Genre: Post-apocalyptic, sci-fi
S1: A nuclear war has left Earth uninhabitable, and the air on a spaceship containing remnants of the human race is running out. Out of desperation, those governing the spaceship decide to send 100 criminals under the age of 18–as an criminals over 18 are immediately executed, and only children are incarcerated–to Earth, to find out if conditions on the planet have become survivable.
Clarke was a member of the elite class on the spaceship before she was imprisoned, and now she finds herself surrounded by rowdy delinquents, who she’ll need to depend on to survive. If that wasn’t enough, it turns out the Earth wasn’t as uninhabitable as they’d imagined. Because there are people already there, warlike people who take exception to strangers showing up on their turf.
S2: A third party is introduced into the conflict between Clarke’s people and the grounders. These people have survived underground, and as such haven’t developed the resilience to radiation that either of the other groups have. Outmanned by the grounders and outmaneuvered by third group, Clarke and her people need to forge an alliance with one to stop the other. But forming an alliance with a people they have so much adversity with is dangerous in and of itself.
Series: Two seasons.
I’ve Watched: Early and late S1 (missed the middle), and all of S2.
Verdict: S2 – Excellent.
The second season has turned into a treatise on violence and the cycle of violence and how different groups of people view conflict differently. I’d only watched part of the first season–there were interesting things about it, but there were also annoying things about it. I picked it up again in the last episode or two of the first season, and it was much better.
The core cast has formed a group that works together, that utilizes their differences to their advantage. They’re resourceful, they’re clever, and they’re committed to each other. Their combat skills and resources don’t match up to their enemies, so they have to find other ways to survive. And they don’t always quite know what to do–should they try for peace with the people trying to kill them? Should they push the conflict further? But they stick through it, even when they make mistakes. Nonetheless, the story still forces them to pay for those mistakes.
There are things from the first season that I’m never going to forget, and that won’t ever sit right with me. Killing off Wells, a character with so much potential–who also happened to be black, and died first. The relationship with Octavia and Lincoln will always make me uncomfortable, due to its creepy Stockholm Syndrome beginnings. But I can put up with these things to watch Clarke, Bellamy, and co. desperately try to keep their people alive, while searching for peace with people who still remember all the blood that’s already been spilt.
And despite the black character dying first, our main female protagonist is bi, one of the male leads isn’t white, and the rest of the cast is pretty racially diverse. One of the main characters now has a disability. So, actually, the show’s doing pretty good with diversity. And not just relative to other media.
The three factions in conflict are all fighting for survival in radically different ways. But despite the huge differences in their cultures and ways of life, they all have certain commonalities inherent to the kind of world they live in. Chiefly, none of them are strangers to brutality–the grounders have a warrior culture, the mountain men have been bleeding and killing people for their survival, and the people from the Arch have developed a capital punishment system due to the confines of the spaceship. The 100 in particular had to survive against the grounders’ aggression all on their own. And yet, the show always shows the implications of striking a balance between necessity and brutality. From both a practical and a moral standpoint.
So when characters resort to torture, they might be given false information. And for this reason, when a chance to torture another captive for information arises, two people have two different objections–one says it’s wrong (moral), and the other says it doesn’t work (practical). When people are killed–even when the killer does it out of necessity–there’s often a reckoning of some sort. Sometimes a small one, a personal moment for the character. And sometimes a big one–when the situation changes, as it does several times, people might find their past actions are a huge hindrance to their current goals. When our protagonist deems one person’s life as more important to them than others, the story has a way of reinserting reality.
Good people do get caught in the crossfire. There are times when all the options suck. The protagonists can’t save everyone, and sometimes they have to actively sacrifice some to save others. There are moments when there’s almost a chance–if all sides had taken a moment to agree on a comprise at the same time, things might not have progressed so far. But each side is so different. Even within each faction, some individuals strive for comprise while some always resort to force. And even compromises might not last. Victories don’t come without a price, and so they’re always tinged with at least a note of tragedy.
It’s not all bleak, and it’s not all hopeful. Sometimes, people manage to be extraordinary. Sometimes, they fall short. And sometimes, they mess up. There are consequences, and there are people living with the consequences for their actions. It’s not simple. It’s not presented as simple, or as easy. All our protagonists can do is go forward, navigating the choices of what they have to lose as best they can.
And this show knows how to follow through on a threat. Not all threats, but enough to keep the audience guessing whether or not it will really come down to the worse case scenario. When a big bad thing is looming, in another show, I would be sure that that the characters will stop it. Not so with the 100, because sometimes we get the bad thing. It might be a character death, or it might be one of our protagonists making a morally questionable choice for the greater good. But we get the bad thing, and the show doesn’t try to ameliorate it, either–in fact, it makes sure to show us just how terrible it is.
Ultimately, it’s really nice to see a complex issue being treated like a complex issue, instead of being boiled down into simplistic idealism–or equally simplistic cynicism.
Another great thing is that this YA story actually has a good reason for why teens are handling all the action. They were sent down to Earth alone, with no adults among them. They had to step up and form their own community. And the adversity that they faced meant that they became tight-knit, self-reliant, and experienced, to an extent. When the adults finally manage to come down and join them, these kids have been on their own for a long time. And it was really cool to see them chafe at the restraints placed on them by this new authority in their lives. At least until the authorities realized that these kids did actually know the terrain and locals way better than they did.
The characters and their interactions are great. Clarke has this mix of compassion and pragmatism, along with a capacity for ruthlessness she’s only just begun exploring. She struggles with the choices she’s forced to make in her leadership position, to save the lives of her people. I get the impression that some of those hard decisions, she might make differently if she had the chance to do it again. But others, she wouldn’t.
Also, Clarke manages to be a dynamic, badass hero who steers the course of the show without being a good fighter. She’s a leader, not a fighter, and we need to see more of that in media.
Bellamy, Clarke’s co-leader, goes a bit down the opposite path. He started off in the first season as more brutal, though at the time he didn’t understand so well what that would mean. Now, he’s become more responsible, more devoted to his people. More compassionate. He and Clarke manage to strike a great balance. Both in their working relationship and their personal friendship.
There are so many other great characters.
- Octavia, Bellamy’ s capable younger sister who gravitates towards the grounders and their culture.
- Jasper, who steps up to defend the 100 when they’re trapped with the mountain men.
- Maya, one of the mountain men who disagrees with the status quo and allies with Jasper.
- Indra, a village leader for the grounders hostile to the people of the Arch–yet, who takes in Octavia and trains her as her second.
- Raven, a smart and creative mechanic who goes through so much emotionally and through her physical injury.
- Marcus, one of the council leaders back on the Arch who changes from a ruthless, authoritarian leader to a man who believes in peaceful solutions.
- Monty, who…really needs a character arch. So much potential, so little of it realized.
I could go on, and I wouldn’t do the characters justice.
This has become a must-watch for me, and I’m looking forward to the third season. I wish that I had no reservations at all, but at least those reservations only stem from things that happened in the first season–the second season in isolation is amazing.
“Maybe there are no good guys.”