Saturday, February 6, 2016

The 100: Season 1, Episode 5

“Can you wish on this kind of shooting star? ... Forget it.”

So, the 100 fail.
            Truthfully, they don’t have a great track record. They didn’t reach Mount Weather, but they did manage to save Jasper, though they couldn’t do the same for Charlotte. This time, though, they were acting as one, with one purpose and one goal. Wasn’t enough, though. The obvious thing to do is figure out who was responsible and how. Was it Monty shorting out the monitor bracelets? Was it Raven not working fast enough (not a chance, Raven’s perfect)? Was Kane too gung-ho for the culling? Was it Bellamy’s self-serving revolution and his destroying Raven’s radio? If Finn hadn’t wasted a month of oxygen on an illegal spacewalk, would the 300 still be alive?
            The show doesn’t settle on any one thing (though it leans pretty hard, as it should, on Bellamy), because it’s really too complicated of a situation to be any one thing. Everyone bears as much blame as they think they should.
            It can be really hard to be a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre. At its core it’s dark and bleak, after all, and these traits lend the genre toward a lot of irritating or even offensive things we’ll get to later, for now, though, let’s focus on empty nihilism and simplistic cynicism. All too often the genre asserts human nature is fundamentally negative with all the gusto, conviction, and consideration of the greatest minds nu-metal was able to produce. And no doubt, The 100 is dark and bleak—this episode does kill 300 people because there isn’t enough air, after all—and its characters pretty frequently despair—again, killing 300 people because there isn’t enough air is not the act of a hopeful people—but the show itself isn’t despairing, and at its heart holds that, as many mistakes as we are capable of committing, people are decent, or they can be.
            Probably an odd take-away from 300 deaths, but I think it’s the right one. The Council, even Abby at one point, all feared the consequences of sharing the truth of the Ark’s critical life support (with, to be frank, reason), to the point of committing mass murder in secret, and all save Abby are more than a bit taken aback to see that decency in action, to the point that they are turning away people who are willing to die for others.
            Down on the ground, the 100 show a similar decency by working together in unified and authentic purpose, hoping to signal the Ark before it’s too late. Unlike the wall building that went on when they were frightened by Grounders who didn’t get Wells, their work on the signal rockets is focused and uncontentious (Murphy not pissing on people helps in this regard). It’s actually pretty inspiring to watch, even if their signal rocket plan is more than a little cockamamie. They’re pretty, though.
            But the cockamamie-ness is part of the point, I feel. For one, it reveals the show as not simply youthful wish fulfillment, where kids rule and adults drool, because, well, like I said, they fail. Their plan is fitting and sensible if desperate and works in context but it still has the Home Alone element of fireworks, and it fails. This is actually not a criticism commonly levied against The 100, but I’ve seen it come up and find it more than a little baffling, because if your supposition is that the kids are infallible, they really should succeed here and they don’t. But primarily the purpose is an extension of previous episodes’ work on condition our expectations. Main characters aren’t necessarily safe. Encouraging platitudes don’t trump trauma. And now, we shouldn’t expect last minute rescues. Abby doesn’t happen to be glancing out a porthole at the exact right second to stay Thelonious’ hand from hitting the button—they only see the rockets hours after it’s too late.
            As complicated as the culling is, it’s also quite simple—people on the Ark live under the simple and pure tyranny of math. X people consume Y oxygen which equals Z months. This is a very timely story of sustainability, the classic sci-fi move of heightening and refracting our modern fears and concerns into a parable. It also happens to coincide with a considerable escalation of the teen soap drama.
            In the eyes of many, whether they acknowledge it or not, there are tiers of legitimacy of genres. A serious drama full of men wearing suits must be inherently superior to some nonsense about gladiators, right? It’s a pain sci-fi fans know all too well, which is why I look a little askance at how so many sci-fi fans look down on “teen soap” as trivialness best distanced from, because for one, I’m not sure there’s a quantifiable difference in the authenticity of some of the relationships here and on some alleged adult shows because for two, it’s all a matter of execution. And part of execution is whether anything worthwhile is gleaned from the drama of the relationship.
            Last episode, Clarke and Finn had sex, a hookup fueled by teen hormones, but also notably by desperation and despair and the need to stave off hopelessness, things which motivations usually reserved for adults. Anyway, then Raven arrives, and what we already know is confirmed—her mysterious boyfriend among the 100 is Finn. Doesn’t get much more teen soapy than that.
            But what do we glean from this situation? Well, for one, despite being a pretty solid and wise ally until now, Finn’s a bit of a piece of shit, and these ladies have pretty dire taste in men. More significantly, though, is Clarke’s reaction, which is that’s she’s obviously hurt, but she’s so hard and hard-charging, she basically powers through the hurt, throwing up walls of being blasé, philosophical, and unsentimental about the affair (she also says, hilariously for a CW star, she was “passably cute”)—Clarke would have little time or tolerance for Buffy’s agonizing, though neither approach is inherently superior. The teen drama, in this case, actually heightens character.
            And those two elements, this business of OMG the cute guy I slept with totally didn’t tell me about his girlfriend and the father who dies to give his daughter the barest scrap of a chance coexist together, without forcing some thematic connection for us to marvel over the elegance.
            But the main takeaway from the deaths of the 300 is, as noted, that we can’t rely upon last minute rescues. Last episode Octavia told Jasper that bravery is always rewarded. Would that were so.

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