Beyond the Bubble
As Americans, few of us have lived in a world that requires us to fight for survival. But odds are you've probably known someone who has — your grandfather's battle in the Pacific or your best friend's brother in Iraq. You may have even heard their tales — but the thing is, it never truly tells their story. Fact is, unless you were there you'll never get it and that's a gracious thing — their heroism has spared us of those truths; it keeps us in the bubble, but is that a good thing? This is what makes season two of "The 100" worthy of recognition.
In a demographic riddled with soapy drama, "The 100" has done what nobody else is doing — daring to challenge the iphone generation with more than just a love triangle. And hey, hear me — there is nothing wrong with soaps, my DVR is filled with them. There is a place for it among the ranks of entertainment genres — but what this demo has been lacking is meat. And if there is one takeaway from the first half of the CW's sophomore post-apocalyptic series — it is that the writer's room has made a clear vocal statement: They are not here to play. They are not here to shy away from the hard things. This is not some teen drama that will live in the safe places.
No, showrunner Jason Rothenberg and his team are willing to take you into the grey zone — that place between righteousness and evil. One that asks the questions nobody is asking. It's that narrow fold of tension created by a gavel — one that has been deemed by man to be the authority of what is morally right and wrong. And there is no greater exploration into these murky corridors, than in the fight for life and death.War
From the first frames of season two, "The 100" has been threading an overarching theme: What are we willing to do in the name of survival? After a firefight killed a number of "The 100" teens — Clarke Griffin, the strong female lead and comandress of her group, awakes in an unknown compound against her will. Jumping into full offense, she takes a piece of glass to the throat of a girl even younger than she. Later, in sheer badass mode — Clarke guts the stitches from her own arm to seek the truth behind her captors. Now, would you do that? Would, I? Yes, but I'm also badass, so there is that. *winks* But that is the challenging question and it only gets amplified. Cue Clarke's season one love interest, Finn Collins (Thomas McDonell).
The season one finale battle with the Grounders, leaves a bloody destruction of the 100's camp — but Finn manages to survive, only to learn Clarke is nowhere to be found. Put yourself in Finn's place. He's just brutally lost his friends and now the girl he loves is gone. This is war and it's gotten very, very real. In desperate effort to find Clarke, Finn makes several decisions. One being that he's willing to inflict bodily harm on a Grounder, in order to retrieve any information on Clarke's whereabouts. This move becomes worrisome to Clarke's risk-taker confidant and co-leader Bellamy Blake (Bob Morley), who ironically had committed the same antihero acts himself in season one. But maybe seeing a young man who has been a moral compass to his group turn violent is sobering to Bellamy.
It's not something humanity would do under normal life circumstances, right? But let's be serious, if you were just slaughtered by these people — they'd be the obvious suspect in the disappearance of a person you love. Time is running out, what is the right call? Or is there one? Again, you don't really know what you would do until you are there — but nonetheless, this thought provoking situation is not skating over the controversial — it's hard-hitting and effective.
Then it comes. In episode five, "Human Trials" Finn and Murphy (Richard Harmon) — a member of "The 100" who has had his fair share of downright wrong choices — hold a group of Grounders captive. Some captees are young; some old. They seem innocent, but are they? If you are searching for a brother-in-arms that could be a POW, there is no holding back — you are gonna do whatever you have to do. So there is Finn — adrenaline on fire, as one...then two, try to escape. Faced with no time to think, Finn pulls the trigger. That should keep them in line right? No, others begin making a run for it; he's losing control. Reacting in a surge, Finn unleashes — killing 18 unarmed Grounders as Clarke, now free, watches on in disbelief. *gasps*
Our faces in that moment reflect Clarke's shock, but this is where "The 100" begs you to truly be real with yourself. Having just binged on WWII films, I was imagining the SS or the Japanese trying to escape U.S. hold; there would be no hesitation in the middle of occupied France — they'd be shot. This has happened; it's war. And look, this isn't the Battle of the Bulge, but this is their war right? They basically got sent to their death on earth and arrived through the impossible, only to face being killed by a people they don't understand.
And here is the thing — you step into a war zone, you must see your enemy as the enemy. The second you let them prey on your humanity you're dead. Your team is dead. Think about the sands of Iraq — the children armed with AK-47's and a smile. You see a kid, but in reality they are a weapon. So with Finn, this forces you to see that in survive or die, there is no black or white.
He did it; it's done. But then, what do you do with it? You have not a split second to make a decision that you may spend the rest of your life haunted by. The stakes are so high, that you may survive, but in that choice your soul may not. And that is exactly the path that begins in Finn.
What have we become?
Yes, to the amazement of "The 100" fans — Finn gets pardoned by the newly-arrived adults. The social media reaction was understandably strong, "Wait, what? How is that morally justifiable?" Before you knew it you are holding the gavel, from the plush comfort of your home — a zillion miles away from any type of "do or die" way of life. Flip on the news, you see this all the time. A couple of years ago Marines were caught urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban insurgents, who had murdered their fellow Marine brothers. The country erupted, swinging that gavel while sipping on their Starbucks. I don't know about you, but Finn's choice sent my mind to those places — and if that's not good storytelling, I don't know what is. Yet, just because Finn was pardoned by the law doesn't mean he was washed.
In "The Fog of War" the writers of "The 100" walk you through the tension — not just within Finn, but within the group as a whole. They have varying reactions. You get the sense that they feel compromised — because if you can't trust the person beside you and what they might do — your team is at deadly risk. I think the most poignant reaction line comes from Finn's former girlfriend Raven Reyes (Lindsey Morgan) — maybe the person who knows him best. Finn is struggling with his actions, but Raven has had it — she straight up tells him basically to suck it up — that he's not the only one whose done things. Her statement explores the interesting shades of what one can accept in that world. It certainly paints the stark contrast between Clarke an Raven's responses.
To boil it over, Finn and Clarke then get trapped together while outrunning the acid fog. It demands that they face each other, but also symbolizes that in the world of survival, getting pushed up against a wall is the way of life. You have to make every choice as if someone has you by the throat — down to even how Clarke is being made to confront this. Remember they love each other, yet in the moment she watched him fire, all that death thwarted a turn and there is no going back. Then Clarke says it, "I don't even know who you are anymore." She said it and maybe she meant it at face value, but I heard another voice. It almost felt as if this comandress was saying, "I don't know who we are anymore." And I'm sure she probably doesn't.
Finn's emotional reply, that he doesn't know who he is either, prompted the big pose from Clarke, "What have we become?" And that sets us up — foreshadowing what comes next...as if murky waters had yet to be wade.
There is an unknown author who penned these words:
"A fake leader is the one who wants to be famous, the one who wants to be praised by people."
Leadership is a coveted title, but it's cold reality is having to be the one to make the impossible choices. This becomes the mid-season finale theme. They can turn Finn over to the Grounders in order to achieve peace — or they must be prepared for a fight. The debate was heated; everyone had a vote and it seemed there was no right choice. Either way people die. Then in a moment of sacrifice, while owning his actions — Finn gives himself over to the Grounders.
The group looks on, in utter sadness and probably horror, as Finn gets tied to a tree by the Grounders. Now, everyone may have a different view of where Clarke's mind was in the following scene — I can only tell you my interpretation. See, at this moment Clarke has heard the stories. She knows the torture that awaits Finn. I believe all she sees is Finn's forthcoming pain and right there, she makes a decision that she's gonna do whatever she can to prevent it — one way or another.
The tension is thick. Clarke looks over at Bellamy. It was an unspoken conversation that she had to do what she was about to do. That's just the connection these two have formed. It was a brilliant moment between these leaders, who seem get each other without words.
Raven then slips a blade in Clarke's sleeve and begs her to kill the Grounder leader, Lexa (Alycia Debnam Carey). In my mind, Clarke knew that wasn't in the cards. It would only mean more blood. But she doesn't say it to the distraught, Raven; she can't. This is where the build is just epic. You see Clarke's eyes — with this calm determination, almost as if she accepted what that blade actually needed to be. Passing Bellamy, she says all she needs to say and in his own eyes, it seems he too, understood.
Lexa is a perfect. She carries the gravitas necessary to make this next scene all it should be. [side note: "The 100" is nailing the fierce female leads like nobody else.] Standing before one another, there is a rapport; a common ground between two women responsible for their people.
Clarke appeals to Lexa's humanity and begs for mercy. There was something in this confrontation that was raw — yet restrained. I did not get the authentic feel, that Finn's life hung on Clarke's plea. I believe her aim was not in her words, but the the result of them. Lexa's humanity bought Clarke a goodbye. That move got her close enough to Finn, in order to make the most profound choice of her life. With tears streaming down her face, she embraces Finn — concealing the blade. And his last words?
"Thank you Princess."
The terrifying cry from Raven, echoes through the distance. [Lindsey Morgan continues to be such a strong actress — that moment required her anchor and she owned it.]
To spare Finn pain, Clarke did the impossible thing — she took his life herself. That scene was stunning, yet incredibly beautiful. It was every shade of love and sacrifice — an extraordinary moment of true leadership. For all Clarke knew she was walking into her own death. She did it anyway, solidifying that she is no princess. For princesses rely on the courage of a knight to defend her in war — and Clarke goes to war herself.
But now, she must bare its weight. Choosing the unpopular, will thwart its own fallout. It will be a defining time for this comandress.
How many shows are out there challenging this demo with these prodding — tenebrous and extraordinary realities? One.
To take it a step further — I'm not sure that there is a show currently running — and that includes the heavy hitters like "The Waking Dead" — that are journeying the grey zone of life and death with such vital audaciousness; one that isn't here for the shock value — but carries honest weight, while honoring its characters.
So, writers of "The 100" — keep taking us into the morally ambiguous shadows, that dare us to look within ourselves. Keep provoking messy questions of sincerity and breaking the status quo... and we'll keep following."The 100" returns with all new episodes starting January 21, 2015