘collective diversity’ and propagating homogeneity, to the point of the above-mentioned Cobbold calling “our unsustainable urges to accumulate possessions, reproduce freely, and eat meat … maladaptive – actively detrimental to our species’ survival chances.”
Yes, he is advocating for controlled reproduction and curbed individual freedoms. Much like Cadogan and the Bardoans did, and much like what the Entity ultimately enforces, by absorbing what remains of humanity into a (presumably controlled) collective space and force-sterilizing the humans that choose to re-assume their mortal forms.
There are a lot of threads we could pull at here, and I encourage anyone interested to do your own reading on the topic, but safe to say that some of the ideas put forth here are borderline dangerous, particularly when they are thrown into the story at the last second without the accompaniment of critical commentary.
I’m not saying you can’t make a television show about humanity leaving their mortal shells behind and merging with a cosmic conscious. That Rothenberg or anyone else has become interested in exploring, or maybe even started to believe, the potential of humanity working towards a conscious evolution, is not the issue. Stories exist for us to explore our ideas and emotions, after all.
The problem is that this isn’t what The 100 actually did. It didn’t explore transcendence. It didn’t even really tell us what the cosmic conscious was. It just used the vague concept of transcendence as a ‘solution’ to a problem it didn’t otherwise know how to solve, and boomed out, leaving the audience to dig out whatever meaning they could.
And that meaning is mostly framed by the cultish teachings of Cadogan and the Bardoans. Curiously (worryingly), Cadogan turns out to be a hypocritical villain who does bad things for selfish reasons, yet he also turns out to be right.
He might not have been right about the final test being a war (although, wasn’t he?). But he was right about transcendence. He was right about how humanity would ultimately abandon individualism in favor of a homogenous collective. In a roundabout way, he prepared Bardoans for the ‘correct’ way to become one with the universe, from growing babies in jars to raising soldiers to live and die for him, prohibiting individualist behavior and expecting absolute obedience and conformity.
So, was the Bardoans’ way of life actually supposed to be considered good? Was the finale intended to make us consider the idea of abandoning the individual for the good of a homogenous collective a positive thing?
Based on what Jason Rothenberg has said in interviews, it sounds like the answer is supposed to be yes. But based on was actually on screen, I would still say no. (I know that the official answer will only ever be ‘it’s a Rorchach test,’ but nope, they force sterilized the main characters and turned everyone else into Groots, and decisions like that demand an actual value judgement.)
To me, the Entity seems like a sinister, self-serving force that I was half expecting to be revealed as the ultimate Big Bad, and that Clarke would kill it and ‘save’ humanity from joining the City of Light 2.0.
Even after it turned everyone into golden energy, it is hard for me to understand how it could possibly be a good thing, or even a neutral thing that can be left up to our own interpretation. The only thing we know about the transcended is that they feel no pain. But do they feel anything else? Joy, fear, relief, love?
Can love even exist without the fear of losing that love? Can you be truly alive if you know you’ll never die? And without death, is there even life? We already went through all these questions with the City of Light and Prime storylines, and the answers were not in the Entity’s favor. Why should they suddenly be now?
What we do know is that the human race is no longer an independent entity in charge of its own fate. The moment the test was activated, the Entity assumed total control; even the seemingly benevolent gesture of giving people a choice to come back and live their lives, and opt out of donating their consciousnesses to the hive-mind, is a way to control them, because they have been denied the ability to procreate. (Such a huge, horrific violation, just… casually injected into the final minutes of the series.)
Whether or not they passed the test, humanity would effectively be eliminated, and the only reason we have to believe that transcendence was preferable to being crystallized is because of extra-textual interviews.
But based only on what we saw on screen, we really don’t have any proof that having your entire species swallowed up by a greater being is any better than being turned into one of those butt-spiders that lived inside the stinky Nakara monster, and frankly, that’s what it seems like to me.
It is a way to end all wars forever? I mean, sure. But it seems like the ultimate defeat to me, not a victory. I think maybe we are better off with a little chaos.
How we get to peace
The story of humanity as told by The 100 has been a murky, confusing, interesting, and ultimately very grimdark one, and yet somewhere buried in all the nihilism has always been what has sometimes felt like an involuntary spasm of optimism, embedded in the why of why we keep perpetuating that pesky cycle of violence.
Throughout the series finale, the Entity repeatedly expresses how intrigued it is by humanity’s (apparently) unusual ability to love. Love seems to throw off its expectations for what we are worthy of, and while it doesn’t seem swayed by Clarke’s initial arguments for love being an excuse for all the bad things she’s done, it does end up being convinced by the compassion that Octavia inspires the opposing armies to feel for one another.
The role of love in the finale as both the thing that condemns us and the thing that redeems us is very fitting, considering that The 100 has always – and more overtly, in recent years – presented love as the ultimate X-factor in humanity’s quest to break the cycle of violence.
Certainly, one way to interpret the show’s ultimate morale is that individualistic love really is the root of all our problems, and as long as we love as fiercely as we do, we simply cannot break our cycle of violence and get to peace.
And transcendence undeniably seems designed to dull the intensity of the physical human experience and make it more abstract and contemplative (if you will, more head and less heart); meanwhile, the peace the humans who stay on Earth achieve is conditioned on the fact that nobody – including Clarke with Madi – can have children to form all-consuming emotional attachments to. Less love, more peace, for all mankind.
At the same time, love is what makes this peace possible. I’ve already mentioned Emori’s evolution into someone community-driven and capable of extending empathy to the ‘others’ she encountered being a result of her own experiences with loving and being loved in return, but Octavia is another noteworthy example of how The 100 does, in some circumstances, consider love a redeeming and healing trait.
Octavia was always the most rootless character, who never felt like she belonged to one particular group over another, which is why she was the only character capable of seeing past clan divides and wanting to find a fair solution when it came to deciding who got to survive Praimfaya in season 4.
Octavia losing love caused her to lose herself to violence, first by becoming Skairipa and then by becoming Blodreina, but her love for Diyoza and Hope restored her and gave her the peace of mind she needed to find empathy and compassion for that which was other.
In season 7, she was used to make the ultimate point about why love can be good and important and an instrument of peace – even if that point was made spectacularly poorly – by having her forgive her brother’s killer because she recognized that Clarke’s motivation for killing someone Octavia loved was to protect someone she loved.
Her declaration that “we are one” in the finale is the exact same sentiment as “for all mankind,” and yet it means the exact opposite coming from Octavia, who uses it not to wash out individualism, but to make the soldiers on opposite sides look into each other’s eyes and see individual human beings no more or less worthy than themselves.
According to The 100, love is thus a fundamental dichotomy of our existence that enables us to feel empathy and compassion for others, but is also the reason we can hate and hurt. Just like pain and pleasure are overlapping sensations, love is at once the thing that makes peace possible and the thing that prevents it. It is weakness, but it is also strength. It destroys us, and it heals us.
But why is love so closely tied to the endgame of the series, and why does it factor into the Entity (and by extension the writers)’s assessment of whether The 100‘s humanity can overcome its tribalism?
Because the moment you pour a shot of love into the cocktail of humanity, you create an ‘us.’ The us is good. The us is what drives community, and commonality, and solidarity. But once there is an ‘us,’ everyone else becomes the ‘them.’ The them is neutral, until it threatens the us. Suddenly, the them is the enemy. And then, ‘versus’ enters the chat, and that’s how war happens.
This seems to be a conclusion The 100 has reached after a lot of soul searching about whether it is possible for ‘us’ to peacefully coexist with ‘them.’ Within the story, the answer has pretty consistently been no – in part a reflection of the writers’ nihilistic view of humanity, and in part because the yellow brick road of no has led them to the city of the story they wanted to tell.
For better or worse, it is in the clash between the ‘us’es that this show has always found its drama, hence why Jason Rothenberg has repeatedly referred to peace as “boring.” Interesting television, in The 100’s estimation, doesn’t come from exploring the things which unite us, but from the things which divide us.
At some point, maybe even as specific of a point as when they made the choice to kill Lexa in season 3 and end the coalition storyline, the show stopped asking the question “how does peace happen?” and started exclusively asking “how does war happen?” And the answer, it seems, is that war is inevitable as long as there is an ‘us’ for us to love more than a ‘them.’
It is no coincidence that peace on The 100 has only ever been possible when characters have been alone with their loved ones or their people – Clarke and Madi, Monty, Harper and Jordan, the Diyozas, SpaceKru. It is no coincidence that we time-jumped past all of those stories, only picking them back up once they got ‘interesting’: when the peace was shattered by the arrival of ‘others.’
According to The 100, to transcend your tribalism is to transcend your tribe, with the only way to peace being to achieve some form of homogenous unity where it is not possible to love an ‘us’ more than a ‘them’ – either because there is no love to unite us, or because there is no ‘them’ to oppose us.
And the show has actually tried to remove individualistic love – or at least spend some time examining if it was possible – several times, only to repeatedly have to conclude that it isn’t.
The first time was in season 3, when ALIE tried to ‘save’ humanity by uploading them into the City of Light. Whatever love that the characters felt there certainly was not individualistic, with characters like Abby, Kane and Monty’s mother proving themselves willing to hurt and even kill those who resisted joining the hive mind consciousness. (The actual sci-fi version of what Bellamy tried to turn himself into in season 7, basically.)
The 100 presented the City of Light as a way to peace, but not the way to peace, with Clarke rejecting any version of humanity that required us to give up our autonomy and individualism. The happy denouement to that storyline came in the form of the chipped individuals being ‘freed’ and reconnecting with their loved ones.
At the time, the clear message seemed to be that it is better to live and love and die as fully human than to live forever as semi-sentient collectivist spectres haunting an omniscient machine — although, looking back on it now, maybe the narrative decision to immediately wipe out out 90% of the people Clarke ‘saved’ from the City of Light was an indication that The 100 did not in fact believe that we are better off in our fragile corporeal forms.
In season 7, the introduction of the Bardoans and their ‘for all mankind’ mantra was a way for the writers to explore whether it was possible to remain human and collectively decide to opt out of individualistic love. It wasn’t. (At least not in this story.)
From the moment the Bardo track was introduced, it was marred by inconsistency and self-contradiction, as every single Bardoan we met immediately defaulted to being motivated by individualistic love and connection.
It seemed the writers simply weren’t capable of writing humans any other way. And maybe that’s because it isn’t possible. (Even sentient robots are often written as if they experience love, because the humans who write for them cannot conceive of how consciousness could work without it.)
So, in lieu of being able to eradicate humans’ inherent instinct for identifying and committing to an ‘us,’ The 100’s only conceivable way to get to peace was to eliminate the ‘them.’
The finale did this in two ways: for humanity at large, and for the individuals who chose to opt out of transcendence.
When Octavia united the clans after Praimfaya, she did so by creating a ‘one kru,’ removing the ‘them’ and instilling unity – inspired, incidentally, by Unity Day on the Ark, where the 13 separate stations were fused together into one entity.
And it worked. The only reason Wonkru ended up devolving into tyranny was because the scarcity of resources forced them to literally devour each other. (Still, they remained one kru until they encountered the ‘them’ of Eligius, lost confidence in Blodreina, and fractured back into their old clans.)
And the only reason Octavia succeeded in creating a new Wonkru in the finale was because they were very literally made One with the cosmos, merging together into a hive-mind entity that never again would experience pain, or division, or scarcity.
Octavia’s speech that finally proved humanity’s worthiness to the Entity was very telling: she convinced the two opposing armies to stop fighting only because they were the same. “One people.” The implication being that the only reason to fight in the first place was because they were separate, and that the solution was to eradicate that difference.
When humanity ‘transcended,’ we are to understand this as the ultimate form of becoming one, not just with each other but with the universe itself. The Entity’s endgame is to eventually judge every species of sentient life and either wipe it out or absorb it. One big happy homogenous blob of consciousness. (Yum.)
Meanwhile, on Earth, the indication is that Clarke and her friends will also live out their lives in peace and unity, simply by process of elimination. They are literally the only human beings left in the universe. War is over, because there is nobody left to go to war against. No them. Only us.
Now, is The 100’s conclusion that there can be no peace as long as we are divided, and that we must consider ourselves one people to break the cycle of violence, a good message to send? Since it seems to me that their idea of division overlaps with the idea of difference, I’m not sure I can give a constructive answer.
All I know is that, instead of ending the series by proposing that the way to stop war forever is to make sure there is no ‘other’ left to wage war against, I would have liked for The 100 to imagine a future in which we could learn to celebrate how different we all are; for love to inspire tolerance rather than conformity. Live and let live, not live and preach assimilation.
I think it could have been just as interesting, and certainly more constructive, to write towards love being the thing that stopped wars as opposed to the thing that started them. Something that could be used as a tool to inspire compassion, rather than a tool to create conflict.
Love and compassion could have been what ultimately made breaking the cycle possible (as Octavia demonstrated within this finale), without us having to abandon our humanity for it; the characters could have eventually learned to utilize these innate human abilities to broker peace with those who were other, instead of making the concept of “other” be the over-arching problem that had to be solved.
There was a brief moment in the show’s history, when Marcus Kane and Lexa were still driving the story’s over-arching quest for peace, that I really do think at least some of the writers were telling this story.
A standout moment in the series for me was when Lexa was so moved by Kane’s compassion towards Jaha that she decided to spare both their lives and open up for peace talks with the Arkadians. It seemed to me that something shifted, then, in what was possible for these particular individual members of the human race, that happened to be in positions to inspire widespread change.
Something that I think we can all agree on is that individual humans will keep coming along with big visions for positive change, and sometimes they will even succeed for a while, but there will always be a Sheidheda waiting in the wings to sabotage whatever progress was made.
This is what has happened throughout all of human history. The empires always fall. The heroes always die. The 100, speaking through the Entity, isn’t wrong about our capacity for beauty being sabotaged by our perpetuation of violence.
But one thing The 100 ultimately failed to account for is that life also consistently gets better for more and more people on a global scale, because the more times we try, the more effective we are when we do succeed.
And what a story like this one can (and I daresay should) inspire – just on the off chance that our alien overlords do not in fact swoop down to scoop – is that we must believe that trial and error in itself makes a positive difference.
The way I see it, the key to “doing better” is not to aspire towards a future in which we never have to do anything at all, or to absolve ourselves of the responsibility we have to future generations by making sure there aren’t any.
I want to believe that if we keep doing the best we can for as long as we can, then one day, somewhere, a Kane and an Abby will cross paths with a Lexa, who in turn will meet a Clarke and a Bellamy, and from there, we will ‘evolve’ into a species that does finally do better in a real, permanent, tangible way.
Not all the time, not everywhere. Sometimes catastrophe does strike. Sometimes we do fail. But ultimately, what actually does make breaking the cycle a realistic goal to aspire towards is our collective, ever-increasing awareness that as long as we keep trying to do better — as opposed to washing our hands of the moral responsibility of the things we do and the stories we tell and leaving it up to a cosmic deity to decide if we are worthy — then we already are.
That is the way to peace I choose to believe in.
You don’t ease pain, you overcome it
So, this is the end.
The 100 has spent seven seasons turning over every stone of the human race looking for solutions to an unsolvable problem. Over the course of The 100’s seven seasons, the human race has been whittled down piece by piece, until only a few hundred people survive.
And in the end, humanity dies out, slowly and then all at once. Humanity, the show concludes, will keep its eating own tail until it has consumed itself entirely, stuck in a loop of passionate violence for all of eternity, until – if we’re lucky — the universe absorbs us and we ‘evolve’ beyond our inferior mortal forms to some version of a hive-mind collective.
The recipients of this evolutionary gift? Convicted criminals from our time. Cultists bred in test tubes. Believers of false gods. A handful of children. All melded into one nameless, faceless crowd of One, and then swallowed up by a superior entity that folds them into the cosmic conscious.
They feel no pain, we are told. This is preferable. Because by season 7, numbness is bliss.
We are certainly a far cry away from the mishmash of desperately, painfully, joyfully alive mass of life that Clarke Griffin championed when she rejected the City of Light at the end of season 3.
A bleak but accurate reflection of how the world has changed between 2016 and now, perhaps. Or a symptom of growing up and growing older and realizing that hope is an invention of the mind to stave off the ever-looming dread of a finite existence.
I understand why Clarke Griffin no longer mustered the strength to try to be better. I even understand why the narrative ultimately gave up its once-fierce belief that humanity can and will endure, and that the brief moments of joy and togetherness have to be enough to outweigh the pain and the darkness.
But that doesn’t mean we have to embrace the same nihilism, and it doesn’t mean we have to lie down and wait for the cosmos to claim us.
Still wondering how to get to peace? This is my suggestion:
Life is what you make it. No more or less. If you want life to be about more than just surviving, you have to make it so.
The beautiful thing about our wild, imperfect, chaotic, frantic, autonomous humanity is that we have a lot of say about how our stories are written. It is up to you to draw your own lines of connection between unconnected dots and see what shapes emerge.
Nothing is predetermined. Nothing is set in stone. And that extends to this story, too. The 100 may have ended, but that doesn’t mean the journey has to be over.
If you believe Bellamy had just enough life left in him to transcend, then he did. If you believe the Flame survived in Madi’s mind and Lexa transcended through her, then she did. If you believe the mind drives and the bodies they inhabited all transcended, then they did.
If you believe Madi and her friends led a coup to overthrow the Entity and reverse-engineer transcendence to bring humanity back to life to start the new and better cycle of humanity, then that is what happened. If you believe Murphy and Emori hacked the system and Children of Men’ed the human race, then guess what. Suck it, cosmos.
After all, as Wells Jaha — the character most worthy of transcendence, and possibly the show’s first instance of the Entity revealing itself to a human being — once told his father: “Your life can be more than just impossible decisions and a tragic end. You can choose to live.”
The choice is yours to make.
Go forth and make your own ending.
May we meet again.