Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The 100: Season 1, Episode 4

“You wanted to build a society, Princess. Let’s build a society.”

For some reason, this episode’s central image of a scummy and unpopular but ultimately innocent person being hung by a wild and angry mob based on the thinnest of pretenses seems especially relevant to today’s culture.
            Not that such behavior is a recent development by any means.
            What I’m tempted to call the “Charlotte Arc,” if you’ll forgive me, really display what the show was going to become, something pretty unsparing and unflinching, and it does it so well that it’s hard to see the dismissive attitude levied against the show being a “teen soap,” or having the lingering traits of one, even among its current and regular viewers as small-mindedness bordering on chauvinism (it’s hard not to notice how often the leads of shows that get dismissed that way are female), simply because they managed to tell this story while still very much a teen soap. The standard setup of the meek mascot ends up killing two and almost shattering the group—imagine if Neville Longbottom killed Ron and then plunged to his death to keep Harry and Malfoy from getting hurt by Crabbe as a consequence. It establishes that not only are there stakes, they are big stakes, and the fact that they spring from a complicated intersection of poorly considered statements and immature choices, and that every action simply makes things worse until Charlotte can only solve the problem by eliminating herself from the equation, so much the better.
            Much as I’ll sound, again, like a broken record, it still should be pointed out how much events of this episode are fueled by youthful ignorance, inexperience, and impulsiveness. Bellamy and Clarke both gave Charlotte words of advice last episode, and while only Bellamy’s come back to haunt him here, that’s simply because Clarke’s were too weak and lame to make an impact. Neither of them caught the import of what Charlotte was actually telling them, because they weren’t actually equipped to. Here, neither is willing to strike any sort of balance in handling the discovery that Wells wasn’t killed by any still-unseen Grounder—Bell thinks they should just continue with that lie, even though Clarke clearly can’t abide that (his sudden death has given her cause to only remember the good times with Wells) and it makes the 100’s unity precariously fragile, and Clarke can’t wait so she just starts shouting accusations at Murphy, oblivious to how his behavior has primed the 100 to turn on him and heedless of how cavalier the society they come from is about executions. When things turn ugly, Clarke and Finn are powerless, and Bellamy escalates things, seeming to see how under his regime, he’s on in power if he does what the crowd wants. Obviously, the cataclysmic near-detonation of a fledgling social group is a common trope as well, but very refreshingly in this case, central characters are tossing the bombs.
            Murphy, also driven by immaturity, contributes by making it really damn easy for everyone do decide to kill him. Without the handy target Wells provided, his sadism gets directed at everyone and anyone. But it’s a very childish, bullying sort of sadism, his actions the sort of thing someone who’s been kicked a lot does when they’re in power, and the showy knives he makes, yeah, seem a bit deranged, but also kind of child-like, and that he apparently puts his initials on them is more than a little like a kid at camp who’s desperate to protect his stuff. That’s important shading. And while Clarke and Bell argue over the value and dangers of full disclosure on a society, Murphy the one with the real insight—law that falls unequally on the unpopular and the adorable isn’t really worth following. He doesn’t express this thought, but, you know, he isn’t much of a philosopher.
            Far more than Murphy, though, this episode gives some texture to the other clear villain, Kane, who takes time from glowering to give condolences to Abby over Clarke’s (non)death and says with regret that the 100 were a long shot (then he’s back to threatening to float Abby and Raven, too). We finally get the chance to luxuriate in the Ark in this episode, outside the halls of power, at least. It has a black market, headed by scummy Nigel that appears to run mostly on the Ark’s only renewable resource: booty. And it’s also home to something that isn’t exactly a religion, but certainly appears to be some sort of faith, or possibly idolatry, in the small group that gathers around a bonsai tree and dream of the day their great-great grandchildren will walk the ground again, which is headed by Kane’s mother, from whom he seems to be estranged. While not stated directly, that estrangement appears to be because he has drifted away from the tree group, possibly, since he’s mocked by Nigel for his past association in the same scene, being bullied out of it. When I first started watching, I’d continually refer to Kane as “Evil Dez,” but small moments in this episode do a lot of work making him more than the obvious nasty tyrant he initially seemed to be.
            Nigel is sort of a big deal, which might seem a surprise since I’m pretty sure this is her only appearance. The 100 gets a lot of credit for its diversity, there is, though, an increasingly prominent philosophy meant to encourage colorblind casting and increase representation that holds you should look at the fundamental traits of a character, and, well, if they don’t need to by white, they don’t have to be. I can’t say for certain, but it sure seems like this thinking was used on Nigel, to the character’s great benefit. A Nigel who, as the name implies may have been initially conceived, is a white guy that is oily and odious and pervily calls Raven “little bird” as he tried to turn her out to the Chief of Electrical would just be another loathsome and pointless sex offender in a genre that’s pretty lousy with them. But the Nigel we got is very memorable, in part because she plays with stereotypes—as was observed in one of Community’s earliest jokes, pop culture has conditioned many of us to see middle-aged African American women as kindly dispensers of wisdom. There’s not a lot of wisdom coming from Nigel, though, she’s really deplorable and irritating, and makes the Ark feel much weirder and more unexpected than it would otherwise.
            In the end, Clarke and Bell find an accord, hash out some punishments that aren’t execution, and despite all the talk of the need to lie to The People, restore peace through full disclosure, and things are looking up, until Monty’s attempt to MacGuyver a communication device zaps all remaining monitoring bracelets. The Ark thinks they’re all dead, and the 100 have no way to confirm they are alive. It’s their lowest point, and it pushes Clarke and Finn to some pretty graphic for network TV sex, even as Raven, who has some history with Finn drops through the skies toward them. This is a teen soap after all, but any viewer should know by now that lowest points are anything but.

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