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Thursday, January 28, 2016

The 100: Blood Must Have Blood Part II

I had hoped to get this finished before season three started, but (unsurprisingly) that deadline wasn't met. So I'll get this review under my belt, discuss the first two episodes of season three as a single instalment, and carry on for the rest of the season one episode at a time. Got it? Got it.
In hindsight, it feels like the entirety of season two has been leading up to the moment Clarke and Bellamy put their hands on that lever. In many ways it's a parallel to the first season's finale, in which Clarke made the call to ignite the dropship fuel and destroy the attacking Grounders, only taken to a much more devastating and morally-compromised degree.
This time around the act of killing her enemies to save her people involves the death of innocent people, including children.

The end of the last episode presented us with an immovable object (the Mountain) and an unstoppable force (Clarke and her fellow Arkers). One side is fighting for their chance to reclaim the surface; to free themselves from the concrete prison they're confined to. The other is fighting for their lives and the lives of their families. Based on that impetus, it should be clear which side you should put your money on.
Clarke's demeanour in the episode's opening minutes is telling: she's frantic, flustered and frustrated – the perfect storm of emotion that leads any person to come up with drastic ideas and follow through on them. It's not someone you want in charge of any situation, and yet at the same time she's the perfect person to be in charge of the situation, as she's the only one in the necessary state of mind to make the tough calls.
A ghastly contrast reminds us of both the evil and the innocence they're up against: young Arkers die in agony on a gurney as their bone marrow is extracted, a sight Cage oversees with satisfaction before joining the homey and pleasant atmosphere of the Mountain's dining hall.

Clarke is reunited first with Octavia, and then with Bellamy, Jasper, Monty and Maya. With the old plan in tatters they need to come up with a new one on the fly, and so Clarke, Bellamy and Monty seek out help from President Dante, while Jasper and Octavia escort Maya back to level five before she runs out of oxygen.
But despite disapproving of Cage's choices from a moral and strategic standpoint, Dante has also been pushed to the brink. In his mind, it comes down to this: his people, or Clarke's. He chooses his own, and once they've barricaded themselves in the control room things start to spiral out of control.
Through walkie-talkies, Clarke promises Cage that she'll shoot his father if he doesn't set her people free. Dante goes all-in for his people and helps sign his own death warrant by urging his son to "stay the course". Clarke follows through, shooting him in the chest. It's the cold and clinical murder this show has always been building up to.
Backed against a wall, ignorant of Jasper's plan to assassinate Cage, and aware that Emerson is about to break down the door and kill them all, Clarke instructs Monty to tamper with the filtering system so she can irradiate the entire compound. Having heard his father's dying gasps over the radio, Cage immediately retaliates: now it's Abbie strapped to the gurney and about to undergo the procedure.
Whether he's calling Clarke's bluff or is just too far gone to care about anything but immediate retribution, it's the wrong decision. He's left Clarke with nothing to lose. One of them has to watch their people die, and it's not going to be her.
***
There is a lot of discussion throughout this episode about the definition of good guys and the nature of choice. Clarke tells Dante: "we're the good guys here", and (as simplistic as it sounds) at that moment it's true. The Mountain Men are the threat to the Arkers, not the other way around, and especially since Cage completely sabotaged any chance they might have had of peaceably donating bone marrow.
But to save her people Clarke must become the bad guy – just as Dante knew he was the bad guy when he told Cage how to handle the Grounder invasion, saving his own people (despite knowing what they were doing was wrong) by compromising his morals. As he tells Clarke: "I bear it so they don't have to," making it fitting that she echoes his exact words outside Camp Jaha once the Mountain has been irradiated.  
Dante has one other pertinent line – on watching his son on the monitor in the moments before his death, he says: "none of us has any choice here". It feels like he's trying to defend his son, but the sentiment extends to Clarke as well (though I get a dry chuckle out of the idea that his look of horror is a direct response to Cage assuring him he'll protect their people).
"Oh shit, don't leave HIM in charge!"
Clarke is running out of options just as surely as they are, but the truth is, they do have a choice. There's always a choice, it's just between two really shitty options. Cage can choose to let the Arkers go – either to condemn his people to life inside the Mountain, or to take Kane up on his offer to have the bone marrow donated non-lethally (foregoing his revenge on Clarke). He refuses.
Clarke's choice is worse: she can kill a Mountain full of people – including innocent children – or she can watch her own people – including her mother – die long and agonizing deaths. That is, if the soldier getting ready to blow open the door doesn't kill her first.
I don't know what it says about me, but if I was in Clarke's position, that lever would have been pulled, no question.
***
You could argue that perhaps the writers went a little too far in making the Mountain Men repulsively evil. Between Emerson and Cage's smirks, the horrifically painful nature of the deaths they were subjecting the Arkers to, and the way they dropped the bodies of teenagers down garbage chutes to be cannibalized by drug-addled Grounders, there was nothing even remotely defensible in what they were doing.
Beyond scenes of Cage and Dante enjoying the surface, there was little emphasis on how desperate they were to leave the Mountain (I always assumed Mount Weather's unrenewable resources were dwindling, but it was never made explicit), and there was only ever Maya, her father, and a few fleeting shots of children to help humanize the community. I also noticed we don't actually see any dead children, just their abandoned soccer ball.
Even Maya's final words ("none of us were innocent") and Kane's horrified: "what is wrong with you people?" – seemed designed to lend more justification to Clarke's decision. Oh, and Jasper? There's no way you could have solved this problem by killing Cage, not least because guns were trained on you well before you got within five feet of him.  
But none of this is in the minds of Clarke and Bellamy when they pull that lever. Like I said when I first started this show, these characters are just teenagers. All the choices they make are personal ones, nearly everything they do is based on hormones, emotions, and impetuousness. Instead of the usual decision to sacrifice a few to save the many, Clarke and Bellamy sacrifice many to save the ones they love. Bellamy pulls the lever for the sake of his sister ("my sister, my responsibility") and Clarke is looking at her mother on the gurney when she says: "I have to save them."
By the time she reaches Abbie, we've looped back around to the "good guys" debate, and the word that best encapsulates everything about Clarke: try. As she says: "I tried to be the good guy." She really did. She tried everything. But it wasn't enough, and for now at least she needs to take a Sabbatical, because it's a frightening thought to think you're not as good a person as you believed you were.
But the thing is, I have hope for Clarke. Despite what she's done, her humanity is still intact precisely because she doesn't try to justify what she's done – either to herself or anyone else. That's why she has to leave, but it's also why I'm sure she'll return: on her own terms, and by her own volition.
***
And then there's the whole other subplot that's been going on across the course of the last six episodes or so. It's fitting that Thelonious at one point mutters: "curiouser and curiouser", since his story-arc is so far down the rabbit hole it may as well be on a different show altogether.
If Clarke embodies pre-exodus Moses with her constant refrain of "let my people go", then Thelonious is the Moses who guides his people through the desert to the Promised Land on a prolonged leap of faith. A part of me wanted to support him in this endeavour, but he didn't start out on a strong note when he swiped twenty of the Ark's guns (seriously – you don't think the people left behind might need those weapons?) and by the time he kills one of his own people to ensure his safe passage to shore, he seems to have crossed into a bonafide Knight Templar.
"Don't worry, you're dying horribly for a good cause!"
In short – if you have a religious calling: great. Congratulations. Just don't pull everyone else into it, unless you’re certain that YOU'RE the only one that's going to suffer for it. Last I checked, Christ was the only one who was taken down by the Romans, but Thelonious is making sure everyone else suffers on the way to fulfilling his vision, and that's not how being a Messiah works.
He reminds me a bit (or a lot) of Locke on LOST, who also made increasingly dubious decisions in pursuit of his tightly-held beliefs, and yet their shows muddy the water by ensuring both men have good reason to cling to said beliefs. Each one has a personal experience that could be described as supernatural or numinous in nature (for Locke it was a glimpse of the smoke monster, for Thelonious it was his encounter with Wells) which helps solidify their profound faith in what they're trying to achieve; to enable them to maim or kill for "the greater good" with complete conviction.
An interesting rapport is built between Thelonious and Murphy: just as Murphy's parents were taken from him thanks to the decrees yielded by Thelonious in his position as Chancellor, now Murphy gets the chance to inform Thelonious of exactly how his son died: killed by a little girl orphaned and subsequently traumatized by those very same laws. It's about as full-circle as you can get.
As they travel, there's the sense Thelonious is trying to establishing a father/son – or at least mentor/student relationship between himself and Murphy, but it lacks the true faith Clarke and Abbie have in each other's capabilities, or the respect that grows between Bellamy and Kane. They're too different, in possession of two totally different worldviews, and in his attempts to make Murphy a believer, Thelonious forgets that he's only there because he has no better options.
There are obstacles aplenty, and the Dwindling Party face a desert, a mine-field, the open sea, and a Grounder woman called Emori who robs them blind (and who looks like the splitting image of Bellamy – could the two actors be related?) on the way to Thelonious's City of Light.
It even becomes something of a Redemption Quest for Murphy, though he's still wallowing in self-pity when it comes to why he's a social pariah, for according to him: "I had my reasons [for being an asshole and killing people] but nobody cared." Amazingly enough, Murphy's peers didn't care about the reasons behind his attempted murder of Raven and the actual murder of several others out of revenge and bitterness – though his character is a lot more enjoyable now he's away from his victims and can embrace full-on snark as a foil to Thelonious's delusions of grandeur. I believe they call this process Rescued From the Scrappy Heap.  
It all culminates when Thelonious kills one of his loyal followers as they cross the sea to reach a lighthouse on a distant shore, tossing him overboard to slow down what looks like an overgrown lamprey. Suddenly his noble leap of faith is stained with blood, which no doubt means he's heading into bad guy territory, and Murphy abandons him for a promising-looking bunker that's full of food, alcohol and rock music.
Thelonious on the other hand, ends up here:
It would seem we're about to get some answers on how exactly the world fell into its current dystopian state, but for now all we can do is wait upon events...
Miscellaneous Observations:
The Millar family reunion! I just wish it had been given a bit more time and attention. Matter of fact, there were plenty of children in the remaining 100 who should have found their parents at Camp Jaha. Why not give us a little bit of levity to end the season by showing them reunited?
When the soldiers electrocuted Raven and strapped her to the gurney, I was under the impression that something would come of them drilling into her bad leg. If she couldn't feel anything, perhaps she could have gotten the advantage somehow...? But no.
And for the record I don't think Jasper's plan to assassinate Cage would have worked in saving the Arkers – not least because he couldn't even get close to him. Bellamy was right, they would have never stopped.
Throughout all of this, Lincoln has been in possession of the show's most reliable moral compass. If he's doing something, you can be sure it's the right thing. And it turns out that his conscience is catching, as Indra gives him the means to escape and her implicit blessing to do so. It's a bit of a pity he turns up too late to help out the Arkers, but he least he got to take out Cage.
We're going to see Emori again, right? She was cool, especially her mutant hand.
Thelonious confidently asserts that one must sacrifice a few to save the many – so it's interesting that Clarke and Bellamy end up doing the exact inverse: sacrificing the many to save a few.
This was certainly the episode for shout-outs to other genre shows. The lighthouse and bunker were straight out of LOST. Clarke pulls a Buffy the Vampire Slayer by turning away from her people in favour of some soul-searching after a traumatic event. Doctor Who got a nod (specifically The Fires of Pompeii) in its portrayal of a man and woman reluctantly but decisively pulling a lever that causes mass destruction, and although I've never seen the show, plenty of people have been saying that the sight of an A.I. in a red dress is borrowed directly from Battlestar Galactica.
All things considered, it's a testament to the show that they can swipe all this stuff without anybody really minding.
Jasper is going to be a real mess next season, though what I found unexpectedly sad/sweet was the rapport struck between Octavia and Maya. They had only a few seconds to interact, but it encompassed Octavia assuring Maya the Arkers would find a way to accommodate her, and Octavia cradling Maya's body as she died – a girl she hardly knew, but in many ways was as estranged from her own people as Octavia was from hers.
Emerson got away? Dammit, I wanted to see that guy die a long and painful death, though I suppose being the sole surviving member of your entire people works pretty well for a punishment.
You have to admit, it's a little bit funny that Cage only got about two steps outside the Mountain before he got killed. Makes you wonder if the Mountain's population had any real chance of thriving on the surface anyway.
And what a beautiful ending: as each character walks through the gates of Camp Jaha, Clarke lingers on the threshold to the strains of Knocking on Heaven's Door. That was an inspired choice of song in a show that often inserts completely inappropriate songs at entirely the wrong moments, and it perfectly captures Clarke's weary state of mind. Also lovely was the scene between her and Bellamy, and the echo of their season one exchange in which he offers her forgiveness.
That said, they're no longer on the same page. However you want to interpret this scene in regards to its shipping-quality, it's clear that Bellamy doesn't feel quite as much guilt about what they've done as Clarke does – perhaps because he feels it was justified, or because he wasn't the one to come up with the idea, or because her personality means she feels she has to shoulder most of the blame.  
In fact, I wonder if the order in which the Arkers return to camp is the reverse order of how much blood is on their hands. Abbie and Kane come first, who were restrained for the duration of their time at the Mountain, then the Millers, who were involved in violent but impersonal skirmishes both inside and outside the facility.
Octavia and Lincoln are behind them, who each made kills that weren't exactly self-defence, but were arguably necessary and justified (the security guards felled by Octavia, and Cage finally despatched by Lincoln).
Next come Raven and Wick, who accrued quite a death toll when they blew up parts of the dam, alongside Jasper, who unhesitatingly took an axe to a soldier's head while he was lying incapacitated on the ground.  Second-to-last is Monty, the guy who made it possible to irradiate level five with his technological know-how, hugging Clarke outside the gate and casting a somewhat guilty look at Bellamy as he passes through.
That leaves Bellamy and Clarke, and interestingly enough, Bellamy himself never enters Camp Jaha on-screen. Although Clarke is the one who walks away, Bellamy isn't clearly seen joining the others either, denoting the role they each played in the massacre.
Am I onto something with this theory, or is it just a coincidence?  
***
So that was season two of The 100. As I said in my last review, if the first season was all about what a character would do to survive, this one is what a character will do to keep their people alive. A central theme is that of leadership and its responsibilities, and constant questions arise among the myriad leader-figures featured on the show. Clarke, Kane, Abbie, Thelonious, Cage, Lexa and President Dante all have to grapple with their innate sense of right and wrong, their understanding of the greater good, the wellbeing and prioritization of their people, and the mental/emotional/spiritual toll that the wrong decisions have on them.
Each one has a slightly tweaked definition of what their role involves, and there's a definite sense that each one is learning and growing and trying to adapt based on what the others bring to the table, whether it's Lexa deliberately trying to teach Clarke about detachment, Abbie struggling to infuse the decision-making process with integrity, Cage conflating his own greed with what most benefits his people, or Thelonious doing the exact opposite in believing his search for the City of Light trumps the lives of his followers.
Ultimately it all comes down to each one's innate sense of tribalism, for among the three most influential leaders in this season (Clarke, Lexa, Cage) it's interesting to note that all of them sacrifice their understanding of what is right in order to advance the wellbeing of their own people. Lexa leaves the Arkers to die horrible deaths for the safe return of the Grounders, Cage continues with the bone marrow harvest so the Mountain Men can reclaim the surface, and Clarke kills an entire population to save what is (comparatively) just a handful of her own people.
From a certain point of view, you could argue that any of these choices are either heinous or admirable, and the ramifications of them will no doubt extend well into season three. Although the show naturally has an obligation to tell exciting, action-packed stories, I also hope that along with survival and leadership, the third season will also start to explore themes of consequences and healing. Most of these teenage protagonists will be needing some serious therapy in the weeks to come, and there are plenty of storylines to be milked not only from conflict and politics, but psychological scars and the ways in which they're overcome.

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