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Saturday, January 16, 2016

The 100: Survival of the Fittest, Coup de Grace, Rubicon

These episodes all revolve around a single theme: what it takes to be a good leader.
Clarke is obviously at the epicentre of all this; adjusting to her new role, getting unsolicited advice/demands from everyone around her, and struggling with how tough it really it. As Kane said: "heavy lies the crown."
But there are plenty of other characters vying for leadership roles (Abbie, Lexa, Thelonious, Cage, President Dante) and these episodes explore the different kinds of leadership they embody, as well as how their choices tread the fine line between what's good for their people and our collective understanding of right and wrong.

Currently Clark is under the protection of Lexa, which puts her in a somewhat precarious position. No one can touch Clarke without disobeying their leader, which ensures that her opinions are heard, but it's pretty obvious to everyone in the war-room – Clarke especially – that her power is entirely contingent on another person.
The main source of contention among the Clarke and the Grounders is whether to march immediately on Mount Weather, or wait for Bellamy to sabotage the enemy from the inside. Clarke points out that they're not going to get close to the Mountain while they still have control of the acid fog, but the Grounders ... well, as we should all know by now, they're not exactly the sharpest tools in the shed. The main voice of dissention comes from a guy called Quint, who has reason to hate Clarke since his brother was among those who were burned to death outside the drop-ship.
But as she's quick to respond, the only reason that happened was because a bunch of adults were attacking a handful of terrified teenagers, and I like that she's allowed to defend herself on this matter.
Leadership Lesson #1: know when to placate and when to confront.
Back at the Ark, a group of Grounders led by Indra arrive to – actually, I'm not entirely sure what they're there for. They offer no combat training to the Arkers, and apparently they're not allowed to touch firearms either. Instead they just brawl with each other while everyone else watches, and though they later they go hunting for food to share with the Ark, there's again no attempt to share any knowledge or experience of this super-important survival tactic with anyone else.
To his credit Kane is trying really hard to make it work, but for whatever idiotic reason Murphy is standing in the room where the gathering takes place. Some Grounders get an eyeful of him, recognize him as the second guy from the massacre, and try to pick a fight.
Leadership Lesson #2: No matter how well-meaning the majority might be, it's always a few that'll cause the most trouble.
Between the Ark and the Grounder village there's an air of animosity mixed with a desire to prove oneself: in one location it's Octavia, who joins in the Grounder tussling and immediately gets her ass handed to her, and in the other it's Clarke, who is attacked by Quint as she goes for a random walk in the forest.
And then a giant gorilla turns up.
It's not quite as weird as a smoke monster, but still pretty weird. Is it meant to be some sort of call-back to the deformed skulls the teens discovered in season one? And does it chase them back to what remains of the Smithsonian's National Zoo? And is that really it for Major Byrne? What a waste!
But the important things to come out of all this is that Clarke refuses to kill Quint (despite Lexa's encouragement) and then refuses to leave an injured Lexa behind (again, despite Lexa's commands). The girls end up trapping the gorilla in an old zoo enclosure, there to await its destiny as a Chekhov's Gunman, while the two resume their game of How Intensely Can I Stare At Her Without It Being Obvious? (Neither are very good at this game).

To paraphrase Harry Potter: “There are some things you can't share without wanting to bone each other, and outwitting a twelve-foot mutant gorilla is one of them."
So Clarke refused to kill a man under these circumstances, and though she's taken lives before, they've been either Mercy Kills or "life-or-death, them-or-us, spur-of-the-moment" decisions.  As far as I can recall she's not yet been responsible for any cold and calculated murders, though that's clearly what the show itself is gearing up for. At the same time, Clarke's motivation in refusing to leave Lexa is not just born out of pure altruism, but pragmatism – without Lexa, the alliance falls apart.
Leadership Lesson #3: Know who is expendable, and who is indispensable. (Sorry Redshirts).
But the whole experience has given Clarke an idea: that the Grounders already within Mount Weather could be utilized as a Trojan horse. Grounders drained of blood, deprived of food and with no weapons at all? Hey, she never said it was a good plan.
***
I would like to say the sight of Bellamy getting stripped and showered in slow-motion was "gratuitous", and maybe it was – but not in the way you'd expect. More than anything it reminded me of the dehumanizing process that must have gone on in concentration camps, which pretty much robs you of any enjoyment you may have gotten out of Bob Morley's bare chest.
The best moment came directly beforehand, where all Bellamy and Lincoln can do is stare at each other in defeat, trying to draw some modicum of encouragement/strength from each other before one is dragged away and the other injected with drugs. What a great and terrible moment, especially on Lincoln's side: not to kill or die for the greater good, but to lose himself to an addiction he's only just escaped. The other options are easy in comparison.

Bellamy goes on to have the worst day ever, first in getting used as a human blood bag, then in killing a man and meeting his kid directly afterwards. On the first point, his blood naturally has an accelerated effect on one of the patients in the hospital wing, which Maya notices and investigates (knowing full-well what it means).
She's becoming a real asset to the Arkers, first in freeing Bellamy, then in helping him overpower the security guard Lovejoy. It's a pretty effective three-way fight, with a caged Grounder joining in and providing Bellamy with the extra bit of leverage he needs to strangle the man to death. It's quick and brutal and messy, but by the end of it Bellamy has a gun and a uniform (which comes with a completely unnecessary cap to help cover his face).
On the second point, I call foul when it comes to the fallout of Lovejoy's death. Disregarding the fact that no one ever notices one of their security guards has disappeared off the face of the earth, Bellamy's run-in with a precocious lad who has "Lovejoy" written on his backpack comes across as far too manipulative, largely because we never see this kid again.
***
The Mountain Men are worried enough to stage an assassination attempt on Clarke, which comes across as more harrowing for Abbie as it does for her daughter, who by this point is growing increasingly desensitized to her own safety. Throughout most of these episodes Abbie is desperately trying to be a mum (which inevitably involves trying to maintain some modicum of control over Clarke) but even the narrative itself seems to be against her in this venture, for her protective instincts in demanding that Clarke stop halfway through a journey for rest and water only makes her a target for the Mountain Men hiding in the bushes.  
As with Clarke in the previous episode, Octavia's first cold-blooded kill is halted at the last second, this time because Clarke wants to take her would-be assassin hostage. More moral quandaries arise as they debate whether or not to torture Emerson for information (his face is so infuriatingly smug that I was definitely leaning towards "yes, go for it") but after communicating with Bellamy, Clarke comes up with a new plan.
Leadership Lesson #4: Sometimes you have to take risks.
Wanting the eyes of the Mountain to be on the Grounder/Arker alliance and not any potential moles in their midst, Clarke releases Emerson after informing him that the alliance is about to march on Mount Weather.
And then she messes with his radiation suit so that he's got an hour less of the oxygen he needs to get back to the Mountain, telling him: "that's your problem" when he protests. Actually Clarke, it's YOUR problem, because if he runs to save time he'll just end up wasting more air, and if he dies on the way your message won't get delivered. And shouldn't she have told Abbie her plan before going ahead with it, if not just to avoid the confrontation at the gate?
Between her plans and her conduct, it's clear that Clarke is still in the "primer" stage of leadership.
But now at least the plan is clear: for Bellamy to shut down the acid fog, for Clarke to create as big a diversion as possible, and for everyone to think up a way to release the Grounders and the remainder of the 100 without harming any of Mount Weather's child population. Thanks to the Unspoken Plan Guarantee, we can bet that at least some of this won't be happening.
***
While all this is going on, Jasper is getting more and more agitated, and finally goes to confront President Dante. In a good twist, it turns out that Dante is more of an ally than originally thought, and immediately stops the harvesting of bone marrow from Harper and Monty.
He decides to let the remaining teenagers return to the fallen Ark – which is of course too good to last. Cage stages his coup, overthrows his father, and restarts the procedures.
It was always bound to happen, though the sheer evil of what Cage and Doctor Tsing are doing is getting laid on pretty thick (I mean geez, can't they even put the kids under anaesthesia before drilling into their bones??) and I wish there was a bit more time to explore what leaving the Mountain means to these people. Because some justification for what they want is there, however much it collapses under the reality of what they have to do to achieve it: the desire to be out under the sky, to be free from the constant need of Grounder blood, and to lose the anxiety of relying on the increasingly outdated technology.
It could all have been enough to drive someone like Cage to desperation without heading straight for the Nazi eugenics analogy, but I guess every show needs at least one thoroughly hateable villain.
So desperation born of greed wins out over a fatherly understanding of right and wrong, though I get the sense that a simple difference in personality also played a part. Dante may long for the surface, but he's also found a degree of escapism in his paintings (as we see when he stares at Van Gogh in his cell). For Cage there's no such outlet, and he wastes no time in immunizing himself to radiation.  
In a great little scene Jasper briefly glimpses Bellamy's face through the dormitory doors before they're locked, and the remaining forty-eight teenagers (or are we down to fewer than that now?) begin getting picked off by Doctor Tsing and a SWAT team. It damn near broke my heart to see them try to resist by linking arms with each other.
***
There's some narrative cheating going on when it comes to Bellamy's remarkable accessibility in roaming the facility: he not only gets himself into President Dante's cell to deliver him a meal, but also finds a SWAT uniform in order to join the other Mountain Men in dragging the teenagers from their dormitory – all without being questioned at any time. Sure, maybe this can be excused as necessary shortcuts for the sake of the story, but they're stretching it.
Thanks to some extremely helpful Exact Eavesdropping and a walkie-talkie that manages to pick up a conversation from inside an air duct across the other side of the room, Bellamy, Clarke and Raven listen in to a conversation that informs them that Cage is planning to shoot a missile at Tondc to rid Mount Weather of the threat posed by Clarke, Lexa and the rest of the Grounder tribe leaders.
We're left with what Karl Roebuck on The Tunnel would call "an exquisite moral conundrum" – the show's greatest one yet. Having told Lexa in private what's about to happen, Clarke is informed they have two options: to save lives by organizing an immediate evacuation, or keep quiet and sneak into the forest for safety.
The first option seems like the only decent course of action to take, but Lexa points out that if the Mountain Men realize they're evacuating, then they'll know they have a spy on the inside who is feeding them information. She argues that they have to let Tondc be destroyed if they're going to keep Bellamy safe and utilize his full potential as The Mole.
Although a third option presents itself (to find the man on the ground that's transmitting coordinates back to Mount Weather) and some mad scrambling ensues, it's too late to do anything. The launch goes ahead and the village is decimated.
Clarke's decision to keep the truth from her friends/family is foreshadowed earlier, in which she unhesitatingly lies to Bellamy about Octavia's true location in order to ensure he doesn't get distracted – but it also provides a great stepping stone towards what she'll ultimately do in the season's final episode. There is a slow but steady "scaling up" of the consequences of Clarke's choices, and it's interesting to contrast this moment (where all she has to do is nothing) with the fatal pulling of the lever in the finale (which required decisive action).
There's a difference in the mental/emotion toll each of these events would take on a person, and I can appreciate the way the show is gradually pushing Clarke into more and more morally ambiguous waters. Perhaps she could justify this to herself, but the burden she carries is getting heavier, and her personal investment has not yet been eradicated (Lexa is calm about leaving her comrades to die; Clarke clearly falters at the sight of Abbie and Octavia standing directly in harm's way).  
For the record, I wasn't entirely sold on Lexa's logic in letting the missile strike go ahead (surely the deaths of all the leaders in the village would only endanger the Grounder alliance further) and there's a bit of cheating going on in the writers' room considering a) the missile miraculous spares all the named characters, and b) the idea that Bellamy's safety is contingent on the destruction of Tondc ignores the unlikely fact that Lovejoy's disappearance still hasn't been noticed.
And in the fact of her mother's horror, there's an extra layer of guilt that Clarke must bear – that she was the one who brought the Mountain's eyes to Tondc as part of her bid to protect Bellamy.
Leadership Lesson #5: It sucks.
***
There's little more to be said expect that Indra has now taken on Octavia as her protégé, and on being asked by Kane to act as a spy for her people, Octavia gives an ambiguous remark about who her people really are. It makes sense for a girl with her background – after all, what did the Ark ever do for her except keep her trapped in the crawl space for years on end?
Miscellaneous Observations:
Lincoln may well be my favourite character on account of him being the complete antithesis of the now-famous internet catchphrase: "great motive, still murder." Lincoln has a great motive for murder (his entire upbringing), but constantly keeps himself in check after he once found and cared for a man who crashed on the Earth in a shuttle from the Ark, only for his father to force him to kill him.
According to Lincoln: "the world's been trying to turn me into a monster for as long as I can remember," and he's been fighting it at every turn. Wow. It's a debate for another time as to whether our collective understanding of right and wrong is constantly in flux (and thereby taught to each successive generation) or a concept that exists outside humanity (and therefore something every individual is born with) but Lincoln certainly makes a good case for the latter.
Like Finn from Star Wars or Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon, he's able to recognize the inherent wrongness of the culture he's been raised in and instead follows the call of what he knows is right. And naturally, all he gets for his troubles is another shot of Reaper-enhancing drugs.
Octavia goes down like a ton of bricks when she attempts to hold her own against a Grounder warrior, though the fact that she won their respect anyway reminds me of Katara and Master Pakku in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Kane makes the attempt to teach the Grounders how to use firearms (is bonding through weapons ever a good idea?) but apparently there's a superstition that prevents them from carrying a gun. Which only makes them look a bit stupid.
Likewise, a little bit of world-building with Lexa reveals that the Grounders believe in reincarnation – though not one that seems to make any kind of sense. Lexa says (of choosing a new leader after her death) that "my spirit will choose wisely", which means – what exactly? She'll pick a new leader after her death? Or that her soul will be reborn as a newborn baby destined to become the next leader? What does that mean for how Anya chose her?
As with the Bellamy/Lincoln Held Gaze when the latter is getting injected, the quiet look Bellamy and Maya shared when he stepped out in Lovejoy's uniform spoke volumes. With that, Maya commits.

I feel there's a parallel to be made between what the Mountain Men do to the bodies of the Grounders and the Ark teenagers (essentially poison/harm them in horrifically painful ways) and what the environment does to them if they're exposed to its radiation.
But in what was possibly my favourite scene, we get a sense of how close Clarke and Raven are becoming. Even after Clarke gets snappish with Raven over the slow pace of her work, Raven recognizes the strain she's under and gives Clarke a hug before she heads out to Tondc. I wouldn't have expected that gesture at the start of the show (or heck, even a few episodes ago) but it felt perfectly right here.
I know I've been oddly quiet on the subject of Thelonious, but I've decided to hold off on his arc until the end of the season, then comment on it as one complete storyline – simply because it's so divided from the rest of the plot that it feels like it belongs on a different show entirely.
Is there any chance I'm going to finish this season before the third one begins? Probably not.

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