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Saturday, February 27, 2016

The 100: Watch the Thrones, Hakeldama, Bitter Harvest

I had plans to forego my usual three-in-one reviewing pattern for this season of The 100, but time got the better of me and I found myself lagging behind. I'll try to pick up the slack for next week's episode.
Two things are emerging from this season: a theme and a twist. The theme is one of every individual doing what they honestly think is right, with "right" being generally defined as "what's best for my people." As such, tension emerges between the principles of unity and tribalism; the understanding that everyone is of the same origin versus the cracks that are emerging not only between Arkadians and Grounders, but the factions within those groups.
And chillingly, the person doing the most to unite people is Jaha and his City of Light plot, which has suddenly become incredibly more interesting.
The season's "twist" is that despite the lengthy build-up of the Ice Nation and its Queen over the course of the show, it transpires that they're dealt with pretty quickly, leading to the Ark itself as the Big Bad of season three. Furthermore, they've felt the need to make one of our regulars a part of this new antagonistic faction, perhaps to give it a personal edge, or to try and muddy the waters with its treatment of ethical conundrums (ie, do we justify or support bad decisions when they're being made by someone we like?) The role falls to Bellamy, and more than any other creative decision, this is proving to be the contentious point of the season.

As it happens, the character of Pike makes sense to me. His people have dropped like flies and he has no understanding of Grounder politics, so a pre-emptive strike on a Grounder army to demonstrate Arker strength and get revenge for what happened at Mount Weather is a logical step to take. He comes across as reasonable, intelligent and charismatic, saying all the right things to either rile up or tone down his followers, and (up until the forced internment) even shows respect and a certain amount of understanding towards Lincoln. He's certainly more of a character that's been developed to fulfil a narrative role than a three-dimensional person in his own right, but I can see where he's coming from.
Which unfortunately, is more than I can say for Bellamy. Seriously, what is going on here? Why would he partake in a massacre? Why is he so beholden to Pike? Why is he endangering Octavia and Lincoln? If he doesn't trust Lexa, why is he killing her people? For all he knows, she could have retaliated for the massacre of her army by returning Clarke's head to Arkadia in a box.
(Though honestly, the more I think about it, the more ludicrous this plot gets. Why would Pike want to go up against a Grounder army without any provocation or evidence that they were a threat? Why wouldn't Abbie and Kane tell the people of Arkadia that an army was coming to protect them so the news didn't come as a surprise during a memorial service? And why the heck, after establishing that Kane and Indra had super-special-secret-best-friends-walkie-talkies, didn't Kane contact her to warn her of an impending attack? And where on earth are all these votes for Pike coming from? The farm station doesn't encompass that many people, and I find it hard to fathom the majority would turn on Kane and Abbie so quickly.)
People make stupid decisions all the time, but what they don't make is illogical ones. There is internal reasoning for every idiotic decision ever made, even if it's just panic or spite or ignorance. Bellamy's decision to steal the radio in season one was stupid (and had grave consequences) but it was born out of a logical sense of self-preservation. But now? I can't for the life of me grasp the logic in what he's doing – not from what we know of him, and not from the situation as it's unfolding.
I can't find a way to explain why he would think a pre-emptive massacre on people he knows are allies is a good idea. And no, the fridged girlfriend doesn't count. Neither does an off-screen history with Pike that suggests they had a close relationship on the Ark. Both are lazy plot devices.
What might have worked is if the season opener had introduced Bellamy and Echo as a couple, only for Echo to betray him to the Ice Queen by leading him to Polis as a distraction. It would have given Bellamy the "personal vendetta" the writers were pushing for with the death of Gina, avoided a clichéd fridging, and granted Bellamy a more compelling reason to turn on the Grounders: that he not only trusted one of them but was in a relationship with her, and that she still chose her own people over him.
But honestly, that still doesn't cut it. Bellamy is officially Out Of Character, and though it occasionally happens, whether or not a writer can get away with it depends on what's at stake. If you need a plot-convenient commotion at just the right time, then by all means have your otherwise graceful character trip and fall. It's not a big deal. But we're dealing with a life-or-death situation here, and what's happening with Bellamy is tantamount to the character assassination that Marian underwent in the season two finale of Robin Hood, in which she suddenly decides to commit a freaking murder in order to push the plot forward.
So Pike becomes Chancellor and immediately leads his people out to murder three hundred Grounders in their sleep, a decision Bellamy only seems to recognize as a bad one after the fact. Raven and Octavia (two people who could have talked him out of this nonsense) were conveniently absent in the lead-up to this event, and there's no real attempt to humanize the dead. We'll never get to see the families of these Grounders, never feel the loss or grief that their murders inspired – and since the whole thing happened off-screen we didn't get to see their pain or fear as they died either.
Like Gina, they're just plot devices – so it's no wonder that Bellamy fans are already starting to talk about his impending redemption arc and insisting that they'll love him no matter what he does. It's not that I blame them (we'll go to all manner of lengths to defend our favourite characters), but how on earth do you justify something like this? You have to chalk it down to bad writing or you'll find yourself defending genocide.
(Now would be the perfect time to post the "great motive, still murder" GIF, except that Bellamy has no great motive either.)
So Pike, Bellamy and the rest of the farm station folks return artfully splatted with blood after murdering people from a distance. Their next step is kicking the sick Grounders out of the infirmary and throwing them into a prison cell. When Jaha turns up on their doorstep, it's only a matter of seconds before this asshole:
...murders his companion. Jeez. Somebody lock this guy up. (Honestly, the writers have tried to insert an obligatory sympathetic angle by establishing that his son died at Grounder hands, but given that we never knew this dead son means I can't muster up any emotion but dislike for him.)
Elsewhere, Hannah and a few cohorts are taking water samples and scoping out potentially arable land, but when a Grounder kid shows up, they instantly try to kill him, even though there's not much he could say about them beyond "they were standing by a river."
I get the narrative twist was that the people of the Ark would be the antagonist of season three, but this is all a bit much. This show used to be very good at setting up very difficult moral conundrums and then refusing to take the easy way out, but they were interesting scenarios because there were no clear right or wrong paths. Here, we're dealing with the question: do you raze a village full of people to the ground because you want land to plant crops?
The answer is no. No, you don't.
Perhaps I'm speaking a little too soon, as the ethical debate of this episode doesn't actually revolve around Pike's plans for expansion, but Octavia's reaction to it. Kane has sent her out as his eyes/ears to follow the other Arkers and report back to him – a relationship that is built nicely on what was established between them last season.
Having realized they're hunting down an innocent child, Octavia intervenes and successfully saves him, but on hearing what their plans are for the Grounder village, she's faced with a choice: essentially betray her own people and warn the Grounders of their coming, or keep quiet and let the attack take place. At first glance the first option seems like the right one, but it leads to the Grounders organizing an ambush that puts her brother and friends in jeopardy. Now that's more like it, writers.
Octavia has always been an interesting character, but across the first two seasons they really dropped on the ball on what it would truly be like for a girl to live half her life under the floorboards and whose very existence led to her mother's execution. Now however, they've found an interesting narrative place for her as a teenager torn between two worlds: the people who forbad her existence, and the people who don't fully trust her. The current story-arc is devastating Bellamy's character, but watching her brother choose the wrong side of the fight is doing wonders for Octavia's.
***
Don't worry, this review isn't all doom and gloom, for as bad as all this Arkadia stuff is, the Polis material is fantastic.
In stark contrast to what's going on with the rest of Skaikru, Clarke and Lexa have a pretty good handle on the situation over in the Grounder capital – so much so that there's a chance the writers are deliberately building up a contrast between the two groups, or at least trying to demonstrate how lost the Arkadians are without Clarke. I don't want to believe that since Clarke and Lexa are my favourites and they don't need to denigrate one group in order to elevate the other, but I'm not too clear what the writerly plan is yet.  
In any case, the Ice Queen Nya has organized a coup to take down Lexa, a political manoeuvre that involves Prince Roan and Lexa facing each other in mortal combat. Picking up on the fraught relationship between mother and son, Clarke approaches Roan with an offer: she'll help make him king of the Ice Nation if he can dispose of his mother. Presumably her assassination attempt (involving a poisoned dagger and a Grounder blood-letting custom) was designed by Roan, but intervention from Nya's right-hand-girl Ontari means Nya doesn't fall for it.
But though Clarke doesn't know it, Lexa has simultaneously come up with the exact same idea, and after beating Roan in combat, she throws her spear into the stands, kills Nya, and declares Roan the new king. From the moment Nya made her move, Lexa has been running the long con. What's more, Lexa is able to extend understanding and compassion to the councillors who announced their vote of no confidence, telling Clarke it was all down to the aforementioned theme of the season: they were just trying to do what was best for their people.
But then of course, just as they've achieved justice for those killed at Mount Weather, the massacre happens. Clarke manages to sneak back inside the walls of Arkadia, assuming (and not without reason) that a talk with Bellamy will soon get things back on track; that together the two of them can spread their "blood must not have blood" message.
And here comes my second rant. I don't mind that people are questioning Clarke's decisions, or that Bellamy off-loaded some of his grief and confusion onto her, or that Emerson (delivered by Roan to Polis in a box) understandably wants to murder her, or even that Octavia has a go at her for not being around when the Grounder massacre took place.
But the show isn't giving Clarke a chance to defend herself, or to point out the obvious hypocrisy of the people accusing her of crimes they've committed themselves. "You're not in charge here, and that's a good thing because people die when you're in charge," says the guy who's just assisted in the massacre of three hundred people. "What's the matter, you don't like to be faced with your demons?" asks the guy who smirked while helping in the agonizing deaths of teenagers for the sake of bone marrow that could have been extracted willingly and non-fatally.
Clarke hasn't been living it up in Polis all this time – she's been trying to fix the damn problems that others are creating. It's frustrating to watch her keep quiet as she's constantly called out for behaviour that everyone is just as culpable of, and it only results in everyone ELSE looks like a jerk for ragging on her constantly, while Clarke just takes it like a long-suffering martyr.
So it was with some relief that we finally get some shades of grey to her character when she's faced with Emerson and his impending execution. Whether or not it happens is entirely up to her, and Lexa points out her hypocrisy when Clarke gives her assent for his death. Clarke argues there's a difference in not seeking retaliation for the death of the three hundred Grounders (as that would only escalate conflict) and executing Emerson (whose death would go entirely unnoticed by the world at large) but at the end of the day, she's still exercising a double-standard.
Naturally, she eventually decides not to go through with the execution – but check out her face when she tells Emerson this:

Damn. That little wisp of an evil smile tells us everything: she's using her own peace-and-mercy rhetoric to condemn him to a much cruller fate than death. And she knows it. Well played, writers.
It'll be interesting to see in upcoming episodes whether Lexa will be able to maintain this new "blood must not have blood" principle, since it's practically the Grounders' catchphrase, and likely to get her into even more political hot water. She's already in a precarious situation after the coup, and I can't help but feel her motivations aren't so much born out of a desire for peace as they are trying to make amends with Clarke.  
***
In light of all this, it's almost a relief to see Jaha again, as the City of Light storyline has unexpectedly become much more interesting. Though Clarke is the show's true Messianic Archetype in her attempts to preach non-violence over conflict, Jaha considers himself to be fulfilling that role when he returns to Arkadia, complete with an invisible ALIE and a bag of happy pills.
Kane is happy to see him, Abbie isn't remotely convinced by what he's trying to sell, and Pike goes from suspicious to considerably more relaxed when he learns the former Chancellor simply wants to preach the good news. Jaha starts reintegrating himself into the community, handing out microchips (that's what they are, right?) to those on board with what he's promising them: painlessness.
Naturally, Raven is at the top of his list. I'm glad that all of Raven's suffering finally has a narrative point to it, and it's certainly an ingeniously trollish move on behalf of the writers to give the audience what they want for Raven (an end to her pain) in a way that is clearly not good for her. Having established that her leg will never heal and that managing the pain is her only option, Raven wholly embraces her chance to get back control over her body and help Jaha in any way she can.
Which turns out to be helping ALIE search for another programmed version of herself, one that was apparently part of the Ark. Not just any part of the Ark – the thirteenth station, which was blown out of the sky prior to Unity Day and whose remnants helped form the basis of Polis. Whew, this episode just blew the underlying mythology of the show wide open. Suddenly there are all sorts of bits and pieces scattered throughout the season that are starting to link up:
The mentions (from Finn) as far back as season one that Unity Day was just propaganda to hide a much darker past.
That the name Polis derives from "Polaris", the name of the thirteenth space station that was destroyed by the others.
That ALIE is somehow linked to that station, and therefore the Grounder culture. And is this somehow connected to their belief in reincarnation, and Lexa's supposed ability to communicate with the past Commanders in her dreams?
The probably-not-coincidental numbers game: that Polaris was the thirteenth station, and that Skaikru is now considered the thirteenth tribe.
The Nightbloods: a group of children who are in the running to be the next Commander, all with distinctive black blood. Surely that's got to be a genetic marker of some kind.
That the "sacred symbol" (identified as such by Titus) appears not only on Jaha's microchips but as a tattoo on the back of Lexa's neck.
And of course, the City of Light itself. Clearly the place has its darker side, not only inherent in the fact ALIE's name can be rearranged into "a lie", but that it's wiping away memories of loved ones as well as pain. Jaha temporarily forgot his son Wells, and when Jasper approaches Raven about how he scattered Finn's ashes she's suspiciously serene about it – perhaps suggesting that she doesn't really remember what Finn meant to her.
I'm admit I'm incredibly intrigued about how all this is going to play out.
***
That leaves Murphy and Emori, stealing things from a whimsical traveller who looks like he's wandered in from The Shannara Chronicles.
Together they're two lovable assholes, but just as I was about to write: "doesn't she have a brother?" on my notepad, Emori announces that she wants to go and find him. What I didn't know was that apparently said brother is Otan, who got shot outside the gates of Arkadia. I must have missed the scene where that was established – or at least forgotten it.
In any case, the couple are separated when Murphy gets captured and taken to Polis, where answers will no doubt be forthcoming as to what on earth all this City of Light/sacred symbol/ALIE/Polaris/ Nightblood  business is about. Hopefully.
Miscellaneous Observations:
"Gina was real." Not really, she was your plot device.
I loved Clarke's barely concealed incredulity when she meets Aden. Sure Lexa, a little boy taking over after your death will totally set her mind at ease.
I find it amusing that Murphy is growing in popularity, which seems to be partly brought on by people forgetting that he's responsible for Raven's current predicament. It was his bullet that paralyzed her, remember.  
So if the Nightbloods have black blood, does this mean that Lexa has been wearing her own blood as a face-mask all this time?
I can't help but feel that the Ice Queen's death was a waste of a good character, especially after so much build-up. There was so much juicy potential in learning more about the vendetta between Lexa/Nya and the death of Costia, but I guess it's all over now. However, Ontari is almost certainly going to turn up again, which means we'll have three teenage girls in positions of immense power.
Lincoln is too good for all these people, and he's clearly marked for death. I'm pretty devastated.
I can't help but resent that some people are referring to Clarke/Lexa as "pandering." You don't have to like it, but could you at least get the terminology straight? A relationship isn't pandering if it's a part of the story, which Clarke/Lexa clearly is. If we were watching Ship Tease between them that wasn't going anywhere or achieving anything, then it's pandering. 

While we're on the topic of shipping, I'm not opposed to the slow burn of Bellamy/Clarke (the ship is m/f and the fans are loud, so they'll probably get their way eventually) but for now I'm on board with Clexa.
Octavia's warning getting validated by the Grounder kid she rescued reminds me of the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode in which Sokka warns the Fire Nation village of Jet's imminent attack and gets backed up by the old man he assisted earlier. I love seeing similar tropes (in this case "kindness repaid") playing out across different stories.
Lexa says of Clarke: "You're driven to fix everything for everyone." But I'm not sure that's true – her prerogative has always been the protection of her people, whether they like it or not.
I loved this fade-in, fade-out between Pike/Monty's mum:

Seeing Clarke/Octavia working together again was nice, as was the hurried farewell between Clarke and Abbie. I've said it before and I'll say it again, but these two are the most important relationship of the show, shipping be damned.
So my question about whether Bellamy knew about the bombing of Tondc was answered: he did.
I'm glad that at least Miller is on the right side of this conflict, but it was seriously odd that he and his boyfriend only hugged when the latter went off on his mission. If I didn't know their relationship had been confirmed, I might have just assumed they were acquaintances or something. Not to mention the fact that Miller lets him go off into danger, knowing full well that Octavia is warning the Grounders. And what about Hannah? She just lets her son tag along on a lovely mother/son bonding massacre?
But hey, I loved that the covert SWAT team pulled up in front of the Grounder village in a jeep with the headlights on and Bellamy yelling: "hello, anyone here?" What on earth was the plan here?
Sneak attack!
Aw, Munroe. She ended up a Mauve Shirt, and she deserved a better send-off than this. Watch out, Harper.
Bellamy pretending to take Clarke's hand as a ruse to handcuff her was totally taken from Clarke's playbook.
Like I said earlier, I'm a little annoyed at all the "you're a horrible person" accusations that are being levelled at Clarke by other characters. Any different moral situation as presented in any book/film/show is designed to make the viewer ask: "what would I do in this situation?" and I don't believe that anyone would let their friends and family undergo long and painful deaths when the alternative is quite literally laying down and dying.
It reminds me of Once Upon a Time in which Snow White takes steps to indirectly kill a woman who was about to destroy the entire town and everyone in it, only for Snow to be treated as the bad guy for saving everyone's lives. (In hindsight, the scene of Regina gloating about how Snow's heart is now tainted forever by what she'd done should have been the moment I quit the show, though I hung in there for another season).
It's also reminiscent of this post that recently turned up on my Tumblr dashboard:
main character: this villain has killed innocents and destroyed multiple lives in a ripple-effect of death and destruction and chaos. only i can stop him before he hurts someone again, perhaps someone close to me. but in order to stop him i must kill him. if i go through with this.... doesn't it make me just as evil?
me: no.
Should Clarke feel guilty and grapple with PTSD over what happened at Mount Weather? Sure. But I'd also like the show to acknowledge that she was completely backed into a corner and that what she did doesn't make her a terrible person. I think she more than anyone needs to hear that.  

2 comments:

  1. Great rundown as always. Very surprised the City of Light stuff is turning out as well as it is, I must say.

    It kills me that they're making such a hash of the Arkadia stuff, because not only is "The Resistance" one of my favourite tropes, but it's also clearly heavily inspired by the New Caprica arc on Battlestar Galactica, which was one of the best things that show did. But there, the arc of the character most equivalent to Bellamy was built up for an entire half-season and made so much more sense. It's such a bizarre lapse from this of all shows, too.

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    1. It's immensely frustrating what they've done to Bellamy, especially I think the plot could have worked just as well if he was a mole within Pike's faction. It's obvious from a couple of Bob Morley's interviews that he's finding it difficult to get a grasp on his character.

      I'm in an odd position in that I'm still generally enjoying the show simply because Bellamy isn't a favourite of mine - I like the character a lot, and I'm disappointed that he's being written this way, but it's not a dealbreaker for me.

      Perhaps I would have called it a day if the City of Light stuff hadn't become so suddenly intriguing in the most recent episode.

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