Let’s take a moment to discuss The 100‘s most contradictory character, former Chancellor Thelonious Jaha.
At the end of The 100 season 1, we were left with a lot of unanswered questions: did Bellamy and Finn survive? How many Ark inhabitants made it to the ground? Where was Clarke being held captive? What is the smoke monster?!
Overwhelmed and confused, the fandom was understandably less occupied with the fate of Thelonious Jaha (played wonderfully by Isaiah Washington), whose story seemed – finally – to have reached its bittersweet conclusion.
Throughout season 1, Jaha went through a curious character transformation: first introduced as a hero when he saved Abby from Kane’s rather cold-hearted execution plot, he is nonetheless recounted by most of the main characters as a ruthless ruler, who rigidly follows the Ark’s laws even though it means executing people for minor crimes, and sentencing children to years of solitary confinement.
When Wells died, Jaha (understandably) snapped. He finally realised that the children he sent to the ground as an experiment were not just faceless criminals: he sentenced his own son to death.
And, as he discovered in The 100 season 2, episode 10, he was, in fact, directly responsible for Charlotte murdering Wells.
Thelonious Jaha 1.0
Ever since discovering Wells’ death, pre-Ark exodus Jaha had only one goal: redemption.
He craved it, desperately, and as became apparent later in season 1, Jaha wanted nothing more than to die heroically, seeking a spiritual absolution; a forgiveness for his sins, and a reunion with Wells in the afterlife.
(I won’t say that Jaha follows any particular religion, because like a lot of other staples of our society, religions as we know them seem to have been wiped away in The 100. There is still spiritualism and faith, but it has changed and evolved like everything else in the post-apocalyptic world.)
At the end of season 1, after several failed attempts at sacrificing himself, Jaha finally got his wish: he opted to stay behind on the Ark, in order to give the survivors their best chance of reaching Earth. With Abby’s description of the ground to bow him out, Jaha was ready to reunite with Wells. Yu gonplei ste odon, as the Grounders would say. Your fight is over.
Except, it wasn’t.
Symbolic death and rebirth
Film students, surprise pop quiz: in the Hero’s Journey, what happens after the main character has approached the innermost cave and has endured his symbolic death?
Answer: Rebirth, and transformation.
Out of all the characters on The 100, Jaha’s story most closely follows Joseph Campbell’s character arc model (which really isn’t totally applicable to TV, since it’s designed for a simpler story with a set beginning, middle and end). Ready to sacrifice himself and die for his people, Jaha made peace with his former self and shed his old skin, emerging on the other side as a new man.
He was led through the cave by a vision of Wells, who first appeared as a baby (signifying Jaha’s own rebirth), then in the form we last saw him. He told Jaha to keep fighting; that his story wasn’t done yet. Then he vanished, leaving Jaha – and the audience – to make their own conclusions about what exactly the nature of ghost!Wells was.
Was he a hallucination, caused by the lack of oxygen and Jaha’s own post-traumatic stress disorder? Or was he, in fact, a higher being passing on a spiritual message to Jaha, the Chosen One? This is what we’re here to debate.
Jaha’s resurrection has many parallels to Christianity, probably all intentional from the writers’ side. Jaha has certainly embraced all of these parallels, and has arrived on Earth believing himself to be a Christ-like figure of salvation.
Reborn as a man of faith, Jaha now sees signs in everything around him, and as he explained to his newfound companion/disciple John Murphy (who, incidentally, is one of the few major characters to bear a Christian name) in The 100 season 2, episode 10, he believes that he is meant to lead his people across the
sea desert to the promised land: the City of Light.
The Moses complex
The Moses complex (which is a term I thought I made up, but apparently others beat me to it) makes Thelonious Jaha one of two things:
A) a man of faith amongst heathens, who will lead some higher power’s chosen ones to salvation, or
B) a raving lunatic whose brain has been damaged by prolonged oxygen deprivation (which has a precedent on the show: remember the girl who was losing her vision because of the thin air on the space ship?).
Speaking only in terms of storytelling here, I think it’s pretty obvious which side of the Science vs Faith fence I’m standing on, but let me tell you why: if Jaha is right, and Wells truly was a vision from above, and there really is a grander meaning to everything, then it completely undermines everything the show has established about survival and the nature of humanity.
One of the strongest aspects of The 100 is its portrayal of real people, in a cruel world, whose choices (for better or worse) shape the story.
And, refreshingly, they do not benefit from a lot of easy fixes courtesy of TPTB: taking a page out of GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (and there are so damn many, he’d never miss it), there was no magical last-minute save for Finn when his head was on the execution block. There was no saving Wells from Charlotte – hell, there wasn’t even salvation for Charlotte.
It’s survival of the fittest, and only when characters have abandoned all hope of divine intervention can they embrace their true humanity, taking responsibility for every little action they perform while recognizing that at any moment, the winds can shift for no reason at all and change everything they thought they knew.
Humans making flawed decisions is the driving force of The 100, and any indication that the characters’ individual choices are, in fact, arbitrary, would wreck the show. I truly believe that.
The self-appointed Chosen One
I like to reference Lost and Battlestar Galactica when I talk about The 100, because not only are all three shows some of the best examples of character development and exploration of humanity at its most desperate, but there are a lot of similarities (intentional or otherwise) between the storylines.
Both Lost and Battlestar Galactica dealt with the concept of a self-appointed Chosen One, but in very different ways. While both series ultimately ended on a spiritual note, Science vs Faith was a major theme in both shows, and various characters embodied either side of the never-ending debate.
In BSG, I would argue that the spiritual resolution was much too heavy-handed (SPOILER ALERT): Head-Six and Head-Gaius both ended up being real, angel-like figures, implying (or rather: outrightly stating) that while our heroes had been battling their inner and outer demons on their ruthless ride through space, there’d been a God puppeteering the whole thing from above.
In real life it’s a whole different issue, but when investing yourself in fictional characters and watching their struggles, it’s a bit of a slap in the face.
Lost dealt with it quite differently, and more subtly: through the series, John Locke made himself the Moses of the group, desperately trying to gather believers around him (and hold onto them when the Island/his perceived God turned its back on him).
There was Boone, Charlie, Ben, a very kicking-and-screaming Jack Shephard (who ended up living up to his name), and of course Mr. Eko, who briefly reversed roles with John and took his place as Man of Faith when John found a new deity to devote himself to (the Hatch).
But Locke, it turned out, was not the Moses of the group. Jack was. Locke was only chosen for his desperate desire to be needed, and was literally hollowed out and used as a shell by the False God. Locke died a failure, having put his faith in the wrong things all his life. It was tragic, but it was poignant. It meant something.
In The 100, I believe that Jaha is John Locke, rather than Kara Thrace (whose Death and Rebirth, it turned out, was a literal death and resurrection as a different being). He wants, desperately, to have a purpose, and he has lost the one he had on the Ark (leader of his people, whose job was to keep the human race alive until they could return to the ground).
Everything around him is a sign only because he wants to see it as such: self-important as he is (and who wouldn’t be after years of everyone believing him to be the most important human in the universe?) and with a lingering sense of unfinished business, Jaha believes that because his people are not yet safe, his job is not yet done. He believes that he is alive not because of blind dumb luck and his own illusions of importance, but because he is Meant for Something Greater.
This is why, in season 2, episode 6, Jaha did not want to sacrifice himself in the name of peace. Kane, who also has faith, does not see himself as the promised leader of anything, and is therefore willing to die for the greater good. Jaha, on the other hand, is willing to sacrifice others for the greater good. That is an important distinction.
Now, Jaha has followers, and he has a mission. He believes there is a City of Light out there, and he believes that if the Divine wants him and his people to get there, they will not die along the way.
Like Daenerys leading her people through the desert, I’m sure Jaha will suffer losses along the way, but his obsession will only drive him further, he will only get more intense, more desperately sure that he is right, until he, Murphy and whatever of his little group of disciples are still alive make it through purgatory to the promised land.
Will there be a City of Light? Will it be the safe haven Jaha is imagining, based on the one vague description a Grounder lady in the desert gave him?
If we’ve learned anything from watching The 100, the answer is no. Because while spirituality and faith is important, and gives every character on the show a reason to fight and die (particularly the Grounders, as we learned last week), it will not wrap anyone up warm and save them from the cruel world.
Here’s my interpretation: Jaha is a good man, but his mind has damaged from the loss of his son and a desperate need to believe that all of the people whose deaths he is responsible for died for a reason. (Plus, I’m sure that fall from space can’t have done wonders for his mental health.)
He also happens to be a charismatic leader and someone who inspires others to follow him, and under desperate circumstances, the divine promise of salvation might be too tempting not to believe.
But it is not reality: there is nothing but death and torment awaiting them in that desert, and Jaha is heading towards a tragic fall from grace.
That is MY conclusion, anyway. What is yours?