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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The 100: Many Happy Returns, Human Trials, Fog of War

So in my last review I talked a bit a lot about Clarke and her tenacity, and I've come to realize that her behaviour at Mount Weather reminds me a lot of Harry's in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Just as Clarke refuses to give up her suspicions surrounding the Mountain Men, so too does Harry insist that Draco Malfoy is up to something during their sixth year at Hogwarts.
But whilst J.K. Rowling was running a double-bluff, relying on the wrong conclusions Harry drew about Malfoy in The Chamber of Secrets to make us believe he was just being paranoid, The 100 has a fairly straightforward utilization of The Conspiracy.  

Was anyone ever in any doubt that the Mountain Men would turn out to be shady? Of course not. But what the show does is make us examine Clarke's reaction to seeing the Grounders in cages, being used as blood-bags for the mountain's population. Clarke has no reason to feel compassion for the Grounders, they having made her life miserable since she landed on Earth, and if she was to step away from the situation and think about its implications, she might well have tumbled to the possibility that there might be a good reason (if not a justifiable one) for what the Mountain Men are doing.
Obviously I come down on the side of "unwilling participants being forced to partake in harmful medical treatments is a bad thing and needs to be stopped", but I appreciate that the writers allowed Maya to voice her defence in saying: "Without the treatments we’d die. What are we supposed to do?" (Only for Monty to bluntly state: "Die." But that's easy enough for Monty to say when he's not the one at risk of radiation poisoning).
It's then of course that another layer of horror is slathered on: the blood of the forty-seven teenagers is even better at reversing the effects of radiation in the mountain's population than the Grounders'.
The thing is, Clarke doesn't know any of this when she makes her escape with Anya – not that the forty-seven are at risk, and not that the Mountain Men are responsible for the Reapers. Unlike Harry, I don't think Clarke has Chronic Hero Syndrome, requiring her to leap into every situation to save the day whether it concerns her or not – instead her motivation is born solely out of her ethical understanding of right and wrong. What's happening to the Grounders is wrong, and so she must oppose herself to it.
There's probably a little protectiveness of her people mixed in, and her sense of loss in going from leader to teenager spurring her to immediate action (having based her identity on looking after the others) but I love that Clarke has a strong moral centre – one that she's not willing to concede without a fight, or without guilt when she does.
So teaming up with Anya is less to do with Enemy Mine, or that the Mountain Men pose an immediate physical threat to her people, as it is an ethical decision. What they're doing is wrong, even to the Grounders, and so must be stopped.
So we start with Anya and a captive Clarke rushing through the forest, tracked by the Mountain Men. After they're attacked Clarke grabs the dart they shoot at her because she's awesome. Later Anya bites out the tracking device in her arm because she's also awesome. And this is after the two of them have covered themselves in mud, believing that they're being tracked by scent.
I honestly admire this show's insistence on letting the women avoid the Beauty is Never Tarnished trope.
Clarke, that cunning fox, stabs Anya in the neck with the tranquilizer dart, and somehow manages to craft a stretcher out of raw materials in the forest. Wow, what a girl! (I'm being slightly sarcastic on that second point in case you couldn't tell).
She makes it back to the drop-ship and – aw, there's the inscription left by her mother. Unfortunately the weather has done its work and the words have been reduced to smears. However, the poignancy of this moment is almost immediately undermined by Clarke spotting a radio balloon raised above the Ark's encampment. Surely they could have milked this missed opportunity just a little longer...?
But the smudged message is just the distraction Anya needs, and what follows is a fairly brutal fight that has the added weight of realism (as opposed to Octavia effortlessly overpowering grown men). Anya dominates the fight, though some trickery allows Clarke to get the upper hand – and the question remains on whether or not she would have finished Anya off before seeing the balloon.
So in true Shaggy Dog fashion, Clarke wins Anya's respect only for her new ally to be shot dead immediately after agreeing to a truce between the Grounders and the Sky People.
As it worked so well last time, I'll be breaking this post down into character categories, at least until they start to converge.
I suppose we can credit Finn for some self-awareness – he knows he's not himself, but he insists that shooting the Grounder in the bunker was a tactical decision. He's in the midst of a growing argument with Bellamy when a really good panning shot demonstrates they're on the edge of a crash site in which bodies from the Ark are strewn about the ground.

Same shot.
One of the Red Shirts recognizes a single survivor clinging to the edge of a precipice, and this episode's Moral Conundrum rears its ugly head. The show is usually good at these – that is, I get the sense that the writers are genuinely interested in putting their characters to tests of this nature, but perhaps because it feels more artificial than usual, perhaps because it's mostly padding, perhaps because rescuing the girl is clearly the right thing to do, perhaps because it involves this idiocy...
...but this scene just doesn't work as well in the context of the episode.
In any case, Finn argues that rescuing the young woman will take too much time and they should come back for her after the others are safe, and Murphy gets his first taste of redemption when he manages to hang onto the seatbelts that are suspending Bellamy and Rescue Victim above the gorge.
But seriously, you don't have to hang on to BOTH ends.
Things go from bad to worse when the Grounders start attacking, but a horn rings out in warning of the impending acid fog. They retreat, and it turns out the sound came from Octavia, deliberately drawing them off.
As glad as I am to see the Blake siblings reunited (they're probably my favourite dynamic after Clarke/Abbie and Clarke/Raven) I again feel that the writers denied themselves the full dramatic potential of their reunion. I dunno, it just felt like it could have been more than it was.
So the gang breaks up: Bellamy to take the others home and Finn to continue the search for Clarke. Murphy goes with him, and it would indeed seem a redemption arc is on the cards, as Bellamy entrusts him with a gun to defend himself with.
As they head off into their doomed subplot, I had to laugh considering that Finn was out there searching for Clarke in entirely the wrong direction while she was busy rescuing herself elsewhere. But just as I was enjoying the fact that a male character was attempting to save a female one even after she saved herself, Finn finds himself in a village of women, children and elderly Grounders.
Take a seat, Finn. Perhaps two dozen seats. And don't get up for at least a year.
I suppose I can see what they were trying to portray here: that Finn is excitable and trigger-happy and things simply got out of control in the midst of a fraught situation. But the problem is – the situation seemed to be under control. With the exception of a few mutterings, the Grounders were obeying orders, and by the time an elderly man breaks free of the corral (for no apparent reason, I might add) it would have been easy enough for Finn and Murphy to retreat into the forest.
If not that, then opening fire indiscriminately on unarmed people is nothing I can imagine Finn of the last season doing. Did the writers just get sick of him as a peacemaker and are trying instead to make him a love-crazy loose cannon?
In short, I can understand the idea behind what happened here, but it wasn't staged particularly clearly, and Finn's characterization has now left the realms of logic and relatability entirely.
Raven doesn't get much to do here, but she's put to work in exercising her mechanical skills, which is definitely the best thing for her in reasserting her sense of usefulness. We're introduced to a New Old Character called Wick (though I'm reminded that he was in season one as the guy who helped Kane shift the debris on the Ark) who has made her a leg-brace that she's not initially happy about.
I suppose the brace is designed to spare the actress having to permanently fake a limp, though it's absurd to suppose that she's this mobile so soon after a spinal injury and invasive operation without anaesthesia.
However, her self-esteem is boosted when she comes up with the idea to ... actually I'm not entirely sure what she did, only that it involves a radio signal and a balloon that was shot down almost immediately. And if the device was meant to permanently float over the encampment, wouldn't they have eventually run out of helium?
Whatever. I did like her look of disappointment when it becomes apparent that she can't go with the others on their rescue mission.
Jasper/Monty/Mountain Men
Perhaps the most interesting subplot running throughout these three episodes is what went down in Mount Weather amongst Jasper, Monty, Maya and President Dante.
Jasper and Monty are understandably worried about Clarke, but President Dante is laying on the charm in order to bend them to his will.
Suddenly Maya breaks out in radiation burns, and the only cure is for Jasper to give her a blood transfusion in a procedure that I don't need to have the slightest bit of medical training to know that it makes no sense whatsoever.
Monty smells a lie when it comes to the doctor's familiarity with the procedure, but it's smoothly covered and all seems well. Mount Weather now has a new source of life-giving blood that miraculously reverses the effects of radiation poisoning – in fact, one that's even more successful than that of the Grounders.
It's around this point that we meet a new character called Cage Wallace, whose casting call probably involved the requirement: "looks like a douche-face" and whose character is most likely described in the script as "evil Simon Tam." 
And for the record, I thought up this Firefly analogy long before I realized what he was doing, which is essentially making Reapers, just as the Alliance made the Reavers (albeit accidentally). The parallels might be a bit too blatant, but hey – at least I'm not referencing Lost as much.
So this guy turns out to be President Dante's son, and it's heavily implied he deliberately organized the radiation leak in order to initiate the tests on the forty-seven teenagers. It's also apparent that President Dante may not be as bad as initially suspected. Although he's clearly sanctioning the murders of Grounders to save his people, he considers sacrificing a bunch of non-hostile kids to be quite a different matter.
For now he manages to diplomatically talk Jasper into voluntarily sharing his blood with Mountain Men – and to convince others into doing the same. It's a bit like that guy with the very rare blood-type who regularly gives blood in order to save infants with a particular disease. As long as it's voluntary, it's fine. Which means of course that it won't be voluntary for very long.
Maya gets a little more depth, demonstrating guilt when she shows Jasper and Monty the caged Grounders, but also mounting a defence of what they're doing to them: "Without the treatments we’d die. What are we supposed to do?" And although I did like Monty's blunt: "die" – well, it's not quite as simple as all that.
In any case, they've brought some time for themselves by willingly giving up their blood.
So the Sky People (do we still call them that?) finally did something intelligent by surrounding their encampment in an electric fence – less so was shooting anyone who approached without warning, for it was only authorial fiat that saved Clarke from Anya's fate.
As with Bellamy and Octavia's reunion, I was expecting a little more from Clarke and Abbie finding each other again. It happened sooner than I expected it to, and without much emotion on Clarke's side (she being too exhausted to really register what was going on). To put it another way: I was ready to get weepy at watching the two of them find each other again, and I didn't.
This was sweet though.
So Clarke is back in her mother's custody (yes, I chose that word deliberately) though it's a little odd they have yet to address the subject of her father's death. Seriously, what was the deal there? Wasn't that the reason Clarke cut off communication with Abbie in the first season? Do we even know the whole story?
In any case, the Sky People need to call Kane and Finn back to the safety of the camp, though they only have the available soldiers to fetch one. Abbie decides on Kane, and so in time-honoured fashion, that's the teenagers' cue to sneak out – though instead of climbing out the window and down the rose trellis, they have to arm themselves, get the electrical fence turned off, and make it to the cover of the trees.
Meanwhile, Kane has set himself the challenge of how many stupid decisions he can make in one day, starting from planting his bonsai tree in an exposed forest area, and ending with him giving up his weapons, sending home his companions, and walking straight into a Grounder trap.
It's at this point that Desmond gets thrown back into a hatch. Okay, not ALL the Lost references are over.
Throughout all this, Jaha is fighting for survival in a desert that seems to be situated only a few miles from a lush forest. A young scavenger finds him lying face-down in the sand, and yes – even this is a trope: Bedouin Rescue Service.
Though honestly, I'm not sure what the costume designer is thinking with this one: a ragged umbrella and a pair of goggles that have the lenses taped over. What's the point of either one?

My pet peeve is wearing goggles as a headband. 
The little boy takes Jaha back to his equally confusing mother, who shoves him to the ground before immediately changing her mind about letting him stay, proceeding to put him through the Survivor Food Challenge by giving him bugs to eat because this is a post-apocalyptic story, dammit!
"To win immunity, you must eat this dish without puking."
Turns out the little boy (please don't ask me to remember names, for I doubt we'll be seeing these guys again) has a pretty extreme radiation mutation, and his mother informs Jaha that although she was urged to leave him to die during infancy, she spared his life. Jaha is left to ponder how this makes her his complete inverse: a man who ranked his people before his son, lost Wells as a result, and now has only his people to live for.
So he's in a very zen mood when the desert dwellers hand him over to the Grounders for a bounty, an exchange that sees Thelonious's story all caught up with Kane's; the two of them having been thrown into the same underground cell.
I get the feeling that from here on out Jaha will be moved more into the role of "spiritual leader" than "commander in chief". He's so secure in the reality of his son's visitation that he goes right ahead and tells Kane about, certain that it means the two of them won't die in that hole (that, or he just knows he's a main character).
After a few days languishing in the darkness, the Grounders arrive and – gasp! It's Lexa!!! I've been looking forward to Lexa for a long time, though because of Tumblr's inability to conceal spoilers I knew straightaway she was faking the limp she uses to enter the cell, and that she was there to spy on the men as they argued over the ultimatum given to them: having been given a knife, one would have to kill the other if they wanted freedom.
I really wish I hadn't been spoiled for this.
But believe it or not, I didn't realize that she was the actual commander of the Grounders. Though I figured she would assume that role eventually, at this point I thought we would only see her reporting back to the others.  
Nope, she's large and in charge. It's awesome. She watches the men argue over peace, death and who's going to die or not die, and at the end of it she keeps Kane (being impressed with his commitment to a truce) and kicks out Jaha with a message to take to the others: leave or die within two days.
And might I just add that all of this is down to the fact that eighteen Grounders were killed in that massacre. Nice one Finn.
Fog of War
So when we re-join the members of the Ark, it's unsurprising to see that Clarke is trying to avoid him entirely. Bellamy half-heartedly tries to speak in Finn's defence, but come on. You really can't sugar-coat the murder of unarmed women and children.
They all know that Grounder retaliation is on its way, and that means they have to face a war on two fronts: Grounders and the Mountain Men. This is especially dangerous since the latter are still holding the rest of the teenagers hostage.
Wow, this is what teen angst of the post-apocalyptic world looks like: freaking out over your boyfriend's killing spree while wondering which of the two homicidal communities you should ally your own people with.
Murphy is settling into the role of village asshole, and Raven has tumbled to the idea that the other Ark stations are being blocked by radio signals sent from Mount Weather. I remember vaguely that they picked up a strange signal last season in the drop-ship, and Raven posits that the Mountain Men used it to crash the Exodus ship on purpose. I suppose this is the writers' attempt to tie up a loose end, but this makes no sense – the Mountain Men should have welcomed newcomers to Earth considering they would widen the gene pool and present the possibility for more radiation treatments.
In any case, they decide to head toward Mount Weather for a reconnaissance mission, and Abbie has decided to deal with the problem of her daughter by never leaving her side. All things considered, it's the best plan they've got.
Once they're in eyeshot of the mountain's radio tower the acid fog appears – hey, haven't seen that in a while. Luckily flimsy plastic tents are more than enough to repel the noxious gas, and Raven manages to tap into Mount Weather's radio signals, leading to the first interesting (and realistic) moral choice of these three episodes: to blow up the radio tower and perhaps get reinforcements from the other Ark survivors, or keep the tower intact on the off-chance that they'll learn something useful.
Meanwhile Clarke and Finn take refuge in the bomb shelter where they first had sex/the body of the man Finn shot is still decomposing (I'll let you decide which one is more ew-worthy) and Bellamy and Octavia explore an underground garage set to the weirdest soundtrack choice imaginable. It sounds like a tinny Christmas carol music box is playing, and it's so loud and invasive that I assumed it was an actual noise that the characters were hearing.
The Red Shirts are quickly despatched by Reapers (honestly, I go to type "Reavers" every single time) and the Blake siblings find Lincoln cannibalizing their corpses. Another ew for the road as they knock him out and (somehow) cart him away.
Which leaves us with the show's final moments, in which Clarke and Abbie are reunited, only for a bruised and bloody Thelonious to stumble out of the blue and tell them the Grounders are giving them two days to leave.
Miscellaneous Observations:
The desert people mention something called "The City of Light." Is that the fallen Ark (which looked very lit up when Anya and Clarke saw it) or something else entirely?
When a Grounder dies they say: "My fight is over," which is a nice bit of cultural world-building.
Clarke/Raven's reunion – aww. All things considering they've been through a lot together and I'm glad each one treated their reunion as a good thing.
I realize this is about the time when the Bellamy/Clarke shipping began in earnest, but regarding the hug: isn't she just relieved to see him because she thought he was responsible for his death? But hey, shipping runs on this type of fuel. The more debatable a character's actions/motivations are, the more intense the subsequent shipping will be.
I think the creator is on record for saying this is a future in which sexism, racism and homophobia don't exist, in which case it's interesting that Cage calls Lincoln "a thoroughbred." There are all sorts of nasty implications to that.
So how DID Clarke's watch and other clothes and possessions get to the Grounder camp? To say they're "scavengers" only takes us so far, as (presumably) Clarke was wearing that watch as she was taken by the Mountain Men.
Hang on, shouldn’t the Grounders know where the Reapers come from? Don't they ever recognize one of their former-friends among the attackers?
I enjoyed this exchange between Jaha and Kane: "You didn't order a massacre."/"Not this one." Poor Kane is desperate for atonement – any atonement, though I've no idea why he went to slash his wrists instead of his throat.

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