Spoiler warning, I guess. I’m going to be talking at length about elements of the first season of The 100, which premiered back in 2014. So if you’re worried about that, then maybe read our Ant-Man and the Wasp review and also I have so many questions for you.
Hi, I’m twelve episodes into the first season of The CW’s The 100 adaptation from Jason Rothenberg and I hate it.
I’m not even sure how I fell into this trap of watching it. Somewhere in the back of my mind, perhaps, the recollection of it being renewed for a sixth season and hearing interesting things about the third season smashed into the ass-end of serendipity as it came across my Netflix recommendations and I popped it on. Who can really say. What I can say, however, is that they made a mistake letting it go on after the pilot.
To be clear, it’s not that it’s an excessively dumb show; I don’t mind the level of suspension of disbelief required to view it. The premise, while rote, is framed kind of interestingly. After global nuclear war and subsequent fallout, humanity absconds to space in disparate orbiting space stations. One day, they decide to band together as they wait out the radiation back on the surface with the promise that at some point, they’ll go home.
As a consequence of their predicament and limited resources, they have to institute some rather harsh laws, the most notable being that every crime is a capital one. But 97 years after the initial escape, they have the bright idea to send 100 criminal youths down to the planet instead of out the airlock (which, apparently, is how they execute folks) as a sort of mass canary in the mines type of thing. If they survive, so can the rest of humanity.
It’s easy to dismiss this show based purely on its logical inconsistencies because—wow—there is an overwhelming number of them. Where’s the diversity? Why not send a probe? Why not send scientists and engineers instead of stupid, irrational, dumbass teens? And once they get to the ground, why rally around the one guy who clearly has instability problems? Why is finding shelter, food, and water the last thing on the to-do and swimming in irradiated water the first?
(And once they get going, why use the two kids with engineering and chemistry training to FORAGE FOR AND CRACK NUTS.)
Doing that would be a disservice. It would be a disservice to the core notion of storytelling. A story about a scientist surviving an unkind environment exists (and it was The Martian) because that’s the story that was told there. This is not the story being told here. CSI doesn’t have time to lay on the procedure of actual CSI work with each episode, nor does Grey’s Anatomy have the screen time to show how actual surgeries are done.
It’s also a disservice because there are plenty of other reasons to get blazingly indignant about The 100, and all of them are inextricably tied to narrative problems, chief among them being a dangerous and irresponsible dissemination of awful tropes. Most of them, in fact, are some variation of hypermasculinity or possessive relationships. Granted, for all I know, they could pay it off later on in the season or series in general, but at this point, it’s offensive on so many levels.
Jasper (Devon Bostick), for instance, has been crushing on a Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos) since before they were arrested and sent down. But the way this manifests is through Octavia constantly falling into trouble and Jasper and his friend Monty (Christopher Larkin) framing their roles as the heroes rescuing a damsel in distress. And then worse than that, it works. Octavia falls for this boy who has long pined for her as being out of his league once he saves her from trouble.
And that’s, like, the entirety of their characters. Just singular tracks of lust. Jasper has a jerky turn that fleshes him out a bit in later episodes, but after a dozen episodes where Octavia is heavily featured, she is still solely defined by her sex. Her character is her body, and her body only exists to complicate matters through her romances. Whether through this tryst with Jasper or her relationship with Grounder Lincoln (Ricky Whittle, who looks to be a worrisome number of years her senior) or her brother Bellamy (Bob Morley), it’s always presented as an arc for the man and she’s just there.
The Bellamy problem is especially heinous. Aboard the unified space station The Ark, people are limited to one child per family unit, which is a problem for Octavia since, well, she came second. This means she grew up under the floorboards of her home for fear of her and her mother being thrown into space. And this flashback episode does a pretty good job of characterizing their relationship and the tragedy of the situation.
The problem is that it’s presented as a tragedy for Bellamy instead of, you know, the person living in the floor like a mole-rat. It’s marginalizing this clearly marginalized person to elevate and humanize the narrative of this exceptionally irredeemable monster of a person. It’s such a clearly bad decision that it’s fascinating to think it even got past the pitch portion of the writing session.
Shamefully, this isn’t even the only example of the show indulging in using marginalization tropes. Once the Grounders make an appearance, it starts using them as a very on-the-nose allegory for white colonization but through the warped lens of John Smith heroism. These are, more or less, natives of this land and the 100 kids are the colonists, hammered further home by this impending war of guns fighting spears and arrows, Grounders wearing face paint, and first showing Lincoln as incapable of speaking English (or at all).
They invert it slightly by making Lincoln the American Indian and Octavia the colonist, but it’s so brazenly and blissfully unaware of the banal construction of this arc that it is offensive on not only a social level but also an academic one. It feels like the writers watched Disney’s Pocahontas and thought, “Okay, not bad, but what if we reeeeeeally leaned into the historical revisionist / white savior thing?” And then they did it. (Also there’s something about nuclear proliferation but with rifles, I think?)
Not many other characters fare much better. Late-comer Raven (Lindsey Morgan), after playing a critical role in several episodes, is still shown to be nothing more than a jealous girlfriend, which is less of a character and more a walking emotion with hair. Despite having a lot of useful skills, that’s pretty much all she exudes unless the episode calls for someone to get them out of a jam.
Clarke (Eliza Taylor), ostensibly the leader with secondhand medical training from her mom, has a great start: her dad was killed in a coverup, she was arrested as a loose thread, she finds out her mom snitched, and her best friend since birth was killed by a little girl she befriend on the surface. There’s a lot of good stuff to work with there, and they do give her at least some sort of arc, but none of it makes sense and none of it is based on that backstory. How she ends up sided philosophically with Bellamy is best summed up as “ehhhhh fuck it?”
As much as the show wants to develop a core philosophy, it just doesn’t know how. Early on, the major drama driving the show is that part of the leadership council on The Ark wants to kill 300-something people to save resource consumption to give time for everyone else to figure out how to repair critical systems. And after Clarke’s mom Abby (Paige Turco) reveals this truth (the same truth she gave up her husband and daughter over), people start offering their lives to this culling so others in their lives might survive.
This could be an interesting and textured examination of general morality versus utilitarianism, but instead of that, the show portrays this mass murder as the ability to exchange human lives like a flea market deal as somehow the best part of humanity. What an unbelievably fucked up message to deliver with absolutely zero nuance. This is a deeply philosophical and existential quandary that deserves more than the five minutes we see as they all go sleepy to somber music.
But I suppose you can’t expect much better from a show that has 100 people walking onto a supposedly irradiated but actually inhabitable land by going slow motion and needle dropping fucking “Radioactive” by Imagine goddamn Dragons.
Who knows, though, maybe my opinion will turn around as I start episode 13. The second season has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, after all, so there’s gotta be something to it. And there’s definitely something there with how the problems generated by the 100 on the ground is reflective of the problems up on The Ark, though I’m not sure what just yet. Either way, I’m going to keep watching. Let’s just hope it stops being hate-watching.