The 100: Season 03, Episode 04, Watch the Thrones
So, exactly how many of our fictional TV rulers do we want to be women? To quote the Notorious RBG: ALL OF THEM.
This episode has women doing most of the deciding, fighting, conniving, leading, talking, and general badassing. We kick off at the coalition, where Clarke looks over her head, but Nia is all treason and overconfidence. Lexa coolly states “Let her make her move . . . Issue your challenge and get on with it.” She’s seen this coming. Roan, on the other hand, looks surprised and less than thrilled about the fact he’s being volunteered to fight, and Lexa throws mad shade over it: “I fight my own battle” implies Nia won’t, and therefore wouldn’t make a good Commander.
Clarke then tries to Fix Everything, a stereotypical male role, because The 100 doesn’t give a damn about your cliches’ usual gender proscriptions. Though we know Clarke is going to attempt something, we’re not sure what; when she thrusts the knife back into the table, it seems she’s missed her opportunity. The music in the antechamber scene helps heighten the tension, as Untari plays more like a taste-tester in the background than a ninja-bodyguard until she springs into action. Then there are murderous glances and cool threats and nightblood, and it’s fantastic.
This would generally be a scene with three men, or at the most two men and one woman (it’d be Nia), but here it’s all women. I made this point last episode, but I can’t make it enough: seeing women in every role possible is huge. Plus, by the virtue of The 100 being futuristic, it doesn’t have to do the lampshading bit where characters exposit about women doing all the things. It simply acts as though that’s the way the world should be, and carries on.
The fight scene with Lexa and Roan acknowledges Lexa is smaller, but makes up for it by having her be quicker and utilizing techniques relying on size and speed, just like any fight should.
This fight is great and all, [many kudos to ADC for doing her own stunts], but has far too many cuts and angles. Sometimes the angle change and slo-mo works, but using it the whole fight ends up making it more choppy than anything, especially since the camera is also moving for some of the 2-second clips. I’m not sure if they’re going for a style they don’t quite nail, or it if it’s to cover some TV-budget choreography, or if it’s an attempt to up the intensity, but it’s wildly distracting. It’s a good move to end on the biggest ‘ohshit’ moment of the whole episode, though: Lexa hurling a spear through the evil queen who killed her girlfriend.
Clarke is really, really turned on by the way Lexa wields a spear, and also basically everything else about Lexa. She doesn’t make a move when Lexa comes to see her, but she’s definitely thinking about it. While obviously I’m always in favor of more attractive-people-sex on my TV screen, the slow burn is best. Clarke is still wrapping her head around Lexa’s decisions. She’s still coming to terms with the style of Lexa’s leadership, and the way Lexa holds death as a central a part of her life. Not for nothing does this scene feature physical wounds which are going to take quite a lot of time to heal; Clarke may have All The Feels, but she needs time to finish coming to grips with her forgiveness of Lexa and acceptance of Lexa’s ways. Meanwhile, Lexa is being wonderfully respectful of that. Now there’s not threat of imminent death, they can take that time. (Though it would have been totes believable, when death was imminent, to have one of those KISS ME NOW BEFORE I FIGHT! scenes.)
In the midst of literal, physical healing, they both process recent events. Lexa shows she understands many of her coalition were doing what they thought was right. The phrase “what’s right for my people” is pointedly used four times in this episode, sometimes for political gain and sometimes in earnest. Some use it as a power play (Nia). Some use it to exclude others and be racist (Pike). Some are lashing out in pain (Jasper, Anna). Some are honestly unsure what’s best, and are attempting to navigate what’s right (Abby, some in the coalition). Lexa can differentiate the types, and she understands sometimes wrong actions have good motivations, and she has sympathy for that.
Part of the point here is contrasting Lexa (seen by most Arkers* as a backwards barbarian), with Pike (seen by most Arkers* as enlightened and futuristic). The ‘enlightened’ guy is going to murder 300 people even when it means endangering his people by starting a war he can’t hope to win. The ‘savage’ is the one with high morals, a codified law system, and more, alongside a belief in spirits.
The Grounders’ ethical framework is the signpost of a civilization, more than an ability to produce agriculture. Underscoring this heavily is Lexa teaching these ethics to the next generation. (It’s also a bit of foreshadowing, along with Clarke voicing trepidation at a child commander, and the camera showing Aden as Lexa triumphs. But that’s another story.)
Pike refuses to treat the Grounders as civilized, equals, or even fully human. He refuses to acknowledge the Grounders can ‘govern themselves,’ even though the Arkers have done just that. His words and actions show he thinks of the Grounders as ‘less than.’ Anna, Monte’s mom, murmurs “so much for one good grounder,” a pointedly racist statement. Pike’s is a very imperialistic, manifest destiny attitude. Plus, the Arker compound screams ‘futuristic pilgrim.’ We couldn’t be getting a stronger image of history not-being-learned-from-thus-repeating itself: this is the second colonization of America.
The thing with the forced colonization of America and the extermination of many Native peoples is, it took time. Whereas here, Pike goes from ranting soldier to chancellor immediately. It beggars belief that:
Kane and Abby hadn’t even mentioned the whole “oh we’re a 13th clan now and this brand represents that” OR “oh there’s going to be a peacekeeping force coming,” both of which come back to bite them
a whole group chanted in unison with minimal prompting (have you ever tried to start a chant at a soccer game, outside the supporter’s section?)
without putting forth any plan or speech, with 12 key votes imprisoned and only about 15 from farm station out voting, Pike took the election from incumbent leaders
this all happens within about 10 hours.
Plus, the writers throw away a huge potentially dramatic side story. They could have wrung a whole episode B-plot out of the election. Last week I was impressed by how quickly the plots fell into place and were carried out, but those were converging stories on a tight timeline, a race against various clocks. This episode doesn’t have to rush, but still stages not one but two political coups. We understand the coalition leaders have been talking amongst themselves and pondering for a long time (and to boot, none of them are meant to be major players for the rest of the season). With Pike, there’s no tension earned through buildup, there’s no time to really see him work other than cozying up to Bellamy and holding a memorial. He basically strolls up, says some racist things, and is handed the keys to genocide, literally overnight. It’s so quick it’s absurd.
Speaking of overnight changes: Oh, Bellamy.
Unless it comes about in the next few episodes that Bellamy is actually playing the inside man in Pike’s group – and it would be a hard sell – his actions here are inexcusable. It’s a pretty poor inside man who is as wildly successful as Bellamy is here, but you could read his asking the guards to trust him, and telling Kane he’s chosen ‘the right side,’ as code that he’s working another angle. If not, he’s merely relapsing for the sake of plot expediency.
Look, when they landed, Bellamy was a ruthless jerk: asserting himself, hurting and threatening the lives of everyone just to cover up a few things he’d done on the ark. You could argue this regression shows just how fragile his progress has been, and narratively, it would explain why Octavia would break ties without necessitating his killing Lincoln (which I theorized about here), but the speed at which it happens doesn’t fit. Do people regress on lessons they’ve learned and backtrack on their real-life character development? Of course. But Bellamy unlearns practically everything which took him two seasons in two weeks. [ETA: the more I think about it, the more I agree with this post about Bellamy’s actions. I still think the show itself needed to do a much, much better job of delineating this, instead of leaning on the Gina angle.]
Not to mention, in this very episode, Bellamy is wracked with doubt and guilt over having made a colossal error in judgement when attempting to decide ‘what was best’ for the Arkers . . . then mere hours later, he’s soooooo fucking sure he knows what’s right he tells Lincoln “I have ALWAYS done what is best for us” and shows he’s willing to slaughter hundreds of people, (including Indra, someone who has stuck up for him before)? No. Uh-uh. Don’t buy it.
Adding insult to injury, we as an audience can’t accept Bellamy’s motivation for unlearning. It’s hard for us to see past the writers’ attempts to leverage Gina’s death as a plot machination because it’s, well, nothing but a plot machination. It’s both blatantly obvious and one-dimensional. Finn was a character who had a purpose besides being killed, thus his death (and Clarke’s reaction, and Jasper’s stealing his ashes as his own memorial, etc) carry narrative weight. Gina’s narrative weight is mostly the – admittedly very cool – countdown clock reflection in her eyeball before she was blown to bits. She was the character we knew the most in the whole mountain, and she’d had all of three lines. We understand how the murder of loved ones and ‘my people’ can create extremism, but there’s no actual emotional connection for us to hang onto. Her purpose was to be fridged.
Now poor Gina has turned into a martyr for a cause. Pike definitely led the memorial as a political ploy. Leveraging deaths by terrorism in order to win an election and start a war is a familiar recent real-world theme.
Just like last week, there’s not only heavy political allegory, but references to biblical stories. When Nia growled “I want her head” to her son, I couldn’t help seeing the whole arc as a queering and gender-bending of the Salome / Herodias / Herod / John the Baptist story.
Shakespearian ruler struggles, gender-swapping everything from cliches to power arcs, a fight scene, political allegories, these are a few of my favorite things, but they’d be better for less rushing and transparently manipulating the plot and characters. Everything which worked this week was great, but the things which didn’t work could have, by properly drawing them out over a couple episodes, or having different characters perform certain actions. We know The 100 can set the pieces up and knock them down, but if the setup is sloppy, everything that follows will be unbelievable. Take your time, show. We’re OK delaying the City of Light storyline while you do.
– *The Arkers were the first people we the audience imprinted on, and we were with solely them for the whole first season, and that matters to how we process a lot of episode events. I plan to address that further in upcoming reviews.
– Is the coalition flame like the Olympic Torch? As long as it burns, the coalition is on?
– Clarke’s red is washing out of her hair. The show does well with HMU nursing along certain wounds, looks, facepaint, facial hair, etc.
– Such a great Hero Shot of Lincoln. Now they have me wondering if the warrior will die of random head trauma, not something action-y.
– Gotta give it to Titus. He isn’t a fan of Wanheda / Sky Crew, but he’s loyal. He and Clarke are melding into a best-friend-and-the-girlfriend relationship; still tense, but softening, and they’re willing to team together for what’s best for Lexa.
– Bellamy, Pike, Anna, etc are taking pain out on the wrong people. At least Jasper’s breakdown affects mostly himself and Monte. Monte points out he too is struggling, suffering, but it doesn’t always look like drinking or lashing out, and that’s both lovely and heartbreaking.
– When Bellamy was being asked for the guns, I thought maybe he would provide them and step back. You can’t draw exact IranContra parallels, but we can definitely talk about how many political leaders have provided arms for something and ‘allowed’ it to happen and walked away with ‘clean’ hands. In addition, Pike (preying on Bellamy’s youth and feelings of helplessness to enlist him as a soldier) said something like ‘you did the best you could with the information you had,’ a phrase used to excuse basing a war on WMDs. The idea of ‘collateral damage in someone else’s war’ is tied into the way a lot of countries treat Middle Eastern wars and politics. And taking ten men with machine guns to wipe out an enclave of 300 is extremely Vietnam. They’re not going to reference one war, they’re going to reference all of them.
– ‘Go float yourself’ works when Clarke says it, especially with a bit of a sneer. ‘Float you’ doesn’t carry the same weight, and actually breaks what was an effective scene between Jasper and Monty.
– With all the crossing, double crossing, and tense moments, I really want the Jane the Virgin narrator to do this episode.
– Also, since we’re asking for absurd things, and considering the title, I’d like Jay-Z and Kanye to do a concept album based on the Grounders’ philosophy and code of ethics.