The 100: Season 03, Episode 11, Nevermore
The methodology of this episode – take several of your original 100, put them in close quarters with a problem to solve, throw in a manipulative omniscient asshole, make everyone hash out their guilt and reasons for having it – is superb.
Sure, it’s made a little weaker by many of the ‘reasons for said guilt’ having been recent, problematic, arbitrary, and out-of-character. But the interpersonal conflicts, the PTSD, the struggle to understand your friends and yourself, and the way these people have all been through purgatory, is narratively and emotionally interesting. To top it off, the acting is all great, and a special kudos to Lindsey Morgan who must have been completely drained after all this.
Some things are a bit much – that dislocated shoulder was gruesome in a bad way, though maybe that’s my own experience talking. While I knew Monty would end up killing someone(s), his own mom is whoa, and yet another dead POC is a bit soon – but everything about this episode is effective.
We open on Octavia through mildly distorted audio and slowed visuals, an effect which shows grief/anger’s disorienting effects without being too over the top.
Bellamy asks Octavia “What work do I have to do to show I am on your side?” and Octavia insists turning Pike in is not an automatic pass to be “one of the good guys.” It’s a combination of all your actions, not just your most recent action, which effects how people see you and whether they trust you.
When I was a kid, my friends and I loved to play army. We had some fake walkies (which we hand-colored in camouflage), and of course guns, and detailed maps of our backyard territory. We had all sorts of methods of passing messages, be it a note tucked into a shoe, or a word carved out of a Fruit Rollup which could then be conveniently consumed. Often we’d break into irregular teams and have an ‘objective.’ For example, if three Blue Russians could maintain the secret location of the nuclear code book until whenever mom called us for lunch, they won. But if the six Green Americans could find the code book before lunch was called, they won.
The internal politics grew extraordinarily complicated. Say a Green Solider was captured, she might ‘defect.’ Sometimes it was a ploy to see if she could learn the location. Sometimes she really DID defect, then when she went back to the Green Army she would only pretend to have defected, the better to secretly pass information to the Blues about where the Greens were looking next.
By the end of the game, it was increasingly difficult to determine who was actually on the winning side. If you were the person who actually found / successfully defended the codes, you could claim you won, but nearly everyone else could make some sort of convincing argument that they really *were* on your side at that point in time. There’s absolutely no honor among eight-year-olds.
When it boils down to it, that is what we originally set out to explore with Season 1 of The 100. It was a Lord of the Flies scenario, digging into how these children would react when faced with the wilderness and each other, with no mitigating factors or laws. It’s obviously evolved from there, and some change in the rules and expansion of the universe is great. But while in some ways it’s grown lightyears away, in some other ways it still feels a bit juvenile; they [and by that I mean the writer’s room, more even than the characters] are operating under the assumption all’s fair in love, war, and children’s games. But when all bets are off, you can’t keep switching allegiances and then claim to be with whatever group appears to have the moral high ground at any particular moment.
My point is right now The 100‘s Arker v Grounder war – particularly what the writers did with Bellamy the first 10 episodes – feels suspiciously like my childhood games of war, with allegiances and codes as variable as the wind.
Clarke is our fixed protagonist, struggling against the Unknown, the mores of The System. and a series of despotic rules, as she has since her childhood. Ontari is one fixed antagonist, Pike is the other (though even that is a weird sort of disappointment when last season’s cruel, vengeful monsters were bit players, and the ‘Big Bads’ also presented moral conundrums and sympathetic personalities). Many Grounders who had a firm ‘side’ or who pushed for truce or peace are dead: reshop Lexa, Aiden, Lincoln. Many Arkers who had a fixed position (Raven, Jackson Abby*) have been taken out of that equation altogether after swallowing ALIE’s pill.
Too many of the rest careen back and forth to serve whatever purpose the narrative has, and we’re never sure what side they’re going to be on when the dust settles. This has two effects on the narrative.
1. Used sparingly, it makes something like last week’s Monty-and-Hannah plot exactly unbalancing enough, so we as viewers aren’t sure which game Hannah is playing until the third act. And there are always characters like Murphy, who we know will declare allegiance to whomever it’s most convenient for him to declare allegiance to at any given moment.
2. Used as liberally as it has been, it loses its power. Instead of being suspenseful, it’s frustrating. Kane has been firmly on the side of the rebellion and peace with the grounders, which makes sense in this season, but is a 180 from prior establishment of everything about his character. Bryan makes multiple allegiance decisions off-screen; we see so little of him, it’s basically his defining trait. Roan is going to side with Clarke, except when he sides with Ontari, or maybe next we see him if it’s convenient for him.
All this could be brushed over – they retooled a lot of characters after S1; Bryan is a side character, and maybe some of his storyline had to be cut for time; Roan is also obviously a bit of an opportunist; political games be complex, yo. But when you put it all together, and add in how they’ve treated Bellamy’s character (last week alone he appeared to be on three different ‘sides’ in the course of ten minutes; surely they could have found a way to effect that plot’s endgame without more BellamYoYo, but they’re enjoying his dance too much right now), it becomes a truly disturbing pattern. You realize: it’s not that the characters are just going along with whatever’s going to save their hides or makes sense on any given day. It’s that the plot is too often taking the easy way out, and it can do that because nobody faces consequences for their flip-flopping.
As Octavia insists, there should be consequences. Now, after a long time of putting them off, this episode is full of the psychic and interpersonal consequences. I have no way of knowing, but it feels a bit like at the beginning of the season the decision was made to have Bellamy act OOC and do a big action and then face no direct consequences, and though they can’t reverse it, now writers are using other characters (Kane last episode, Octavia and to a lesser extent Jasper and ALIE, even with their somewhat flawed reasoning) to call it out.
I’m relieved they’re not just letting the “Bellamy slaughtered 300 grounders” bit go. I’m less happy they mention it (via Jasper) right after they mention Clarke’s killing Maya (via Raven), because they seem to be blurring the lines of how those two incidents are different.
killing people in an active “us or them” situation which you did not precipitate
is not the same as
killing people in a passive “we think they could be going to turn on us, because we don’t trust them / are xenophobic” situation which you did help precipitate
They’re also ignoring that even though he tried to prevent the destruction at Mount Weather, that was an occasion where Bellamy stepped up and willingly took responsibility for what happened, something he’s been deflecting this season until the end of this episode. Even then, it gets deflected by Clarke answering “maybe there are no good guys . . . ” I get what she’s trying to do, but she (and everyone) needs to acknowledge there are varying degrees of crimes, and sins, and wrongs done to others. That’s what made Season 2 so truly beautiful and complicated and difficult. Season 3 seems determined to not only make one-dimensional villains, but say “ah well nobody’s innocent so everyone must be the same degree of guilty,” which just isn’t how it works unless you have a weird, hyperabsolutist philosophy. Which frankly, is exactly what I grew up with, and which is bull.
In the end, Niylah has the last word. “People like you always are [sorry].”
That’s a lot about mind games and gray areas, but really that’s what this episode is. It’s a bottle episode for people hashing out their pasts, with ALIE as catalyst, and it’s, well, even when characters haw flawed or problematic accounts of things, don’t we all.
Unceremoniously, then: On to some of the episode mechanics.
Jasper straight-up tells us he’s been communicating with the cave via radio, so we ignore the narrative/logical gaps between last episode and this. He also tells us when Octavia knocks Raven out that she uses the last dose of knockout-stick so as to curtail expectation and put a wrench in the narrative. The entire episode is structured around that sort of “well we have a solution but it’s temporary / has a loophole.” They go to Niylah’s house, but possessed-Raven can’t see her because ALIE knows who she is. They can tie Raven down, but she can still manuever her arms and head. They build an EMP, but the battery isn’t strong enough to operate it. Raven sees Niylah, which puts them in a time crunch. It’s a series of problem->solution->hiccup->solve-for-hiccup that keeps the tension going until the end.
The camera showing ALIE looking at Raven before possessed-Raven makes any of his big moves is a nice touch. ALIE is a devious creature, and we’re always clear she’s manipulating characters. Seeing it directly means we’re never wondering if the others are dealing with real-Raven, so instead of second-guessing, we’re watching everyone try to contend with ALIE, then losing their cool anyways for different reasons. I keep using the word ‘effective’ but it really is just that. This episode nails it, in a way which keeps us on the edge of our seats without having to resort to cheap narrative tricks. It also borrows quite a bit from The Exorcist while putting its own spin on it; for better or worse, the show is bringing in some definitive horror elements, even in the episode name.
Speaking of, it looked as though they were writing themselves into the inability to ‘cure’ someone from CoL without an electromagnet. That’d be problematic for those hundreds of people in Arkadia, but some of the chipped main characters are surely going to survive the season. Then they introduced the idea of slicing the chip out of a living person** so . . are they going to suggest incapacitating a bunch of people and performing surgery without their consent as a way to ‘cure’ followers of ALIE?
Said followers are getting harder to defeat as ALIE adapts. It’s Hannah’s double-cross last week which makes Monty doubt his mom at first, but he’s quick enough to test her for being chipped. ALIE controls Hannah into a situation where Monty has to choose whether to kill her and save Octavia, or watch his possessed mother murder one of his best friends in front of his eyes. Either is really an awful thing. He tries to wrap his brain around his choice by telling himself it wasn’t his mom, that it was either Hannah or Octavia, and while he’s absolutely correct, he’s still going to bear those psychic consequences. The same consequences Sinclair and Clarke and to some extent the rest would have borne if Raven had died from the bracelet shock.
It’s a chess match between ALIE and Raven now. Abby had just been ‘turned’ last episode and already she knew what Stage 2 is, and presumably all ALIE’s steps to get there. That’s some powerful sharing-of-consciousness drug, playing into the philosophy (and possibly the TV-episode? will we see a Cuckoo Nest episode outside a hard-core genre series?) all the world is a shared delusion. Now Raven is going to know everything about ALIE, just as ALIE knew the facts about her past. Turning the narrative to Raven – without brutally abusing her any more, please – as the only survivor from the CoL would be an interesting move here.
– *Abby had a specific sort of morality in flashbacks, and there’s a whole subplot about how her standing with the system / against her husband caused his death (referenced here by ALIE to Clarke), but in our show’s timeline she shows she learned from that to stand against authoritarianism.
– **which would negate any claim Lexa ‘had to die’ for the Commander’s chip to be passed on.
– The literal least they could have done is not include every angle of Raven nearly-committing-suicide in the “previously on” sequence.
– Raven has become a punching bag as much as Murphy, only without the sociopathic jerk part. (I know, the rain falls on the just and the unjust.)
– Yeah it’s used to light the scene so viewers can see Jasper run with Raven in his arms but YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE HIDING TURN THE JEEP LIGHTS OFF GUYS. GUYS!
– All those trinkets hanging outside Niylah’s house are gifts from sexual partners. I’ve decided that is canon.
– Did . . . ALIE insult Bellamy’s dick size?
– Devon Bostick hit all the right notes with his line reading of “I couldn’t do what you did.” You can’t tell if he means “I should have been able to do what you did, Clarke, but I could’t” or “I can’t do what you did, because I’m not that person.” I think Jasper himself isn’t sure what it means yet, he just knows whatever it is which led Clarke to be able to make those impossible decisions, he doesn’t have it in him.
– Again the narrative blames Clarke for Lexa’s death, this time via ALIE. Nobody blamed Jasper for Maya’s, or Bellamy for Gina’s . . . it’s continuing to push every problematic button about how the queer-sex-leading-to-death played out.
– It’s a beautiful touch for Octavia to give Niylah an electric lantern in return for the clothes. In one step, she shows her solidarity, her distaste for having to commandeer Niylah’s house, her thoughtfulness, and the part of her which still identifies as Grounder.