Content warning: this review discusses attempted suicide, as depicted on the show.
Another year, another The 100 premiere. And you know what that means, plot holes and worldbuilding gaps! Though I admit, there are some surprisingly interesting new characters, and I did like how much time and energy went into fleshing out Clarke’s experiences. She hasn’t had this much narrative space to herself without someone yelling at her for a couple of seasons. Woohoo!
After a summary of the end of last season, the season begins 42 days after praimfaya 2.0. Clarke emerges from a pile of rubble, map in hand, and traverses a now dried up sea bed on her way back to Polis. She manages to choose the one sand pile to dig in that contains the jeep and lo and behold, it still works! When she arrives in Polis, though, the city has been devastated. She seems shocked, for some reason. She digs her way into the temple (it’s pretty badass, no lie), but her efforts only collapse the building further. Convinced she’ll never be able to reach the bunker by digging, she heads over to Arkadia and we’re treated to her philosophical musings on her loneliness and the current situation as she talks into the jeep radio.
“It’s like we were never here. Maybe we never should have been.”
She finds a strongbox with some of Jasper’s things, which conveniently holds Maya’s iPod. As she drives across the country, she survives a sandstorm by hiding out in the jeep, but the storm destroyed her solar panels (more on this later). She abandons the jeep and dares the world to do it’s best to kill her.
Not one minute later, she faints from heatstroke, but a vulture pecking at her wakes her. She chases it but finds nothing but more rocks. She screams her frustration and pain and loss, then puts a gun to her temple. So much for daring the world to kill her.
Before she can pull the trigger, the vulture returns. This time, when she follows it, she finds the titular Edenic valley, untouched by the death wave. While exploring the valley, she muses on the nature of death, survival, and war. She finds a sign for the town of Shenandoah marked with the sigil for the Grounder “Shallow Valley clan.” Sadly, the Grounder clan died from radiation despite the death wave itself having ‘jumped over’ the valley. Clarke sees and chases after a lone survivor, a fellow nightblood. The girl leads her into a bear trap and attacks Clarke for being a flamekeeper, but then freaks out and runs when she cuts Clarke and finds out she, too, is a nightblood.
Clarke returns to the village and sews herself up (once again, badass). She then falls asleep and wakes to find the Grounder girl has stolen her pack and gun. Clarke leaves out a drawing she made for the girl to find, and when the girl finds it, she smiles.
Cut to 6 years later.
Clarke now spear fishes like a mofo, has a sassy new bob haircut, and the little girl, Madi, drives the jeep that is now up and running again. They enjoy domestic bliss and Madi reassures Clarke that Skairipa will get everyone out of the bunker. She’s “a beast” after all. Clarke looks up at the sky and wonders if her friends in the ark will come back too.
Cut to our first non-Clarke pov in the episode at more than halfway through. Bellamy stares out the window at a large patch of green (larger than the valley looked when Clarke first saw it mind you) while Raven and Echo spar. Raven wins (first time!) and they all sit down to a bowl of algae. They all sport new hairstyles except Raven and complain about the food. Bellamy complains about Raven’s inability to get a signal to the ground or receive one, despite her repeated insistence that atmospheric radiation prevents it. Everyone also blames her for not finding a way to get them to the ground.
Bellamy takes Murphy his soup and they brawl. Apparently, Murphy has chosen to live on his own side of the Ark because there’s “no one to disappoint over here.” Plus ,fewer rules. Bellamy says that he just likes being a hero and now that there is no way to be a hero, Murphy feels worthless. He tries to force Murphy to admit he’s not worthless when Murphy distracts him by pointing out a spaceship in orbit around earth. He and Emori bicker as they decide what to do. Looks like the Grounder/Skaikru otp has hit rocky ground in the last 6 years. Echo notices a dropship headed to Earth and Raven hails them with no response.
On the ground, Clarke sees the dropship arrive and learns that it is a prisoner transport. She tells Madi to hide in her secret spot while she goes to check out the newcomers. The leader of the prison ship, a woman, tells one of her associates to take all two of the non-violent offenders off to scout, so yeah, not friends. She magically seems to know there is a village nearby (I guess we’re meant to assume she saw it via the ship’s scanners? But then how did she miss a moving vehicle?). She sends her “favorite mass murderer” to scout it. Cool. Send the murderer to scout a potentially inhabited village. I guess we know all we need to know about our newest antagonist.
The village scouts find Madi when she shoots one of them. Clark then attacks the scouts and in the ensuing fight, Madi shoots and kills one. When she tries to get Clarke to spare the other because he helped her and may be a good guy, Clarke intones, “There are no good guys.” (Yay, this philosophy is back!)
Back in space, Monty’s worried about the new plan to dock with the other space station. Harper presses for more information and Monty opens up that he’s afraid he’ll become the person he was when he was on Earth—the person who killed his own mother and let Jasper die. Murphy and Raven sass each other, which is nice because I liked that dynamic in S1-2.
Bellamy walks in on Echo seemingly once again contemplating suicide because of a major life change (honey, find a better coping mechanism). When she asks what they’re going to be now, he reassures her nothing will change and they kiss. (Turns out Tasya Teles’ hints that Becho would be a thing weren’t just hype!) She worries that Octavia will freak out; he worries that she could not be alive. They reassure each other.
He says Octavia will be the least of their worries and that means…cut to the bunker, where two members of wonkru battle to the death in an arena as Octavia looks on impassively, her forehead painted entirely red. Is it paint or is it blood? We’ll have to wait for next week to find out.
I’ll admit, I was more entertained than I expected to be based on the trailer. I have my complaints, this is a more solid beginning to the season than last year’s premiere was. Then again, we haven’t actually seen the plotline and characters I’m most concerned about—Octavia and Wonkru—for longer than a few seconds. That one plotline could entirely destroy my feeling of goodwill after this premiere depending on which way it goes. And I’m not sanguine about it being positive or appealing to me based on what I’ve seen in the trailer and the hints we’ve gotten in interviews.
Before I dive into my criticisms, I will say that I liked the pacing. While this show has tended to do better when it it’s high octane (see last year’s finale), the more meditative pace of this premiere actually worked surprisingly well. Giving more space to Clarke’s survival was an interesting narrative choice and set a particular tone for the season that I hope to see followed through on.
I am not a fan, however, of the continued use of attempted suicide as a plot device. Attempted suicide has been this show’s season opener for two year’s running. I get that Clarke was having a hard time, and it does make a reasonable amount of sense that she’d consider suicide under the current conditions. But in terms of a pattern, it’s starting to feel like the writers really only know how to write a handful of situations and responses and will run them into the ground no matter how narratively effective they are or what effect they could have on the audience.
My biggest concern, however, is Clarke’s philosophical musings, specifically, her reflections on survival and human nature.
“I used to think that life was about more than just surviving, but I’m not sure any more.”
This actively undermines all of her character growth over S3 and what was consistent in S4. Moreover, she ponders that both sides had their reason to kill and that it was ‘kill or be killed’ yet those are not necessarily logically connected. Human beings can have sincere beliefs and motivations for why they kill others without it being little more than animalistic instinct, which is what she boils it down to before moving on to consider that her fight is over because there is no one left to kill. The conclusion seems to be that humans are no more than animals, killing or being killed in a materialistic, naturalistic sense. The only things that separates humans is that they feel bad about it, which, from the way her musings are framed, comes across like a weakness or shortcoming of human nature.
The conclusion that her fight is over because there is no one left to kill implies that it is inherent within human nature to ‘kill or be killed’ in a kind of Darwinian survival of the fittest mentality that I find jarring in this day and age. I suppose it fits well within the show’s moral relativism, but in a society that is increasingly violent towards marginalized communities, the sentiment rings as both tone deaf and unhelpful.
More than anything, I doubt the show has any real willingness to truly explore her Darwinian perspective with any true nuance. It could be an interesting thing to explore as an aspect of her psychology post destruction. A kind of ‘this is what happens when you’re left alone with your thoughts for too long, they start to get morbid and fatalistic.” However, given the show’s perspective in the past, I doubt that’s the direction they’re heading.
This is coming from Clarke, our main protagonist. This seems very much to be a kind of philosophical statement for the season: it’s kill or be killed and that’s just human nature. The harsh environment just exposes how animalistic human beings truly are and to think otherwise is folly. Especially since Clarke went right back to killing as soon as someone she cared about was threatened. I admit the show could surprise me by subverting that philosophy in the end, but I doubt it.
Then there’s the continued worldbuilding issues. The entire ocean dried up (????) but this one valley—and a shallow one at that, it’s in the very name of the Grounder clan that lived there—survived because the death wave…’jumped over it’? How does this one shallow valley survive but not others? And what does ‘jumping over’ it even mean? That’s not how death waves work, my dudes.
Where the hell did Clarke get a map that has Polis on it? Who made the map? When? How is Polis a pile of rubble yet there are defoliated trees still standing? What do the bugs Clarke eats (presumably cockroaches for them to have survived) live on so far from Eden? How did Clarke manage to find the jeep and how does it still work? It was buried under a literal mountain of dirt. Are we meant to assume a few days passed while the solar panels recharged after she dug it out of that mountain?
Speaking of solar panels, holy plot holes. It’s cool Clarke was worried about the solar panels in the sandstorm, but that jeep was literally buried in a mountain of sand and dirt, presumably from multiple sandstorms. It seems weird they would survive literally unscathed and fully functional through however many storms it took to fully bury the jeep only to completely shatter in one sandstorm. Plus, the winds didn’t seem strong enough to do that kind of damage on their own, nor were they hurling rocks around so…how did they shatter into a dozen pieces? And how did Clarke and Madi find replacements for them?
Then there are the dead bodies of Shallow Valley clan. Those bodies ought to have been decaying at a much faster rate. It’s been 2 months at this point. And why do so few of them have visible boils from the radiation that supposedly killed them? And how did the radiation kill the people but not the produce? Does Clarke’s nightblood make her immune to radiation in the food sources? Why don’t any of the fish or other wildlife have mutations like we saw in S1?
And how the heck is the earth survivable only 6 after praimfaya 2.0 when it took 100 years for skaikru to go down to Earth post praimfaya 1.0? I suppose you can handwave it with the space radiation helping them survive. However, we know that Clarke was only able to survive the death wave because of being a nightblood, which means this praimfaya was worse than the first (because we know non-nightbloods survived that one and they wouldn’t have survived this one). So, it stands to reason it would take longer for the Earth to be survivable, even for those with space radiation resistance. I know the answer to this, as for much else in this show, is plot necessity, but it still makes my eye twitch.
Once again. I have a lot questions about the writers room’s worldbuilding process.
I have mixed feelings about time jumps, especially if aging up only one character is involved. As with the time gap between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, it’s jarring to see one character look the same after 6 years while the other has aged up. Yes, children change a lot between 6 and 12, but the difference between 18 and 24 isn’t insignificant either. I looked a whole lot different as a senior in high school than I did when I started grad school. And even if we can accept that Clarke didn’t change all that much, it’s cognitively jarring to accept that she’s 6 years older with the only visual cue being a haircut while the other character literally changed actors and is half a foot taller. I’m not saying there’s a satisfying way around it, just that it’s odd to watch.
As much as I snarked about her magical knowledge of the surroundings, the new antagonist does seem interesting. She’s already less of a cardboard cutout than ALIE was. My hope is she’s more like Dante Senior—still my favorite villain—though we’ll have to wait and see.
It looks like Raven is the new scapegoat instead of Clarke. Jesus, kids, can you not blame a girl for working under difficult circumstances and struggling to find a solution to a near impossible situation? Raven must be protected at all costs, and I’m put out that already in the season premiere, she’s catching flak for things that are outside of her control just because everyone else wants someone to blame. Please don’t let this be a pattern. She deserves better.
The last thing I’ll comment on is the persistent question this episode of “who am I/are we now?” Multiple characters raise this questions. In fact, the show seems to want us to pose this question about the show itself, not just the characters. What show is this now that it’s basically reset itself back to where it started in S1? Well, based on the trailer, the plot arcs and various factional distinctions appear to be rehashes of previous seasons. The philosophical and moral stance is just as, if not more bleak than previous seasons. And, the fear of regression expressed by multiple characters has me expecting that regression rather than believing they’ll rise above it. Basically, if the show is posing the question to us viewers, “what are we now as a show?” my answer right now is: not really all that different from before.
Bits & Bobs
- I find the fact that Clarke does not wear socks with her boots viscerally upsetting. Honey, haven’t you heard of trench foot? Athlete’s foot? Heck, blisters?? SOCKS ARE IMPORTANT. (Just ask Julia.)
- Dear Harper, your hair is cute and all, but that is way less than 6 years of outgrowth.
- I still want to know how the nightblood gene got into other Grounder clans’ gene pools if Becca was the only one to have it. She must have had a lot of kids that somehow ended up in all these other clans…
- Monty is such a good. I still want to hug him.
- I didn’t have to look at Jaha’s smug face or hear his obnoxious pontificating once this whole episode and I couldn’t be happier. Unfortunately, it seems like we’ll get that next week.
Could be Cool: Octavia isn’t actually a bloodthirsty, violent person because the writers decided that the connection between violence and Grounder culture was highly problematic and should be avoided due to the icky colonialist implications. (This should probably be my crack theory of the week because fat chance of this ever happening.)
Pretty Sure: Becho isn’t going to survive the season. Lisa got me into Becho and I must say, so far, so delightful. I’m really digging their mutually supportive relationship dynamic. Bellamy seems like much less of a dick so far, and I am honestly actually looking forward to seeing how they progress. Though at the back of my mind, I do worry that she, and their relationship, have a ticking clock attached to them. I hope they don’t because I like this as endgame for them both, but my intuition says that’s not likely.
Total Crack: The new antagonist is Abby’s estranged sister who still resents how her mother treated them. A major subplot of the season involves a family drama about two sisters learning how to overcome their family history and love each other despite their mom being terrible. Wait…am I trying to turn them into the Beifongs? I think I’m trying to turn them into the Beifongs. Oh well, the Beifongs make everything better.