The 100: Season 03, Episode 10, Fallen
It takes a lot of time and effort to write reviews, not to mention my own projects on various burners. I can’t continually bring myself to dedicate oodles of unpaid time to something which not only has spent this season throwing away good stories with both hands, but has a showrunner who has mistreated cast and done some pretty gross things with character, without seemingly understanding why it’s bad. At some point, my toil and trouble is giving said runner more free publicity than gets countered by my (hopefully thorough and intelligent) deconstruction of the show’s flaws and problems. All shows have flaws, of course, but this one is currently working overtime in the problematic department.
I’ll be reviewing Orphan Black when it comes out next week (well, my friend Dale is going to handle the first few reviews, as they directly conflict with the timing of The 100), I have a few other shows I’m eyeballing, and I’m still looking for a site which will pay me to dedicate the time and writing (ain’t that always the dream).
For mostly these reasons, I’m not going to be reviewing The 100 when it returns for Season 4. I’m always available on twitter (on my personal account, or this handy TV-specific account) or in the comments here.
As for this ep . . . where to begin.
There was some buzz about this episode being rated for an older audience than usual, but there’s often no telling why anything is rated what it is. For example, last episode had several children slaughtered and Aden’s head help up offscreen, a guy commit suicide on-screen, and Lincoln get shot in slo-mo. There are problems with all these contextually, and all were graphic to one extent or another, yet it didn’t get as much of a warning as this episode.
Which . . . hoo boy. Though the system of assigning ratings is often arbitrary and bullshit and I’m not wading into that now, ratings can be useful as indicators. This episode had – among the usual trauma and blood and beatings and such that are part and parcel of the show – a less-than-clear instance of drug usage and withdrawal, a clear instance of rape, flashbacks to somewhat graphic torture scenes, and a young woman with a disability self-harming and strongly suggesting suicide.
The thing with the CoL tablets is it’s a really mixed metaphor. Sometimes it functions as a drug: you take it orally, it affects you both physically and psychologically, etc. But sometimes it functions as a religion: you join a group of believers, you are attempting to find a City of Light, you see an all-seeing being who then knows what you know and what you’re doing. When Raven was trying to shut it off, it could work as trying to outrun demons and guilt and your past, all things one encounters when trying to escape a cult. But it also operates as drug withdrawals, especially once ALIE takes the gloves off and starts sending Raven flashes of all the physical pain she’s endured.
Thing is, I’m not sure whether the show is intentionally representing the CoL as both of those things; ie operating as both drug and religion metaphors. Ever since the last handful of episodes, I’m a bit wary of trusting The 100 to know what it’s representing. For example, ALIE intones “All human behavior revolves around the avoidance of pain” just one scene after Bellamy readily accepts being pummelled as a penance, and Octavia shows she wants pain and/or death to counteract the emotional turmoil she’s in. Is this a disconnect, or is it intentionally showing ALIE doesn’t understand the intricacies of human reaction, that ALIE only understands data about human behavior and not the true motives behind said behavior? Murky and debatable.
The other two big problems in this episode, however, are not murky.
First, Ontari rapes Murphy. [Why do I somehow end up reviewing things where women rape men and it’s blithely treated as not an issue!? (The first instance is here.)] Murphy makes clear he doesn’t want to be chained up, then Ontarri says ‘yes, but if you make me unhappy, I’ll kill you.’ How much clearer could we get?
It’s not that I think narratives shouldn’t tell stories about awful things, because narratives should cover everything under the sun. It’s that this episode films it in a titillating way, puts some sexual backbeats behind it, and acts as though Ontari and Murphy are having fun BDSM times, instead of Ontari literally threatening to murder Murphy if he doesn’t have sex with her. It treats the whole thing as a sexy joke, instead of acknowledging that a girl who just killed nine kids to get what she wanted, is now threatening a chained boy with death unless he gives her what she wants. Yes, Murphy made some obvious political plays this episode, and yes, he is shown to find Ontari physically attractive, but none of that makes what happens not rape, just as none of that would excuse it one iota if the roles were reversed.
Again: in context and handled properly, narratives can cover everything about life. Ontari is obviously a terrible, cruel despot; her gouging out a man’s eyes with her thumbs got that point across enough. This scene’s writing may have actually made it clear this act is Ontari continuing to show what a despicable person and terrible leader she is. The problem is the scene’s directing and editing and scoring show they have no clue that’s what she’s doing.
Second, we watch Raven cut herself, deeply, in front of Abby, who yells that Raven will die without treatment. The clear implication is Raven is committing suicide in front of her mother-figure, unless that mother-figure can stop her in the act. The way ALIE-Raven slices is even – medically speaking – the ‘effective’ way to bleed out when committing suicide. That’s pretty fucked up.
Obviously the post-apocalyptic wasteland isn’t going to be a happy place, and Lindsay Morgan nails absolutely everything she’s asked this episode. But do we really need to watch a young woman with a disability slash her veins on-screen for the shock value? This is not Game of Thrones, and we don’t want it to be. We have Game of Thrones. This is a show about teenagers and young adults, for teenagers, on the most teenager-y of all the channels. It’s a show which has taken time to show us these kids on the cusp of their 18th year, grappling with moral conundrums, facing pain and death, finding love and moments of respite, and yes even being tortured, as Raven has been a lot. To then show those characters, on-screen, attempting suicide and being raped as a joke, is a bridge too far. It’s about eight bridges too far.
All of that still ignores the narrative sins this episode.
The first is committed by giving ALIE the random power of body possession, with no prior hint of that possibility. That’s cheating. You know how last episode when Lincoln stabs Octavia with a tranq-pen? That was earned; we’d seen tranq-pens prior, and seen them used in that same escape plot and by Octavia, and thus had reason to accept Lincoln would have one on him at that specific time in the tunnels. That’s called setup, and that’s what ALIE-as-Raven has none of.
Then, Bellamy. The writers’ making Bellamy’s characterization jump through hoops to further the plot – again, and again – is bad, but this episode finally calls it out via Kane. I had the following in my notes:
Bellamy, you can’t be sorry because the consequences of his actions effect you and those you care about. You have to be sorry because you did a terrible thing. Yes, we get you think masochism and accepting the physical and emotional trauma of Octavia’s beating and rejecting you is your penance. It’s quite biblical as a form of self-flagellation and all. But though Bellamy more than deserved a punishment, it’s still framed as him being sorry because of who his actions affect, not being sorry because he was WRONG.
Even now, it looks like Bellamy is doing this mostly for Octavia, not because it is the right thing to do or he because truly believes he was wrong before. He just thinks Pike killing Lincoln, and attempting to kill Kane, was bad.
Then, Kane straight-up asks Bellamy why he handed Pike over, and Bellamy refuses to answer.
I obviously don’t know how much the two writers of this episode shaped Bellamy’s overall arc. But at least the exchange between Kane and Bellamy points out some of the huge problems in an insta-redemption arc. Kane is right about everything this episode. You can’t trust Bellamy now [because the writers have assassinated him]. Bellamy getting beat up may offer some sort of twisted relief from his own and Octavia’s psychic pain, but it doesn’t actually solve or absolve anything. Bellamy still has the wrong motivations for not only his repentance, but his actions. This is the only good part of this redemption arc so far: Kane explaining to Bellamy and the audience why it’s not really redemption.
I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time raging, and that’s not because I think much of this episode was artistically bad (its technical and acting aspects are great; its storytelling is not too convoluted, its threads easily followed) but because I think it problematic. If there’s anything we’ve learned recently, it’s that narratives have real world impact.
Let’s talk about some of the things it did well.
Anna’s and Monty’s story comes to a head in a wrenching way. Monty is among the least subtle people on the planet – he has no poker face – and you feel his fear and sadness in the canteen, as well as fear his expressions will get him caught. The framing when Anna comes to tell Monty to leave is mostly straight down, suggesting the Eye of God and/or surveillance cameras see everything. The claustrophobia of being watched by that jackass soldier, the “can I hug you?” and Anna choking back tears, is all nicely effective. Anna’s crying becomes even more effective in retrospect when you realize she was playing Monty, tricking him into running so Pike could follow him to the others. Damn, Anna. That’s a heart of stone right there.
Jasper having a task he can complete to help someone gives him purpose. He obviously cares very much for Raven, and he risks life and limb to break her out of Arkadia. He hasn’t had much to do the last several episodes, but it looks like several of the original 100 – at least several of those who are still alive – are going to band together as a tiny resistance party.
The lighting of Jasper and Clarke in the tank, with the bars intimating how trapped they are, is great. The way the CoL adherents go after Jasper in the tank feels really Zombie-apocalypse, and is creepy in delightful ways. The corporate bit about the CoL logo and model being worshiped and used as religious symbols / phrases is spot-on.
Pike has gone from wrong but at least acting on his prejudiced-but-sincerely-held beliefs, to total merciless despot. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, etcetera.
This is the ‘darkness before the dawn’ section of the season, where all means of escape are cut off. Jaha crushes the wristband. Raven is possessed. Ontari is about to fake-ascend. Much of the resistance are dead, captured, on the run, or have taken the CoL chip. The narrative is trying to make a win look as impossible as possible, before the last some odd episodes of comeback.
– Last week I suggested Murphy as flamekeeper, but a *fake* flamekeeper is totally in line with his personality / character.
– I don’t know when Octavia got those tats, but they’re hawt.
– I really thought Abby had just tongued the CoL chip and would spit it out after she bandaged Raven up. Either she deserves the Grounder version of an Oscar, or she’s truly gone to the CoL side.
– I wish they’d 1. made it clearer the guard Octavia stabbed was the one who has done hella bad shit this season 2. just not had Octavia go all feral, especially since they’ve worked so hard to tie her into the Grounders.