“Tears are the natural penalties of pleasure. It is a law that we should pay for all that we enjoy.” —William Gilmore Simms
Buckle up folks, tonight’s episode “Thirteen” was fraught, and I’m still not emotionally over it, if I’m honest. When grief overwhelms, numbness creeps in, leading to the feeling that nothing good will ever happen again. Yet, those of us who watch the show (and who haven’t dropped out after this week) know things will happen. Hell, tonight’s doozy of an episode wasn’t even the midseason finale, that’s next week (hoo boy). I don’t even want to know what they plan for that.
We spend the episode in present Polis and past Polaris, a nice breather from all the jam-packed, hectic storylines of the last two episodes. After a shot that picks up where we left off last episode—Titus torturing Murphy for information—we flash back to 97 years ago. Aboard the 13th station, Polaris, we find Becca just learning that ALIE 1.0 has “broken free” and despite a poison pill attempt to shut her down, she’s loose on Earth and has launched the nuclear bombs that lead to the end of the world as we know it. She argues with the Commander of Polaris and her assistant, beseeching them to allow her to continue to work on ALIE 2.0, whom she claims will save humanity because it will be fully integrated with humanity and work alongside them.
The Polaris Commander urges Becca to destroy ALIE 2.0 so that they can join with the other 12 stations. If they join without destroying the artificial intelligence, they risk ALIE 2.0 running loose on the stations as she had on earth. Becca refuses, insisting that ALIE 2.0 will save the human race after ALIE 1.0 destroyed it. We see her injecting herself with…something black, our suspicions soon confirmed in the present that this is somehow the origin of the “nightblood” children amongst the Grounders. The Commander of Polaris tells her that if she doesn’t destroy ALIE 2.0, the other 12 stations will destroy Polaris. Torn and grief stricken, she shuts herself in her lab, repeatedly telling him she’s sorry, dons a spacesuit, hops in an escape pod, and ejects herself to earth carrying more of the black substance and ALIE 2.0 in a silver briefcase. Seconds later, the 12 stations destroy Polaris and everyone on it.
She descends to earth in the pod, landing near the tower at the center of Polis. Stepping out of the escape pod, she sees that the radiation levels are critical, but seeing survivors of the cataclysm, she risks harm to herself by ripping off her helmet and telling them she’s here to help them. Our final shot is of the back of her neck, where we see an infinity tattoo and a freshly stitched suture line.
In the present Polis plotline, it is Ascension Day, the day that honors all past commanders. Semet—the Grounder from the village Octavia tried to save last episode—interrupts, demanding justice due to Skaikru attacking. Lexa staunchly refuses to go to war, but agrees to isolation tactics at Clarke’s urging: Arkadia will be barricaded while those who oppose Pike take him out from the inside. Any Skaikru on the wrong side of the blockade will be killed, meaning Octavia and Clarke must return to Arkadia.
Lexa: “This is not vengeance, this is justice.”
Livid, Semet attacks Lexa in his fury, though he is quickly dispatched by Titus. In private, Titus questions Lexa’s clear-headedness when it comes to Skaikru and Clarke. She denies the allegation, of course, but her choice to allow Clarke stay on as a guest at Polis seems to contradict her assertions.
Titus: “I did not mean to offend you”
Lexa: “Yes you did, but you also mean well and I know that, teacher.”
Titus then returns to the temple room, where Murphy (whose freed himself) attacks him, but is swiftly overpowered by Titus’ superior skill. Murphy tries to convince Titus that they have more shared history in common, but Titus isn’t having it and knocks him out. Meanwhile, Octavia meets with Clarke, telling her that she has to come back with her to Arkadia otherwise “you’re not the person I thought you were.” Clarke agonizes over the choice while Octavia goes to meet with Indra to convince her to come back to Arkadia to “get revenge” for the 300 dead soldiers. Knowing what she must do, Clarke bids Lexa an emotionally charged farewell.
Clarke: “Maybe someday you and I will owe nothing more to our people” (basically, “I love you”).
Lexa: “I hope so, may we meet again” (basically, “I love you too”).
They kiss. And then a thousand million voices of the LGBT community cried out with joy. The fact that Lexa sat down on the bed first was such a huge sign of her love, she willingly put Clarke in the position of power that parallels her bowing to Clarke in Wanheda Part 2; it just shows how much their relationship is one of mutual respect. They make out, fall into bed, fade to black, then wake up naked in bed looking more joyful and peaceful than these two women have ever looked in the entire series. It’s bliss.
And then the hammer falls. On her way to meet up with Octavia, Clarke runs into Titus, who has Murphy tied up. He threatens Clarke with a gun, claiming that it is for Lexa’s good, and that he’ll blame the whole thing on Murphy because the gun will make people think Murphy did it. In the struggle to shoot Clarke, Titus hits Lexa instead. She swiftly bleeds out despite Clarke’s attempts to staunch the bleeding, and after her death, Titus moves a stunned Clarke out of the way so he can “complete the ritual.” He turns Lexa over, exposing an infinity symbol tattoo and an old scar down her spine exactly like the fresh sutures we see on Becca in the Polaris plotline. He cuts in, removes ALIE 2.0, places it in a box, and carries Lexa’s dead body out to the throne room, calling for a conclave to choose the next Commander.
The episode is called “Thirteen” for a reason. We are getting two parallel tracks, each intricately connected to the number thirteen. In present Earth, a coalition of 12 Grounder clans feels threatened by the potential risk the 13th clan, Skaikru, poses based their refusal to join. In past Earth, a coalition of 12 stations feels threatened by the potential risk the 13th station, Polaris, poses based on their refusal to join. Becca, an important female leader of Polaris, must choose between giving up on a peaceful solution or saving her people even if no one understands her. Clarke and Lexa, important female leaders of Skaikru and the coalition, must choose between giving up on a peaceful solution or saving their peoples even if no one understands them. The difference? Becca’s pursuit of peace leaves her alive, her station destroyed, but the rest of the Ark united. Clarke and Lexa’s pursuit of peace leaves Lexa dead while her people live on, on the brink of war with Skaikru.
Mythology aside, let’s talk about Clexa. Clexa sex was so important. So important. Back when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the first TV show to have an openly lesbian couple on screen, they were not allowed to have the kind of physical affection we got. Last season, some felt that the Clexa kiss was rushed after Finn’s death, but this season, they gave us development, tension, and I never felt toyed with. I cannot even tell you how important this is, like, I teared up because I was so happy. Knowing how important this is for the LBGT community to see this represented and represented well made me giddy.
And then, they buried their gays.
*Sigh* It’s what so many of us feared, but I was cautiously hopeful that they might not go that route. Add to that the very anticlimactic nature of the death—shot by Titus as he was attempting to shoot Clarke—and that it happened right after sex and I just. Can’t. That’s why I put the quote I did at the beginning of this review. When I first watched Lexa dying, I felt like I was being punished for investing in their relationship…for being happy for them.
To top it off, the death wasn’t even all that believable to me. Lexa was shot, once, in the abdomen, and, from the location of the wound as we saw it, it didn’t hit her kidneys or liver, the two biggies. Clarke immediately got her on her back with pressure on the wound, yet Lexa still managed to bleed out in about 5 minutes. I pulled this from a blog post about bleeding out:
“Gunshot wound straight to the stomach alone could take upwards from 20-30 minutes to cause anything serious. This is because the cavity floods with blood and other fluids, leading more likely to infection (especially if it is treated in time). The bleeding out will be the ultimate cause of death, but there is nothing major bleeding.”
If you’re going to kill of someone important at least make it make sense with biology.
Also, I get that we ‘needed’ the information that ALIE 2.0 is being passed down from commander to commander, but…there are other ways to have done this. I also get that Alycia had scheduling conflicts with her other show. But…couldn’t we just have shifted to the Arkadia storyline and not have Lexa be, you know, dead? I can appreciate that if she had to die, we still got such a good Clexa storyline (and some Clexa sex), but…the knowledge feels hollow because despite the fact that there is a “reasonable” explanation for Alycia’s departure from the show, it’s still an example of burying your gays. Actually, the writers managed to Bury their Gays and Pre-Climax Climax all at once. I’m not convinced that they realize what they did by killing off Lexa in the first place, much less killing her off immediately after sex. Everything was well acted, but when you put all the scenes together in the order they did, the implications are uncomfortable, even if unintentional.
Yes, Lexa still “exists” somehow in the chip. She said last episode that the previous commanders speak to her in her dreams, so some part of her lives on in ALIE 2.0, but that’s not the same. Nevertheless, I have to admit that the final scene was so well acted by both Alycia Debnam-Carey and Eliza Taylor. I wept (copiously); there was so much emotion. Clarke telling Lexa that she doesn’t want another commander, she wants Lexa.
Lexa finally admitting, “You were right, Clarke. Life is about more than just surviving.” If they’re going to kill off half of my favorite romantic relationship in the history of this show, they did it with power. The weight of grief on Clarke’s face alone is enough to move you. And then to have Lexa so concerned with Clarke’s safety and future while she’s dying, showing us just how much she loves her… I’m not sure I’m going to get over this. I’m getting teary just typing this.
Ahem. Overall, the way they interwove these stories was excellent, moving, and deft. Pacing was phenomenal. The flashbacks were excellently done, the scenery, gorgeous. Erica Serra (Becca) was so emotive. After seeing her as the stiff ALIE and now the troubled, passionate Becca, she clearly has range. Yet, while I am surprised and pleased we got such swift resolution to the ALIE mystery, the sucker punch at the end took the wind out of my sails a bit, making it difficult for me to appreciate the mythology because of how distressed I was by the final scene. Except for Octavia’s confrontation with Clarke, most of the actors hit their emotional beats well. Nevertheless, the emotional devastation from Lexa’s death ultimately undercuts the power of the knowledge we receive as a result of it.
It isn’t as if they didn’t at some level do this on purpose either, even if they were not intentionally malicious. If you read the article linked about Alycia having scheduling conflicts, Jason Rothenberg actually says,
“I had to beg, borrow and steal to get AMC to allow us to use her for as many episodes as we did, and I knew I was going to lose the use of her after Episode 7.”
They knew she was leaving the series while they were filming, probably while they were writing. Think about that. Let it sink in. At some point someone in the writer’s room (eventually Rothenberg) thought it would be acceptable to purposefully build a lesbian relationship when they knew they would eventually need to kill off half of it. Who does that?
I wouldn’t be surprised if they thought they were being progressive and that fans would be happy that they were willing to have Clexa depicted on screen. You don’t mistakenly build a relationship this well-balanced and interesting. I was their target audience for this love story. I love Clexa; I wanted Clexa. But at the end of the day, it’s still burying your gays whether you had good intentions or not and in 2016, this should not be happening on television anymore. Period.
I will end this review with another quote, one that sums up the ache in my heart as I watched that last scene.
“There is no grief like the grief that does not speak.”—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
If you want to know about my anger, just think of the longest, most obscene string of obscenities imaginable, then multiply it by the fire of a thousand suns.
- DON’T. BURY. YOUR. GAYS.
- I have no idea what’s going to happen to Clarke after this and I’m afraid for her spirit
- Murphy has had rather a Theon effect on me last episode and this one; he’s a total tool, but I do feel sorry for him a bit given how much torture and pain he’s endured over 3 seasons. Maybe he’ll get better soon.
- Neil Sandilands deserves MAD props for his portrayal of Titus tonight. Poignant, conflicted, so much depth. I’m glad he didn’t end up being a villain; I like him.
- Octavia’s angry beats with Clarke did not hit home to me. I get that she awas upset that Lexa wasn’t falling over to protect them all, but given what Grounder society has been like for the last 100 years, it seems like she’d understand what a big move Lexa made just NOT killing them all.
- The scene with Octavia and Indra, on the other hand, was excellent. It’s a stereotypical scene you’d expect to have between two warrior men where the young one tells the old one to suck it up and stop feeling sorry for himself. But it’s two women, and it’s SO GOOD.
- HEY EVERYONE THIS IS HOW YOU WRITE NUANCED, INTERESTING WOMEN, YOU JUST TREAT THEM LIKE, YOU KNOW, PEOPLE. Conflicting motivations, loves, hates, torn between revenge and wanting to do what’s best. Man, I could gush about this show’s scripting of women all day. It just keeps getting better, imo, as long as they don’t bury their gays.
- The look on Lexa’s face when she’s sitting on the bed staring up at Clarke before they have sex is the most beautiful, vulnerable, love-filled look I’ve ever seen. >>
- They’ve seeded a hidden, 8th initiate who wasn’t killed after Lexa was made Commander. Was that the young woman Queen Nia showed Clarke in “Watch the Thrones”? Was it Kostia?
- Titus’ acting with the gun was great, he really looked like he’d never fired a gun before
- Life lesson: don’t have sex with Clarke or you die (this has to be a tv trope but I can’t find it)
- I like the contrast between ALIE 1.0 who has to ‘project herself’ into the minds of her followers and ALIE 2.0, who fully integrates with humans and some part of them live on inside “her”
- And finally: DON’T BURY YOUR GAYS.