“I am a ruined vessel of sorrow and regret, but I am free.” —Samara, Mass Effect 2
If you’ve been following along with my (Gretchen’s) reviews for the past few months, you’ll know that this season has had its fair share of problems that I’ve dealt with as they arose in each episode. Now is the time to step back to look at the whole picture and see exactly what it is we got this season. While there are some lovely moments and great acting (Lindsey Morgan is my hero), hoo boy is it a mess overall. So much so that I’ve asked Elizabeth to join me in picking it all apart.
We’ve rewatched and analyzed this season to death for you. We’ve had hours of conversation and filled dozens of pages with notes. In the end, there was so much to go over that we’re breaking this into two parts. Today, we’re going to address plot and pacing issues and next week we’ll get to the nitty gritty details of characterization and themes. The things we do for love, folks.
Upon rewatch, it is obvious that the story we expect from the first several episodes is not the story we actually get. 3.01 introduces us to Azgeda as an antagonist that threatens the political, military, and cultural accord reached by the Grounders and Skaikru in S2. This also creates a complicated dynamic between Clarke and Lexa as they are now forced to try and achieve political peace together when Clarke is still reeling from Lexa’s betrayal at the end of S2. In one fell swoop, the writing team created both a larger political drama and a compelling interpersonal drama for one of our two main protagonists.
The introduction of Pike in 3.02 seemed to be doing the same with our other main protagonist, Bellamy, as Pike’s hateful anti-Grounder stance threatens the accord between the Grounders and Skaikru, but from the other side of the camp. Pike is also set up as a locus of choice for Bellamy as he weighs the options between falling back on xenophobic prejudice in the name of protecting his people, or moving beyond that in service to a greater goal of peace in the face of tragedy.
We will get into how this compressed timeline affects characterization and themes in part 2, but for now it is necessary to point out what a compelling story seems to have been set up in 3.01-3.02. We have all the ingredients for what made S2 so compelling: political and cultural misunderstanding, villains with motivations that create both external and internal drama for our protagonists, new threats of violence, and the persistent theme of survival and protecting one’s people in a harsh environment.
If a major theme of S2 was “life should be more than just surviving”, then S3 seemed primed and ready to explore what it looks like when this is put to the test. Will the Arkadians seek peace with their new allies even if it means getting in bed with others they may not like? Or, will they fall back on a survivalist mentality that prioritizes violence and vengeance? Suffice to say, we’d watch the hell out of this.
Sadly, this is not the story we got; far from it. Why? The problem lies primarily with pacing issues in both halves of the season and a lack of coherence within the ALIE arc, each of which we shall discuss in turn.
When writing a novel or screenplay, pace is the term that describes how quickly the action unfolds as the story moves from start to finish. As a general rule of thumb, rapid sequences of action are higher paced, whereas more dialogue heavy scenes slow the pace down. Pacing is also tied to the three-act structure used in screenplay writing.1
In a 16 episode season, the first four episodes (ish) should cover act one, which sets up the problem that will occupy the majority of the season, including the inciting event and initial characterization. Act two—the repeated attempts and failures to accomplish the goal—should occupy the middle half of the season, roughly episodes 5-12. Act three, the climax and dénouement, then finish the season with episodes 13-16.
This brings us to The 100 in particular and it’s marked difference of pace in 3A (episodes 1-8) versus 3B (episodes 9-16). Jason Rothenberg has made it clear that his vision of this season puts the ALIE plot as the primary difficulty to be overcome by our team of protagonists. However, this is not the primary focus of either act one or the first half of act two this season.
When this season started, almost everyone assumed that the major antagonist this season would be Queen Nia of Azgeda. Act one comprises the growing tensions between Azgeda, Trikru, and Arkadia, with the political outworkings of this drama in Polis as a focal point. ALIE is a primary subplot in the first two episodes—with Jaha, Murphy, and Emori moving ALIE physically from the island to the mainland—but she disappears into the ether very quickly as Queen Nia’s ambitions for Azgeda come to the foreground in 3.03 and 3.04.
Yet, as interesting as the Azgeda political drama is, it too quickly fades to the background to be replaced by yet another villain—Pike—after episode 4. The rest of 3A, episodes 5-8, focus on the political aftermath of Pike’s decision to slaughter the Grounder defensive force sent by Lexa in 3.04, with ALIE given lip service in only a few episodes.
Consequently, not only does ALIE’s plot suffer from the scant attention paid to her in 3A (see below), the political dramas of 3A suffers as well. We’re basically given what could have been two completely separate, or even intertwined, season-long villain arcs in the span of only a handful of episodes. The rapid succession of events in 3A leaves little breathing room. Azgeda goes from entirely new antagonist (3.01) to major antagonist (3.02-3.03) to resolved (3.04) in the span of four episodes. Pike’s rise to power between 3.02-3.04 happens so quickly you get whiplash, but by 3.10, he’s no longer a threat.
3A as a whole feels in retrospect like a series of plot points that needed to be reached rather than a fleshed out story. The writers needed Azgeda to pave the way for Pike, but they didn’t want Azgeda to stick around and cause problems, so Nia is killed off as soon as is narratively possible. Roan, her heir, is unceremoniously removed from the narrative until he’s needed in 3.08 to bring Ontari to Polis and in 3.15 to bring Clarke to Polis. Why the rush to get to Pike in charge? Well, they needed to get to Pike to pave the way for ALIE to take control of Arkadia because we, the audience, know that there’s no way in hell Kane and Abby would have given Jaha free reign to do as he pleased.
The writers also needed Azgeda and Pike to undermine Lexa’s political authority in the coalition, because again, we, the audience know that Lexa (or Lexa working in tandem with Kane and Abby) would have shut down the ALIE nonsense. Yes, the writers knew they would only get so much time with Alycia Debnam Carey given that she had another project slated for filming. But rather than refocus the narrative in a different direction, they chose to compress as much of the Lexa plot as they could into the first seven episodes, only to let that entire plot and its implications for themes and character drop afterward to make room for the ALIE plot.2
In that sense, act one accomplishes its goal of undermining the political authority of Arkadia and Lexa in order to pave the way for ALIE. At the same time, characters make decisions that lack sense because if they did otherwise, the plot would fall apart. Abby opens Mt. Weather without negotiating with Lexa for use of it as a hospital. Bellamy sides with Pike despite it making no military sense and at the expense of his intelligence and character growth (see part 2). Clarke moves from hating Lexa for betraying her to falling apart when she is given the chance to kill Lexa for absolutely no reason, from then on backing Lexa’s play no matter what (again, see part 2). The Arkadians side with Pike’s hateful, violent rhetoric despite the cease-fire with the Grounder Coalition being a hard-fought for and much desired outcome of S2. The other Grounder clans mysteriously oppose Skaikru being brought into the coalition despite Skaikru being the reason that Mt. Weather was destroyed and the horrific reaping and transfusion practices being ended.3 In short, things happen because they need to, to advance the plot, and not because they make sense.
Contrast 3A’s compressed timeline with 3B, most of which feels like filler. The Luna side plot is a dead end. Roan’s backstory is not only insufficiently explained (why was he even exiled? we don’t know) but is also entirely wasted as he was shunted to the side for eleven episodes and then summarily killed off. The side plot with Murphy mentoring a strangely self-conscious, if vicious, Ontari to become the new commander is a dead end as well. Everything about getting her from would-be heda to ALIE henchman could have been accomplished in the span of a single scene without her odd sense of self-doubt and Murphy’s rape, neither of which accomplished anything characterization-wise.
3.12, “Demons” is an entirely wasted episode. The only thing it achieves is the death of Sinclair, while at the same time undermining very important character development for Clarke and a significant theme of 3A (see part 2). Much of 3.14 is a wasted effort as well. What is the point of the prolonged sequence of events leading to ALIE being on the Ark in space if Raven was able to hack back in with zero effort in 3.15?
Looking at the bigger picture of 3.09–3.16, the end result of the plot in 3B is that Clarke takes the flame herself using a transfusion of night blood. The audience knows that this could have been accomplished as early as 3.07, something that many people predicted. What, then, actually happened in 3.09–3.15 that was necessary to the plot that could not have been accomplished in significantly less screen time? Did we need an entire episode of Raven verbally abusing her friends? Or an episode of Emerson and Bellamy blaming Clarke for being merciful? Did we need a lengthy scene of Raven slitting her own wrists or Luna being waterboarded or Abby hanging herself or Kane being crucified?
Or, or or. We’re making a point here. Much of 3B was unnecessary “plot” and gratuitous torture. If we boil down the necessary elements we bet you anything we’d have 2, maybe 3 episodes worth of material. Definitely not 8. Rather than up the stakes, 3.08–3.15 merely delays the inevitable while adding little substance to either plot or characterization and in many ways, undermining both.
Moving on from the issues of compression and filler , let’s take a look at what Rothenberg deems the primary struggle and crowning jewel of season 3: ALIE.
The ALIE Plot
Let’s begin by saying a few nice things about the ALIE and the Chipmunks plot. From the moment she appeared onscreen in the season two finale, actress Erica Cerra brought the unnerving and inhuman ALIE to life perfectly. Everything from her vocal inflection to her posture captured the essence of the phrase ‘the Uncanny Valley,’ and despite our severe dislike for the writing of this plot, Erica Cerra’s portrayal of ALIE was one of the absolute highlights of the season. Erica Cerra continued to impress later in the season when she stepped into the role of Becca, ALIE’s creator, and did an excellent job contrasting the very human Becca with her monstrous creation.
A second strong element, despite its gimmicky nature, was the way that ALIE was filmed while observing the world through her thrall’s eyes. The first few times it happened, it was enthralling to see the camera pan around to suddenly reveal ALIE as if she materialized out of thin air. It worked wonders for enhancing her robotic and unnerving presence, and despite its’ overuse in the second half of the season, it was a solid directing choice. It was a very clever way to visually represent ALIE’s omnipresence in various scenes without having to cut back and forth to the City of Light, and it kept the viewer on their toes.
Unfortunately, Erica Cerra’s performance and the clever camerawork are not enough to overcome the embarrassingly bad writing and world building choices in the ALIE and the Chipmunks plot. Going through every problem in this plot point-by-point would take up an entire article on its own, so for the sake of brevity let’s focus on the three most egregious issues; the chips ALIE distributes to her thralls, the creation of ALIE 2.0 and the night blood mythology, and the consistent inconsistency revolving around ALIE’s creation and abilities.
The first issue, and probably the one that’s sparked the most discussion amongst the critics of this season, is the chips that ALIE uses to indoctrinate her thralls. Placing the chip (or key, as they are referred to by the thralls) on the tongue and swallowing it is clearly meant to be an allusion to taking communion, and as a thematic/visual element it works nicely. However, this method of distribution starts to fall apart pretty quickly once it is established that the chips migrate to the back of the neck. The in-show explanation of how they work is as follows:
“[The chip is] a silicone based device, once ingested the filaments reconstitute in the brain, interrupting pain receptors by inhibiting certain neural pathways from firing.” —Thelonius Jaha, Episode 3.05
There are several problems with this. Firstly, the idea that the chips are able to disassemble themselves into thin threads and then travel to the base of the neck from the stomach is a logistical nightmare. Each filament would have to be a nanobot-type construct to find its way to its destination and then join up with its partners, and even in the technologically advanced universe of The 100 this sort of tech is far too complex for Becca and/or her team to construct.
There is actually a quite simple solution to this travel problem; instead of swallowing the chips, the individual would simply need to place it on their tongue and press it to the roof of their mouth where it could extend its filaments into the various parts of the brain it needs to access. This would maintain the communion motif without breaking suspension of disbelief. However, removing the chip becomes a problem from a filming standpoint, which is probably why the decision was made to have the chips sit at the back of the neck.
The second issue with the in-universe explanation for how the chips work is a matter of neuroscience. The explanation, as presented, states that the device inhibits pain by blocking the pain signals before they reach the brain. This is actually quite sound, and not even necessarily out of the realm of real-life medical science; your brain only knows what the nerves tell it, so intercepting pain signals from the body would, in fact, eliminate your perception of physical pain.
The explanation starts to fall apart again, however, when you consider that a large number of the thralls are coping with emotional pain, not necessarily physical pain. While emotional pain can have psychosomatic effects, the emotional ‘pain’ signals the chip would need to intercept are not going to be passing through the spinal cord to the brain; they’re moving about in the brain itself.
Later on, we also see that ALIE is able to control her thralls completely. She can interfere with a person’s long-term memory recall, control their physical movements, and even speak through them whenever she pleases. In order to do this via the chip, the chip would need to have access to all parts of a person’s brain. Physical movements could be stimulated via the spinal cord, but controlling a person’s emotions and memories requires access to the prefrontal and temporal parts of the brain (among others, depending on the specific information required.)
She would also need to have access to the occipital lobe in order to see through her thrall’s eyes. Therefore, the chip would need to extend filaments into all parts of the brain in order for her to have this level of control over her thralls. This is not necessarily an impossibility, nor is it all that outlandish in the realm of science fiction, but these specifics are never addressed within the show. Unfortunately for the writers, this lack of research and attention to scientific detail only gets worse as more of ALIE’s story is revealed.
The Nightbloods and ALIE 2.0
The issues present with the chips given to the thralls are also relevant to ALIE 2.0, though ALIE 2.0 is shown being inserted into its host directly on the neck. But even if we give it a pass with the lovely honeypot theory I’ve presented in the previous section, the inclusion of the nightblood and the Grounder religion into ALIE’s story leads to plot holes and Troubling Implications left and right.
Moving away from the scientific side of things for a bit, lets talk about the Grounder religion. The rituals and mythology of the Primheda Bekka are quite complex, and even interesting, but don’t really make sense when you consider how little time has passed since the dropping of the bombs. Depending on the lifespan of the Grounders, it’s not entirely out of the question that there would be a few very, very old people who remember what the world was like before the bombs were dropped. Barring that, only a few generations have passed in 100 years (and not nearly enough commanders to make Ontari’s failure to recite them from memory believable).
It takes a great deal of suspension of disbelief to accept that the Grounders have not only completely forgotten about the technological world of their ancestors, but that they have also created a common religion around the first Sky Person to safely reach the ground since the bombs were detonated. It could be said that Becca created the mythos on purpose, but then we’re veering dangerously into White Savior territory (not that this hasn’t been a strong theme throughout this entire season…).
In order for this plot to work, several hundred years would need to have passed; as it stands, the roots of the religion had to have been created no more than a decade after the bombs dropped. This means that the first practitioners of the religion would likely have clear memories of the technological world, eliminating the need to establish a religion around the use of the chips in the first place. It makes sense for people born into the post apocalyptic world to fear technology in all forms, but it does not make sense for people alive before the disaster to suddenly fear all technology in a manner not unlike Frankenstein’s monster’s fear of fire. We could argue that the religion serves the purpose of disguising ALIE 2.0’s identity as a remake of the program that ended the world, but almost no one save for Becca’s team and a few individuals in the original Ark crew knew that ALIE caused the disaster in the first place. It feels like this inclusion only serves the purpose of making the Grounders look like ignorant savages, and that theory is strongly supported by the Grounder culture surrounding the nightbloods.
Moving back into the realm of science fiction for a bit, let’s talk about the natblida. Becca creates the nightblood compound as a way to meld organic and synthetic constructs, with the idea that ALIE will serve humanity much better if she shares part of their organic construction. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea (even though it bears a ‘remarkable’ resemblance to the worst of the Mass Effect 3 endings) but it feels rather unnecessary. Fixing ALIE’s problems with how she relates to organic beings is a programming problem, not an organic chemistry problem. That ALIE would even need this weird mix of synthetic and organic constructs to understand humans is a strangely human character flaw, but we’ll get into that detail later.
There are a few different problems with the nightblood, some scientific and some cultural. The first issue is how the compound spreads from generation to generation. We know that Becca created a finite amount of the compound, and it is implied that she injected individuals other than herself with it. The show makes zero attempts to explain how this works, and even hangs a few lampshades on it with Clarke calling out the concept of the Conclave to Titus, and later on when Clarke comments on the nightblood becoming hereditary ‘somehow.’
There are two potential ways the nightblood could function; if the compound triggers a genetic modification in an individual (as Clarke implies,) then it is possible that the nightblood became a recessive gene within the Grounder gene pool. This would explain the relative rarity of it, but there haven’t been enough generations for this genetic quirk to disseminate across the Grounder population. We are given the impression that the various tribes do not intermingle unless forced to, so it’s odd that Azgeda would have a nightblood at all; the majority of them should be Trikru, or born in Polis where Becca conducted her work.
A second possibility is that the compound is finite, but can move between individuals via contact with the nightblood. This is supported by Clarke’s dialysis scene in the season finale, but the Grounders tell us that individuals are born with nightblood, and there is no indication that you can become infected with it other than Clarke’s use of dialysis. This would mean that the nightblood would have to be passed from mother to child en utero via the shared blood supply, (and only females could pass it on; huge missed opportunity to establish a matriarchy in the Grounder culture, but we digress…) but there is no indication that there are ‘legacy families’ of nightbloods. In-universe, natblida are shown to be random occurrences in the population.
Without a sound ‘soft science’ explanation for the nightblood (and we know they’re capable of one because of season 2’s bone marrow plot) we are left with the troubling conclusion that this element was included only to highlight the savagery of the Grounder culture via the Conclave, and to waste time -er, create dramatic tension in the second half of the season.
The lack of thought that went into the nightblood concept really shines a spotlight on what the writer’s priorities were; the Grounder plot lines were clearly not the story they wanted to tell, so they awkwardly bridged the two plots together with duct tape and hoped that ALIE and the Chipmunks would be an interesting enough story to excuse the clumsiness with which the transition was handled. So, the question is; were they correct? Was their favorite plot, the plot that clearly had the most attention and love given to it, strong enough to excuse the manner in which it was introduced?
It’s tempting to just say ‘no it wasn’t’ and knock off for the rest of the day, but that wouldn’t be very professional.
ALIE’s Core Commands and Capabilities
The rhetorical question in the previous section brings us into the third and final issue with the ALIE and the Chipmunks plot; the only thing consistent about it was its inconsistency. There’s too many specific instances to list, so let’s focus more on the problems with the concept of ALIE herself and how she is presented to the audience.
ALIE’s core command is to make life better for humanity, and her occam’s razor interpretation of that command is what led her to create the nuclear apocalypse. Eliminating the bulk of the population on earth, but not wiping out humanity entirely, fixes what ALIE concluded to be the root cause of earth’s problems: overpopulation. Without the ability to empathize with humans on an individual basis, her core command easily becomes a tool for mass destruction.
In the season finale, ALIE reveals the nuclear power plants are going to melt down, and that this was her driving motivation to move humanity into the City of Light. When pressed as to why she didn’t mention this earlier, she admits that it was because the last time she presented a solution to a global problem, her creator attempted to kill her and left the planet to work on her upgrade. While self-preservation is usually part of an AI’s programming, the way in which the scene is written makes ALIE seem very oddly human. She exhibits both the ability to lie, and the ability to ‘feel’ fear. She almost seems insulted that her creator abandoned her, which is very oddly human for an AI that is supposed to be incapable of empathy. Throughout the season, ALIE exhibits moments of frustration or anger with those who oppose her plan, which are also distinctly human traits.
Because of these writing choices, we find ourselves constantly questioning just how ‘human’ ALIE is supposed to be. Her ability to be frustrated implies that she has the capacity for self doubt, or to question her own motives. If ALIE is capable of feeling insulted or betrayed, what precisely is limiting her ability to empathize with humans? It’s possible that she’s just so incredibly advanced that she sees us as being basic, lesser animals, and this is supported by how often she talks about knowing what is best for humanity, or that she is only doing what is best for humanity. However, this is never explicitly stated, so we can’t make this assumption.
ALIE’s abilities and limitations seem to change episode to episode, and when viewed as a whole it makes it impossible to take anything about her seriously. On the one hand, she is powerful enough to control an army of thralls, and has the processing power to keep track of hundreds of individuals while also rendering the City of Light. On the other hand, she is bested by mere humans at many points in the season, especially in the finale, in her own simulation. Despite her seemingly infinite computational power, it takes her several minutes to accomplish certain tasks when the plot demands dramatic tension. If ALIE had the ability to jump to the Ark (one of the few dangling plot threads left at the end of this season, surprisingly) why didn’t she do that before? The orbital region of space around earth is actually not that far away from the surface; if she had the radio range to operate the drones all the way across the Dead Zone, she should have been able to reach the Ark from her mansion.
She may have been shackled within the mansion in ways that prevented her from uploading herself to another location, but if that’s the case then how did she set off all the bombs? Did her creators shackle her after she dropped the bombs? We know that Jaha is the one who helped her get out of the mansion via the backpack, but how did he build it? Disarming a nuclear warhead is not exactly a simple task, even with an AI hovering over your shoulder to instruct you. Why did ALIE agree with Jaha that the best way to coerce ‘consent’ was through torture, when simpler solutions were present? Does using torture conflict with her core command, or is she able to get around that restriction using ‘the ends justify the means’ as justification? Why does she need consent at all when she just forcefully takes over the minds of her thralls anyway once they ingest the chip?
Let’s stop there, because that’s more than enough to properly demonstrate what the real problem with ALIE is; she was not written as a character, she was written as a plot device. ALIE is a (literal) deus ex machina; she can do whatever the script requires her to do in that moment. This lack of construction and foresight creates a ripple effect of plot holes throughout the entire season. How did ALIE find the oil rig and chip Luna’s people? The script commanded her to. How did ALIE know that Sinclair is dead? The script told her. When she is asked about this by Jaha, she literally responds ‘it’s not important.’ No, it kind of is, if you don’t want your main plot to start resembling a block of Swiss cheese.
The thing is, it’s not like this plot couldn’t have worked. It’s not like the plot holes were unfillable, and it’s not like they didn’t have some solid elements to build this plot with. The problem is, as with almost everything else in this season, that the writers had a very specific story they wanted to tell, and every individual element of this season was bent, cracked, or outright broken to cater to that story. The issues with the pacing mentioned previously are a direct result of their choice to make ALIE the main villain arc this season. 3A is compressed to provide the necessary set up for ALIE to take over in 3B (and to make the most of Debnam Carey’s tenure on the show, see below). 3B suffers from the weakened nature of ALIE’s plot at the core.
You see, to do a sci fi plot like this, you have to be committed to research and consistency. An AI is only as smart as the person who creates it, and ALIE’s broken plot does not paint a flattering picture of those who created her. At the end of the season we’re left feeling empty and angry that so many characters were brutalized, traumatized, or outright killed to tell the story of ALIE and the Chipmunks. The writers have burned their own universe to the ground for this plot, and it was an absolutely wasted sacrifice.
Other Plot/Pacing Issues
- Teleportation: This season lacked a sense of defined space, and much of the geography established in the previous two seasons is either ignored or condensed to speed up the action. The Dead Zone can now be circumvented, rather than needing to be crossed. Characters travel from place to place with varying degrees of inconsistent speed: why isn’t Octavia behind the blockade in 3.08? How did ALIE arrive at Polis before either Indra or Kane & the Grounders? Why does it take Clarke so long to get back to Arkadia after Lexa’s death when it takes so little time for ALIE to get to there earlier in the season? How does Hannah arrive at the dropship so soon after ALIE finds out they need to be there? Some leeway can be given due to the constraints of having a shortened season, but the characters should at least travel consistently off-screen. Characters who leave one place after others have left (and have inferior transportation) should not arrive first, for example. Nor should traveling around a known sizable geographic land mark like the Dead Zone take less time than it took to cross it.
- Telepathy: Characters know quite a bit of information that they should not know, or are presumed to have knowledge they shouldn’t. How does ALIE know about Sinclair being dead? Why do Abby and ALIE think Kane knows about Clarke’s whereabouts when he says he doesn’t (and ALIE confirms he isn’t lying)? Why then does he seem to act as if he actually does know but is withholding this information? Why does Indra know that the horn means a new commander has arisen when she doesn’t even know the previous commander is dead? The only solution is an heretofore unseen network of horn blowers across the Grounder nation with a series of cues to communicate specific messages, as the only other long-distance communication we’ve seen thus far is the use of signal fires by Trikru in S1.
#It Happened Off-screen: This is true of season 3 more than any other season, especially due to the choice to jump ahead 3 months in the narrative. Prior to the start of the season, all the emotional work Clarke, Bellamy, Monty, and Jasper ought to have done due to their PTSD after Mt. Weather happened off-screen, if it happened at all (see part 2). Raven developed plot necessary hip pain and broke up with her love interest from the previous off-screen. All but 5 minutes of Gina’s and Bellamy’s relationship happened off-screen, as did the sudden, almost unbridgeable, rift between Octavia and Lincoln. Later in the season, Indra was captured and saw the ALIE backpack off-screen. Jasper was chipped off-screen. Monty and Harper developed romantic feelings for each other off-screen. If something is important enough to include in the main narrative—like Monty and Harper having romantic feelings for each other—appropriate set-up is required. Of-fscreen is not a magical place where you can make anything happen and foist it on the viewers just to service your plot. Speaking of.
- #We Read Ahead in the Script: Many characters make arbitrary decisions that only serve the purpose of placing them into position for future plot points to occur. Why does Bellamy side with Pike despite his onscreen fatherly relationship with Kane? Because the plot dictates that he must participate in the Grounder Massacre. Why does Titus attempt to murder Clarke and frame Murphy? Because the script dictates that Lexa must die in order to start the ALIE 2.0 plot. Why does Harper have sex with Monty? To give Jasper a bargaining chip while he is trying to convince Monty and Raven to open the door. Many of the blatantly out of character moments this season are in service to this issue, and it becomes especially noticeable once the entire story was revealed to us. The characters should drive the plot, not vice versa.
- The Fault in our Guest Stars: Filming conflicts and contractual conflicts are just an everyday reality for actors, and Alycia Debnam Carey’s starring role on Fear the Walking Dead prohibits her from taking a second starring role position on another show. This is a problem from a storytelling perspective on The 100’s behalf, but it was not an insurmountable one. AMC was very generous in allowing Carey to be featured in 7 episodes of The 100, and Carey herself was equally generous in devoting her time and talent to returning to her role as Lexa. However, the way in which her character was utilized was very poor, and does not shine a positive light on the writer’s understanding of her character’s importance to one of their most vocal groups of supporters. She was well utilized in certain contexts, but the awful handling of her death deeply undermined the audience’s trust in the writers, and what a truly wonderful and unique character Lexa was in television. The writers chose to blame AMC and Carey for their shortcomings, and that in itself is almost as big of an insult as Lexa’s death.
Alycia Debnam Carey was not the only guest star whose potential was wasted this season: Zach McGowan was also poorly utilized, despite being one of the strongest new additions to this season’s cast. He is well used in the first few episodes, but is unceremoniously sidelined from his own plot for most of the season, and only returns to be killed off in the same episode. His backstory is never sufficiently explained, and he is remarkably out of character in his return during 3.15. It almost begs the question; why bother having him as a guest star at all? His plot feels like it was written specifically to include him as a guest star, but ultimately he is yet another example of wasted potential season.
Including guest stars is always a risk in a tv show, especially if they are very well received. By the nature of their contract, they cannot be featured for more than a set number of episodes, and so it is the writer’s job to make sure they best utilize their guest stars while they have them. The 100 fails magnificently at this, to the point that many in the audience are wishing they hadn’t bothered at all.
- Climate: This is one that might not bother other people, but it bothers us from a worldbuilding perspective. It was a relatively minor problem in the previous seasons, though not without its issues. From the beginning, this show has not adequately established how the climate in this area of the US changed so dramatically from its pre-nuclear fallout days. This dense and extensive of a pine forest ought to not exist where it does in the show (east coast, round about Virginia).
Juxtapose this with a giant desert in S2, which mysteriously gets smaller (see Teleportation), and now areas where you have flora consistent with a Mediterranean climate (3.02), and you have a major failure to understand climate. For a nuclear fallout to have changed the climate this drastically, there would be much more extensive damage to the landscape, rather than the lush environment we’re shown. That, and they can’t seem to get their weather straight either. You have snow in one scene, then no snow the next, which takes place presumably next to the field of snow, then rain and no snow on the ground all within a couple miles of each other. In other words, the climate exists to service the needs of the plot rather than to create a consistent backdrop.
Some forgiveness can be given to this due to filming budget constraints; television viewers have just sort of accepted that all forests have redwoods and ferns, and that Washington DC has skyscrapers. This is a reasonable compromise on behalf of the audience, and sympathetic to the crew and actors who would have to travel between locations to depict an 100% accurate world. However, this does not excuse a television show for being internally inconsistent. Sometimes precipitation happens, and you can’t control that if that’s when your filming schedule dictates you have to film. But efforts must be made to maintain the suspension of disbelief, and The 100 makes no effort to do so. It’s okay if the seasons change over the course of a season, but it is not okay if the seasons change over the course of an episode.
- Continuity: We get examples of continuity errors both from the writing side, and from the visual development side . For example, in the opening credits we are treated to a shot of the Arkadia crash, where one of the rings that make up the ark is in prominent view (see also, the season 2 opening credits). This ring is also a prominent part of the Arkadia set backdrop in early episodes this season.Last season, we learned that the station they transformed into Arkadia is alpha station, which is the center station of the Government Science (or Go-Sci) station on the Ark in space. We are also shown very specifically that Alpha Station detaches from the Go-Sci ring when the Sky People break up the Ark to reach earth.
We also know for a fact that the Go-Sci station is still in space. It’s where Jaha spent his time hallucinating last season, as well as where ALIE ended up transporting herself to in 3.14 (don’t even get us started on how the station was still functional enough for her to get there after being abandoned for three months, we’d be here all day).
Yes, there is a smaller ring at the front of the Ark, but its bracers and riggings are completely different than the main ring. The ring in Arkadia is, quite literally, the main ring of the Ark shown in the image of the Ark in space. What gets us is that the Arkadia backdrop and opening sequence are entirely CGI footage, most likely lifted from stock photos of the Ark in space, so it isn’t as if the visual development team couldn’t fix this in post once they realized the error.
It is possible that the opening sequence animation was outsourced and the team working on it had no reference point for knowing the ring was in space rather than crashed on earth. This is less of a problem than the ring being featured prominently in the shots of Arkadia this season, though, since episodes presumably went through several different editing passes and still no one noticed (or they did and hoped the audience wouldn’t). Regardless, it is a glaring error for a show that usually pays careful attention to details like this.
Another example relates to how ALIE plot warps everything around her, regardless of it lacking sense. In 3.01, we see a decently sized farming operation going on within the walls of Arkadia complete with planted fields, hydroponics, and rows of potted plants. These same fields and plants show up in the background as late in the season as 3.12.
Yet, we are led to believe by Pike that Arkadia is in dire need of arable land to provide enough food for everyone. Without this impetus, Pike would not have attacked the Grounder village in 3.06. One could argue that the farming operation we see in 3.01 is not enough to feed everyone long term once Mt. Weather is destroyed, yet Hannah tells Pike they have only a week’s’ worth of supplies unless they start rationing. What we see in 3.01 is not merely a week’s’ worth of food, no matter how you slice it. But Pike needs to invade the Grounder village to spark further hostilities between the Grounders and Arkadia so that Lexa can die and ALIE eventually take over Polis, so they have a sudden and dire food shortage. Sure.
Speaking of ALIE being able to warp the plot to her liking; she also managed to warp a few things about season 2. While it is never explicitly stated that Mt. Weather’s occupants are the descendants of the American government, it’s heavily implied: Dante wears a presidential flag pin, and the carpet from the oval office is seen in Dante’s office, along with other US Government symbols. It is revealed in season 3 that ALIE set off the bombs with no advanced warning to the population of earth, so the question is: how did we get our nation’s leaders from the heart of Washington DC to the bunker at Mt. Weather? In season 2, the ambiguity surrounding the nuclear apocalypse let us hand-wave the fact that Mt. Weather’s bunker is full of priceless art pieces and historical artifacts; one would assume they had been building the collection for a while in response to an increasing threat of nuclear war over time. But the introduction of ALIE eliminates this possibility, and has committed the worst crime of all: retroactively ruining something awesome. Thanks a lot, season 3 writing team.
- Guns are Magic: Previous seasons of The 100 have had a reasonable selection of weapons for the characters to use (the Delinquent’s american-made M4 carbines from the weapons cache, for example) but season 3 drastically increases the Skaikru’s arsenal in ways that are completely illogical. Even if we disregard the utterly insane idea that there would be semi-automatic and full auto weapons on space stations, the Arkadian arsenal increases to an absurd size this season, and features a distractingly wide variety of weapons. Pike’s army is shown carrying several different weapons, such as the Chinese QBZ-95 assault rifle and KPOS PDW type conversion kits. These weapons were not taken from Mt. Weather, because the weapons we saw in season 2 are American secret service-type PDWs (a weapon type that is oddly absent from this season). Pike’s crew did not have firearms when they ambushed the Rover back in 3.02, so all of these weapons had to have been from the Ark itself or were located in the weapons cache from season 1 and season 2.
Wherever they came from, there are a lot of them, and they have an almost endless supply of ammunition. The arsenal shown in 3.12 is almost full despite these guns being used throughout the season (why did ALIE not have her thralls take the weapons with them? Oh right, because then the heroes wouldn’t be able to defeat them.) with enough ammunition to last a century. Where did all of these weapons come from? How did Pike know how to shoot such a variety of high-powered weapons (remember: he led the Grounder massacre troop), and how did he pass on this skill to so many individuals in such a short period of time? The only way to explain the wide variety of weapons is that they came from the various nations on the Ark, but then we’re back to the question of why anyone would bring machine guns into space?
The ridiculousness of the weapons situation comes to a head in 3.05. The Grounder bodies from the massacre are evenly distributed across a large field, as if they had just dropped dead from surprise all at once (and made all their tents, bedrolls, and fires disappear without a trace, too!). When we see Pike and his 10 Good Men returning from the massacre, they are carrying a mix of SMG-type and machine gun type weapons, most of which have 30 round clips. For the Grounder massacre to make sense, each of Pike’s men would have had to have pinpoint-deadly accuracy in the dark, and they’d have to have killed all of the opposition within a few minutes (or seconds) with fewer than 3 magazine changes per a weapon. Since there were 300 Grounders, let’s say that each of Pike’s crew killed 30 people. An average magazine is going to be 30 rounds, so unless they one-shotted everyone, they had to have reloaded at several points. It takes several seconds for an experienced rifleman to reload, which none of Pike’s crew are. They’d each have to have taken down most of or all 30 of their assigned kills before the Grounders charged them with their superior numbers.
There are not a lot of places you can shoot someone that will instantly result in death (unless its a gut shot from Titus). There are just as few places you can shoot someone that will disable them enough to prevent them from charging at you. Even if the entire army was sleeping at once (no lookouts?) each gunner cannot shoot in all directions at once; how did the Grounders not wake up from the gunfire and charge their attackers in a panic? A wounded Indra tells Lexa and Clarke that Pike and his men took out their archers first. So…why didn’t the rest of the army charge when they heard the guns go off? Pike and Co. would have to be within charging range, because the guns being used are not long-distance rifles. This will come as a shock to most television and film producers, but machine guns and semi auto weapons are not magical unlimited-ammo death machines.
It takes no more than a few seconds to clear an entire magazine on these kinds of weapons, and they are not accurate at long distances. Even with superior technology, the idea that Pike & Co. could kill 300 people without losing a single man is absurd, and yet another story choice this season that paints the Grounders as stupid, ignorant, backwards savages.
Stay tuned for next week when we’ll dissect how this “plot” turned some of our favorite characters into shallow caricatures of themselves (or their polar opposites). Also, themes. All the themes, even the unintentional ones.
Anything we missed? Take it to the comments, we’re more than happy to discuss it. Probably ad nauseum.
All images from The 100 courtesy of Warner Bros.
1. While this is typical of individual films, it may also be used to structure an entire season, especially one that is self-contained, as are each of The 100’s three seasons. The 100 is only ever renewed a season at a time, hence the self-contained nature of each of the seasons.↩
2.For this, we assume the argument that a character can leave a show for a time without being killed off and the fact that Debnam Carey expressed her desire to have stayed on the show even with Fear the Walking Dead. If the writers had chosen, they could have refocused the narrative away from Polis without having to kill off Lexa. For example, Clarke could have left Polis after Nia’s death to go help with the Pike problem in Arkadia. We could have heard about assassination attempts somehow, even one that we think may have been successful, enough that Titus took the flame from her and was going to give it to Ontari. Perhaps we see the flame removal from Murphy’s perspective and when Clarke comes rushing back because Lexa is dead—only to find her body mysteriously missing—Murphy explains the flame and Clarke steals it. Only it turns out later that Lexa’s ‘death’ was a ruse, or she survived secretly and was escorted to safety by Roan and hidden away while she recovered.Maybe Murphy helped because he saw helping her as a way to connect even distantly with his people by helping the woman Clarke loved, or she promises him power or something. We’ve heard several other good alternatives as well. Seriously, this could have been done, and even told a better story without Lexa’s death.↩
3.The only one who seems to remember exactly what Skaikru has accomplished, and all despite Lexa’s betrayal, is Niylah, who helps Clarke when she’s on the run because she destroyed the Mountain Men, who had been systematically hunting Grounders for years. Yet, because the plot demands there be tension between Skaikru and the Grounders and that more than just Nia oppose Lexa bringing Skaikru into the Coalition, no one mentions what Skaikru did in destroying Mt. Weather, or if so, it is quickly overlooked. Apparently, people have conveniently short memories in The 100 universe.
Prior to Pike and Bellamy’s massacre, there should be no resistance to Skaikru joining the Coaliton. In fact, the opposite would be the most militarily sound decision for every Grounder clan. Skaikru has more advanced weaponry and a clear willingness to use genocide as a defensive tactic, so bringing them into an alliance would nullify the threat that they truly are to the Grounders. Even if you argue that Clarke weakened Lexa’s perceptual power by destroying the power Lexa chose to make a deal with, that ought to be even more of a reason to bring Skaikru in. Clarke as wanheda bowing before Lexa ought to have solidified Lexa’s authority rather than weakened it. But the plot demands otherwise, so otherwise we get.↩