The 100: Season 03, Episode 12: Demons
This episode serves three main purposes: expositing what has gone before, killing time finding a quick answer to unlocking the chip (we all knew when they stood around in a circle, they were going to talk out loud until they stumbled on the magic phrase, that’s just how these scenes work), and setting up what’s coming for the season’s end. Along the way we get more guilt, a moral ‘lesson’, and more horror tropes along the lines of last week’s (superior) episode.
So many horror tropes, you’d think they didn’t have any movies on the Ark at all . . . which I guess is quite possible. First, those left behind in the cave think it’s fine to go to the bathroom alone. Then, Clarke not only follows the creepy music box tune, but ignores the warnings of her minority friend. And of course, Sinclair and Raven lock themselves into a room for safety, without checking to ensure the demon isn’t already in there with them.
Assuming these guys don’t know horror tropes is a neat little twist, and most of this episode is effective enough on the horror front. The modern switch-to-predator-POV-with-night-vision is much more effective than the demon jump-scare at the beginning. This is partly because the trailer spoils the demon moment, but mostly because of the editing. Harper’s turn-to-find-demon-behind-you-now-scream is the definition of perfunctory, and too-conveniently dodges the “how could he have gotten behind her?” question about the cave. Meanwhile, the episode takes the time to set up and explain how Sinclair and Raven are in a room with two entry points, it’s feasible Emerson got in there without them noticing, and the edit is less by-the-numbers.
I often enjoy shows playing with genre, and incorporating or paying homage to said genre’s tropes. But this episode has a bit too much of the aforementioned perfunctoriness. What could have been interesting is an And Then There Were None sort of vibe, while we wondered which ALIE thrall was methodically taking out our heroes . . . or what if it was one of them!? Last episode, we saw Monty’s mom could still give a passable impression of herself, Raven could turn on her old charm, and this episode Emori also passes without any of the spacey-eyed craziness; when ALIE is putting her mind to it, her thralls can give good imitations, so long as they aren’t asked specific emotional questions regarding repressed memories. When Sinclair mentioned ALIE could easily have left someone behind to capture or chip the group if they returned, I was hoping that suggestion would have a horror-esque payoff.
That would solve the main problem of this episode as well, and that is: The Lesson of Emerson.
This episode takes a moment of true learning for Clarke and progress for the Grounders as a nation, and obliterates it, calling it Clarke’s “fault.” It says the penalty for Clarke’s mercy is watching her friends be abused and beaten. It says progressive thinking and unwillingness to carry out capital punishment will directly result in death and pain. Mean to or not, the message this episode sends is “retributive torture and murder really is the answer,” or at least “an acceptable answer.” Which in fact condones what Emerson is doing in attempting to kill Clarke as retribution for his kid.
As presented, the combination of Ep 6 and Ep 12 means you can make the argument “If Emerson has the chance to wipe out Clarke, to make her feel pain in return for his son’s death, and he doesn’t take it, he’d be at fault if she harms him (or anyone) later. He should kill Clarke, the way Clarke should have killed him six episodes ago.” That would be internally consistent, though obviously we don’t want that because Clarke is one hero of The 100. But when you break it down, that’s what this side-arc has said. That’s in fact literally what Clarke says, as she expresses guilt for letting someone live, as opposed to guilt for killing someone. The sense of personal responsibility is completely backwards.
Now, let me back up a second. Perhaps the original intent was to show that in a brutal post-apocalyptic world, even doing the right thing will come at a very high personal cost. But that’s not how it plays out in this episode. Clarke feeling guilty isn’t what sells the episode’s ‘moral’ – people feel irrational guilt all the time, as well as lack of deserved guilt – what sells the moral is the outcome. As Clarke faces and then kills Emerson, it’s presented as reasonable/fact that her killing Emerson prior would have prevented this threat to her friends now, and would thus have been the better route in the long run, even if she had to feel guilty herself back those many episodes ago. It reads as: you feel ‘guilty’ whether you kill people or spare them, so may as well play it on the safe side and kill them while you have the chance.
Which of course in addition to logically supporting Emerson’s actions, also contradicts the lesson they should be / are sometimes trying to show with Octavia, the 300 Grounders, Bellamy, and Lincoln.
I’m glad they had to pay Ricky Whittle to play dead for 20 seconds. I’m also glad Lincoln gets a real burial. But that burial scene drives home how none of this would have happened if not for Bellamy’s actions. He couldn’t have known what exactly the fallout would be, of course, but his actions themselves were wrong; yet here he gets to be somber, speaking the last blessing as some sort of benediction. In an episode where Clarke feels guilt for Sinclair’s death as a consequence of her merciful actions, giving Bellamy absolution for Lincoln’s death as the consequences of his wrong actions sends conflicted signals. Again, possibly not the message they intend to evoke, but sadly what the conflation and execution of all these ideas does evoke.
Octavia, at least, still isn’t going to (*breaks into Frozen voice*) let it goooooo. But as an audience, we need more than one character to stand up and say ‘whoa there, this is twisted.’ If we’re not going to get a true moral puzzle like in Season 2, that’s fine, but then the narrative needs to clearly delineate some things. We need the narrative to underscore that even if Clarke’s feelings of guilt may be natural, that does not make them accurate, and certainly doesn’t mean they should be acted upon in the future. Right actions don’t always result in a happy ending, and not every wrong action has a bad ending, of course. That’s not how life works. But
1. juxtaposing Clarke’s act of Ep 6 with Bellamy’s actions of the first three episodes
2. essentially saying retributive murder and capital torture are situationally A-OK because they’ll prevent your friends’ death in the future
are not the notes this show should be hitting if it means to stay internally consistent. After taking time to show ‘blood must have blood’ is morally unsustainable, and ‘blood must have blood’ means dead friends as well as enemies, this episode contradicts and takes a few steps backwards in its allegory, even if the individual episode’s genre usage and functionality within the season’s plot arcs are fine.
– Of all the characters, I’m Bryan. “Guys, telling ghost stories in the middle of the dark forrest with lightening is the actual worst idea, I’m going to bed. La la la I can’t heeeeear you.”
– I had the impression that cave was quite a ways out from Arkadia. The sequence where Bellamy waits to radio the cave until they’re driving up to Arkadia’s gates confuses me, geographically.
– Marie Avgeropoulos as Octavia just nails it, right in the feels, every time.
– Bellamy proves he has strong tactical ability and can think on his feet (as in making sure the tank is turned around for a quick escape), but will still throw all of it out the window at the first threat to Octavia.
– ‘Ascende Superius’ sounds like a Harry Potter charm.
– They couldn’t think of a better line than “all you have to do is swallow it” huh?
– In the tank conversation we get a weird sort of ‘if our consciousnesses are uploaded to the CoL tech place but our bodies die, the person isnn’t really alive’ commentary. Wonder if they’re just trying to cut off Monty’s irrational hope his mom is still alive and underscore that death-while-chipped (such as Lexa’s, or Raven’s if she had died) is final, or if that will come back into play in a more significant way.
– If they aren’t physically beating Raven, they’re emotionally beating her, but this episode manages to have both at once!
– (That is a sarcastic exclamation point.)