The 100: Season 03, Episode 16, “Perverse Instantiation – Part Two”
Cold open to Abby, with rope burns on her neck, jolting upright in Clarke’s arms in a classic example of Waking Up To Realize You Did A Horrible Thing. The acting nails it, though. Some of these stories don’t deserve the acting they’re getting, but the actors are giving their all.
That cold open is effective viscerally and emotionally, but it also serves to distract us for a moment from lot of details which have been skipped. Because so much has to happen in this finale, they need to skip / narrate a lot of intermediary actions, thus Bellamy walks in and he and Clarke have a discussion to fill the audience in on plot points. This isn’t criticism; it’s executed pretty well, and these details – they tied up Jaha and the other chipped ALIEbots, Clarke is making unilateral decisions again, etc – are mostly either boring or a foregone conclusion anyways. There’s a difference between economy in storytelling and blowing by interesting plot points: this opening sequence is the former.
Immediately following this, we are given our Raised Stakes Complete With Timetable when Pike announces “They’re climbing.” Pike is the perfect choice of character, as his voice could make “I’m going to make a sandwich” sound ominous. But coupled with the visuals of running ALIEdrones, it’s quite effective. Plus, I’m a sucker for siege action! Climbing walls with swords in your teeth, swinging battering rams, rapidly putting heavy objects in front of doors, this is great stuff. It could have used a little boiling oil to pour down on the attacking hoards, but I guess they didn’t have any of those old-school medieval movies on the Ark.
Then we go from this scene to Jasper jerking Harper around, reminding us she and her sexual proactivity have been used as pawns. Then she is an active participant in her own rescue, which is cool and back in character. This scene, just like this episode, just like this entire season, jerks both characters and my emotions around, everything fluctuating from good to horrifying and back again.
This, I mean as a criticism.
Meanwhile, back at the tower, turns out we’re getting the answer to what happens when you put both chips in one person. This is accomplished by one quick narrative shortcut of “I don’t know how I know this complicated etherial thing, but I’mma stake my life on it!” There are a lot of narrative shortcuts in this episode, and while some (like the cold open) work well, others run the gamut from cheeky to eye-rolling. Any plot points which would be too inconvenient are simply ignored or taken on faith.
For example, why is there half a foot of standing water at the top of a tower? I hope they didn’t think the Electricuting Conduction of Pools would be an actual surprise to the audience; it’s not only obvious, it’s the Most Convenient Evar, like the random red smoke bombs in the CoL. But, I will forgive a lot of ridiculous when something looks as pretty as these two things, or as cool as that literally black Ontari heart.
They are by no means sure Ontari is braindead, yet they must take care to pump Clarke’s blood into her to keep her breathing long enough to keep Clarke alive. I’m actually really down with the different sort of darkness this exemplifies, except nobody acknowledges how royally fucked up it is. Murphy – who has made his ascension to Flamekeeper, and has way better facial expressions than Titus, and has to stick his hand into Ontari’s chest cavity to keep her heart pumping – would seem the perfect character to note how weird and horrifying it is, but everyone seems to blithely accept Ontari is a vegetable.
They don’t ignore all the plot gaps, some they try to explain away. For example, Clarke’s IRL body should not be affecting her ability to move through the CoL, because they’ve established bodily pain doesn’t affect the part of the person/brain which is uploaded into the CoL. Raven’s “Clarke is running a different program” is supposed to cover that, but it still feels like it’s a complication which doesn’t fit what we’ve been told before, but merely serves to Make Things As Complicated As Possible. Speaking of, dad’s watch counting down is a potentially cool twist on the narrative device, but feels weirdly out of nowhere. And when we’re told ALIE is updating her code and Clarke needs to pull the lever before the update is complete, it feels like we’re getting a play on a classic trope, one where we’re supposed to root AGAINST the update status bar. But then, we don’t get a status bar.
In everything – the watch, the update, the philosophical babble, the 42 minutes we as an audience know they have to wrap everything up in – time is the crux of this episode. Of course, time is relative; I don’t care how much time Clarke is wasting by hugging Lexa, because of course she is, it’s a natural reaction. Time doesn’t necessarily matter on TV, it can bend and stretch to accommodate the plot, though as blatant as it happens here stretches our willing suspension of disbelief to its breaking point. They literally have characters read dictionary definitions during an age-old philosophical battle, all while the clock is running, but make sure the climactic decision happens at the exact moment before Kane chokes out Bellamy, Abby shoots Jackson, and Murphy becomes unable to keep manually pumping that black heart.
The philosophical battle covers Free Will v Predestination, ALIEJasper condemning torture while ALIEKane is casually mentioning crucifixions, and the like. It’s all too blatant and spelled out to be really gripping, especially when we’re more fixated on the literal stakes, like the aforementioned Grounders climbing the wall carrying swords, and Clarke needing blood transfusions to continue.
It was always going to come down to this choice: Clarke killing chipped people to save the world. The big grand penalty of pulling the plug while the chipped people were still chipped is . . . nothing. Seriously? After all that? After continually trying to establish people would die if the ALIE plug was yanked? Season 2’s end actually followed through on its horrible consequences. This one copped out in a big way by pushing deadly consequences, chipping important characters, and then backing off at the last minute.
Not only did the consequences cop out, but the actual choice presented to Clarke is never as wrenching as it should have been. ALIE offers Clarke relief from pain, and an abdication of guilt which Clarke has finally come to terms with. But all she had to offer Clarke was the chance to be with Lexa. That’s it. THAT is Clarke’s Garden of Gethsemane. The fact the writers didn’t even have ALIE push that as an option, moments after Clarke had finally seen Lexa again, shows they don’t understand the power of their own story.
Underestimating the power of your own story is possibly the worst sin in television. You can dislike how some storytellers such as Joss Whedon always think their metaphors are the biggest, most important, life-and-death things ever [and I, personally, do not dislike it at all], but it’s always a better choice than underselling the power of your own damn narrative. How the hell do you expect the audience to buy it when you don’t?
Of course, if you don’t buy its power, it follows that you can cavalierly destroy it without understanding what the fuck you’re doing.
Speaking of which. The fact the camera lingers on kiss soon after Clarke and Lexa reunite telegraphs that they won’t get another one. The sound mixing during their conversation is a bit weird, the laboured breathing is over-emphasized, and I’d bet all the money the “I love you” scene was heavily modified in post. Between the mixing, the way Clarke’s face is off-screen during important sentences, and how the actresses’ facial reactions don’t always make sense as a reaction to what’s been said, it’s quite blatant they recorded lines not in the original script and shoe-horned them in. Either re-shoot it, or don’t bother.
ALIE versus ALIE is a cool idea, and taking it to the spaceship helps visually drive home their attempted correlation between Clarke’s current choice and original ALIE’s HAL-like processes about saving Mankind. They even have a succinct nutshell bit about “ALIE can’t give the chipped people a choice because her core command is to make life better for mankind [as a whole], and she thinks she’s doing that” which highlights the tragedy of deeply held false beliefs.
But, in the end, I gave a resounding meh. The final Big Twist was so arbitrary and pales so much in comparison to what could have been, and has so few actual consequences, I just can’t care. Like Person of Interest, it’s toying with the human creators’ responsibility to teach an ASI morality. Only, POI takes the time to do it right. Basically, you should go watch Person of Interest if you want an actual thoughtful, thorough treatment of what our future in the hands of ArtificialSuperIntelligences what look like, and how philosophy and moral codes apply. If you’ve gotten this far in The 100, you’re perfectly okay with a few terrible episodes and acting as a show finds its footing. And trust me, when POI gets good, it gets goddamn great.
Ahem. Back to The 100. What haunts this episode is one of the biggest problems it’s had all season. Manipulating and destroying prior organic character and story development to service a plot point you value above everything else ruins not only your story, but your audience’s trust and interest. The two final scenes exemplify how frustrating this whole season has been in its handling of situations from one moment to the next.
We get a scene where Monty and Jasper reunite. There are apologies, and tears, and reconciliation, and an acknowledgement that life is brutal and hard and they can’t unsee the horrors they’ve seen. There is also humor and pathos and love and an acknowledgement of their deep bond, and they will share each others’ joys and burdens. It’s a beautiful final scene which doesn’t ignore the trauma and PTSD and pain they’ve experienced, and stays true to them as characters.
Immediately following that, Octavia murders Pike in front of everyone and strolls out of the tower.
Let’s back up a bit. Octavia has been simmering the whole time she’s had to work with Pike, and began the episode pointedly sharpening her murder weapon in Pike’s line of sight. She then attempted to let the Grounders kill Pike and pretend it was a casualty of battle, which was very biblical of her but didn’t work. Then Bellamy and Pike had a little shouting match where Pike held onto his “I DID THE RIGHT THING” mantra and Bellamy told Octavia to not act unilaterally. Twenty minutes later, Octavia murders Pike in full view of a dozen witnesses.
After trying to be sneaky, after realising her emotions had jeopardised her friends, and most importantly after being told Indra was alive in a desperate situation, Octavia decides the most important thing in her life isn’t peace, isn’t abiding by what Lincoln would have wanted, isn’t running get Indra off the cross. This smart, loyal character chooses revenge not just over her dead lovers’ memory – which does fit where she is right now mentally, after the heat of battle, after being indoctrinated into the idea of blood-must-have-blood by Indra – but over her own self interest and most importantly over the life of her friend? No. The timing, coupled with the false start near the beginning of the episode, doesn’t work.
If Octavia had had closure with justice, or had thought of Indra first, maybe. If it had happened to kick off next season, with the space to examine her feelings and pain and fallout, okay. But they jammed it in because they wanted to feel the season had an Edgy Ending which could potentially lead to Stuff Next Season, so they ignore the situation, context, the relationship of two wounded warrior women, and Indra entirely, to get that audience gasp. Now that The 100 has a Season 4, I’ll place my bets right now that Octavia killing Pike – a war criminal, the murderer of her lover, and a despotic xenophobic warmonger – is going to be put on par with Bellamy killing the Grounders, Clarke killing Mountain people and allowing the missile to launch at the Grounders’ camp in “Rubicon”, Finn letting loose on a village, etc. The subtle shading of Season 2 is gone.
This episode had plenty of good: some good setpieces, beautiful production value, suspense driven by good editing and well-executed tropes. But the bad parts of this episode were badly hamfisted, convenience-driven, or flat-out horrific, and they perfectly encapsulate all that went wrong with this season: twists, shock value, and reaching for cleverness were unfortunately prized over consistency, character development, legitimate moral quandaries, and plain old storytelling.
– Yay Bryan still being alive, but that wound got infected rapidly.
– How did they know when to put the chip in Clarke? Felt like they jumped the gun a bit, but it would have been pretty anticlimactic if she just died after all that, so.
– The CoL street scenes were apparently shot in downtown Vancouver, no small feat to close off. Shooting at an upward angle helps hide some of their lack-of-total-closure, assuming there had to be some.
– It’s kind of heartbreaking to see Happy Jasper, knowing what he’s been through and is about to go back to. The fact he immediately sees Monty is the first shimmer of hope he’s really had this season.
– Clarke in the CoL is very Inception-esque, and though it’s a pretty straightforward survival maze sequence, how can you not like badass, sword-wielding Lexa to the rescue?
– It’s always so awkward when footage has to be carefully edited not to show lady-nipples, even in medical contexts like ‘cracking someone’s chest open’. Meanwhile, CoL Clarke can have makeup-accentuated cleavage, because boobs are totally okay for those purposes. Hypocrisy, thy name is TV rating standards.