The 100: Season 03, Episode 14, “Red Sky at Morning”
Well that was . . . confusing.
Every aspect of this episode, from technical to narrative, is all over the map. We’ve got unclear or contradictory framing and explicit exposition about an AI’s consciousness. We have wonderful lighting but production design which makes a pacifist sanctuary on an oil rig look basically exactly like any other Grounder camp. We’ve got simple plots which get convoluted, and complex plots explained with throwaway lines. We have deliciously eerie small moments, and big moments which miss some great opportunities. We’ve got Boat People Open Mic Poetry Night.
It’s like there’s a dumpster full of beautiful jewellery. Only the dumpster is doused with gasoline and set on fire. But the fire is still really pretty. But it smells like a dumpster full of gasoline.
Let’s start with framing. Framing is really important; sometimes it just makes a shot prettier, but sometimes it conveys important information, and always it is sending subconscious messages to the viewer about everything from spatial relations to morality of any particular character. One of the most famous examples of this is 12 Angry Men, where the angles and focus and positioning of all the participants shift throughout the film, and so does the viewers’ allegiance and thoughts of who has the moral and logical high ground. Read this and this and this.
Now look how Pike is framed. He’s the only one chained to be able to stand square to the camera. We’re looking mostly up at and straight at him, and he’s standing tall in contrast to Murphy’s position on the floor. Pike catches the few beams of light entering the cell, and his shirt is of course open. After all this time setting up Pike as a villain, this opening scene is asserting his strength and giving him an air of authority and moral superiority, and when he smashes the backpack server, he’s again shot from below, framed as the only one who had the nerve and ability to Do What Was Necessary.
Some of the framing in conjunction with editing is unclear. When Indra grabs the knife, it’s not in the wide shot of her and the guard; we don’t see it until an insert shot which is a medium shot of her hand [we know it’s hers because she’s black and the guard is white] coming and grabbing the knife out a holster located in an unspecified place. I know we’re supposed to assume it’s the guard, since she’s been imprisoned and thus wouldn’t have a knife, but it’s still somewhat sloppy. Later, Luna grabbing for a knife is shown in a medium shot, and even though we never actually see a closeup of her grabbing, it’s clearly Derick’s knife she grabs and throws. Both use the same sound effects, but one is less confusing.
It’s also somewhat confusing to show ALIE presiding over Luna’s torture and then switch to a solo shot of ALIE, thinking. Maybe it was supposed to be a clever transition, but when the shot widens out, we realize we were in Titus’s sex/religion dungeon instead of on the oil rig like we thought, and there’s a moment of confusion while we re-orientate.
Then, they don’t show ALIE and Hannah together, other than a second-long snippet wide shot that’s pretty obviously a stand-in. Maybe they couldn’t get the two actresses on the same set? But since they made the decision to show Hannah’s body, they needed to orient us to where she is, where she is in relation to ALIE, and where the heck she came from. How important this is, of course, really depends on if it’s going to end up as a plot point / way the CoL inhabitants can be revived, later.
I do rather hope, though, that death while chipped remains death. Both because it would be narratively cheating again otherwise, but also because Monty has had to essentially kill his mother twice now. Her voice coming through the computer room speaking to him is a damn effective, creepy, well-executed note, especially as we know it’s just ALIE manipulating her the same way maybe a future AI could manipulate things we’ve said that have been recorded over time. Making Monty feel like he’s killing his mom again, this time without the real immediacy he faced in the first situation; watching him struggle with whether her voice is a real representation of her to him and whether he can withstand saying goodbye to even that, is a twist worthy of the genre, even if the editing softens the effect a little by presenting his mom’s body, but making it unclear how or why her corporeal form has been preserved.
It’s not just the editing that can be hard to follow. When the guards turn on Luna, we have been given zero to go on. That’s not a narrative ‘twist,’ that’s cheating. It comes from absolutely nowhere, narratively speaking. Bellamy offers the explanation ‘Niylah must have had a drone follow us,’ but writing in that one-line-toss-off explanation is awful. (Far worse than Indra’s “OH YEAH I totally saw that backpack being moved into a supposedly secret sanctuary” explanation. First, Bellamy’s just surmising, he could be wrong. Second, even IF that is the case, they needed to at least set it up by showing a drone when the four left Niylah’s place. We didn’t have to see the drone delivering the chips to someone on the oil rig, but we do need to know 1. it was possible 2. why people living in a post-apocalyptic world would put random wafers stamped with a sacred symbol in their mouths. Apparently, some people just swallow anything, while others won’t even under torture.
Which of course leads us back to: why can’t ALIE’s soldiers just put it in peoples’ mouths by force? They’ll waterboard them, but not force them to swallow a chip!? This makes zero sense. It also shows ALIE to show stronger sense of morality around things like consent and human agency than Clarke shows, and that’s waaaaaaay problematic, as Octavia bluntly points out.
While I’m glad Luna first judo-tosses Clarke, and then subverts her plan entirely, and also points out Clarke’s inconsistent and conflicting reasoning, this is another sign that we need more characters to spread plots between. In one breath Clarke is advocating change and saying Lexa was special and was trying new ways. In the next breath Clarke is speaking to the chip, trying to force Luna to take it against her will. You can’t force someone’s birthright on them, especially when it involves 1. lack of consent 2. forcing them to fight and kill.
Bellamy sums it up as, “We gave Luna a choice. She said no.” which indicates asking someone for consent is more like presenting them with an opportunity to succumb without a struggle, or get their agency taken away. I get they’re trying to explore issues of choice and agency and killing in a very tumultuous time, but it’s still a weird thing to put in the mouth of a character you’re trying to redeem, especially since the story is over in about 15 minutes of screentime. Meanwhile, everyone still looks to Clarke instinctively, as the closing scene here underscores. But Clarke shows by her choices she is rapidly losing her way.
Amongst all these moral quandaries and boundaries and commentary on consent and editing choices, they miss a huge opportunity to have an impactful moment.
Harper was exuding horny when she came to fetch Monty, but I at least haven’t seen her wanting him before. I’m all about some sexytimes, and sex in the face of impending doom makes sense, and Raven’s “oh finally!” attitude is consistent. It’s having Harper be all “okay now I want to cuddle because I’m about you” that comes out of nowhere.
That’s beside my point though. In this season which is searching [albeit mostly badly] for commentary on humanity versus technology and artificial intelligence versus feelings and consequences of choices, they have an episode which involves the inner workings of ALIE, and two humans getting together, Monty presumably having sex for the first time. So why don’t you intercut the coding with sex, and use it to say something about humans exercising biological functions and/or filling a primal need by connecting with another being, something which separates them from ALIE. With merely a few intercuts, you could at least suggest that. Instead, the two things are starkly partitioned in the episode.
As far as what the episode does really well, I’ve mentioned some; the rest of the highlights involves that dramatic zoomout, and the very effective scene where Jaha says “the first of the prisoners is on the cross,” then seeing a prisoner walk towards him in the CoL. Now the season also has a true Enemy of my Enemy situation, with Pike and Indra teaming together, bound by the always fascinating Murphy.
The moment Jasper makes friends with someone to give that person narrative weight, she gets an arrow in the back. Luna does everything in her power to avoid violence, yet sees it all end in death. I hope ultimately Jasper ends up a part of Luna’s clan, and can find a safe place put some of his demons to rest, but I now doubt this story is going to give anyone any sort of rest or respite.
– They’re going really hard for the Game of Thrones Without Nudity vibe.
– Instead of “save the cheerleader, save the world” we have “smash the backpack, save the world.” Less catchy.
– Giving the tattoo’d solder a button-up shirt and sweater in the CoL is actually a really weird, dystopian touch.
– The “Raven might relapse” angle takes the chip metaphor back into the drug-metaphor territory. Though of course, I see that as a religious metaphor too, I doubt most people see/mean it that way.
– A nice little acting moment by Emori. *igonring the fact when ALIE-possessed people show emotion is arbitrary and not well established in the story.
– Luna’s “I fled the conclave . . . because I knew I would win” cements her status as Unmitigated Badass. If this is the last we see of her, it will be a massive waste.