Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The 100: All Ye Who Enter Here

If this episode was an indicator of the rest of the season, then it's going to be a great season. It jettisons the Jaha subplot entirely in order to focus on the political machinations taking place in the Grounder capital of Polis, where three agendas are in play: Lexa's, the Ice Queen's, and (to a lesser extent) Roan's.

But Lexa's plans involve Clarke, and Clarke ain't having none of it. She has two very good reasons to be furious at Lexa, and though one of them is explicitly stated (that Lexa abandoned Clarke outside Mount Weather) there's also a second, deeper reason that isn't touched upon (and is therefore just my personal speculation): that Lexa's decision necessitated Clarke's decision to pull the lever and irradiate the Mountain's population. If Lexa hadn't betrayed her, Clarke wouldn't have the blood of innocent lives on her hands.
As always, the political gets mixed up with the personal between them, for Lexa is similarly torn between wanting to exploit Clarke's newfound reputation as Wanheda (and what it means for her standing in the eyes of the Ice Nation) and desirous of a genuine reconciliation between them. In fact, I think this more than anything is the source of the tension between them, and why they're so compelling to watch: because essentially they're just two very young women who are attracted to each other, but hesitant to act on that attraction due to the burden of leadership that's been placed on each of them.
Even as leadership draws them together, it keeps them apart.
Clarke points out the difference between Lexa abandoning the Arkers and Clarke killing her allies in Mount Weather is that: "you had no honour and I had no choice," and subsequently rejecting the possibility of an altruistic motive in Lexa's offer to make the Ark part of the coalition. On the one hand, it would bring the Arkers under Lexa's protection; on the other, it strengthens her power in the face of the Ice Nation.
It's the personal versus the political, and though I get the feeling that Lexa is more about making amends to Clarke (and for the first time, thinking more with her heart and not her head), Clarke remains convinced that Lexa is trying to rebuild her "street cred" after Wanheda upstaged her in the destruction of the Mountain – something the Ice Nation is trying to exploit.
There are two solutions for Lexa to consider: to kill Wanheda and absorb her power, or to have Wanheda bow to her as part of a ceremony that recognizes the Arkers as her own people. That Lexa went with the latter is pretty indicative of her feelings for Clarke (because if nothing else, the former choice was a lot simpler), and the scene in which Clarke goes ahead with the ceremony is beautifully reflected later in Lexa's private oath of fealty to Clarke – especially after Titus says "the Commander bows to no one."
Did you notice how this show parallels the one above?
Only in this one, the frame of the window isn't separating them.
She bows to one person at least, and in such an act of vulnerability and sincerity that it's fascinating to ponder what it could lead to. The writers have gifted themselves with a scenario in which Lexa has to put up a cold and uncompromising front, one that's a constant struggle to maintain, while Clarke is discreetly and quietly calling the shots behind the scenes, holding both political and personal leverage over Lexa.
Damn, that’s a good setup.
As you may have guessed, I find Lexa and her relationship with Clarke riveting, and as such it's irritating to watch as fandom attempts to graft the "saint" or "sinner" label onto her. Most of it is based on the interminable shipping war, which necessitates either glorifying or denigrating Lexa in the attempt to prove whether or not she's "worthy" of being in a romantic relationship with the show's main character, and by doing so both sides of the argument miss out on the nuances of an incredible character.
(It reminds me of that Tumblr post I reblogged a while back: "Y'all want complex female characters until you actually GET them.")
Before I share my take on Lexa, here are the facts:
She's a teenage girl in charge of leading and protecting twelve clans of Grounders, she's been groomed for that role since she was a child, she's single-handedly united all those clans into a single coalition, she's lived through the prolonged and brutal murder of a girl she loved, and she's cultivated a veneer of coldness and detachment – partly to survive her trauma, partly to ensure her people are convinced of her capabilities, and partly (one suspects) simple to cope with the burden that's been placed upon her.
But she's not a machine or a monster. Her choices aren't made out of spite or maliciousness. And she does seem to struggle with her own mantra: that of listening to her head and not her heart – so much so that I often wonder whether her choice outside Mount Weather was at least subconsciously an attempt at proving to herself she had control over her feelings for Clarke.  
Personally, I don't think she was right in leaving the teenagers to die in Mount Weather, though the choice she made wasn't as cut-and-dry as "I chose my people over yours." The thing is – and it annoys me that nobody has pointed it out yet – that Clarke and Lexa's initial plan to free everyone with as little casualties as possible failed.
The plan was for Clarke and Lexa's army to stage a diversion at the door, while Bellamy prepared the Grounders that were already in the Mountain. The whole plan hinged on this Trojan Horse, and though the Grounder army might have seen a little action, they were only ever meant to keep the Mountain Men's eyes on them while the Grounders on the inside struck from behind.
(Grounders, I'll remind you, who were weak from blood extraction and had no weapons or armour. Yeah, this was never a particularly good plan).
But when the Mountain Men recaptured the Grounders on the inside, the plan was over. If Lexa's army had charged through the door, there would have been a battle – and at this point it's impossible to say what would have happened next. Perhaps they would have overcome the Mountain Men, perhaps the Mountain Men would have slaughtered their hostages. It wasn't a chance Lexa was prepared to take.
Should she have for the sake of the Ark teenagers? Maybe. But we'll never know now. She decided to save a lot of lives over endangering all lives on a plan that no longer existed. And she didn't make this call lightly or out of indifference (every time I see someone call her a manipulative bitch I see red) – she honestly thought this was the right strategic decision.
But it wasn't the right moral decision, and of course, it has its consequences. Because of what Clarke ended up doing, Lexa's power is in jeopardy. Clarke has become Wanheda, and now the Ice Nation wants to use her legendary reputation as a weapon against Lexa.
Lexa has to find a way out of this mess without hurting Clarke, by treading between her head and heart, between the political and the personal – and she does. She makes the Arkers part of the coalition and bows to Clarke in private. I don't know how many episodes Lexa will get this season, but I suspect her ongoing arc will involve favouring her heart/Clarke over her head – though whether that'll be framed as the right thing to do or as something foolish that gets her killed remains to be seen.
But Lexa wasn't the only one making political/personal moves throughout this episode. In its final seconds we finally get to see the Nia the Ice Queen, but her presence is felt much sooner than that. She has a plan to blow up what remains of Mount Weather, and pulls it off without a hitch.
Echo is sent to the Mountain to warn them of an impending assassination attempt of their people at Polis. Thanks to a handy Cut Apart scene, the audience is made privy to an extended sequence of a Grounder assassin preparing himself for an attack, but it's only after Echo has led Bellamy, Octavia and Pike to Polis that we realize the assassin was inside the Mountain the whole time.
I can believe they would fall for this deception: Octavia has a propensity to trust Grounders and Bellamy has good reason to trust this particular Grounder, and the Ice Nation made sure to leave Arkers dead in the trucks that took the delegation to Polis as "evidence" there would be an attack at the capital.
Still, it doesn't change the fact they made the wrong call, not only storming into the ceremony but leaving at least two dead bodies in their wake. And of elevator operators! The help! It's hard to tell whether or not there'll be consequences for this: The 100 is usually pretty good at wrapping up loose ends, but in an episode that also included a stunningly straight example of a Fridged Woman, these guys felt like fodder to demonstrate how unhinged Pike is.
In a nice twist on expectations, it turns out that after all the talk between the Arkers about how they could use the missiles to defend the Mountain (leading us to wonder whether this could break the truce with the Grounders), this potential subplot ends before it even begins when the assassin puts the system into self-destruct mode.
There are plenty of casualties – most of the Farm Station, which seems a waste since they've only just been introduced (though Monty's mother wasn't among them, right?) and the medical facility that Sinclair had just convinced Raven to utilize in the treatment of her injuries. But most importantly: Gina.
It's hard to believe that a show that's been this good with its female characters would stoop to a classic fridging. I just gaped at the screen for a few minutes after it happened, not because I was sad for Gina (heck, we barely knew her) but because I couldn't believe the writers would fall back on such a lazy cliché: gruesomely killing off an underdeveloped female character in service of a male character's storyline by providing him with motivation and man-pain.
Here's a short article that sums up the problems pretty succinctly; and on reading some of Jason Rothenberg's comments over the scene, it's clear he has no idea of the implications and history of this particular narrative device. As he says:
“I wanted Bellamy to have some skin in the game,” he explains. “I wanted him, when Mount Weather was destroyed, to lose someone significant so that his turn to the anti-Grounder side has even more reason behind it. He already has no affection for that culture, unlike Octavia, but I wanted there to be that one thing that would justify him really taking up the mantle of ‘all Grounders are bad.’”
There was some good material here between Kane and Abbie. I can't say I'm too thrilled with any impending romance between them (he floated her husband and gave the order to have her electrocuted in public) but they're working well as co-leaders of the Arker. It's been obvious for some time that Abbie is ready to step down as Chancellor and focus on her role as a doctor, and were it not for the show's otherwise fantastic treatment of women in positions of power, it would have grated to see her want to give it up to Kane.
But he's good at what he does, with the ability to integrate with the Grounders, understand the nuances of a fraught political situation, and make rational choices instead of personal ones. Though I had to laugh when Abbie concedes her position as Chancellor just in time for Kane to get his arm stamped with a red-hot iron brand.
Finally, there was one more power-play made over the course of the episode: Roan approaches Clarke with an offer – to kill Lexa with the knife he's secreted under her pillow and ally with the Ice Queen instead. The attempt fails miserably when Clarke can't bring herself to go through with it, though by his expression it looks as though he's got a few more cards to play.
So the board is set up for the remainder of the season: Lexa's coalition versus the Ice Nation with (I suspect) the Arkers being divided between those who want to trust their allies and those who... well, don't. I'm looking at you Pike.  
Miscellaneous Observations:
I love the set design on Polis: it's a thriving community, but it's still a bit of a dump, as we see in Lexa's throne room.
Let's call it the "royal grunge" aesthetic.
Octavia looks as though she's on the verge of leaving the Arkers for good, with plans to raise the kill order on Lincoln's head and depart. Given that she's a main character, and that Ricky Whittle has been cast in American Gods, there's very little chance that will happen.
I loved the scene in which Clarke holds a knife to Lexa's throat, only for her to back down and drop it on the floor. I think on some level she can understand Lexa's decision, and once she demonstrates that she had the means and opportunity to get her revenge, some of her initial anger and resentment is purged. Also, Lexa's tiny little: "I'm sorry" nearly killed me. And Clarke too, probably.
I believe that Lexa is 100% sincere in the deals she's making (after all, she declared war on the Ice Nation when the truth came out), and even if some of the Arkers are wary of her (as Clarke surely is), I think their current train of thought is "better the devil you know." For those saying that Clarke forgave Lexa too quickly or that she's being too trusting, it's obvious that isn't the case. She's sticking around to make sure Lexa keeps her word.
Is that Indra... smiling? I almost didn't recognize her.
As awful as Gina's death was, at least she got a semi-decent final bow in warning the others of the Grounder assassin with her last breath. And the shot of the countdown reflecting in her eye was striking.
Bless Sinclair for going after the assassin with no weapons. And I wonder if the guy's fighting style is typical of all the Ice Nation.
"She will always put her people first." That sounds not only like Bellamy's Watsonian opinion, but a Doylist statement that'll be challenged in the episodes to come. I'm betting Lexa will end up choosing Clarke over her people (and no doubt her critics will attack her for that too) but the private bow behind closed doors suggests Lexa is all-in.
Was this woman just lip-syncing? Her throat muscles didn't seem to be moving. Amazing song though.
Emerson is back. So is his smirk. Urgh, I hate this guy. Apparently he was meant to be killed by Bellamy at the end of last season, only they ran out of time to add it in. Granted, they utilized him well here as the person who gave the passcodes to the Ice Nation assassin, but I really hope he dies a horrible death soon. Preferably staring into the eyes of Clarke as she stands over him with a bloody sword.
On the other hand, Brenda Strong can stick around for a while longer as the Queen of the Ice Nation. I loved the design of her facial scars and icicle-like adornments, and hopefully we'll get some more details regarding her murder of Costia (the whys and wherefores), as well as a better look at her kingqueendom.
What struck me most about Echo's return to her Queen was that it appears they were all counting on Clarke being at Lexa's side "as predicted." So ... that's where they want her? That certainly doesn't bode well.
Three episodes in and I'm already sick to death of the shipping wars. There's a thin line between wanting two characters to hook up and turning the act of shipping into a competition (with the "winner" having their preferred couple as endgame), and The 100 fandom is well into the recriminations and one-upmanship of the latter. According to both sides, the "other team" is mean and/or delusional, is prioritizing shipping over story/characters, and is either attacking LGBT representation or endorsing a toxic, abusive relationship. Basically, it's every other ship war EVER. And they're going to spend the rest of the season doing it. Wow. Such fun.

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