Gretchen and Elizabeth are back at it again, those crazy ladies (don’t lie, you know you love us). We are done this time we promise. Maybe. Just kidding! We are actually done. So, without further ado,
As everyone knows, we like talking about themes here on Fandom Following, because we think they’re for more than just 8th grade book reports. We also like to talk about Unfortunate Implications. Thankfully, Rothenberg and his writers room provided plenty. Of both.
There are No Good Guys
In “Nevermore” Raven spends an episode lashing out at the Delinquents, badgering each of them in turn with their greatest fears and shortcomings. Bellamy is charged with being an insufficient lover, insufficient leader, and getting insufficient credit for Mt. Weather. This moves him to confess to Clarke that he might not be the good guy. The music swells. She’s about to say something profound: “Maybe there are no good guys.”
Wow. Much profoundness. Very platitude. Only problem? The narrative disagrees. In the Grounder Massacre, Bellamy jumps through mental hoops to try and make it Clarke’s fault that he participated in a slaughter, despite her being on the opposite side of that war and nowhere near the battlefield. He seems to understand his actions were wrong and wants to bring her down with him. It was one thing to have Clarke tearfully apologize to Bellamy in 3.06 when he was getting in her face about Mt. Weather out of hurt and anger; both of their reactions make some level of sense in that context, despite the awfulness of Bellamy handcuffing her to a table. For an action born of deep grief and internal conflict, it works. But for Clarke to once again try to appease Bellamy’s conscience by equating their actions is… mega awful.
Moreover, the villains this season are so cartoonish, they might as well all have moustaches to twirl. Pike is a war-mongering xenophobe whose gut instinct is to mass murder rather than submit to an alliance. Nia is a brutal, conniving usurper and dead in three episodes. ALIE’s plot is full of holes, and Jaha fades away from his early role as creeptastic cult leader once her power comes to the fore.
Each of these villains had potential to be more than a caricature if they’d been written well. Pike and ALIE were both given sympathetic motives at the last second. Both were too little, too late. There are hints that Nia might have legitimate reasons to resent Lexa’s rule, but they’re latent. Jaha as a calm, terrifying True Believer with Good Intentions drew us in, then dropped us. If only the writers had followed through on him and made ALIE his tool rather than the mastermind. If only Nia had been given more time, more space to explore. If only ALIE’s plot had been managed and fleshed out well. If only Pike had been given a sympathetic backstory from the beginning.
If, if, if. If any of these things had happened, we could have bought Clarke’s statement about there being no good guys. But when your villains could give Snidely Whiplash a run for his money, there’s no way this line will land. The same goes for Bellamy’s attempt to drag Clarke into his mess. If they really were equal, he would not feel the need to have her share some of the blame for his actions. You can’t give an audience one-note villains and beat them over the head with one character’s ‘redemption’ at the expense of another while at the same time claiming moral nuance. It’s disingenuous and insincere.
Speaking of disingenuous and insincere, self forgiveness! It’s what Bellamy needed all along this season. It’s what redemption means now, not remorse and changing for the better. It’s also something he and Clarke both need and only once they understand this are they truly healed after Mt. Weather.
Wait…what? The narrative would like us to believe that a remorseless, self-justifying murderer is the same as someone actively pursuing peace and mercy. Yes, they both participated in the genocide at Mt. Weather last season. Since then, Clarke and Bellamy have been on as divergent of paths as is possible for any two characters to have. You expect us to think they’re the same? That Bellamy, Jasper, Octavia, and the rest of the Delinquents are justified in blaming Clarke more than Bellamy? In accepting Bellamy back with little to no backlash (except for Octavia), but questioning Clarke at every turn?
Self-forgiveness is a message that sounds nice on the face of it, but lacks substance when not paired with genuine sorrow. Bellamy doesn’t have to admit he was wrong, just has to forgive himself. Who cares about the families he destroyed, the close friends he betrayed and alienated. No, these people don’t need to hear that he acknowledges the wrongness of his actions. They don’t need to see him want and try to make amends. Bellamy’s self esteem is more important than reparation. And let’s not mistake Bellamy’s participation in taking down ALIE for amends. Bellamy being a part of the team that saves the world does not absolve him of murdering hundreds of Grounders.
In short, self-forgiveness without apology or amends to the one harmed is bs. It could be a legitimate theme if it included Bellamy expressing sorrow, receiving forgiveness, but still struggling with crippling guilt. As it is depicted this season, it is not a theme worth exploring.
Pain Makes us Human
Pain, grief, loss—these are a part of the human story. When explored with depth and nuance, they make for compelling television because everyone can relate at some level. The scene where Raven realizes she has forgotten the most important person in her life in her quest for release from pain is heartbreaking. As an integral part of ALIE’s thematic arc, the lack of breadth and depth of this theme beggars belief.
Other than with Raven and Jasper, it is rarely explored. Give us Jaha having a crisis of faith, torn between his belief he’s doing the right thing and his failure to remember Wells. Or Hannah Green, torn between remaining loyal to Pike and losing the son she only just reunited with. Combine it with “love is not weakness” in Clarke’s arc, by having ALIE tempt her in the finale not only with freedom from grief, but the desire to reconnect with the woman she loves.
As it stands, physical pain is foregrounded. Raven ought to be as tempted by the release from her grief/bitterness as she is from her hip pain. They hint that this is the case, but we’d like it to be more explicit. ‘Pain’ is so broad. The more intimately you explain what people are escaping, the more nuanced the theme becomes.
We would also have liked to see a more balanced exploration of grief, something Gretchen has mentioned in her reviews. Human beings cope with pain in many ways. Some, like Raven, want to go back to normal life; others, like Jasper, fall into depression, alcoholism, and isolation. There’s no one ‘right’ way to depict grief on screen. However, when the majority of your characters fall into the paradigm of “just move on”, and berate the morose character, the audience will pick up on this. We’ll be clear: Jasper’s depression and alcoholism are as ineffective coping skills as Raven’s verbal abuse. Both signal a person in pain. The issue is with the reaction of the characters around them to their behavior and the time devoted to them on screen.
More to the point is the degree to which the female characters are pulled by the narrative toward not processing their grief at all. We understand the desire to paint women as strong rather than emotional, the desire to avoid the Hysterical Woman trope. We applaud it. Nevertheless, women can be both strong and emotional. If one or two women on a show cope with grief and pain by trying to get back to normal life and move on, that’s fine. Some women cope that way. When all your women cope that way, you are over-correcting. When not one of them gets more than 30 seconds on screen to visibly weep, mourn, and experience their loss (and the male characters get far more time), female viewers feel cheated.
Finally, if pain is a human experience, and every character has their fair share, why do we not see more intimacy being built based on shared experience of loss? Octavia and Clarke, despite their tendency to butt heads, both lost a Grounder lover this season. Yet not once did we get to see them specifically mourning with each other over their shared experience. Monty and Raven both lost a parent (or parental figure). Raven and Bellamy have lost a Skaikru lover. Monty and Clarke had their mothers turn on them. Raven and Octavia both had a family member or close friend involved in the death of their lover. We could go on.
With so much loss and shared experience, we barely see intimacy formed from it. They save the world together, but do not weep together. They fight ALIE as a team, but we rarely get scenes of two individuals bonding over their shared experience of pain and loss. We want more of it, especially between the women rather than prioritizing m/f bonding.
Despite my nitpick, we believe this is a theme worth exploring and one that The 100 has handled reasonably well this season. Well enough, that we would have liked more of it rather than less. Spread this theme around, show us how it binds people together, and grapple with the aftermath in an honest way and that would be heartbreakingly beautiful television.
To Survive is to Fight
Pike’s unsatisfyingly late backstory communicates to the audience that for him, to survive is to fight. It is a useful bit of character development that explains his entire persona this season and informs how we ought to view his interactions with the Grounders. Unfortunately, it comes too late in the season to be of any use in making him sympathetic. Not that a scene of him beating a teenage boy senseless inclined us to think him sympathetic in the first place.
When we meet Pike in 3.02, he explains that Farm Station has been at war with Grounders (Azgeda) since they crashed. Before he even touches Earth’s soil, survival equals fighting. Once he lands, the environment confirms his assumptions, and he’s not a man to change his ideology easily. Azgeda has been brutal to them, and he is uninterested in the nuance of clan distinction. Grounders are Grounders, he says, you can’t trust any of them. The audience knows differently, because we know Trikru: Lincoln, Anya, Indra, Nyko, and Echo. When Pike proclaims all Grounders savages and untrustworthy, we scream at him from our couches that he’s wrong. Sadly, the rest of the narrative confirms rather than denies Pike’s assertions.
In 3A, Kane and Abby’s first scene wandering the streets of Polis grants the audience an expansive view of Grounder culture. Polis is the first major Grounder city we’ve seen (bigger by far than Tondc): cosmopolitan, mercantile, peaceful. Fast upon its heels, though, we learn about the Conclave, a brutal death match for the position of heda. Clarke lampshades the senselessness of it to Titus. Look how brutal the Grounders are, even their supreme leader only got there through death and suffering.
This creates a context for Lexa’s desire for peace and a future where death does not hang over their children (see above). It’s a reasonable contrast in this setting. Yet, when violence and brutality are the vast majority of what we see from Grounders, even non-combatants, it’s more than merely a conceptual framework for Lexa’s reforms. It’s a characterization problem.
The whole “kill wanheda to steal her power” plot is primitivising. The Grounders are savages who believe that if you kill someone you steal their life force. Semet reacts to Octavia’s warning not with concern but with brutality. Grounders showing up with the heads of severed scouts in 3.08 parallels Ontari showing off Aden’s head. Azgeda and non-Azgeda are the same, despite Indra’s protestations otherwise. When Pike and Kane are taken to Polis, he sees the crucifixions as confirmation of his bias and the narrative does not contradict him.
Octavia, who thinks of herself as Grounder, is violent and brutal this entire season. It’s in character, to be sure, but it has implications like the rest of these moments. Taken alone, they’re individual instances of violence. Taken together, they add up to a confirmation of Pike’s assertions that all Grounders are violent savages. Add Echo’s betrayal of Bellamy right after Pike has warned them that Grounders can’t be trusted and, well, you can see why we think that the show confirms Pike’s xenophobic biases.
Pike’s interactions with the Grounders also forward a troubling colonialist narrative. It’s an issue that the show has had since the beginning: a group of people fleeing trouble arrive in an uncharted land, find natives that they have a troublesome relationship with, and try to survive. Last season, Mt. Weather’s colonial ambitions were a focal point, with father and son Wallace having different views of how Mt. Weather ought to interact with native life.
This season, Pike brought the colonialist big guns (pun intended). He views the Earth as belonging to Skaikru, not the native peoples. After slaughtering 300 innocent soldiers sent to defend Arkadia, he pontificates about how the land now belongs to them and the Grounders can either leave or die. He does not just want land, either. He wants the best land, even if it means slaughtering a village of innocents.
This is colonialism. He is a colonialist outsider who wants to take land away from the natives. He doesn’t want peace or alliance with them; he wants them exterminated or displaced. He does not want to live and let live; he’s not trying to protect his people. Well, in his eyes he is, but going out of one’s way to reject peace terms, slaughtering defensive soldiers, massacring innocent villages, and spreading hateful lies about another group of people is offensive, not defensive. Protecting one’s people ≠ killing those who are not actual threats.
But for someone who believes that survival means fighting, this is a reasonable conclusion, if one that makes him both a horrible person and a monster of a character. Forgive us if we don’t feel all that sad he’s dead.
“Anyone Can Die”
Our only qualm about Pike’s death is that he is one more dead person of color in a season where minorities dropped like flies. One of the overarching thematic elements that the writers of The 100 (and other shows) like to bust out when characters die is the notion that “anyone can die.” We have seen more onscreen deaths of primary and secondary characters this season of The 100 than any other season. More than S1 and S2 combined, in fact. Trust us, we’ve crunched the numbers.
We’ll admit right off the bat, we do not find this compelling television. It’s uncomfortably close to nihilism and Darkness Induced Apathy, especially when the deaths are either random, meaningless, due primarily to Shock and Awe™ tactics, or play into problematic tropes.
The fact that “anyone” typically means “minorities”, especially this season, complicates the issue further. Lincoln and Pike are black; the actress playing Hannah Green is of Japanese descent, the one playing Sinclair is multiracial Chinese/Canadian. Lexa was the only lesbian character on the show (or not, if you listen to Rothenberg). Officially, Zoe Monroe and ALIE are the only secondary non-minorities to die this season.1
Other minority characters have been brutally beaten (Bellamy2, Niylah), non-fatally stabbed/shot (Monty, Indra, Miller, Bryan, Pike), or tortured (Kane3, Pike, Clarke, Raven, Luna4, Indra, off screen). Jaha, originally a positive character in a position of power, was twisted into an evil
drug chip dealer associated with a fanatical religion technological solution to human pain. In fact, every villain this season was either a woman or a black male. Let that sink in.
Lest anyone think we’re racking up names to prove a point, we’ll tell you how many dead primary or secondary characters from other seasons were minorities: 2. Wells Jaha in season 1 and Lorelei Tsing in season 2. We’ll also mention the non-minority characters this season who were beaten (Murphy), non-fatally stabbed/shot (Roan), or tortured (Murphy).
Think about all this for a second. Notice anything? It might be an unintentional pattern, but is a pattern (another thing we like to talk about a lot on Fandom Following). We have dead and brutalized minorities in significantly larger numbers than ever before. The villains are women and black men. Elizabeth Bridges summarizes it well:
“At first [The 100] strongly featured women and/or People of Color in positions of power – Thelonius Jaha and then Abby Griffin as chancellors, Indra as a trusted general, Lincoln as a powerful yet ultimately kind-hearted bridge figure, Clarke the bisexual protagonist, and Lexa, her lesbian love interest who wields the most power on the show. And yet S3 has managed to utterly reverse all of those progressive portrayals in less than half a season, either eliminating the characters, making them evil, or diminishing their power through various means.”
On their own, each of these character deaths is upsetting, and some are more problematic individually than others. Taken as a whole, they’re a disturbing pattern. We’ve discussed Lexa’s death and how it plays into the Bury Your Gays trope many times before on Fandom Following, but we haven’t yet addressed the other elephant in the room: the death of Lincoln. His is the most problematic death of a person of color this season, and not just because of how it was filmed.
A series regular on the show since season 1, Ricky Whittle’s tenure on the show came to an abrupt end this season. After being sidelined from the main action by Lexa’s nonsensical kill order, Lincoln spent the first 9 episodes this season in Arkadia, when he was on screen at all. (His on screen time is probably less than 10 minutes all told.) Then, in an act of final sacrifice that separated him from the woman he loved and probably did nothing to protect the Grounders he sacrificed himself for (we never hear of them again), he allows himself to be executed by Pike. He is led, in chains, outside of Arkadia, kneels down, and is shot in the head execution style and left to die in the mud. The camera lingers on his body, sprawled in the mud and bleeding out, almost lovingly. It’s both humiliating for the character and disturbing for the viewer.
The fact that his characterization this season almost entirely served to keep him as sidelined as possible from the action—which culminated in his death—is such a disservice to his place in the narrative for two seasons. He represents everything that Octavia wanted and lacked in how she was raised. He loves her unconditionally. She is allowed to assert her independence and strength around him in a way that she can’t around Bellamy because of his social conditioning and pressure to ‘protect’ her (“your sister, your responsibility”). Lincoln is her first true home. He’s her entire world because with him is the first time she’s ever been free and herself.
But he is more than just “Octavia’s home”. He is his own person: a sensitive, artistic black male who is also physically powerful. He is strong, but not angry. He is aggressive when he needed to be, and also poetic, romantic, kind. His arc in S2 had it’s Problematic Implications (drug crazed black man), and we don’t defend them. At the same time, he is willing to face down his worst fears (losing control to the drugs) to help his friends and the woman he loves. He was raised in a warrior, survivalist culture where the physical environment was as dangerous as the inter-clan conflicts. He’s basically a child soldier who desperately wants a normal life and breaks free of his conditioning. He gives his mind over to studying the stars and his heart to the woman who fell from them. He is courageous, patient, enduring, loyal, and gentle. That’s the Lincoln we know and love, and he deserved so much better than being shot in the head execution style, to bleed out in the mud while a camera caresses his dead body. Gross.
What’s worse is the discourse surrounding his abrupt exit from the show. Given how closely his character’s death occurred to Alycia Debnam Carey’s character Lexa, and the fact that they both have jobs on other shows, Ricky Whittle’s death is lumped in with hers. Almost every single review of “Stealing Fire” laments his exit, but immediately mentions that he will be playing the lead in American Gods. His death is just one more example of what happens when an actor leaves a show for another job.
Except that it isn’t. When Lincoln was killed off, Ricky Whittle didn’t have another job lined up. He had auditioned for American Gods, but hadn’t landed the part yet. In fact, it was his audition that got him killed off.
At first, Ricky Whittle was understandably reticent to open up with all the details—his mom was actually the first to spill the beans—and Jason Rothenberg refused to comment but for your standard “he’s a good actor and I appreciate his work” spiel. From what Whittle has said since leaving, the gist of the story is this: he was being written out of the show but was unable to find another job until he went over Rothenberg’s head.
Whittle had signed a series regular contract for S2 and S3, the kind of contract that means you are expected to work full time and legally bound to not seek other employment for the tenure of the contract. Only he was being treated more like a guest star than a series regular. His lines were being cut, his character’s arc was being reduced. He went weeks without working. Remember, he legally could not seek other employment because of his contract. This isn’t an actor complaining about not being on the show as much as he wanted. This is an actor who had signed a contract for full time work and was barely being used.
In a recent interview, he explains that he tried to talk to Rothenberg about the situation. Rothenberg refused to talk and would not release him from his contract. During this period of time, Rothenberg made
an example a “joke” out of Whittle’s desire to have more screen time in accordance with his contract as a series regular. He made a vine that shows Ricky Whittle whimpering “I’m sorry” as Rothenberg, holding a yard stick, explains, “This is what happens when you complain about screen time on my show.” He then hits Whittle on the behind with the stick.
Even without the uncomfortable racial connotations of a white boss pretending to beat a black employee, the ‘joke’ is tasteless at best. Rothenberg’s message is basically: if you raise questions of any kind, I’ll humiliate you in front of your colleagues, or maybe even beat you, lol. Awesome. From someone who is well-intentioned but a bit tone deaf, it might work as a joke (still probably not). From Rothenberg—the same man who didn’t think killing off a lesbian character with a stray bullet was problematic and defended his ‘artistic vision’ for weeks—it’s more than that. He’s abusing his authority (and bullying an actor) while trying to pass it off as a harmless joke. Good job being a total dick of a boss.
With this kind of response from the showrunner, one can understand why Whittle went to the network to ask for permission to audition for other shows. Rothenberg had made his tenure on The 100 untenable. The network agreed with Whittle’s complaint that he wasn’t being used according to his contract and allowed him to audition for American Gods. Only then did an addendum come out for “Stealing Fire” that Lincoln was slated to die that episode.
We’ll be clear. Lincoln wasn’t supposed to die this season at all. Whittle says so in his interview linked above. He was meant to survive and originally had a huge arc this season. But Rothenberg started sidelining him (for reasons still unknown); Whittle was bullied and asked to audition for other shows. When he was granted permission to audition but before he got a new job, Lincoln was written out of the show. Lincoln was killed off for spite, not because Whittle got a job on a new show. But this is really all about how “anyone can die” right?
“There are No Labels; Only People”
We couldn’t finish off this retrospective without talking about our beloved Lexa Kom Trikru one more time, if only as the lead in for a larger point.
There is something to be said for the casual manner in which Lexa’s sexuality was introduced; it was done so much in the way that these things tend to be revealed within communities and peer groups that are safe places for LGBT+ individuals, i.e. without fanfare and usually by accident in casual conversation. The 100 is part of a small group of television shows that has managed to introduce LGBT+ characters in a way that doesn’t feel contrived or forced. Lexa’s orientation is revealed when she opens up to Clarke about her ex lover, Costia, during season 2 at an appropriate point in the narrative, and Clarke’s is revealed through a kiss from Lexa later that same season. Miller’s boyfriend is mentioned for the first time in 3.01 in such a casual manner that some viewers actually missed it the first time through.
There are two schools of thought on the casualness of the reveals. The first see it as a good thing because this is more or less how it tends to happen in real life in LGBT+ safe communities. It is a realistic portrayal of how romance should, in theory, work in a ‘Post Labels Society’, as The 100 loves to call itself. The lack of fanfare is good; representation of LGBT+ characters that doesn’t revolve entirely around a coming out story—especially in television shows that are intended for a teen or young adult audience—is hopelessly lacking these days. It is part of what makes Lexa a specifically unique character: her sexuality was a part of her character, but not her defining character trait.
However, this casualness takes a swift turn to the dark side once you take a step back and evaluate the season (and the show) as a complete picture. Casualness about sexual orientation can be done very well; the web series Carmilla has nailed this concept with pitch perfect care and precision, due in large part to the large number of LGBT+ cast and crew members. Moreover, sensitivity to the queer community was a goal of theirs from day one. The 100’s writing team is not nearly as diverse as its cast, and respectful LGBT+ representation was probably near the bottom of the season’s priority list, somewhere under ‘scene where a black man beats a teenage white boy’ and ‘multiple episode tributes to House Bolton.’
Here’s the thing about LGBT+ representation; while we maintain that it is entirely possible for non-LGBT+ individuals to write queer characters, and write them well, they need to print out the phrase “STAY IN YOUR LANE” and tape it to the top of their work laptop before writing their television show, especially when talking about their television show in any form of interview or public forum.
What do we mean by this? Let’s start with a few Jason Rothenberg tweets regarding bisexuality:
“No, she’s not. Though they don’t have labels like that in this particular future.” – Answering a fan inquiry about Raven being potentially bisexual.
“Clarke is a bisexual character. Remember that in this society, no one’s worried about it. They’re worried about spears to the chest.” – Contradicting himself by labeling Clarke.
“In #The100, they don’t label themselves. If Clarke’s attracted to someone, gender isn’t a factor. Some things improve post-apocalypse.”- Contradicting his previous tweet by once again stripping away the label.
These are just three examples of this kind of language being used by Rothenberg, and he can’t even keep his concepts straight (*badum tiss*). This is also as far as we’re willing to wade into that man’s twitter for quotes.
In retrospect, we are realizing that this should have been a humongous red flag for how the LGBT+ characters would be treated going forward from Season 2’s reveal of Lexa and Clarke’s attraction to one another, especially considering the source. When an LGBT+ individual states that they do not like labels, it is a statement of personal preference in how they choose to identify and express themselves. When a straight, cis, white man says that he does not like labels, it is usually code for ‘I don’t want to have to think about the real world implications of my world-building.’ And oh god, is that an accurate portrayal of Jason Rothenberg’s mindset.
In the aftermath of 3.07, one of the very first interviews released with Jason Rothenberg gave us this little gem of a quote:
“Lexa wasn’t a lesbian character. She was a f*cking badass commander who kicked *ss regularly, and she was gay. It wasn’t who she was.”
Three months later, we are still quite confused—and quite salty—about this statement, but it does perfectly illustrate what the core of the problem is. Those who do not need to wear a label as a self-identity, due to being part of the cis/heteronormative viewpoint that most of western society enforces upon us, often do not understand what purpose labels serve in the first place. With this quote, Rothenberg thoroughly demonstrates his profound ignorance of the controversy he awakened. His non-apology several weeks later only demonstrated further how much he did not understand why the LGBT+ community had turned on him and his creation.
To put it simply: labels can be used for good or evil. Labels can be used for singling out The Others in society, but they can also foster a sense of belonging. Many a LGBT+ youth has experienced the cathartic relief of discovering which of those letters applies to them; now they can match a name to a feeling. Each LGBT+ individual chooses which specific labels they want to adopt internally or externally. For example, many lesbians, bisexual women, and bisexual men will use the word ‘gay’ as an umbrella term to avoid going into specifics. The word fluid can be used in substitution of bisexual. Some consider the word queer to be a slur, others use it as it as an inclusive ‘all of the above’ label to describe LGBT+ individuals, etc.
The point is, while not everyone uses the same labels, labels are still important to one’s self identity and how one expresses it to the outside world. It is absolutely not the place of a straight, white, cis, male writer to tell the LGBT+ community that labels do not matter, even if he is only referring to his own world building. His dismissal of labels and his reluctance to label his own characters shines a light on how Lexa’s death and final sendoff from the show got screwed up so badly. He is unconcerned with the real world implications of what he is writing, to the point of aggressively ignoring them. It adds to the grossness of how much the LGBT+ community, especially the wlw fandom, was wooed and courted prior to season 3.
We’re not going to go into detail about Lexa’s controversy again, as it has been done to death on this website and others. We are not saying that non LGBT+ writers cannot write about gay characters. But we are saying that if they are going to attempt this, they need to be ready for criticism from the people they are portraying. They need to be willing to seek out consultation and editing from LGBT+ writers, and to be honest they need to just have them included in the writing team, because there needs to be some level of personal accountability at the writer’s table. And last, but not least, when speaking to the community about their work, especially when it was ill-received, non LGBT+ writers need to
… and be aware of the fact that your LGBT fandom does not appreciate being told that ‘labels do not matter’ as a straw man excuse for mishandling, hurting, or killing off their representation in your television show.
This same criticism applies to how Rothenberg has handled the issues of race on The 100. When asked what he thought about people who call the show racist, he replied:
“’@tomi_inherent #The100 Honestly? I think they’re ridiculous.”
His excuse, much the same as with the LGBT+ label, is that race is not a label or category in this society. The 100 is a ‘Post Racist’ society, so applying current labels misunderstands his worldbuilding. We’ve had these excuses lobbed our way when we discuss the deaths of minority characters like Lincoln, Pike, and Hannah. “The 100 has a racially diverse cast. The society doesn’t see race, so the show can’t be racist.” Our answer?
A show with a racially diverse cast set in a post-apocalyptic future where race is not a category can still be racist. How? Because we live in a society that still struggles with racism. Media does not exist in a vacuum. We’ll say that again, media does not exist in a vacuum. If you live in a society where black men are stereotyped as angry, violent, and drug addicted, an angry, violent black character (Pike) is not neutral. A black male in power who is pushing drugs chips that numb your pain away (Jaha) is coded in a particularly negative way. A chained up black man (Lincoln) being shot execution style by an authority figure who is also black (Pike) while he kneels in the mud is not just another character being killed off. These images and characters have implications because we live in a society that still struggles with the stereotyping/racial profiling of black men.
Pretending that the ‘race’ label doesn’t apply is disingenuous. As with rejecting the LGBT+ label, it is code for a lazy writer who does not want to think about or deal with the implications of his work. Rothenberg wants to tell his story without criticism, so he rejects any and all labels that might get him in trouble. It’s alright that he’s killed off every single female Asian character in The 100 because race isn’t a thing. It’s okay that women and black men have been disenfranchised or killed off this season because The 100 is a ‘Post Sexist’ and ‘Post Racial’ society. It’s not a problem that he baited the LGBT+ community with his representation and then killed of the only lesbian character, because she wasn’t really a lesbian. She was just a badass commander who happened to be gay. God, we’re so tired.
Other Thematic Issues
- There are No Happy Families: Every single parent/child dynamic this season was destroyed or damaged. Abby/Clarke, Raven/Sinclair, Bellamy/Kane, Bellamy/Pike, Murphy/Jaha, Monty/Hannah, Lexa/Titus, Octavia/Indra. Oh, and let’s not forget how they maimed Octavia/Bellamy. This show apparently disapproves of healthy familial dynamics.
- The Death Toll: So many deaths in a row start to lack emotional impact and significance. We’re so tired of Grimdark for Grimdark’s sake. Make it stop.
- In a Post Sexist World 1: B*tch is still a gendered slur for some reason.
- In a Post Sexist World 2: The threat of physical violence replaces the threat of rape (yay for no rape!), except for Murphy.
Mercy is Bull: We want to give the writers the benefit of the doubt and say that this wasn’t an intentional theme, but it is extremely consistent throughout the season. Every character who shows mercy is brutally punished for it. Lexa’s decision to spare Skaikru after the massacre sets off the (stupid, stupid, stupid) chain of events that results in her death. Clarke’s decision to let Emerson go results in the death of Sinclair and the torture of her friends. Luna’s merciful decision to not immediately kill Clarke for trying to force the chip on her ends with ALIE forcing her to murder her lover and many of her people being killed. Indra’s last minute choice to save Kane from an explosion results in her getting caught and crucified offscreen… and the list goes on. To put a positive spin on it (haaaa), you could say the theme of the season is ‘hindsight is 20/20,’ or from a meta perspective, ‘confirmation bias is an incredibly dangerous thing.’ There is a very strong ‘the ends justify the means’ vibe running through this season, though the audience is definitely not buying that; for the ends to justify the means, the ends needs to be good. The ends of this season were anything but.
- Free Will and the Nature of Choice: It seems like this was supposed to be an overarching theme through the entire season, considering that the main villain removed people’s free will. However, the theme is not consistently presented, and it is oh so awkwardly duct taped to the end of Clarke’s character arc. Yes, we guess that free will is important to Clarke in that she chooses how to deal with her pain, but the analogy falls apart because she ran away from her pain just as much as the citizens of the City of Light; she just didn’t do it by taking a magical science wafer of plot convenient amnesia. This theme would work well with ALIE’s plot, and Jaha’s suggestion of torture to circumvent resistance, but this theme was in no way a part of Clarke’s on-screen development in 3A. Having her monologuing about the nature of free will and choice to Jasper in the City of Light is about as asinine as Bellamy’s monologue about forgiving himself for massacring 300 innocent people.
It was a season. Plot wise, it isn’t the worst we’ve ever watched. When binged, it hangs together better than when you have time to dissect it and pick it apart. Most shows on television struggle with plot holes, pacing issues, and mild worldbuilding snafus once in a while. The 100 had it’s fair share in season 1, too, so it’s no stranger to storytelling weaknesses. No need to make a Mt. Weather out of this mole hill, even if we do still think that ALIE’s plot is holier than the 300 dead Grounder warriors (too soon?).
That being said, these actors are extremely talented. Lindsey Morgan’s Ralie is bone-chilling and awe-inspiring all at once. She’s an incredible mimic. Eliza Taylor and Alycia Debnam Carey can communicate so much with their facial expressions and eyes. They and Bobby Morley are also very talented improvisors. Many iconic lines and moments this season are due to their ability to better understand their characters than the writer’s seem to. Henry Ian Cusick and Paige Turco are beautiful together as Abby and Kane. Richard Harmon was able to bring Murphy’s growth to life, and we will always praise Marie Avgeropoulos’ ability to be so fierce as Octavia. In my opinion, all the actors are better than what they were given to work with this season. There are some genuinely good moments, too.
Raven’s moment of realization in Pike’s office; Abby and Clarke’s reunion in the finale; Lexa and Clarke having sex and being happy; Indra telling Octavia that she has a home with her—all lovely scenes. In the end, however, none of these things can erase the wanton destruction of established character arcs, the poor handling of themes, the myriad of problematic implications of said themes, the gratuitous torture, and the horrific use of the Bury Your Gays trope.
We’re disappointed, tired, and frustrated because it could have been significantly better. Lincoln deserved better. Lexa deserved better. LGBT viewers deserved better. POC viewers deserved better. The audience deserved better.
In honor of her amazing contributions, we’ll leave you with our votes for the dumbest lines of the season:
Gretchen: Clarke, “Maybe there are no good guys.” They’re trying so hard to be profound. It could work, if one of the obvious ‘good guys’ weren’t saying this line to the protagonist the writers are clearly trying to redeem back into being a ‘good guy.’ *headdesk*
Elizabeth: Pike, “[Branding is] what ranchers used to do to their cattle.” Hannah, “Right before the slaughterhouse!” Well, er. No. You brand the cattle so they don’t get mixed up with everyone else’s while herding, and so they can be identified if stolen. Branding right before slaughter is silly.
Thanks for reading, y’all!
All images from The 100 courtesy of Warner Bros.
1. Unofficially, Katie Stuart, who plays Zoe Monroe, has said she considers Zoe to be both genderfluid and bi/pan. We didn’t include tertiary characters because the show has never shied away from killing off dozens of named characters who have less than 10 minutes screen time total or only appear in a few episodes. Only in this season have they killed off so many primary or secondary characters, most of whom were minorities.↩
2. On the one hand, Bobby Morley is of mixed Caucasian/Filipino descent. On the other, the show cast a white actor to play his younger self rather than a mixed race character, so it would seem the staff view his as white. Were it not for the show casting a white actor to play young Bellamy, we would default to the actor’s heritage. We understand both sides of the argument, and have chosen to place him as a minority character because despite the casting issues, writers seems to have confirmed Bellamy is biracial. Ish. Ugh. It’s complicated.↩
3. Henry Ian Cusick is of mixed Caucasian/Peruvian heritage. Though he is never coded as mixed race by the show, we tend to view the actor’s race as the character’s race, unless proven otherwise. Defaulting to white if not shown definitive evidence to the contrary is problematic.↩
4. Nadia Hilker, the actress playing Luna is of mixed German/Tunisian heritage. Same argument as with Kane, above.↩