Last night’s “Join or Die” was overall less eye-rolly than last week, so I’m proportionally less snarky. There is salt, don’t you worry, but more subdued. I do rant about Bellamy and Clarke for a while at the end, though, so fair warning.
There are three separate plotlines in this episode that intertwine, but I’ll take them separately rather than try to go sequentially just for ease of reading. We start in Polis, the main arc of the episode: cue a confused Pike and Kane being led into Polis. Men on crosses greet them (they should look familiar), and Pike reacts with the xenophobia that is his trademark.
Pike: “About what I expected.”
Jackson is seated at the foot of an “x” shaped cross (which should also look familiar), and he rises to greet them as Jaha and Ontari exit the tower bearing chips for the arriving Grounders. Pike demands help from a fellow farm stationer, but Jaha retorts that the only loyalty here is to the City of Light. Pike (predictably) refuses to take the chip and join the Grounders and is led away, as is Kane who also refused. ALIE says they need Kane to find Clarke and the chip, so Abby offers deal with him. Her face makes it clear that sex will probably be used to coerce him.
Meanwhile, Pike is led off to the same jail cell as Murphy and others who refused the chip, mostly Arkers but there are a few Grounders (at least 2), one of whom is Indra. How she got there? No idea. But she’s there and immediately threatens Pike with 300 cuts for the 300 deaths he caused.
While Indra’s torturing Pike, Kane and Abby meet up. She’s noticeably dirtier and is doing a good job acting as if she’s not chipped. She asks him about Clarke, fearful that team Jaha is after her. He says he doesn’t know where she is, and at this point, he has no reason to lie to her because he doesn’t know she’s chipped. She doesn’t believe him, so uses her fear and his desire to protect her, but he still denies knowing anything. ALIE tells her to try harder, so she kisses him and pins him to the bed. Kane pushes her off. He’s realized that she’s chipped and looks so betrayed that I want to weep for him. Abby says to put him on the cross.
Kane is taken to the “x” cross and when he insists he can’t tell Abby where Clarke is (he literally doesn’t know), the Grounders chain him to the cross and nail his bound wrists to the boards while he screams. It’s a very Jesus-y moment—nailed to the cross because he was betrayed by someone he loved.
Indra continues to torture Pike in the jail until Murphy screams for it to stop. They need Pike, he’s strong and will help them defeat ALIE. Indra stops once another Grounder backs up Murphy, but she swears she’ll get revenge later, once they’ve defeated ALIE and Jaha.
Murphy: “What is wrong with you people?”
Murphy snarks to Pike; Pike breathes heavily through his pain. Kane, on the other hand, likes to scream it out, which he’s still doing. Jaha offers to stop the pain with the key, but Kane refuses. ALIE says he’s strong; Jaha, that they’re out of time. Kane begs to be shot, but Jaha wants answers, so he holds the gun to Abby’s placid head as she kneels on the ground. Marcus caves, swallowing the key to save Abby’s life (because he lurves her! Sue me, I’m a Kabby shipper). His face goes stoic; he too, is free of pain.
The second arc involves a flashback to 6 months prior on the Ark, mere days before the Delinquents were sent to earth. Pike is brought before Abby, Jaha, and Kane. They want him to teach the Delinquents a crash course in earth survival skills because they’re sending them to the ground. When Pike questions the advisability of sending the kids to the ground, Jaha talks about taking a leap of faith in a manner that is eerily similar to his current attitude post-chipping.
When the Delinquents file into their first class with Pike, Jaha and Murphy have a weird moment of staring at each other (Is there such a thing as post-foreshadowing?). All the kids avoid Octavia. They call her “the girl under the floor” and laugh whenever she talks. They’re also not having this teaching nonsense. They’re joking, flirting, and pretty much doing everything but pay attention to Pike making fire. All except for Octavia; she pays attention because no one likes her.
Pike: “The key to survival is to keep fighting against all odds. The minute you give up, you’re dead”
The next scene we get of the flashback has Jaha pacing the halls outside of Pike’s classroom. Pike exits and commiserates with Jaha about Wells’ arrest. He also figures out that Jaha is keeping Wells apart from the rest of the Delinquents so that they don’t know they’re being sent to the ground and offers to go with them to help them survive since they don’t want to pay attention in class. Jaha tells him to make them listen and goes all creepy stoic face again.
Pike’s solution? Start beating up on Murphy for sass talking him, demanding that he fight back. Because what we were missing in this show was an angry black man beating up on a white boy for no reason. Octavia tries to stop it, and eventually Kane and guards break in and demand an explanation. Pike announces that this was their graduation day and stalks off.
The next we see of the past, the Delinquents are being loaded into the dropship while Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive” plays in the background (NO. I love that song, stop it.) Abby has a touching moment with an unconscious Clarke, where she tells her “may we meet again,” and I was overwhelmed with Lexa and Lincoln feels. Bellamy pushes past everyone and enters the drop ship while Abby snarks to Kane about getting the extra air they needed and walks off in a huff. The final flashback is a shot of Clarke in the dropship as it is headed for earth.
The third and final arc revolves around the Delinquents who are searching for Luna. They’re not all happy to be a team, obviously, because they’re bickering about the map, the mission, when to stop for the night, etc. They run up against a log in their path and have to leave the rover behind and go ahead on foot. Octavia leads the way, with Clarke not far behind, and they hear the ocean and dash ahead to find the village. Jasper and Bellamy, on the other hand, have their guns blazing and have to warn the (stoopid) ladies not to trust the Grounders. They stumble across the rock formation on Lincoln’s map, but no village. Octavia screams in frustration while Clarke looks acutely pained.
They decide to camp there for the night. Octavia makes a fire (proving that she paid attention to Pike’s class). Bellamy wants to look at the map, but Octavia swats him away. She can’t even look at him because when she does, she relives Lincoln’s death. He counters that he didn’t kill Lincoln, but she still holds him responsible. He then blames her for not trusting him when he came to her—which makes her responsible for Lincoln’s death—and storms off down the beach. Trying to fight the awkward, Jasper puts pine needles on the fire and the flames turn green. Octavia realizes it is a beacon and they continue to add the pine needles while Clarke watches Bellamy walk away.
Later that night, Clarke goes to talk to Bellamy. He responds to this overture by being a dick.
Bellamy: “Let me guess, you came here to fix things.”
Bellamy doesn’t need Clarke’s help, but she continues to be a nice person anyway. He changes his mind suddenly and decides to open up about his broken relationship with Octavia. Clarke urges him to give her time, consoling him that while he may have blood on his hands, it’s not Lincoln’s. Bellamy responds that some of it might be (which is the closest he’s come to apologizing, but not to Octavia, of course). She says, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Shhh, no, you tried to stop it. Don’t let Octavia’s grief get you down.”
Clarke sagely advises that Octavia will eventually forgive him, but the real question is whether or not he’ll forgive himself. This is apparently what he needed to hear, because he admits he was angry when she left but wants things to be different now. She replies that she is also learning to forgive herself, equating their behavior and actions in the most ridiculous way possible. You see, they need each other now and have to work together. They hug as Grounders pop up out of the water and swiftly take them and Jasper/Octavia captive.
Octavia (finally!) gets to speak the phrase Lincoln taught her in S1 and asks for safe passage. She says Lincoln sent them and the Grounders release them. The leader offers her and the rest a vial, saying they have to drink it in order to receive safe passage. Octavia doesn’t hesitate; she trusts Lincoln. They all eventually take it and pass out.
They wake in a shipping container. Their weapons are gone, but thankfully Lexa 2.0 is safe. They meet Luna, who asks where Lincoln is; they say he’s dead. Clarke shows her the flame, explaining that she is the last natblida and that the flame has chosen her to be the new commander. Luna says she left the conclave to never kill again. Clarke explains that she doesn’t have to kill to be the next commander, but Luna still refuses to accept 2.0. As Clarke trails after her, the camera pans out to them on an oil rig.
This episode was narratively tighter than many of the previous episodes. The three arcs wove together well and none of them felt like it didn’t belong, as for example, the ALIE plotline in “Terms and Conditions” did. The flashback provided some much needed backstory for Pike that I’ll get to later, but it also framed the reversal of Abby and Kane’s positions in the narrative in an interesting way.
The reveal at the end that Luna chose non-violence and thus did not want to be commander was unexpected, so props for that. Them being on an oil rig explains why the Coalition wasn’t able to track her down when she fled. I still think they’ve retconned her story a bit from S1, but not enough to really bother me. Overall, plot and pacing were better than they have been. Characterization, on the other hand, continues to be inconsistent and confusing.
If you want any more proof that Bellamy is still not taking responsibility for anything, look no further than his interactions with Octavia this episode. She’s justifiably still grieving and struggles to be around the person she holds responsible for his death. Rather than apologize or sympathize with her, Bellamy blames her for not trusting him. Sure Bellamy, she was supposed to trust the xenophobic, racist brother who had joined up with a tyrannical, colonialist racist xenophobe, to help her protect her lover, who just so happened to be a part of the culture that he and his boss were set on eradicating. What is this interaction supposed to represent? Am I supposed to side with Octavia or Bellamy?
The narrative seems to be pointing toward the latter, but I can’t sympathize with Bellamy, if that’s what I’m supposed to do. He comes across as petulant and self-absorbed. Other people are hurting because of his decisions and all he can do is blame them, be it Clarke or Octavia, arguably the two people in his life that he is supposed to care about most. Maybe they’re going for “he’s in pain and lashing out.” If so, I’m unconvinced. Not because Bobby is a bad actor, but because the script has consistently painted Bellamy as unrepentant throughout this season. If he had genuine moments of remorse that weren’t used to make himself look like a martyr (Octavia beating him) or shift blame/deny responsibility (when he talks to Niylah), I could sympathize a bit more.
The truth is that his characterization has fallen flat this season from the very beginning. The choice to skip ahead 6 months in episode 1 may have made sense on one level, but it left so much of the characterization up to inference, which didn’t work well. Rather than understand Bellamy’s anger at Clarke for being in Polis, I recoiled from it. Gina’s fridging only made matters worse because we didn’t have enough time to be invested in Bellamy’s relationship with her (not to mention that they just hand-waved it being statutory).
Bellamy was never given a legitimate, fully fleshed explanation for his xenophobic hatred of the Grounders this season. Growing from xenophobic in S1 to sympathetic in S2 back to xenophobic in S3 isn’t character growth. That’s what we call regression. Bellamy’s back where he started with no remorse, no pity, no regret for his actions. Unlike Pike, he watched Lincoln and Octavia grow to love and trust each other. He saw Lexa’s struggle to do right by Clarke and how hurt she was when Clarke (rightfully) accused her of betraying them all. He saw how hard Clarke worked for peace, even if he was upset that Clarke was in Polis instead of in the Ark. He saw what the Mountain Men were doing to Grounder and Skaikru alike in S2 and was on board with joining the Coalition if it meant peace for everyone.
Despite all of this, Bellamy chose hatred and violence. He’s a grown man of 23, an adult, and yet the narrative acts as if we should give him a pass. Worse, it equates his actions with Clarke’s, which bothers me because they could not be more different. Yes, they both participated in Mt. Weather in S2 and blowing up the bridge in S1, but let’s focus on this season for a second, because that’s what is really being equated here.
Clarke has consistently sought peace and mercy and been blamed for it, blamed for not being there when Bellamy wanted her to be, never mind that she was trying to forge an alliance with their enemies (and succeeded, btw). An alliance he destroyed when he killed the 300 Grounders. She’s blamed for the peace falling apart, blamed for showing mercy to Emerson and his choice to kidnap and kill her friends. Yet, her motivation this season has always been to forge a peace and protect her people. Even when Lexa confronted her about her desire for revenge, it was in the context of believing that Emerson’s death would bring peace.
Bellamy has only ever acted in his own self-interest or out of hate this season. He might think the was protecting his people when he killed the innocent Grounders, but the narrative surrounding his actions fixated on the hatred and xenophobia involved and never painted these deeds as sympathetic at the time. He was a racist jerk when he did it, and the audience knew it.
To equate his act of genocide with Clarke’s act of mercy is, quite frankly, insulting. I have nothing against Bellamy as a character overall, but I do have a problem with how his character arc has progressed this season. I liked Bellamy in S1 and S2, seriously. I even kind of rooted for a romance between them at the beginning of S2 when he was learning how to be a decent person. This season? I cannot accept how poorly handled his turn to the dark side was nor how shoddily they’re whitewashing his racism and hatred in order to fuel shipping culture.
This episode’s interaction between Clarke and Bellamy is all we’re going to get of a confrontation between them. It wasn’t even a confrontation as much as it was a chance for Clarke to stroke his ego and tell him he’s not really such a bad person after all. No apology, no discussion of his betrayal, no discussion of him killing the Grounders and barely even a mention of Lincoln, she just feels sorry for him, tells him its okay he killed a bunch of people, and eventually people will love him again.
She was more than willing to call him on his bs in S1, but now, when the stakes are higher, all she can do is tell him he’s not that bad? Like, I’m happy they’re on the same team again, but this was very unsatisfying. It basically hand-waved Bellamy’s violent crimes because, you know, they’re helping Skaikru again, so they can pretend that he didn’t kill a bunch of Grounders because yay team Clark/Bellamy.
This is not how you do a good redemption arc. Bellamy needs to earn forgiveness by being confronted with his crimes and then earn back people’s respect and trust. Right now, he just has respect and trust from Clarke without having done anything to deserve it. Clarke comes off as pandering and inconsistent, meanwhile Octavia looks damned by comparison because she’s still hurting and angry at Bellamy. It’s dissatisfying, to say the absolute least.
That’s enough of that. On to other characterization issues, namely, Kane. I know we’re supposed to feel for Kane here, to believe he’s standing up for what’s right and being punished for not divulging the truth. But the reality is, he literally doesn’t know where Clarke and the others are. He didn’t even know Clarke was back at Arkadia until Abby told him. He went with the Grounders before Bellamy caught up with Clarke. He has no clue where the Delinquents are or who they’re after.
More importantly, why doesn’t ALIE already have this information? Ontari would be the one to know about Luna being the only surviving natblida, not Kane. ALIE should have known exactly where Clarke and the rest were headed as soon as Ontari took the chip. There’s no narrative reason to torture Kane because he doesn’t have the information they want. ALIE should already have it. The only way Kane would know about Clarke is if they have teleporting ravens and/or telepathy in this version of earth, which they clearly don’t, so this entire situation with him makes no sense. It makes his torture needless violence against another person of color, which is not something this show needed more of.
The flashback with Pike was long overdue and fell a bit flat because of it. This is the kind of characterization of him I would have liked to have when we first met him. His desire to help the kids survive was genuine and the moment he realizes they’re all doomed and asked to be sent down with them was moving. Why couldn’t we have had this sooner? Instead of being a one-note colonialist racist, we could have seen how his desire to help others was betrayed by authority, devolving into a strong survivalist mentality that was only heightened by Azgeda’s continued attacks on farm station.
This Pike is nuanced, complicated, and sympathetic. It’s also too little, too late. By this point, I feel manipulated into liking him purely because he has a role to play in saving everyone from ALIE: “He’s going to be a good guy, don’t hate him anymore!” I’d rather be given a nuanced villain from the outset (like Dante) than try to have the narrative bombard me with sympathetic backstory 13 episodes into a season where the villain was entirely one-note evil.
The fact that they undid most of that nuance by having Pike beat a defenseless teenager frustrated me even more. And yes, I do call that beating. I think they were going for ‘tough love’, but that was a straight up beating. The racial undertones (angry black man beating a defenseless white boy) were highly problematic. Does no one in the writers’ room think of the Implications™??
Indra’s characterization was off, too. Yes, she’s been far more bloodthirsty and revenge-driven than Lexa was after meeting Clarke, but her scene in the jail confused me. On the one hand, Pike was one of The Villains™ this season, so we should feel a sense of catharsis when he gets his due. However, the way the scene was framed reminded me of Octavia’s fight with Bellamy in that the women were the savage Grounder aggressors beating up on helpless, imprisoned Arkadian men who don’t have the strength to fight back. As with Octavia and Bellamy, Indra comes off looking worse for her revenge. There is no catharsis, only vague squeamishness and a sense of not knowing who deserves my sympathy or what I’m supposed to feel.
It could be argued that this sense of disquiet is intentional, and if so, it worked. Only…it felt accidental, the result of confused storytelling rather than intentionally muddying the moral waters. I don’t know, it’s a feeling I got and not objective. Your mileage may vary on how much you think this was purposeful. Murphy’s reaction (“What’s wrong with you people”) seems to indicate that Indra is in the wrong because, you know, Grounders are violent savages, just like Pike predicted.
In sum, better pacing and plot than previously (significantly better than last episode), but the characterizations are still struggling. They’re running roughshod over every thematic element from S2 and the first part of S3 and sacrificing what could be a compelling drama between Bellamy and Clarke to prop up his character at the expense of hers. Everyone was so out of character that it’s hard to believe this is the same show. It’s starting to feel like the chips are an excuse to reverse characterizations without needing to explain why.
On a positive note, Raven didn’t suffer this episode! And no one died! I consider that a victory.
- Did we really need Abby to use sex as a manipulation tactic? She’s a villain now, so she uses sex to get things from men, just like Ontari. Implications, people!
- Jaha’s characterization in the flashback feels way, way too close to this season’s villainous detachment and not enough like the passionate, compassionate leader he was in S1. This was just a flat out continuity error.
- I’m glad Indra’s back, even if her being in prison doesn’t make sense. I guess she refused the chip? I want to see that moment! I bet it was awesome. *sigh*
- What species of pine tree turns fire green? Is this a real thing? Maybe it’s a side effect of the radiation on this one particular species?
- They’re really pushing the “Bellamy and Clarke need to be sympatico for everyone to get along” bit what with everyone bickering until they “make up”
- Luna has pretty epic hair. Beautiful and impressive, imo.
- More black on black violence with Indra and Pike
- More Grounders are Savages™ with Indra
- Angry black man (Pike) beats a helpless white boy (Murphy), delightful. /sarcasm
- It was nice that in the scene after this Murphy saves Pike’s life, but then Murphy had to ruin it by being a dick
- The fact that Pike basically gets to say “I told you so” to Grounders being violent pisses me off so much. I can’t even. I hate, hate, hate what they’ve done to the Grounders this season.
- Maybe Luna’s Grounders will be the new “good” Grounders this season, because she’s nonviolent at all. Probably means she’s eventually going to die, though. Peace and mercy lead to death.
- At least Octavia is allowed to verbalizer her grief still. No one told her to suck it up this time, not even Octavia!
- Eliza Taylor’s face deserves an Oscar. She’s grown so much as an actress since S1.
- I find it fitting that the one episode with die in the title (Join or Die) doesn’t have any death, just meaningless and needless torture instead.
- Moment of Clexa Feels: I love that Clarke threw in “of Lexa” when she handed over the flame to Luna after already specifying that it contained the spirits of the commanders. She just can’t stop talking about her. Also, the first thing she did upon waking up was make sure
Lexathe chip was there <3