The 100: Season 03, Episode 13, “Join or Die”
This episode is a mess. It attempts to rectify and/or lampshade all the problems the show had in Seasons 1 and 3A. [Season 2 doesn’t really come into play in this episode, which is fitting.] It has some interesting ideas about how about this rectifying business, but it flubs the execution badly. No pun intended.
Screaming. Gray and blue color palette. Crucifixions. Knockoff orcs. “The City of Light” is all dark and grim. hashtag #irony. We get it, the CoL is ancient Rome, the people who refuse to accept the religion are the Christians, but lining the walkway with crucified martyrs is a bit much. It also serves to underscore or flat-out confirming everything Pike has said all season, and that internal contradiction – affirming someone who was set up as ‘bad’ as ‘actually right all along’ – is the main takeaway from this episode. Like last episode, this has possibly-unintentional, definitely-badly-structured messages.
Pike teaching survival skills in flashbacks helps explain how the 100 had any skills whatsoever when they were dropped from the sky, and serves to retcon how Pike knows Murphy and others who weren’t on his station. The story ends up humanizing Pike and adding a weird credence to his on-Earth actions, especially because his literal child abuse is justified. Yes, drastic times call for drastic measures, and this world is a dark place after nuclear annihilation, but in a show targeted to teenagers, a strapping adult man beating a boy ‘because he wants him to learn’ and ‘because he just wants to the best for him,’ and that being posited as something not just excusable but effective and laudible, is wildly problematic.
After beating Murphy, after slaughtering Grounders, after wilfully ignoring what was best for his own people, after being a tyrannical murderous despot, we the audience know Pike deserves death by Indra’s shank. If we followed the lessons of the past two-seasons-and-a-few-episodes, we’d know extemporaneously giving Pike ‘what he deserves’ still isn’t right. But this episode takes this message a different direction. Everything – the savage place Polis has turned into, Pike sneering in Indra’s face, and most especially what Pike says and does in the flashbacks turning out to be right in the long run – serves to prop up Pike and say “he’s unpopular and unconventional but ultimately right.” When Indra is cutting him, we’re supposed to sympathize with him suffering for his beliefs, for being right, for trying and failing to use harsh rule to prevent this whole CoL/Roman rule, suffering for trying to help Murphy and everyone else. The episode shows respect for Pike standing firm in his twisted convictions; after all we’ve seen him do this season, that’s not only an abrupt narrative shift, it’s pretty gross.
Along with that, they flat-out rewrite history when it comes to Bellamy’s actions. Clarke says there “may be” blood on Bellamy’s hands. Um, no. That writing is clearly trying to sanitize things. It could have said “There is blood on all our hands” or “Yes you have blood on your hands, but not Lincoln’s” and at least been more believable. At this point, the narrative is not just stretching but misrepresenting everything that’s gone on before.
I’m not saying Bellamy can’t come to grips with his actions, and I’m not saying that his friends can’t accept him again (though, asking Octavia “how long” she’s going to hold it against him when it’s been maybe three days is ridiculous). As this episode points out, they need each other to survive; this whole show has shown the post-nuclear world is a hard place and you don’t always make the right decision, especially when PTSD and other factors are involved. But before Bellamy can ‘forgive himself’ he still has to acknowledge what he did was awful, and murder, and had disastrous consequences, and he can’t do it again. They’re working overtime to avoid saying that, and it’s laughably transparent, especially because “we can only survive this together, and survival is what matters. Never keep fighting” would still work in a context where everyone acknowledges the slaughter.
When Bellamy says ‘if Octavia had trusted him, it would have been all right,’ nobody points out there was exactly zero reason to trust him. Refusing to have anyone acknowledge specifically what Bellamy did is egregious historical revision, and it also means they’re stuck in a weird purgatory of trying to ‘deal with what Bellamy did’ while simultaneously writing around it, which only prolongs our attention to what he did. They wanted to take Bellamy down an unredeemable path, but now they wanted to redeem him, and explicitly facing what he did would hamper that. So they just dance around it indefinitely. Storytelling doesn’t work that way, at least not effectively.
Only Octavia really calls out Bellamy’s actions, and it’s rather written off as her being unreasonably upset her lover was collateral damage. Octavia calls Bellamy out, just as Murphy tells Pike “actually, you didn’t help me,” but both cases have one person stating a weakened protest to what the show is actually working overtime to tell us. It’s just poor storytelling, set up by plot choices at the beginning of the season, characters being forced to service plot, and really weird arc choices within this episode.
The 100 started as a post-apocalyptic show in the lines of Battle Royale. As this season has developed with Artificial Intelligence and a constant reliance on chemicals, it’s strengthened its Slasher SciFi aspects. One of the strengths of scifi, one thing which makes it such an interesting genre to work within, is how it can use its imagery as metaphors and allegories and commentary. When it doesn’t work, though, it’s frustrating, and during this episode I kept going back to my earlier conversation about the show not committing to one metaphor in dealing with ALIE’s chip.
Some people say the chip makes Jaha a drug dealer, but the metaphor isn’t executed that way half the time. If the chip were a drug, couldn’t you just put it in peoples’ mouths and force them to swallow? Get them hooked on the product and then they’re all in. It’s not like ALIE is against coercion; she psychologically forced Abby to take it, and her body didn’t reject it, nor does Kane’s here. I don’t get why they haven’t resorted to blunt physical force, but the main problem is they haven’t established a firm, clean rule as to how ingesting the chip works.
Actually, all the rules of how this pill works are still fuzzy. Abby remembers Clarke in her appeal to Kane, but shouldn’t that still be painful? The flashbacks in this very episode show Abby’s regret and anguish over what her actions have put Clarke through. Their relationship has been strained, Clarke is gone and could be dead. So how does Abby remember her? Does ALIE let people selectively remember? Or does ALIE just speak the words through the zombie-vessels? It feels like they’re playing fast and loose for plot convenience.
Speaking of, if Luna was part of the conclave, she should know about the Commander chip. But we don’t get an idea of what she knows, or what Clarke has told her friends, before Lune and Clarke are face to face and Clarke says “Oh hey everyone you knew is dead you gotta take this AI into you.” Of course Lune says no to that proposition, phrased like that. It’s rushed and from a total stranger and off-putting. If this episode had only spent more time with Bellamy, Clarke, Octavia, and Jasper’s journey; if only Clarke had had some time to grieve and process; if only the Original Four had truly been able to work through some things they were forced to face in Niylah’s cabin; if only Luna and Clarke’s first meeting weren’t so rushed and awkward. But all that went by the wayside in service to this flashback plot and Sympathy for Pike and gruesome edgy torture visuals.
The intercutting does set up some potentials; for example, the exchange between Kane and Abby over Clarke’s unconscious body being carried to the transport could give us reason why ALIE-possessed Abby would be okay with crucifying Kane, which is the scene it’s intercut with. That’s super interesting, but it’s undercut by Abby having fallen in love with Kane this season, after he shock-lashed her, and both their personalities being completely different than when that scene happened, etc. Potential is there, but not execution.
Unfortunately, the whole episode serves to remind us how much the show has jerked around characters – particularly Bellamy – in service of story, and also the message “despotic xenophobic leaders can be right and mean well and hey maybe just feel for them and their cause.”
The episode’s final shot does give us the boat peoples’ oil rig hideout though, and that’s pretty cool, so hopefully its execution is better next week.
– It’s really [unintentionally, I think] amusing when ALIE says “Try harder” and Abby translates that into “make out fervently.”
– If Pike were really a survivalist, and he put together the fact the Ark was dying / running out of oxygen, why the hell did he let that fire keep burning?
– Someone on this show has very specific knowledge of high school teaching.
– Why on earth did they let Jasper keep those dumb goggles in prison?
– Callback to Season 1 pop music! Take a drink.
– You used to be able to differentiate easily between flashbacks and current events by color palette – dark and blue for the Ark, green and yellow and more light on the ground. Now, it’s more on how clean everyone’s hair is.