Friday, July 19, 2024

The 100 Review: Season 3, Episode 8, “Terms and Conditions”

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“There are wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires!”—Arthur Miller, The Crucible

Last week was polarizing, to say the least. On the one hand, we had the travesty that was Lexa’s death with all of its Unfortunate Implications. On the other, the mythology of Becca, the thirteenth station, and ALIE 2.0 created a compelling narrative hook that even my broken heart could not ignore. Who will be the next commander? What will happen to Clarke and Murphy, who will clearly not be able to make it back to Arkadia in time for the ban to come into effect? Will Indra get the revenge Octavia promised? With the blockade outside, food shortages on the inside, and a camp rife with intrigue, we are primed and ready for a thrilling game of intrigue with three separate plans/plots corresponding to the three major factions within Arkadia: team Jaha, team Pike, and team Kane.

Team Pike: Pike, Bellamy, Hannah, and Monty.

We start with Pike and his faithful dog Bellamy learning about the Grounders who are gathering to enforce the blockade Lexa ordered. Arkadia soldiers have already been killed and the camp is getting restless. Two Grounders then appear from the woods with the message that any attempt to break the blockade will result in retaliation unless Pike give himself up. Pike refuses to surrender and Bellamy whips out a gun and literally shoots the messengers. “Bellamy’s theatrics” as Pike calls it, leave them with two choices: surrender Pike or go to war. You can easily guess which Pike chooses.

Before they can mount an effective counterstrike, Pike and Co. must counter any kind of internal resistance movement. He advocates for heightened security measures and campwide surveillance, the latter of which seems repugnant to Bellamy (more than, say, killing 300 people or a village full of innocents). Nevertheless, team Pike goes along with it because Pike is making “the right choice” to protect Arkadia. As we have come to expect, Hannah Green parrots whatever Pike wants while Monty continues to be (and look) conflicted.

Pike: “It’s an old saying but it’s true: the walls have ears.”

This leads us to Kane, Harper, and Miller (Abby is conspicuously absent), who are plotting to undermine Pike and his warmongering tactics. Their plan? Murder and treason, i.e., kidnap Pike and turn him over to the Grounders.

Team Kane: Kane, Harper, and Miller. (Where’s Abby????)

It’s a game of cat and mouse interspersed with dialogues between opposing sides where each tries to convince the other that they’re doing the “right thing” for Arkadia. Sinclair is swiftly arrested for attempting to sabotage the rover, seemingly placing Kane’s faction in danger of not being able to get their resistance off the ground. Kane meets with Bellamy, attempting one last time to convert him to the “right side” by warning him that Pike will eventually turn on his own people in the name of fighting the Grounders. Bellamy defends Pike and his methods; it is Kane who needs to convert to the “right side”.

Eventually, the intrigue unfolds into reality. Kane summons Pike, who arrogantly believes that Sinclair will eventually cave and turn against Kane. Unbeknownst to Pike, Sinclair is at that moment starting a prison riot with Lincoln. At the end of the confrontation, Bellamy has prevailed over the prisoners but Kane has Pike tied up in the rover, ready to hand him over to the Grounders. On the way out, Bellamy and a handful of guards greet him at the gate and Kane must choose between running him down or surrendering Pike. He predictably chooses to surrender, and he is arrested for treason and sentenced to death. The episode ends with him joining Sinclair, Lincoln, and the other Grounders in prison.

In the third, rather disconnected plot, Jaha and Raven are struggling to help ALIE find her 2.0 program. Their two heads are insufficient to solve the problem it seems. They need more recruits.

Jaha: “The more minds turned to the task, the more powerful ALIE becomes.”

They plan to break into Pike’s office and steal the chip maker, and who better to help them than poor, grieving Jasper? Jasper, according to Raven, is Monty’s best friend and, since Monty is in charge of rotating the camp’s passcodes as part of the anti-resistance countermeasures imposed by Pike, Jasper is the best choice to help them figure out the password. After some brainstorming Raven and Jasper break Monty’s password encryption (with some help from ALIE who is feeding Raven information via the chip) and break into Pike’s office looking for the chip maker.

“Wait, I had a boyfriend?”

Once inside, Jasper has a heartrending speech explaining why he wants to have a chip of his own. He envies Raven her painless existence. He’s grieving Maya and wants to forget her death, to focus only the good things like holding hands or their first kiss. He asks Raven what that feels like, and she realizes she’s forgotten her first kiss with Finn. Panicking, she grabs the chip maker from Jasper and hastily rehides it, screaming “She can never have it!”

This understandably upsets ALIE. Raven’s defection is a threat to her plans because one of the things ALIE can’t do is force someone to do something they don’t want to. Jaha’s response to this piece of information is pregnant with foreboding.

ALIE: “Free will and the need for consent are part of my core programming I cannot override them.”

Jaha: “No, but maybe I can.”

Jasper and Raven’s escapade has little to do with the main struggle and is woefully underdeveloped. Raven tells Jasper that she is under surveillance so she can’t break into Pike’s office herself. Yet at the same time, she ends up going with Jasper anyway. In fact, we don’t see anyone ever watching them at all, so why did they need Jasper other than plot reasons? Monty’s rotating password system was laughably unsophisticated. It took Raven and Jasper all of 5 minutes to figure it out. Despite Jaha’s reference to chess and the need for secrecy, nothing that happens to Raven and Jasper is ever in danger of being exposed because Pike is too fixated on Kane. There’s no tension in this plotline, no drama, no struggle. Oh, they tell us there is, but we don’t actually see it.

I wouldn’t mind this so much if the entire episode didn’t feel like a series of hackneyed tropes and plot devices thrown together and sprinkled with sub-par dialogue and intense music. We get the feeling that we’ve seen this before and we have. Even the writers acknowledge the similarity in the overarching plot, as several different characters mention Finn and the terms the Grounders give Pike are basically the same as the Finn scenario in S2. And all the fuss about who is doing the “right thing” about the Grounders. We’ve heard these dialogues before: Finn/Bellamy/Clarke in S1, Abby/Kane/Clarke in S2. The difference was that in earlier seasons, the relationships and characters drove the conflicts explored in the plot rather than vice versa, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

While there are genuine moments of tension and intrigue in the cat and mouse game between Kane and Pike, their characterizations and choices are all over the map. Part of Pike’s plan to undermine Kane’s resistance movement was to isolate the Grounder prisoners from the rest of the camp. It’s a wise move, but the problem is that as soon as Sinclair, a declared traitor, is caught, he’s thrown in prison with the Grounders. Like, what? And then, once Kane is sentenced to death, he’s thrown in with them too?

Kane zapping Pike was satisfying; I wish their character arcs were.

Pike consistently misconstrues previous events in which he did not actually participate. He calls Kane out on “handing over” Finn to the Grounders, but Finn actually gave himself up. Kane wanted a trial. Yet, no one corrects Pike—not even Kane!—which someone ought to do given that these mischaracterizations are part of Pike’s arguments for why Kane was a poor leader who didn’t care about his people. When given the opportunity to empathize with Pike about making difficult decisions in the face of a complicated situation, Kane chooses to postulate about “doing the right thing” instead, as if he didn’t make the choices he did in S1 and S2 for those same reasons even though they were bad decisions.

Pike advocates leniency with Sinclair (claiming “we are no longer on the Ark”) but death for Kane. Kane advocates for the kidnap and murder of Pike while at the same time acts as if he cannot remember his own not so pristene former life and choices when confronting Pike. Their actions are dictated by plot convenience rather than flowing from them as a consistently fleshed out characters.

And it isn’t just Pike and Kane. This season continues to suffer from pacing issues, compressing its storytelling and sacrificing characterization for the sake of plot. Jasper and Raven’s scene in the office was brilliant and moving, but rushed. The idea that beauty is only possible because of pain and that life is about more than painlessness is a weighty message and worth exploring, but it loses its full emotional impact because of how quickly Raven’s internal struggle was resolved.

Oh Bellamy, you deserve to be written so much better.

And then we have Bellamy. He is shown shooting down Grounder messengers in cold blood in the opening scene, but somehow it is Kane being sentenced to death that finally pushes him to question his allegiance to Pike to the point where lies about knowing who else was supporting Kane. While they attempted to set up his (re)turn to team Kane by having him uneasy about Pike’s surveillance measures and Kane’s warning about Pike turning on the people of Arkadia to accomplish his ends. But given how much of a jerk Bellamy has been this season, I expected a much more compelling reason for his defection. Again, it’s rushed. Bellamy being hellbent on revenge and then ultimately changing his mind is a sound story line, but it’s so compressed that his redemption doesn’t feel earned.

There is a distinction in storytelling between showing and telling, with an emphasis being that more of the former makes for better writing. Don’t tell your audience that your character is sad, show her weeping, eyes red, and unable to sleep at night or haunted by nightmares, etc. Showing is actually something that The 100 has done consistently well since its inception. This episode we get much more telling than showing due to the issues with plot compression. I can’t tell you how many times we hear the phrase “right choice,” “right side,” and “right thing.” Every side thinks they’re doing what is best for every one; we know this because every single person says so more than once.

Similarly, we were told Pike was a dictator, multiple times in fact. Harper even refers to his “fascist *ss” early on. To my mind, the only clearly dictatorial act we see is Pike’s response to Kane’s attempting kidnapping, when he condemns him to death for treason, attempted kidnapping, and attempted murder.

Pike: “Crimes against our leadership can’t be tolerated.”

Other than that, the label dictator seems to be used more as a pejorative by those who disagree with Pike’s policies rather than an accurate label of an absolutist, authoritarian, or oppressive leadership.

But that’s beside the point. While the cat and mouse between Pike and Kane is appropriately twisty, with some elements of real surprise, and Raven’s resistence is a welcome relief (I love Raven!), in the final analysis, it’s not enough. Ultimately, we are left feeling that these characters are mere shadows of themselves, hollow caricatures being moved around at the speed of the plot. Perhaps, then Jaha’s reference to chess was more apt than he knew, only rather than players of the game, he and every one else are but the pawns being moved and sacrificed by the writing team in service of the plot.

Random Thoughts

  • Who is enforcing Lexa’s blockade? You’d think the chaos after her death would have prevented it from taking effect.
  • The whole “campwide surveillance”/“spying on our own people?” sounds so much like George W. Bush era tactics that it’s a bit hamfisted.
  • This is the first time that the leader of every single ‘team’ is an adult male. All the teenage girl leaders are gone 🙁 Here’s hoping Raven starts her own team. Go team Raven!
  • Speaking of, the chess board while Jaha and Raven are talking was a bit too…obvious. WE GET IT. THE EPISODE IS A GAME OF CHESS.
  • They better not be seeding Raven/Jasper because…no
  • Ugh, Jasper’s monologues broke my heart. They’ve handled his grief well; it feels real.
  • Where TF was Abby?
  • Did Octavia/Indra not make it back before the blockade? For all her rushing Clarke to get back to Arkadia last episode, the fact that she isn’t here is…weird.
  • While the camera work inside the prison fight was a bit jumpy, the juxtaposition of the two fight scenes/conversations was well done.
  • More spinning camera work during one on one power talks that makes me kind of dizzy.
  • Hannah Green is upsettingly one note. She’s not even much of a character in her own right so much as an echo of Pike. I would love more Green family drama on its own.
  • The instance that Pike is a dictator reminds me worryingly of the past four years of the Obama administration, with Republicans calling Obama a dictator for merely making decisions that they don’t like. The fact that Pike is black just makes this…insensitive at best. While I’m willing to discuss the merits of whether/not Pike is a dictator, I don’t actually think that they have shown Pike being a dictator, despite their repeated claims that he is one.
  • The juxtaposition of “whatever it takes” from Hannah Green and “whatever it takes” from Sinclair was a good one.
  • Miller and Bryan kissing. I’m….torn. On the one hand, I appreciate the LBGT representation. On the other, oh where to begin: 1) These are not main characters and we know very little of their relationship other than what we’re shown here, which is them lying to each other and betraying each other because one is team Pike and the other team Kane, meaning that their relationship tension services the plot rather than standing on its own in a meaningful way, and 2) it feels rather convenient that we’re given a gay couple to invest in so soon after Lexa is killed off. It just doesn’t sit well with me, as if queer couples are interchangeable points of representation.
  • Pike actually says, “terms and conditions.” They actually used the name of the episode in the episode.
  • Why does no one seem worried that Jaha wanders around camp talking to thin air?
  • Bellamy’s “I do it every day” in the last scene formed a nice inclusio with the opening scene.

All images from The 100 courtesy of The CW. 

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