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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The 100: The 48, Inclement Weather and Reapercussions

The airdate for the third season of The 100 has been announced, which means it's time to get season two under my belt. Quickly.
When we last saw what remained of the 100 at the end of the first season, they were largely divided. Finn and Bellamy raced off into the forest, Clarke, Monty and Jasper were taken by Mountain Men, Raven was left abandoned in the drop-ship, Octavia and Lincoln decided to head toward the ocean, Abbie and Kane (and the rest of their people) crash-landed on the planet, and Jaha was left in the remains of the Ark.
So in writing this review of the second season's first three episodes, it's easy enough to follow each separate strand one at a time, as for the most part there's little interaction between the disparate characters (with the exception of Finn/Bellamy temporarily teaming up with Abbie/Kane).
Here goes...

Clarke
Perhaps the biggest surprise of last season was what the show decided to hinge its cliff-hanger on: the fact that some of Earth's inhabitants are much more advanced than we were initially led to believe. Clarke wakes up in a modern facility filled with medical equipment, security cameras and electricity.
On realizing that Monty has disappeared from the room opposite hers, she manages to break out and take a cleaning-girl hostage in a sequence that's clearly staged to make Clarke the bad guy. Holding a piece of glass to the girl's throat, forcing her through the corridors, escalating her threats when she reaches for her keycard – and just in case the girl's terrified sobbing didn't give you the right idea about how to respond to all this, there's a moment when Clarke catches a glimpse of her own reflection in the elevator door.
She's being morally ambiguous. Got it.
Soon enough Clarke is struggling to get her bearings when she's led into a large room where people are sitting down for dinner. Turns out the Mountain Men bear more than a few resemblances to a religious cult, what with their communal meals, old timey clothes, prayers of thanks and willingness to share with the forty-eight surviving members of the hundred.  
It's all very homey, but Clarke smells a rat.
There's a President down here; your standard old white dude called Dante Wallace, who is all about releasing Clarke from her restraints, quelling her fears, and bonding with her through their shared love of art. His name doesn't sound too auspicious, but so far his genial façade hasn't cracked...
Clarke ain't having none of it.
Believing that more of her people are still alive, she's desperate to leave Mount Weather and search for them. That and she can't shake the feeling that something is wrong here – but of course, she's on her own when it comes to this course of action. Why leave a place that's warm and safe and full of food?
There were some really sweet interactions here between Clarke, Jasper and Monty. Naturally the boys have no incentive to leave: they have each other, and Jasper is enjoying a budding flirtation with Maya (the girl that Clarke took hostage). But they credit Clarke for saving their lives and – on realizing that she's about to rush off half-cocked – Jasper tells her: "we're safe here because of you."
Possibly the most poignant scene of these three episodes was when Clarke hears Jasper's arguments for why they should stay and immediately asks if someone has threatened him. Ouch – that says so much about her state of mind and her inability to trust.
But if I could sum up Clark in one word it would be: tenacity. She kept on surprising me with her persistence and determination to root out the reality of life at Mount Weather:
I saw a shoe, she saw a weapon.
When she's presented with a case of vintage clothing to select an outfit from I thought she would go all gooey over them. Instead she breaks off a high-heel to use as a weapon. I thought her apology to Maya was a sincere gesture of reconciliation – nope, it was just a ploy to snatch the girl's keycard. And when President Dante makes her a gift of art supplies I assumed she would finally soften at the gesture – instead she uses them to fill in the blanks of a map of the facility.
God, I love this girl.
She keeps pushing and pushing, and I have to be brutally honest with myself by admitting that in a similar situation I would probably just go with the flow, regardless of any suspicions I might have.
Her motivation during all this interests me as well, as she really will not be swayed from her determination to leave Mount Weather. What exactly is driving her? It would appear that she's desperate to get out in order to reassure herself that there are no more survivors among her people, which means she's well and truly absorbed her identity as leader and protector.
It's therefore interesting that her initial "surrender" is designed as a direct parallel of the scene between herself and Jasper in the drop-ship, in which she gave him the order to pull the lever and use the engines to destroy the attacking Grounders.
As then she once more finds herself weighing up the lives of her own people against those of another tribe. She knows at this point that the Mountain Men are susceptible to radiation, and this time it's she that has the hand on the lever that would kill them all if she made her escape. Unsurprisingly Jasper is able to talk her down: after all the Mountain Men pose no immediate threat to them, and Clarke is able to weigh her desire to be free against the greater good of the mountain's population.
But it's a choice that'll provide a contrast to what Clarke finally discovers is the dark secret of the community.
After seeing a couple of injured commandos returning to the base, Clarke smells a lie in the story she's told. She's sure she saw a gunshot wound in one of the bodies – and since the Grounder don't have that sort of artillery, who shot him?
The ever-amiable President Dante allows her access to the morgue to see for herself that it was actually an arrow wound, and the matter seems to be settled. But Clarke is later witness to the remarkable recovery of a man who was brought back with radiation burns, and – in a move that would make the BBC's Maid Marian proud – maims herself in order to get into the medical bay.
(Though I wonder if her reopening the wound on her wrist was meant to be an uneasy allusion to suicide – Maya certainly hinted at it when she brought news of Clarke's "breakdown" to Monty and Jasper).
It's at this point we veer left and head straight into horror movie territory. Clarke investigates the radiation patient and realizes that a drip-feed is pumping him full of fresh blood. Following it to its source through an air-vent she discovers a room full of caged Grounders. Turns out the Mountain Men drain them of all their blood to supplement their own healing, then toss their bodies down a chute to be devoured by the Reapers in the tunnels below. Often while they're still alive.
We’ve not yet been given the chance to see how the Mountain Men justify this (though I'm sure President Dante will give it a shot in due course) but Clarke is immediately on the Grounders' side. On seeing Anya in one of the cages, and conveniently forgetting that the last time they met Clarke incinerated at least two dozen of her people, she manages to pop the worst padlock ever and crawl in with her to hide from one of the doctors.
It gets pretty intense at this point, and if you didn't think Clarke had PTSD before this point, you can bet she will after falling down a chute and into a pile of bodies, hiding under them to avoid the Reapers that cart them away, watching Anya mercy kill one of the Grounders who was still alive after having all his blood drained, and realizing that the cadavers she saw the Reapers feasting on last season were actually supplied to them via the Mountain Men.
There's a nice bit of linkage in that final scene, answering one of the questions that the last season raised (how and why do the Reavers have carts full of people who are still alive?) and even though it's pretty horrific material for a show starring and aimed at teenagers, the way it's staged makes it clear the writers were planning this setup for a long time. (And even if they weren't, it still feels organic, especially as they used the same set and props for the scene).
The two women make a dash for it, and after Anya pulls the old "I'm going to abandon you but return as your rescuer at the most opportune time," they escape down the inevitable waterfall that requires a dramatic slow-motion leap from its heights. Clarke washes up on the shores of a river, only to find that Anya has a longer memory than she does. All those Grounders Clarke helped kill? Yeah, now she's going to have to answer for them.
There's always a waterfall.
***
So that was Clarke, a character I just want to hug tightly while whispering: "I know you're doing your best and everything's gonna be alright."
She was largely isolated throughout these three episodes, not so much psychically as mentally. I'll have more to say on the re-arrival of adults into the lives of the teenagers later on, but it very much feels as though Clarke has not only had her edges sharpened by the trauma she's already gone through, but finds uncomfortable to go from team leader back to teenage girl.
Which is why I was disappointed to visit various message-boards toand discover that Clarke was frequently described as "stupid" or "an asshole" for what she got up to in these three episodes. Seriously, people?
I see her very much as a young woman who is pumped full of adrenaline and survival instincts, burdened with the idea that she has to protect her companions, and intensely distrustful of her new surroundings considering the only adults she's interacted with in God knows how long have run the gamut from "trying to kill her" to "dobbing in her father and getting him executed." Throw in the fact that she was raised to be a moral and idealistic person, and she has to deal with the added stress of coping with some of the choices she's made (and will keep on making).
Perhaps there was an element of the Genre Savvy viewer inherent in those harsh assessments of her character. We’ve all seen this scenario before: a character is deposited in an alien environment that seems way too good to be true and starts acting erratically in their attempts to convince everyone else that something is deeply wrong. Just as they start to accept that perhaps it's all in their imagination – boom. Turns out they were right all along.
The familiar pattern played out pretty predictably in this case, and in that regard I can understand audience frustration in wanting Clarke to slow down and learn more about her surroundings before finding the right time to strike. But then I asked myself – isn't that exactly what happened? After her initial attempt at flight with Maya's keycard she realizes her tactics aren't working and plays along for a while before finding a way to get into a restricted area and investigate further.
And because of the story we're watching, we know deep down that she's right to be suspicious of the Mountain Men, just as we knew that Abbie was right in all the actions she took on the Ark last season. Like mother, like daughter – so it seems grossly unfair to criticise Clarke for acting in a manner that not only made perfect sense in light of what she's been through, but which is ultimately validated by the narrative itself.
Bellamy/Finn
When we first see our dynamic duo (okay, that's the first and last time I'll be calling them that) they're both covered in blood but still intact after the drop-ship explosion. Bellamy is moving through the forest undergrowth in search of more survivors, and Finn (and a Red Shirt) has been captured by a Grounder.
The nameless, faceless Red Shirt is quickly despatched when the Grounder realizes he can't keep up, leading Bellamy to come up with a plan so unbelievably stupid that the other two teenagers (which IMDB tells me are called Monroe and Sterling) just stay hidden while he leaps out and flails about.
He's saved from certain death by the arrival of Marcus Kane and the other adults from the Ark – who I'll talk about more in due course. All we need to know for now is that Bellamy and Finn are forced to work together in order to track down Clarke, which sounds like it should be heaps of fun – except that Finn's characterization continues to elude me, making the rapport between himself and Bellamy void of any solid groundwork with which to explore their opposing personalities.
I get the feeling the writers are trying to pull off an Hourglass Plot between the two of them, in which pacifist Finn is now a trigger-happy loose cannon, while the initially selfish and unpredictable Bellamy is attempting to exercise some restraint. But the fact that Finn's sudden violent streak (which includes the execution-style killing of a Grounder) seems to be born out of love for Clarke, and that the boys haven't really interacted much before this mission, means that nothing here feels significant or earned.
The Grounder in question is targeted because he's wearing Clarke's watch, and is taken out remarkably easily by a gang of teenagers (seriously, these Grounders really suck – they're constantly being overpowered and outsmarted by teenagers). They settle in for another bout of torture in the underground bomb shelter, which leads to the Grounder spouting what is almost certainly a lie as to Clarke's location. Seriously, did these kids learn nothing from the last time they tried to torture someone?
As the others argue about what to do with the Grounder, Finn goes ahead and takes the killing shot, which – wow. This is such a departure from his characterization in the first season that I honestly don't know what to make of it.
Dude.
However, the mystery remains as to where exactly the Grounder got Clarke's watch. If the Mountain Men took her, then how did it end up in the hands of a Grounder? She didn't have it when she arrived at Mount Weather, and they told her it was in quarantine – so is there some sort of secret alliance that we don't know about?
Octavia/Lincoln
Octavia and Lincoln are heading for the ocean, with Lincoln trying to teach Octavia how to sound and speak like a Grounder as she fights off the poison in her system. After a rather clunky As You Know from Octavia (I'm not sure Lincoln really needed reminding as to what the Death of a Thousand Cuts is, though it certainly lets the audience know what he's in for if he gets recaptured by his people) he leaves her to search for an antidote.
We also get another glimpse into Lincoln's book which depicts a sketch of the Lincoln Memorial (where he says his village is situated). Aha – so in one brief glimpse we get an idea of why he's called Lincoln and where in the world this is taking place.
Octavia's storyline is not particularly complex; she mainly just ricochets from one crisis to another. I recall last season someone said of her: "she thinks she's a damn ninja", and that's really the best way to enjoy her arc. Not only does she survive the poison in her system, but she manages to take another Grounder hostage (who looks like someone from Brave), march this burly and considerably larger man to the Grounder settlement, negotiate terms with their leader to get Lincoln back, survive an attack from the Reapers during their hostage handover (who promptly drag Lincoln away again) and join the Grounders in their rescue mission.
I'm not sure if it's the Grounder or the actor who is embarrassed about this.
Not content with simply being carted around by Bear Grylls, Octavia has at some point learned how to fight from her boyfriend, which is a little hard to swallow given her stature – but hey, we've already established that the Grounders are actually kind of useless right?
What we really need to take from her scenes are that a) she wasn't actually hallucinating the deformed guy lurking in the bushes (as a safety measure, never assume that a creeper in the bushes is just an hallucination), b) the nice little humanizing touch of Octavia saying "sorry" to Lincoln's friend after she holds a knife at his throat, and c) that the Reapers seemed more organized and strategic in their ambush of the Grounders (though at the same time completely remiss in not taking the Grounder leader with them). Or perhaps they've always been like that and I've just been assuming they're like the Reavers from Firefly.
We probably won't learn the significance of this guy for at least six episodes.
So we end with Lincoln in the hands of the Mountain Men, who are shown to have much more control over the Reapers than we initially realized – and signing him up for something called "Cerberus". As in the three-headed dog that guards the gates to Hades?  
Raven/Murphy
Raven, the show's other character that I feel compelled to protect at all costs. She's still alive but badly injured, and for some reason wasn't taken with the rest of her friends by the Mountain Men. Perhaps they felt she was too badly injured to bother, in which case it seems rather unlikely that Abbie would be able to save her life without proper tools or anaesthesia.
In any case it's Murphy who finds Raven dying on the floor of the drop-ship, and in the first of two excellent Raven-moments, she doesn't hesitate in picking up the gun by her side and trying to shoot him. After all, he's the one who shot her. (Which I actually have no memory of, so I'm assuming it occurred off-screen).
Bless.
The thing I love about Raven is that she can be an unabashed asshole. Though I kind of hate using that word as I suspect that "asshole" in this situation is better described as "perfectly normal and understandable behaviour" – case in point, when Murphy tries to sell her his sob-story about how his father was executed for stealing medicine and his mother ended up blaming Murphy for his loss. Her response? "Boo-hoo." HAH! That's exactly what I was thinking.
Lest we forget, tragic backstories explain behaviour, they don't excuse it. Why should she show this guy a grain of sympathy when he's the one responsible for shooting her?
Not impressed with your sad childhood trauma. 
So I admit I was a little disappointed that she kept quiet about that fact when the adults turn up. You don't need to keep your mouth shut about potential murderers, ladies. Still, it's not like Murphy got away with it for more than three seconds anyway considering Bellamy immediately attacks him on sight.
Having been taken back the remains of the Ark, Raven faces a choice: to keep the bullet in her back and never walk again, or face painful surgery without anaesthesia that may cripple her anyway. Aw, vulnerable Raven. I'm a sucker for tough girls who occasionally acknowledge how scared they are.
There's a nice sense of history here between Abbie/Raven and Raven/Finn, and Finn wins back some points in my book for staying with her while the operation takes place. It results in Raven being paralysed in one leg below the knee – which doesn't sound like something that could ever happen to a human body (surely it's all or nothing when it comes to spinal injuries), but hey I'm not the expert here.
In short, I love this girl. She's spunky and heartbroken and whip-smart and resilient, and you don't often see that combination in a female character. She and Clarke are my favourites, and it's going to be a real pain choosing between them for my next Woman of the Month entry.
Oh, and Bellamy breaks Murphy out of custody to take him with them on their rescue mission, which feels like a really bad plan on so many levels.
Abbie/Kane
And now we come to the adults, who possibly have the most interesting storyline after Clarke (though I'm impressed that a show airing on the CW allows adults to even have a storyline, much less an interesting one). They've landed safely on Earth and immediately head out to find the hundred – or what's left of them – and successfully save Finn and Bellamy from the latter's terrible plan.
As Abbie tends to Raven, Kane takes charge of Bellamy and Murphy in what is a fairly nuanced scene – precisely through its lack of nuance. First of all, I was interested in Henry Ian Cusick's delivery of the line: "we're here now" to Bellamy. Instead of coming across as reassuring and encouraging, his emphasis on the word: "we're here now" infuses the sentence with a sense of condescension, especially when coupled with the words: "everything is going to be okay now."
Faces of the not-convinced.
He's removing agency from the teenagers and bestowing it on himself, something that's continued when Bellamy attacks Murphy (not without justification) and – like any strict school teacher – Kane ends up disciplining them both for unruly behaviour without bothering to get the full story. To him it's just two teenagers misbehaving on the playground.  
This nicely reflects what Clarke is going through at Mount Weather, what with her disorientation at once more being under the supervision (that is control) of adults – particularly in light of President Dante telling her: "it's for your own good." It also reminds me of John Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began series, which you should all read. It too deals with a bunch of teenagers thrown into a war zone and struggling to cope with their lack of independence once they're reunited with adults who naturally try to reassume control over them.
There's some nice groundwork laid as to the dynamics of what becomes known as Camp Jaha: Abbie leaves a message for Clarke at the drop-ship, Kane inherits the title of Chancellor (though as Abbie is quick to remind him, it's only because "Thelonious beat you to redemption" – ouch!) and a few reconnaissance parties are sent out. Bellamy and Murphy are kept restrained so that Kane can question them for intelligence (after finding some of their men in a Blair Witch set-up he believes the Grounders must have been provoked somehow) and they even make sensible choices such as enforcing gun control to kerb trigger-happy civilians.
Naturally Abbie is eager to send out a search party to look for Clarke, but I have to side with Kane on this one: having realized how dangerous the Grounders are he believes that they can't go anywhere without first securing their base camp.
But of course, when has that ever stopped Abbie? She breaks Bellamy out of prison so that he and Finn can head the aforementioned "find Clarke and the others" mission, trusting them to know the territory and the Grounders well enough to track her daughter down successfully. It's not the wisest course of action, but then – I'm not a parent.
Abbie throws the "bad idea" ball back to Kane when he decides she should be whipped for her insubordination. Sure he's been backed into a corner, but Abbie has been proved right in the past and it doesn't seem like a good plan to inflict corporeal punishment on one of only two medics.
The whole scenario feels a bit manufactured for the sake of a tough ethical debate – much like the badly-thought out torture sequence of Lincoln last season – though Abbie at least gets the advantage of her punishment being set to the sounds of a sad woman ululating on the soundtrack.
Waaaaa-ooooohhhh-ahhhyayayayaya.
And just before Kane heads out on his diplomatic mission to try and negotiate with the Grounders (which goes against his very sensible decision to fortify his own encampment first) he leaves Abbie in charge as the new Chancellor. I'm sorry, but no. Shouldn't this be a democratic decision? And wouldn't she have no chance at attaining the position considering she's just been publically humiliated? That's what making an example of someone is for – to strip them of their ability to command respect.
Look writers, the terrible decision-making skills of the teenagers are given a pass because the show itself hinges on the fact that they are in fact teenagers. The adults have no such excuse.
Jaha
Which brings us to Thelonious Jaha, the last man left in space. Or so he thinks. In a twist that made me go: "bwaahh?" he's preparing himself for the end when he hears a baby crying somewhere on the ship.
His expression was my expression.
Sure enough, he finds a cute little infant that's been left behind and suddenly has a reason to live.
This is some great acting right here – I can really feel this baby's concern at being stuffed into a complete stranger's spacesuit:
This kid is SO going to use this against his parents when he's older.
In a pretty suspenseful sequence Jaha realizes that his best chance is to stow himself on board a missile and shoot himself down to Earth – but first he has to get to the last remaining part of the Ark, floating some distance away, with a cracked helmet and a baby zipped into his spacesuit. He makes it across by the skin of his teeth, but don't worry – once gravity reasserts itself the baby breaks his fall.
Just kidding, it turns out that the baby isn't there at all. My reaction: "Whhhaaaa?" (It was getting late at this point). Whether it's an actual visitation or just oxygen deprivation, Jaha sees the figure of his son Wells, holding the very same chess piece that he found in the baby's hand.
He just needed the right incentive to focus on his own survival, and in a nice coda to what has surely been the most wasted character on this show, Wells insists that his father re-join his people. The missile is launched, Jaha lands in one piece, and the camera pans back to reveal that he's stranded in the middle of a desert.
Hey, no one said it would be easy.
Miscellaneous Observations:
Amidst all the shipping nonsense that currently seems to be going on in fandom, it's clear to me that the most important person in Clarke's story is her mother, with their story-arcs deliberately paralleled. Both women are struggling to make ethical decisions in extremely difficult circumstances, though the narrative sides with each of them when it comes to the decisions they've made. Abbie was largely right in the drastic steps she took on the Ark, just as Clarke is largely right in what she's doing in Mount Weather. Sure there are shades of grey and moments of doubt, but it's clear they're the ones that the audience is meant to side with when it comes to our understanding of right and wrong as it's understood by this show and its writers.
And that's okay, by the way. It's my opinion that there should always be a character that embodies a moral compass (or at least the difficulties in sticking to it) in any given story; someone who can be relied upon to at least try to do the right thing. Without this character, things get grim pretty damn quickly.
So it's not Clarke's assorted love interests, but her reunion with her mother that we should all be salivating for.
Anyone else think it was odd that the teens got a co-ed bunk room in Mount Weather? Perhaps it was a matter of available room, perhaps in the future they're more easy-going about this sort of thing, but it was still a bit weird.
Hey, opening credits! They're pretty neat, if not obviously inspired by Game of Thrones.


I'm glad that Miller is alive and kicking, and we actually get to meet his father as well. I have my fingers crossed for those two. I'm a little surprised though that he and Abbie aren't going with Finn and Bellamy to get their children back. And is it safe to assume that Abbie protected Miller Senior's involvement in the prison break?


There's a neat bit of world-building in the way the Mountain Men refer to the Grounders as "Outsiders" – naturally that's what they literally are in relation to their position, whilst the Ark inhabitants go with "Grounders" to describe their contrasting origins.  
Whew, three episodes down. On to the next thirteen!

4 comments:

  1. So pleased you've picked up this series again! Not just because I'm very much looking forward to your thoughts on this season, but also because it's great to have a bit of a recap after the ungodly length of the hiatus. It's a close run between this and Penny Dreadful as to which show's return I am most looking forward to.

    I remember my main takeaway from this sequence of episodes being "why did they keep Jaha alive?", and I'm reminded of that reading this. It goes to some ... interesting places, shall we say. Clarke is, as always, the best.

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    1. I remember my main takeaway from this sequence of episodes being "why did they keep Jaha alive?", and I'm reminded of that reading this.

      You mean why did the writers keep Jaha alive? I suppose it is a bit strange after such a noble sacrifice (which would have capped off his storyline pretty neatly), but I suppose they liked the actor. I'm up to his reunion with Kane, so I expect it gets stranger from that point on.

      I feel that Clarke is going to be my new Guinevere in terms of how protective I feel about her.

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    2. Yes, that's what I meant; I thought the last season ending would have been a good finish for Jaha and I liked that the sacrifice was needed to return everyone else, and it seemed really quite contrived to force him back into the narrative. His storyline is such that it's hard to make a full judgement on it before season three, but it goes to some odd places for sure.

      At least, in this fandom, you're in the majority in being a Clarke defender, at least from the boards I've read.

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    3. At least, in this fandom, you're in the majority in being a Clarke defender, at least from the boards I've read.

      Well, that's a relief. Admittedly, the boards I've been to are people who are more-or-less watching the show for the sake of snarking on it.

      I know that the shipping wars are beginning to crank up though - not looking forward to that.

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