The 100 Season 4 Retrospective Part Two: Characters
As you will likely not be surprised to hear, I’ve had to split my retrospective once again. I had every intention of this being only two parts, honest! But, as with last year, there’s more to be discussed with characters and themes than you’d want to read in one sitting, so I’m splitting them up.
This week, I’ll tackle characters. Next week, I’ll tackle themes and wrap it all up so that I can enjoy my summer. Wynonna Earp airs tonight, and I want to be able to soak in it’s gloriousness untarnished by this show’s sloppy writing and problematic implications. Let’s dig in to characters, shall we?
Bellamy and Jaha
As it aired, I had much more sympathy for Bellamy’s arc in the latter half of the season. The moment in 4.07 where he failed to rescue the Arkadians from black rain seemed a turning point in the show’s handling of him. Rather than beat us with the sledgehammer of “nothing he did was wrong, you must like him now because he hugged a kid and freed some slaves” it focused more on his emotional journey. Showing him navigating the struggle that he couldn’t save everyone was a far more effective means of humanizing his choices than Jaha’s and Jasper’s pontificating.
I stand by my criticism of 4.04–4.05 regarding the too-swift resolution of his fears about Octavia being dead. At the same time, the scenes with the Blake siblings in 4.10–4.13 showcased their move toward forgiveness and reconciliation. They felt earned in the narrative, though I do wish they had been able to talk more specifically about Lincoln. That wasn’t going to happen given that the narrative had Octavia sexed away her grief, but I would have appreciated it. Still, they had rapport together. Bellamy’s desperation to free her in 4.11 was very much in the vein of his characterization in S2.
Nevertheless, looking back on the season as a whole has left a sour taste in my mouth regarding Bellamy. The hamfisted whitewashing of his deeds from S3 sticks in my craw. (And by whitewashing, I mean the deliberate framing of his actions in a more positive, justifiable way rather than the racial connotations of the word.) There’s no denying the narrative went out of it’s way to justify his actions. Jaha tells him point blank that anything done “to protect one’s people” is perfectly acceptable on moral grounds. Both Jaha and Jasper tell Bellamy he ought to stop being ‘so hard on himself’ for the ‘mistakes’ he made.
Leaving aside the framing of mass murder as a ‘mistake’ (which, gross), the implication that he, and thus the audience, ought to move on is hard to miss. Bellamy should not feel guilty any more; we should not blame him anymore. Move on, okay?
In this light, the return to a Bellamy more in line with his S2 characterization reads less as character growth and more as a deliberate attempt to ignore his actions in S3, or even retcon them. The narrative has ‘moved on’ by sidelining complaints as misguided attempts to hold on to unnecessary, misplaced guilt.
We’re meant to forget, or at least ignore that Bellamy committed mass murder. I’m not saying the show needs to harp on it all the time. But the topic should have come up when Bellamy as a part of his reconciliation with Octavia. Plus, his experience with the weight of killing so many people ought to have been the fundamental argument for his desire to open up the bunker. He understands how killing so many people/letting them die can eat away at you and wants to spare the others that guilt. At least it would have been if his actions and their consequences were in any way integrated into his character growth.
Instead, we got a character reset to S2. His primary concern is protecting Octavia at all costs. Because regardless of what Clarke says about him being an inspiration and a leader who cares about all his people, Octavia is his primary focus. Had she not been on the other side of the bunker door in 4.11, would he have fought so hard to open it? Or, would he have been able to be talked down by Clarke because ‘his people’ (i.e., Octavia and most of Skaikru) were safe?
My goal with asking that is not to disparage him as a character or his motivations. His loyalty to Octavia is one of his best characteristics. As is his fascinating relationship with Echo this season, which Lisa has covered well, so I’ll point you to her discussion of it and leave it at that.
Rather, my goal is to point out the flaw in the show’s reasoning when it uses other characters to tell him, and the audience, how altruistic and compassionate he is. A character like Clarke would want the most Skaikru members to be safe; Bellamy would want Octavia (or Clarke if she’s the one in danger) to be safe. Only then would he extend that to the rest of Skaikru. He will save others if by doing so he saves the person(s) he’s most concerned with. But usually only then. He didn’t care about saving the Grounders; he cared about Octavia. The prioritization of Octavia and Skaikru isn’t bad, per se, just not the same as him being a leader who cares about everyone.
The only exception we see on our screen is Echo. Coming swiftly on the heels of Clarke describing him as someone who is inspiring and cares about others, well, it makes sense. They slipped back into telling us who Bellamy was and offered a moment of confirmation afterward without realizing that the rest of the season didn’t back up Clarke’s characterization. His concern for Grounders/everyone simply wasn’t in evidence the rest of this season in the same way his concern for Octavia first, Clarke second, the rest of Skaikru third, was.
A similar whitewashing takes place with Jaha, and really, the two arcs are intertwined in many ways. Not once does this season mention Jaha’s involvement in sanctioning the torture and self harm of individuals while working alongside ALIE. And lest anyone argue that he was only following orders, need I remind you that Jaha specifically went out of his way to find and justify the torture loophole. ALIE hesitated, believing that it violated free will. Jaha pressed for it under her directive to save humanity. Harming humans physically to ultimately save their soul incorporeal data in the City of Light was his idea.
And yet. He not only acted as advisor to Skaikru’s leadership, he exerted it himself. He was left in charge alongside Clarke to run Arkadia while Abby and Kane were gone. He’s the leader of one of the factions in the final episodes. His stint as Indiana Jaha did give us the doomsday bunker that ultimately saved the most human lives, but as with Bellamy, does that erase the crimes he committed?
This season seemed to want us to forget all of his actions in S3. They mentioned the culling on the Ark multiple times as well as particular characters he was involved in floating, like Clarke’s dad. However, not once did they mention his role in bringing ALIE to Arkadia and sanctioning the use of torture and graphic self harm. When taken together with his role in downplaying/justifying Bellamy’s crimes, the implications are staggering. In Jaha’s logic, “trying to protect his people” is a “good reason” to be a war criminal. And everyone on the show accepts his reasoning so apparently the audience is supposed to as well.
This is what passes for moral complexity on this show, folks. The blatant sanctioning of mass murder, waterboarding, and other forms of torture so long as it is done “to protect one’s people”. And before you say this is a commentary on current society or politics, the show nowhere hints that this is the case. All the characters accept Jaha’s grandstanding at face value. Bellamy comes close to maybe countering it, but he never quite gets there in the end. No, since it lacks a clear critique, we’re meant to accept Jaha’s perspective as both morally complex and a statement on the travails of leadership. I don’t know where other people stand on murder, but I’m not okay with the idea that slaughtering 300 innocents or waterboarding a teenage girl is okay if one has “good intentions”.
Yet, his actions in S3 are otherwise ignored. Like Bellamy, he was reset to a S2 characterization, only this time even more of a jerk. He lacked even basic empathy and would talk about letting Grounders die with all the nonchalance of asking Clarke to close the door to his office. He showed no remorse for any of his decisions and zero concern for anyone who was not Skaikru. His was the voice leading the charge to let 1200+ Grounders die in favor of 350 Skaikru. Grounders, I might add, that he never acknowledged as people.
In fact, the show made it pretty clear that he only considers Skaikru to be people. When Kane argues that Skaikru must abide by the same rules as the rest of the Grounders, Jaha responds with “but 347 people will die” (emphasis mine). As if the 1200+ Grounders, aren’t actually, you know people who will die if Skaikru kicks them out. Not to mention the ones that didn’t even make it into the bunker who are already doomed to die.
Basically, he’s Pike 2.0, only less blatantly so. He never calls Grounders treacherous, murderous Savages™ who deserve to die. Instead, Jaha fails to acknowledge them as people who deserve to live. I’m not sure which is worse or if it matters. They’re both awful. That’s two seasons in a row of xenophobic, immoral war criminals played by black men. I don’t even want to go into how unfortunate and inappropriate this looks when the most recent president of our country was a black man. All I will say is yikes.
Clarke and Octavia
Alright, so here is where I may lose people. Because as much as they delight me, I don’t think either Octavia or Clarke earned their ending this season.
Let me back up and start from the beginning of the season with Clarke’s arc. In the wake of ALIE’s destruction and the knowledge of the impending (second) nuclear apocalypse, Clarke seemed poised to unite everyone together in order to survive. The narrative sets her up as the true heir to Lexa’s legacy. Roan may be the Grounder face of it with the reinstatement of the coalition and his commitment to diplomacy, but Clarke is one of the powers behind the throne. Hers is the main voice Roan listens to (until he doesn’t). So while she may not sit in the chair, she’s the true heda in spirit.
The narrative goes out of the way to remind us of Lexa and her legacy of peace early on. In 4.02, Clarke quotes Lexa’s speech regarding life being about thriving rather than just surviving. Niylah tells Clarke how much Lexa would be proud of her after Clarke stares longingly at the drawing she made of her lover last season. When Clarke acts outside of what Lexa would have wanted, characters remind her of the former heda in an attempt to shame prompt her into acting more in line with her position as Lexa’s spiritual heir.
Going just by the numbers, Lexa’s name is mentioned 10 times in the first two episodes. While she’s not mentioned that frequently throughout the rest of the season (only 6 more mentions in 11 episodes, all but one of which occur prior to 4.10), her presence is still felt in the references to the flame and the continued thread regarding Clarke being the one character capable of uniting the warring clans.
“If anybody can convince mortal enemies to move in together, it’s you.”—Roan of Azgeda, to Clarke
What is this if not an attempt to foreshadow Clarke as the heda of a unified Grounder-Skaikru coalition? Given how heavy handedly they pushed this trajectory for Clarke, when they introduced the idea of Clark as a natblida, the most rational assumption is that now she can receive the flame. It was what many fans had wanted for her at the end of S3. Give her a reunion with Lexa and the ability to be happy with her forever, even if it’s in her mind (a la Dollhouse’s finale with Echo and Paul). And the show pulled fans along right up to the point where it would happen,
…then pulled the rug out from under them. Roan cut short the flame ceremony to call for a conclave, and Octavia gets to be heda instead. The flame? Who knows. It could still be out there or it could have been destroyed during praimfaya. After the conclave, it’s never heard of again other than for Indra to say “the time of the flame is over”.
What was the point of carrying on about the flame or Lexa’s legacy this season if they were simply going to disappear from the Clarke’s arc? If I were cynical, I would say it allowed the narrative to give lip service to Lexa and her ongoing meaning for Clarke while slowly chipping away at their actual significance. They’re not ignoring Lexa, just rendering her irrelevant to the rest of the story and to the woman who loved her. Instead of what we expect, Clarke gets a ‘happy ending’ to this season wholly distanced from Lexa. On the other hand, it could just be an accident of sloppy storytelling and a desire to avoid Clarke being a white savior to the Grounders.
I in no way want to ignore the potentially icky implications had Clarke actually received the flame and led Skaikru. From a Doylist perspective, Octavia is a better choice. Since she has identified more strongly with Grounder culture since S1, her leadership sidesteps the colonialist and white savior connotations had Clarke been the one to save/lead the indigenous peoples. There are Watsonian reasons as well, like Octavia being a trained warrior, something Grounders respect, and more familiar with and respectful of Grounder culture all around.
However, Octavia’s arc for the majority of the season hardly sets the audience up to expect this turn of events. No more than Clarke’s did her sudden shift to being a single mom on her own with a natblida child (which is not hers biologically btw, because Madi’s clearly older than 6). How does Octavia being an assassin relate to leading wonkru? How does her sexing away her grief and revenge regarding Lincoln lead to being heda (or whatever she calls herself)? Heck, how does deciding she doesn’t want to miss out on the war—her stated reason for joining the conclave—have anything to do with her position as leader? On a plot level, they’re obviously the steps that lead her from point A to point B, but how do they make sense as a character arc or on a thematic level?
They don’t. Same with Clarke. While leadership fatigue and the burden of decision making have been struggles for Clarke’s character since S1, they were no more in focus the majority of this season than they have been in other seasons. Not until 4.12 do we get any hint that she’s Done™. I suppose one could argue shooting at Bellamy was her breaking point. Fair enough. That does not change how little this shift in her character has to do with the arc they set up for her the rest of the season. Setting up one arc and delivering an unrelated resolution isn’t satisfying to your audience. As Kylie and Julia quoted it in their piece about another show that uses plot contrivance to further character arcs instead of the other way around,
“It’s easy to do things that are shocking or unexpected, but they have to grow out of characters. They have to grow out of situations. Otherwise, it’s just being shocking for being shocking.” —George R.R. Martin
Octavia’s and Clarke’s resolutions are Shocking Twists™ in that they’re completely unearned character 180ºs. They’re thematically swapped, and done at the last minute. Clarke gets a peaceful life and a new home and family free of the constraints of Grounder and Skaikru. Given Octavia’s grief over Lincoln and disgust for politics in general, this sounds an awful lot like what one would expect for Octavia’s resolution. She even got this resolution with Ilian for a hot minute before the narrative pulled her back as suddenly as it pulled Clarke out of hers with the flame.
Octavia unites Grounders and Skaikru under one clan as leader of a united coalition, carrying on Lexa’s legacy of peace and leadership of once warring peoples. Again, sounds an awful lot like Clarke’s thematic resolution, right? Each of them gets the ending the other was set up for.
Not that they both don’t deserve or in some minimal sense fulfill the stories they got, but they’re still thematically backward. Clarke is free from obligation to society, but since when was that her story? Octavia is a good heda and leader worthy of all people, but since when was that her trajectory? They’re not bad resolutions just…nonsensical for each of their character arcs as presented for most of this season. Zero hint or lead up for Octavia until the conclave in 4.10; zero foreshadowing or thematic resonance for Clarke until 4.12. That’s sloppy writing, plain and simple. Seasonal resolutions should not be a complete and utter reversal of character arcs without at least some level of foreshadowing or preparation for the viewer.
It also relies, for the most part, on ignoring or sidelining their arcs from S3. Aside from brief mentions here and there, any kind of exploration of the lasting emotional trauma of losing their Grounder lovers fails to manifest. Clarke gets a few seconds with Abby and another few seconds to stare at her drawing of Lexa. That’s it. Her grief over losing Lexa not once, but twice, in no way shapes her headspace or psyche this season apart from those moments.
Same with Octavia. Beyond a few brief mentions of Lincoln (less than 10 in the whole season by my count) and the one grossly exploitative scene, the gut wrenching grief that shaped her arc in 3B is barely present. Her stint as an assassin has zero connection to her emotional state at the end of last season. Lincoln might as well have been on holiday for most of 4A for all that he mattered to her storyline. After they replayed his death while equating her to a war criminal, she had sex with a guy and her grief over his loss was once again non-existent. This time for good. It’s as if certain plot points of S3 occurred (the loss of their lovers) but these events have no lasting/consistent meaning or emotional weight for these characters. Might as well not have happened at all.
Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for where they both end up. Yay, Clarke gets a break! She’s a great mom, I’m sure. Yay, Octavia gets to rule! She’s a good fit. I hope they’re both happy and going to do well at their new ‘jobs’. In fact, their current positions offer an interesting springboard moving into the next season. I’m not saying these are bad places for them to end up in. They’re just so poorly set up, and come at such an expense to their emotional psychology, that I can’t appreciate them as much as the show clearly want me to.
I have mixed feelings about Raven. On the one hand, there’s value and meaning in the way her disability isn’t erased or ‘fixed’, and I appreciate that. Lisa discussed this at length in her piece on Emori and Raven; I agree wholeheartedly with her positive takeaways regarding Raven as a character that does a lot of good for the representation of disabled characters. Raven’s strength, intelligence, and skillfulness as an engineer have been a part of her character from the get-go. That they still manifest after her injury prove that at some level, she’s defined by more than her disability (or at the very least can be when written well), which is excellent.
She’s one of my favorites for a reason, and not just because she had rock hard abs and more common sense than most of the rest of the characters put together. Her stubbornness, snark, and tendency to sublimate her feelings veer into the Dutiful Princess trope. And we all know how much I love my Dutiful Princesses.
At the same time, there’s a fine line between positive representation and exploitation, and The 100 has walked it since they first gave her a disability. The physical disability itself I don’t mind as much as how they used her pain in an exploitative way last season, both with how it led her to ALIE as well as the multiple instances of graphic self harm. They then piled on even more physical suffering this season with the brain trauma. She sought out relief from pain and then suffers for it on top of the pain she already has. She’s doomed to physical suffering no matter what she does. So while I appreciate that she still has her leg injury and is allowed to experience that as well as have the heart murmur, adding even more suffering and disability crosses the line for me. Especially when it involves repeated, long scenes depicting her having seizures; it’s practically voyeurism after last seasons horrors.
I admit this may come down to ymmv regarding representation versus exploitation. However, given that she’s the sole woman of color in a starring role on the show, the fact that her growth and character arcs come at the expense of her physical and mental suffering deeply bothers me and has since S2. At this point in the show, she has become her suffering. Like it or not, it is the most prominent aspect to her character and arc in two and a half seasons. They may handle some aspects of her disability well, yes, but she’s little more than her disability(ies) at this point despite how well her arc worked in S2.
They even made her badass hacking skills a result of her disability. She gained them from ALIE which she got because of her leg pain. They then took that skill away when Raven ‘deleted ALIE from her system’ (as if she’s a machine rather than a person…ew). When you break it down, every single accomplishment she had this season in terms of skill and competence arose from the aftermath of her disability because it all came from ALIE being in her brain. Abby pointed out they need her in the bunker, and she’s very necessary on Gov-Sci, but we didn’t get to see any of that this season.
She got one moment at the end of this season to be more than her disability, to reassert herself as the competent, intelligent engineer we all saw her be. But even that was marred with her self-doubt (again, because of her disability). A self-doubt that manifested as Raven basically admitting she doesn’t think she’s anything more than her disability and it’s aftermath via ALIE. Someone needs to tell the writers that lampshading that implication doesn’t make it any better. So, while I applaud the ongoing representation of a disabled character in concept, the execution is sorely lacking.
Rather than being intersectional, Raven is little more than her disability at this point in the narrative. She has little agency beyond it and her entire arc revolves around it. We see little to nothing of her skills or intelligence this season that does not stem from her disability rather than exist apart from and alongside it. And even those elements of her character are taken away in the end. Her disability quite literally defines her and her character. That’s not good representation, either as a disabled character or as the most prominent woman of color on The 100.
The Rest of Skaikru
The rest of the Skaikru protagonists bear mentioning in brief, though their arcs are far less in focus than the previous five. Abby and Kane have a lovely relationship and their dynamic works really well on screen, both romantically and in terms of their idealogical conflicts. There’s nothing super deep about them, but they’re a delight. Kane is a bit one note most of the time—you’re the voice of talking it out, we get it—but at least he’s consistent.
Abby’s arc in the natblida sub plot gripped me, and I appreciated how her and Clarke both supported and confronted each other. They’re interesting foils for each other, especially given how Clarke has evolved more into the voice of pragmatism and Abby has taken on more of her daughter’s early idealism. As with Indra and Octavia, I appreciate seeing women in supportive yet challenging relationships with each other. The show may not always get that dynamic right when it comes to female peers, but the Griffin ladies have a fascinating dynamic. It’s not always clear who is the mentor and who the mentee, and I like that for them.
The only moment that didn’t quite land for me with Abby’s arc was her willingness to destroy the chamber to save Clarke, which I mentioned in my review. That and the scene discussing Clarke’s love for Lexa was too short and there’s no way Abby actually knew about them. But fine. Plot holes aside, I love my Griffin ladies together.
I’m also delighted Monty got a love interest arc and a chance to be more than the sidekick. He’s one of the few arcs this season got right, aside from Murphy and Emori, who I’ll get to. While I appreciate his increased status and role in leadership, early on in the season it was used to blame and shame Clarke in a way far too reminiscent of the pile-on that S3 was.
Not that he’s not allowed to question Clarke’s leadership. Only, his critiques of her choices were not earned by the narrative and relied too much on Jasper’s nihilistic influence for them to land for me. The flashes of anger directed at Clarke seemed to come from nowhere coming from Monty of all people. Still, I appreciated his choice not to kill the slaver in 4.02 as well as his 3B arc. I liked that he went back for Harper and Jasper even after she told him she didn’t love him. He’s a good egg.
His relationship with Harper was fine, but not super compelling. Mostly because Harper’s arc was horribly executed. Her more than any of the other secondary Skaikru characters suffered from the disease of plot convenience. She felt and acted how the plot required her too regardless of set up, and her choices were rarely explained or followed through on from episode to episode.
The best of the Skaikru secondary characters is, as with last season, Murphy. However much the writers may distort or sloppily execute other characterizations, they consistently get him right. He’s a near perfect foil for Bellamy. Bellamy talks a big talk but when it boils down to it, cares most about only the people in his inner circle and acts in their best interest while framing it as for the greater good. Murphy, on the other hand, postures a self-serving and non-inclusive attitude regarding who he will protect but will usually act in the interest of others when push comes to shove.
Bellamy would have accepted Raven’s decision about the medicine, though after a long debate about the morality of it (as Abby did). Murphy goes behind Raven’s back to give the medicine to Luna and the Grounders. Murphy initially chooses to save the hydrogenerator from the bunker over helping Monty in the finale. But we know he’s doing it to save everyone else, and even then, once delivered, he leads a team back to save Monty. I still argue that they missed an opportunity to showcase this even further with the decision to have Abby free Bellamy in 4.11 instead of Murphy. Because he would totally do that if he thought it would help people. He has an appearance of selfishness, but he’s actually one of the most selfless and others-oriented characters in the narrative. You only have to look at his relationship with Emori to see this is true.
I could gush about Memori all day, but I don’t have time. Besides, Lisa has already covered most of what I have to say about how healthy, mutual, and strong their relationship is. It’s probably my strongest ship on the show at this point. While Emori’s decision to lie about not!Baylis in 4.07 (and Murphy’s pride in her actions) may not have landed for some, to me they were perfectly consistent with her character and their relationship dynamic. Emori has never been the altruistic character we’ve seen Murphy evolve into the past two seasons. He snarks but cares deep down; Emori protects herself and puts up a wall to keep new people from getting in. Only Murphy has been able to breach that wall, though I’ll be interested to see if living in space for 6 years with a limited group of friends changes that impulse at all.
All that to say, they felt the most consistent in terms of characterization, especially for the Skaikru characters this season (well, Skaikru and Grounder). Murphy’s emotional scene attempting to defend Emori in 4.08 was one of the most powerful all season. They’re well written and engaging, plus they each have a discernible growth arc. Murphy comes to terms with how much he still cares about Skaikru generally and repairs his relationship with Raven, Monty, and others. Emori learns how to begin seeing beyond her protective survival mechanisms and accept living alongside those who she once (justifiably) hated because they were out to kill her (for science!). Every beat feels earned and their respective progress is both paced well and given the appropriate level of focus and exploration.
Welcome to this season’s run of character assassination. Apart from Echo, who has an upward trajectory, every other prominent Grounder character falls into the Grounders are Savages™ trap at some point, and even she does early on. Echo has been pretty well covered by Lisa in her pieces, so I’ll focus on the other Grounders.
Ilian’s manpain fueled quest to destroy technology was cringeworthy from the get-go, to me, and never quite recovered from the caricaturesque manner of his introduction. He was a bundle of tropes ranging from the annoying to the downright problematic. There’s the infantilizing technophobia and magically all-knowing revenge arc against Arkadia that served merely to destroy the station so that it could not be used as a bunker. Then there was the sex-away-Octavia’s-feelings arc that was somehow meant to inspire shippy feels. All so that he could die, and I would feel sad about Octavia ‘losing him’. Only for her to forget about him because why would he even have significance for her in the first place?
Indra spent most of the season in Revenge™ mode against Azgeda, to the point of absurdity and illogic. On the one hand, it makes sense for her given what Azgeda did to Trikru last season and this season. For most of the time, her fixation on hating Azgeda felt both reasonable and consistent. On the other hand, when it gets to the point that she’s actually working against her own interest, I’m going to roll my eyes.
Still, for the most part that bothered me less than the other Grounder characterizations. Plus, she had some really moving moments with Octavia. I love that the show brought that relationship back to the forefront because it’s been one of my favorite dynamics. Women mentoring and supporting women is more rare than you’d expect on this show, so I appreciate how much they focused on Indra as a mentor to Octavia both on and off the battlefield. She’s going to make a great second for Octavia in the bunker.
I also enjoyed getting more of Indra’s story, especially the subplot with her daughter Gaia. The show did not utilize Gaia, or their history/religious connection, to their potential. And, it ultimately fell back on stereotypes of indigenous peoples in their portrayal of Grounder religion through this duo, but it had nice elements to it and real emotional weight. Especially the conflict between Gaia and Octavia as Indra’s daughters. I would have liked more of that and maybe next season will follow through on the potential there.
More than any other characters, Roan and Luna fell prey to the Savage Grounder™ stereotype. I discussed the Doylist implications of this trope in part one of my retrospective, so you can read that in full there. My interest here is to point how just how much this turn in their characters does violence to their character arcs.
Both Roan and Luna have, since last season, been what the show would characterize as “good Grounders”. Grounder characters that, until now, defy the stereotypes associated with the violence, aggression, and impulsivity of their culture as depicted on the show. This season, Roan proved himself to be amenable to shifting allegiances to outside his clan when it was the more logical option. Against Echo’s more rash and aggressive tendencies, he was a voice of reasoned discussion, pragmatism, and diplomacy. Until he wasn’t.
Likewise Luna has been the voice of nonviolence since her introduction. All we knew of her last season was that she fled the conclave rather than kill her brother and currently led a safehaven for Grounders who did not wish to participate in violence. She was a staunch pacifist, even if it meant others might die because of her choices.
This season flipped both of these characters on their head by its conclusion. I discussed Roan in part one, but Luna deserves more attention. One might argue that she had good reason to want to see Skaikru dead, given Abby and Clarke’s willingness to subject her to pain and experimentation, even against her wishes, and sacrifice other Grounders in her presence. By claiming that her character arc was unearned, I’m not denying the significance of what she suffered. She suffered a great deal and was subjected to physical emotional violence at the hands of our protagonists.
But to go from “I am willing to let people die so that I do not compromise my principles” to “screw it, everyone deserves to die because people hurt me” is…a huge leap in characterization. Need I remind you that she didn’t just want Abby or Clarke or even Skaikru to die. She wanted every single human being on the planet to die. Grounders and Skaikru alike. That’s an existential meltdown of epic proportions, and I’m not sure seeing her people die of radiation sickness (which was no one’s fault), seeing one Grounder tortured, and getting her bone marrow harvested justifies such a shift. Especially when there was little to no set up and the moment of her return to the conclave was clearly meant as a Shocking Twist™. (And one that created HUGE plot holes, I might add.)
They destroyed her characterization to further the plot, add Drama™, and kill her off. She had a lot of potential to be interesting in future storylines, something Lisa will be addressing in an upcoming piece, so stay tuned. Audiences emotionally invested in her only to see her twisted into something dark and ugly just before the show killed her. Narrative sadism anyone?
It’s starting to look pretty damning in terms of whether or not this show can overcome it’s flaws and offer something meaningful. This season evinces a laziness and sloppiness I find disheartening, both in the plot and characters. Plot necessity drives many of the weaknesses/unearned moments in the various character arcs. But, there’s no denying that there’s a level of the same desire to offer Shocking™ TV evident as well. The writers may not be using gore and violence to do so, and for that I am grateful.
However, unearned happy resolutions aren’t that much more satisfying or interesting than unearned gruesome deaths. Especially when they’re placed alongside a troubling tendency to justify and subsequently ignore heinous acts perpetrated by other characters. Could the themes this season possibly pull this all together and triumph? I don’t know about you, but I’m not too sanguine.
See you all next week! Until then, check out the forum or stop by the shop to get yourself some swag. We have SeaMechanic merch if you’re into that ship (I am), and also some pretty snarky stickers that directly address some of my criticism of this show.