The 100: Season 03, Episode 07, Thirteen
We open where we ended, with Murphy being tortured. When you think about it, it’s hard to have sympathy for Murphy – an often snide, sociopathic, murderous thief – but the point with torture is the subject doesn’t need to be sympathetic, in fact often it’s better if they aren’t; the moral quandary and audience affinity is more complex. I’ve gone back and forth over the utility of Murphy as a character, but I like what they’re doing with him now.
It does seem Murphy is fated to be abused yet not die. He’s a literary punching bag. He won’t be the last major literary/TV/film theme in this episode.
A.L.I.E. is HAL, and also Asimov-y, and also the Machine from Person of Interest. (If you aren’t watching that, suffer through the first half-season and it starts getting good, and is now very very good.) Like the Machine, her creators try to curtail her, she ‘gets out,’ they try to write a virus, she only grows stronger, there are moral complexities, etc. It’s great, too.
I was initially under the impression the Ark was in space reactionarily; in other words, things had gotten so bad on the ground they built the Ark to outrun the apocalypse. (Of course, they planted that idea by calling it the Ark.) It’s a neat twist to see it’s not even an accidental Battlestar Galactica sort of station, but in fact the end of the world came from it, albeit indirectly. Becca didn’t mean to nuke the ground out of existence, she just thought she could fix . . . well, everything.
Like Becca, Clarke isn’t super strong in the patience department, which does have the benefit of moving the Counsel and the plot along. With Grounders pushing to wipe out Skaikru before Skaikru can continue their scorched earth policy, Lexa has to think on her feet quickly and come up with a third solution; again with the Solomonic tendencies. Lexa proposes a siege until those of Skaikru who wish to overthrow Pike do it themselves. (Which could be read as an interesting possible solution to various despots in our world today.)
Encamping around the remaining Arkers and drawing a line they can’t cross kind of cuts off the element of surprise in an ‘uprising,’ but it’s a solution which walks a fine line and appeases the coalition while satisfying the sort of moral boundaries Lexa and Clarke have come to agree on. Lexa firmly sets a distinction between vengeance and justice.
Titus, meanwhile, wants blood. He’s dramatic, he nags a lot, he’s always springing traps and sneakily attempting to maneuver any and everyone, including Lexa. He accuses Clarke of bias when he too is biased. He causes Lexa great pain and strongly combats her decisions at every turn, but damned if he’s gonna let anyone stab her. He operates here as a Lady Macbeth sort, though he’d make a great fundamentalist pastor’s wife. Just as in last episode, he ends up boxblocking, (which is both infuriating and amusing), and nefariously operating behind the scenes
Titus gets defensive when Murphy points out the similarities between the Skaikru legends and his religion, snapping “My faith has got nothing to do with yours.” The cave drawings are a perfect representation of how people translate things they don’t understand, or which have been muddied by oral tradition (like a nuclear cloud, and a falling space station), into religious specifics (like a goddess figure coming to earth in a ball of fire). Titus’s anger of discovering his religion and the people he hates have identical beginnings is exactly how many people of various faiths react when they’re told their particular faith has basically the same foundation and symbols and teachers as that of a faith they despise.
That scene is as close as The 100 has gotten to establishing an in-universe religious battle. It’s usually more concerned with broad questions of morality, humanity, leadership, ethics, etc., and that’s where Becca and her pursuit of A.L.I.E. 2.0 comes in. Becca wants the next version to “understand the value of life by coexisting” and thus will make version 2.0 “interface with humanity on a biological level.” Becca believes sharing a biology will lead to empathy, possibly through a shared mortality, thus with empathy will come morality. I’m not quite sure I follow her reasoning, that morality and/or humanity will naturally, necessarily follow empathy. The flaw in that progression is empathy doesn’t follow biology, as proven by all the specimens which seem to be biologically the same as those in need but are, in fact, cold-hearted asshats. Still, I’m interested to see where Becca takes this theory, now on earth. The more it develops, the more insight we’ll get into what the City of Light is attempting to be.
One of my favorite things in the episode is the scene between Octavia and Indra. Indra’s PTSD is manifesting more typically how we expect PTSD to manifest in life and on screen; drinking heavily, self-loathing, a loss of purpose once one is physically unable to do what one did for so many years. The exchange between her and Octavia is absolutely a traditionally male exchange; brothers at arms expressing frustration and physically lashing out and being told to get back up. The shots are beautiful, as well; seeing Octavia looming over Indra, framed against a bright blue sky, shows just how far Indra has sunk, and their chemistry is strong. I’m thrilled it looks like we’ll see more of them as comrades-in-arms soon.
In keeping with an implicit and explicit theme this season, Octavia and Clarke both want to do the right thing, but come to different conclusions about how. Clarke has changed a great deal, but she still ultimately decides she needs to be present for her people, to lead from among them. So, she decides to leave and go back to the Ark encampment.
Clarke leaving is the perfect setup to allow her and Lexa to consummate their love, then continue to drag out the tension of whether they can (individually as well as collectively) actually have a relationship while being in their fraught leadership positions. This is the definition of ‘having your cake and eating it out too.’
This sex scene and then long-distance relationship tension is what the first three quarters of the episode sets us up for, except they just can’t leave it with that resolution. No, they have to have their big sweeps moment, and to hell with the fact it is also playing into half the tropes in the book, especially the worst ones.
First, we have our Romeo and Juliet moment. The two lovers from warring clans, finally together, clandestinely in bed, one with a deadline to leave, talking about the light as one puts off going. All that’s missing is a reference to a songbird’s cry and a debate what sort of bird it is. Then, a meddling priest and an abrupt emotional shift, as a post-coital-blissful Clarke comes out to the scheming Titus. And then a recreation of one of the most famous lesbian TV deaths in history, down to the sort of gun, the stray bullet, the shock half-registering with both women. It goes from literary to tone-deaf and graceless in the space of two minutes.
Jason Rothenberg said about it: “I don’t even want to talk about the trope that’s out there about LGBT characters; that is not something that factored into the decision.”
Guess what: you don’t get to play directly into that very trope in an egregious way, then blithely not talk about it. You can’t sucker-punch the audience, then refuse to engage. That’s not how being a showrunner works. You can say the idea of gay sex = death didn’t lead you to your particular conclusion, and that may be true. But when you are actively contributing to the existence of a particular trope, directly perpetuating every part of it, and echoing specific famous instances of the trope, you *are* talking about it, no matter what you say.
Of course you can attempt to explain your choices, you can argue for the necessity of your actions in context. But to hand-wave such a blatant example of the trope as inconsequential and unrelated to a larger part of pop culture is dismissive at best, and inaccurate no matter what your intent. Being aware of it yet insisting on coloring-by-the-numbers to the extent it is here shows blatant disregard for your story’s effect. To bring up a theme from The 100 itself: you can have good intentions, yet still do a terrible thing, and intentions don’t excuse you from having to face up to (or just talk about in an interview) what you’ve done and the effects it has. It’s not Lexa dying which is the problem. When and how and why she dies is what really embodies the trope, and that’s the issue.
There’s no way that the writers don’t have something up their sleeve. Maybe Clarke ends up being the next commander and Lexa is ‘implanted’ in her, and visible to her at all times. Maybe they suggest Clarke is in love with an AI, which is now transferred to another body [Star Trek / callback to the first female-female kiss alert], which would not only be awful but take the entire show into a different sort of genre. Maybe there’s a manifestation of Lexa in the City of Light, which is the bait for Clarke and with whom Clarke gets to spend some actual quality time with before she’s jerked back to reality. But you know what, it doesn’t matter. At this point, any reappearance of Lexa is a cheap excuse for this bit, a sneaky attempt to wrap yourself in a lesbian death meme and then try to come out of it all sanctimonious.
I predicted and expected Lexa’s death, and there are a lot of reasons it works narratively and emotionally (as well as out of necessity, what with the actress being on another show*). Had she died in the finale, on the battlefield, or as a result of sacrificing herself for the things she’s espoused, I would have mourned and moved on. Not to mention, the actresses acted the hell out of it, and the final blessing is incredibly moving. But when your audience sees a queer sex scene for two beloved characters and is immediately afraid for one characters’ life, and that reaction is not only justified but validated, you have to understand you are not operating within the usual boundaries, and you have to not immediately – literally, immediately. the very next scene in their timeline – fulfil those darkest fears.
You don’t get a pass because you have killed other characters, too, or because Lexa’s death furthers the story. Once more for those in the back: it’s not about the fact Lexa died, it’s when and how she died.
Let’s compare and contrast to a big death in the show: Finn died as a result of a long chain of events precipitated by his own murderous rampage. He died after a buildup of inevitability caused by his own actions, the law of the land, tribal tensions, and personal choices of himself and a few other characters. He died after being imprisoned and confronted with his crimes and sins.
Lexa died as a result being hit by one stray bullet in a freak chain of events, immediately after having sex with her girlfriend. Tropiest. Way. Possible.
You can’t have consummation then death in consecutive scenes and not have it as a Banner Lesbian Death Trope. You can’t mimic one of the most famous offings of a queer woman in the history of television, and not have it be just a cruel twist of your pen. You can’t kill lots of characters in ways directly correlated to plot and paying for your sins, and then stretch to kill one of two queer women immediately after she has a sexual/happy experience, and expect us to believe you know about or respect either your own story or your target audience.
Beyond the actual tropiness, and ignoring Titus’s function as a destruction ex machina, the drastic turn means the episode doesn’t work the way it’s put together. Lexa’s death is presented in conjunction with the Commander reveal, intercutting from one to the other. This means Becca’s revelation (and the implications, which are many) ends up being not dramatic, but overwhelming. It’s so overwhelming it succeeds at underwhelming. Everything about how Plot A is executed undermines the part of Plot B which should be one of the biggest reveals of the season so far. Becca is the first Commander . . . but the way she shows up curtails our grief, and so we don’t have time to care what her appearance means. We haven’t had a beat to process everything else which has occurred.
We should be revelling in the Becca-Raven parallels, especially since one made ALIE, and presumably the other will take her down. We should be exclaiming over the confirmation Becca’s ‘modified’ blood is what makes her immune to radiation, and how she is this story’s Adam, the progenitor of Nightbloods. We should be seeing the parallels between yet another set of good intentions and terrible outcomes. We should have a clearer idea of why the Ark executed the scorched earth policy so quickly, and see in it a warning sign of what Lexa was trying to prevent.
Why don’t we have time to take all that in? Because you can’t swallow a whopping plate of information two seconds after being punched in the gut.
– *TV shows shoot out-of-sequence, so when they say they only had Alicia Debnam Carey guaranteed for seven episodes, and maybe a few more depending on her FTWD shoot schedule, that doesn’t mean they only had her for the first seven.
– “Considering you pray to garbage . . . no offense, obviously.”
– Did they even HAVE corporations on the Ark? How does Murphy know to use that word?
– There are about eight kinds of tension whenever Clarke, Lexa, and Titus are in a room together.
– The scene between Titus and Lexa alone is very Star Wars Jedi/Padawan. ADC should have played Anakin Skywalker instead of Hayden Christiansen.
– That rack-focus-to-scene-transition with Lexa’s hand was attention-grabbing, but I dig it.
– I swear, if Murphy decides to be A Good Guy and built a LexaBot, I will throw my TV through a window.