As season openers go, this two-parter was pretty damn good. Thinking back to the clunky handful of episodes that opened the show's first season, it's obvious the writers have found their groove and are expanding their world accordingly.
As the first season dealt with Grounders and the second with Mount Weather, the third is clearly broadening its horizons to include the Ice Nation, leading to what will no doubt be a much more complex political arena.
We get the requisite catch-up with all our main characters: Bellamy is in a leadership role and has a new girlfriend, Jasper is still struggling with the death of Maya, Abbie is finding herself stretched too thin between two roles, Raven's leg injuries are worsening, there's tension between Lincoln and Octavia, Wick has disappeared (I don't know the details, but apparently the actor was making offensive remarks on Twitter), and Clarke is living feral in the forests; hunting animals and exchanging her kills for the bare essentials.
The cat-lover in me hates her just a little bit for this.
The residents of the Ark have changed their name from Camp Jaha to Arkadia (wonder how long it took them to do that after Jaha ditched them?) and are making runs to Mount Weather to fetch supplies. It's a sensible idea, but the Grounders have deep-seated suspicions of the Mountain, putting their alliance in jeopardy every time they go there.
While our young protagonists are out on an excursion, they pick up a radio signal – and despite watching this episode twice, I'm still not entirely sure what the Farm Station is supposed to be. The first time around I thought it was an outpost of the already-established Ark that was calling for help, though it soon became obvious that wasn't the case. Is it another part of the Ark that got separated as it came down out of orbit? Or something to do with Diana's ill-fated shuttle in season one?
Whatever the case, the teens decide to check it out, running into Ice Nation scouts, Kane and Indra, and the survivors of the Farm Station in quick succession. It turns out that Monty's mother is among the latter, and after a fairly tear-jerking reunion (seriously, we've never seen this woman before, but she'll have you getting misty-eyed in seconds) we learn that Monty's father wasn't so lucky.
The question is, should we believe the story Hannah and fellow-survivor Pike sold to Monty about how his father died a hero? Something tells me there's more to it than that.
This new group of Arkers are highly xenophobic, though probably not without reason considering what we know about Grounders. Pike's very name sums him up perfectly: he's blunt and threatening, and casts more than one suspicious glance at Indra – even going so far as to demand she speak English when conversing with another Grounder. (I can't help but feel the writers patted themselves on the back with that detail).
Turns out that everyone who's anyone is searching for someone called Wanheda. Unsurprisingly it's Clarke, whose attack on Mount Weather has – according to Grounder superstition – endowed her with power that can be claimed by the person who kills her. Among those with their eye on the prize is the Ice Queen, the greatest threat to Lexa's peaceful coalition of Grounder tribes.
Great set-up. Seriously, well done show.
As it happens, Clarke is off killing panthers, dying her hair with berries, and having some downtime with the young and attractive store-keeper of a Grounder trading post. In an interesting perspective twist, Niylah sees Clarke as a hero; the girl who stopped the reaping of her people – enough so that she protects her from some bounty hunters.
Hey, it's Charles Vane! Technically he's called Roan of the Ice Nation, but Zach McGowan is pretty much just playing him as Charles Vane. He's clever enough to see through Niylah's bluff, and nice enough to let the two girls roll around in the sack undisturbed until Clarke decides to leave in the middle of the night (you cad!)
Once she's been taken captive, Clarke is back to form: she fakes a fainting, strangles Roan from behind, alerts several other Ice Nation scouts, and grabs a knife from one of their dead bodies before she's finally subdued. That's one of the things I love most about Clarke: she's not a fighter and she has little in the way of physical strength, but she can think on her feet and is endlessly resourceful.
The plots intersect when Bellamy catches a glimpse of Clarke and disguises himself as an Ice Nation soldier to go after her. It's a pretty riveting scene, in which he gets so close to freeing her before getting deliberately wounded by Roan (after Clarke begs for Bellamy's life) and so unable to follow. Nicely played.
It's at this point that Roan emerges as a pretty interesting character; someone who rejects Clarke's Not So Different claim (instead calling her a coward for running away) but who decides to spare the man at his mercy after hearing the panic in her voice. Listen up Kylo Ren fans: THIS is a character you can rightfully compare to Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Both are the banished prince of a Nation with an innate sense of honour and a longing to return home.
There's one final twist in store. Although Clarke and the audience have assumed that Roan is taking her to the Ice Queen, it turns out he's actually working for Lexa. And damn Alycia Debnam-Carey is good. Everything in her movements and tone of voice demonstrates a steely leader that's not to be argued with, but Clarke's reaction deeply unsettles her – though it's only her eyes that convey that.
As Kane said last season "heavy lies the crown", and it's certainly taking a toll on Lexa – and Clarke as well, whose outburst is clearly the result of so many weeks (months?) of simmering resentment at what Lexa's decision forced her to do. I can't wait to see where this goes, and I dearly hope they make Lexa a regular character sooner rather than later (though I understand that Alycia is committed to another show at present).
In minor subplots, Jasper is proving himself to be a real liability to the Arkers due to his current PTSD (and seriously fandom, can you lay off him a bit?) and Nyko turns up badly injured by the Ice Nation, forcing Abbie to take him to the Mountain for medical treatment.
The visit concludes with Jasper coming to grips with the place (complete with some nice continuity when he finds Maya's favourite painting) and Abbie deciding that it should be used regularly as a functioning facility. My first reaction was "bad idea", not least because so many people died there, but as Nyko points out – places aren't evil, only people.
Then there's the City of Light debacle, and I'm not entirely sure how to approach it. It's an odd sci-fi mystery that doesn't really gel with the dystopian survival story going on elsewhere, but it's engaging in its own way.
Murphy is stuck in that underground bunker for eighty-six days, watching a video on repeat that provides us with some clues about how the Earth ended up the way it is now (plus a few unanswered questions) and which eventually leads to him doing this:
Normal Tuesday night at my house.
Thelonious eventually comes to fetch him, introducing him to ALIE and the concept of the City of Light, which seems to exist in another dimension that can be accessed through meditation – or so it seems. It could just as easily be a computer programme that gets downloaded into a person's brain, allowing admission whenever the conscious decision to do so is made.
Something tells me the writers hadn't quite figured out what the City of Light would actually be when Sienna told Thelonious about it last season, as how on earth would a nomad living in the desert know about a non-corporeal landscape on the astral plane? It seems to have gone from a physical place to a strange Matrix-like concept, and not one that Murphy is remotely interested in until Emori turns up on a boat.
I was hoping we'd see her again, and Murphy has clearly found his soulmate: an unrepentant killer/thief who does things without remorse and yet still has enough graciousness in her to give Murphy a thank-you kiss. Murphy may be a complete jerk, but he's well aware of that fact, and is enjoyable to watch when he's not hurting characters we actually like.
To be honest, most of this storyline is a bit scattershot at the moment, what with Thelonious carrying around a computer system in a backpack that's somehow connected to ALIE, Emori revealing that she steals technology for more than one buyer (including a woman in a flying machine), dead people appearing alive and with no injuries or mutations in the City of Light, and Thelonious giving Murphy a strange computer chip/pill for reasons unknown. In short: too many questions and not enough answers.
Harper and Munroe! Miller Senior and Doctor Jackson! Please don't kill these guys off; I've gotten fond of them.
I don't know if these writers are trawling the fan message-boards (for the show's sake I hope they don't, as once the pandering process starts, the stories always begin to spiral the drain) but with mentions of contraceptive implants and Nathan Miller's sexuality, it would seem they're keeping at least one eye on audience discussions.
Which is why I think the introduction of Bellamy's girlfriend is an indication that nothing overt is going to happen between himself or Clarke any time soon. That goes double for Clarke's encounter with Niylah, which seemed designed to re-establish her bi-status and demonstrate that she and Bellamy aren't exactly pining for each other.
Shippers should just take it easy, is all I'm saying.
This was a beautiful fade from mother to daughter, and a strong indication that Clarke's most important relationship will always be with Abbie.
There was a great wide-shot of the Ark's interior that included people stacking framed artwork from the Mountain, but more poignant was the reappearance of this ball:
Look familiar? It's the one the kids in the Mountain were playing with, and which served as a symbolic indicator of their deaths.
Apparently Wanheda translates to "Commander of Death". It's certainly a big step-up from "princess."
The sight of Raven driving the armoured car while Octavia gallops beside them on her horse and the teens sing along with Violent Femmes is what iconic scenes are made of. Gorgeous stuff right there, and a scene that sums up everything about this world and its inhabitants.
And did you notice Finn's crane hanging from the mirror?
I like the way ALIE carries herself: there's something oddly sinister and elegant about the way she walks with her hands clasped in front of her.
That trap Pike and the others sprung with the falling trees has got to be the most inconvenient trap ever. How would you rig it up so each tree landed at exactly the right time? How could you be certain it wouldn't crush the car? Heck, since it would have been useless in stopping anything but a car, how did they even know one would turn up?
Why is Bellamy taking over the opening narration I wonder? To indicate a larger role? Or just to keep his fans happy?
I can't wait to see the Ice Nation Queen in person: this is the woman who sent Lexa her girlfriend's head after all. Though speaking of the Ice Nation, does anyone keep expecting the line: "everything changed when the Ice Nation attacked"?
You know what I truly love about this show? That a man built like Zach McGowan can stand over a tied-up teenage girl with no shirt on, and there still not be the slightest hint of a sexual threat.
Perhaps Jasper walks out with the most brutal line to Abbie: "Your daughter killed [Finn] too." Yeouch.