Monday, May 9, 2016

The 100: Season 1, Episode 12

“What do you say, Abby? Are you ready to see your daughter again?”

So I’ve written about death, survival, morality, and the meaning of such things in the show because they’re handy and noteworthy things to grab a hold of, but they aren’t where the real pleasure of watching the show comes from. It’s a pleasure to watch because it’s really goddamn exciting and thrilling. And it just so happens that my two favorite moments of thrill come in this episode.
            Firstly, we have Bellamy’s big speech. Big rallying battle speeches have been a much beloved trope (or cliché) since at least the day Prince Hal made big promises at Agincourt, and probably well before that, but I’d trace their modern form to Braveheart, which set the standards, and later The Lord of the Rings movies, which kinda perfected those standards, and is what I feel all everyone is subsequently aping. You know how that aping goes—guy stands before the assembled troops, offers some poetic platitudes about how awesome the assembled troops are, invokes high-minded ideals of freedom and liberation and democracy (even if or perhaps especially if the speaker hails from a culture that would find modern democratic ideals of egalitarianism and self-rule preposterous), and eventually the violence (which is what we’re here for) actually starts. Obviously, they rather suck much of the time, but writers love them, and actors love them too, even though they are very rarely as rallying and exciting as they’re meant to be.
            Bellamy’s big speech is great, though. Why? Well, for one, the music. It’s not great music, mind you, I know full well that it’s very obvious and more than a bit uninspired, but what can I say, I’m an easy mark, and it’s propulsive, so it does the job. Anyway, no, what I think makes it truly effective is that it isn’t full of platitudes, or at least not empty ones. He’s actually saying something specific and pointed to the 100—this isn’t a speech that happens because, hey, there should be a speech. It’s pre-battle only in the sense that it comes before a battle, but everyone isn’t lined up for a fight (at which point you’d hope everyone involved understood the reasons they were about to fight, at least in theory), and because there’s an alternative, a damn credible one. I mean, it may be Finn’s alternative, but it’s also Clarke’s and it’s backed up by Lincoln, so I was sold, and it’s to not fight and run for the sea instead.
            The speech Bellamy gives in response isn’t about inspiring the 100 to stand for some vague, high-minded ideal (good thing, because they are a pretty un-high-minded lot), but rather to get them to rethink how they see themselves in light of a very simple fact: once they left the Ark, there was no turning back, and by virtue of being on the ground, they’re now Grounders, too. Since this isn’t a group very likely to sit and listen in reverence, one of the assembly jumps in to point out they’re also Grounders with guns. It’s a very rare speech that actually convinced me along with the characters. Hellz yes, let’s fight!
            And then, Clarke swoops in and steals Bellamy’s speech right the fuck out from under him! Before he even knows it’s happening! It’s awesome, she hits him with speech judo, redirecting the momentum he’s given the crew in the direction she wants it to go, and she does it without appearing to contradict him or giving him any reason to intervene until it’s too late. When it’s all over, she even gives him a “Fucken what?” look. Clarke does a fair number of bad ass things, but this might be my favorite.
            But my favorite moment, the one that really gets me pumped, comes at the end. The Ark survivors now have time to take stock of their home’s condition, and that condition is “dead.” Precious little oxygen remains, so rationing ends and everyone is told to make the most of their final hours. Notably, for Abby and Kane, this means remaining at work which is futile, but rather ennobling, but just to emphasize, is futile, and is also fairly sad—are they expressing their true purposes, or has Ark life left them so unfulfilled, they can’t think of what to do now that they’re ending? But Jaha inadvertently ends up in the one place Wells and Clarke can help—watching home movies, which is where he gets his radical idea. They don’t need another exodus ship, because they’re already aboard one.
            Love it. The Ark was a compelling but rather limited setting, and its time was clearly at an end, so why not bring it down as audaciously as possible? And it is pretty audacious, Kane, Sinclair, and Abby all seem pretty aghast and shocked at the suggestion. But Jaha remains so certain and casual, it’s fairly awesome to behold, he’s even a little smug about it, asking (unmaliciously) if Kane has a better idea. This is pretty much without contest the coolest Jaha has ever been. As scenes that smash cut into a “To Be Continued” go, this is pretty first rate.
            But the thrills this moment offers isn’t, or at least isn’t just, the promise of a kick-ass action bit, but of an irrevocable shift in the status quo, and all sorts of new, fresh story avenues to explore. That’s a really great feeling.
            Those are two events in a really goddamn eventful episode, one that already complicated the 100’s world and state quite a bit. There’s Monty’s continued disappearance, taken by something that seems utterly new and foreign, the arrival of bloodthirsty and eyebrow-deficient Tristan, an agent of the mysterious Commander and a stark contrast to the sympathetic but doomed guard Clarke killed last time, and the discovery of the creepy, cannibalistic Reapers (here, incidentally, Lincoln solidifies his bad-assitude with moral clarity and by getting shot with an arrow, not saying anything about it, and treating the treatment of the wound as an inconvenience), and mostly, Murphy.
            I alluded to the concept of the “useful psycho” when Clarke first convinced Bell that Murphy should stick around, and it seems to me to be an aspect of post-9/11 madness best exhibited by, well, noted season 7 Buffy shitshow “Get It Done,” wherein Buffy, hero, yearns for the days her best friend and sometime lover were still vicious murderers because we’re at war, dammit, and that’s what we need. And more or less, that’s also how Clarke justified Murphy’s clemency—“We need the numbers.” Now, we’re not in a full bore allegory here, The 100 is not repudiating Bush II-era military recruitment policy directly, but I do think the Murphy story here has resonance among the armchair philosopher generals of that era as a vicious element in a society which that society thinks it can harness against The Enemy. As it turns out, maybe Murphy wants to wreak vengeance upon the Grounders, but he’s perfectly happy to wreak vengeance upon his own, who also wronged him pretty badly. In trying to harness Murphy’s trauma (and in the process not trying much to mitigate it), some unknown number of the 100 get murdered, both Jasper and Bellamy are nearly killed, Raven gets critically injured, a bunch of their gunpowder and a few bullets get wasted, they are temporarily sealed out of their best shelter, and lots of time is lost.
            No, Murphy is not a metaphor for the returning war vet at all. But he does highlight the dangers of thinking you can simply turn those wronged by your society loose on your adversaries without consequence.

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