October 4, 2020

Thoughts on The 100 Series Finale


I wasn't going to write about this, but last night I finally realized what bugged me so much about how this show ended. So I'm going to rant for a bit. 

Full disclosure: I have been a fan of this show for nearly all of its run. One hundred years after World War III, with the remnants of humanity (only about 2000 people) orbiting above the planet in an expanded International Space Station, one hundred juvenile delinquents are sent to Earth to see if it is survivable. (Why they just can't take pictures and/or scans of inhabitable areas, as the ISS and Google satellites now do, is a question left up to the viewer.) Said one hundred teenagers discover that not only is the planet livable, there are descendants of survivors from the original war, the Grounders, who have developed their own post-apocalyptic culture and language. 

This sets up the basic conflict, and for the next five seasons, Clarke Griffin, Bellamy Blake and the people from the space station clash with the Grounders. Of course this is vastly oversimplifying; the show delighted not only in killing off main characters but setting up impossible, grimdark choices for Clarke and co., choices which inevitably ended with Clarke, Bellamy or someone else pulling the lever or the trigger to save "their people," and causing a lot of death to the other side. In fact, the show's extreme tribalism was a prominent theme, always pitting "us" against "them" with very few taking the broader view of "this is all that's left of the human race, and there is no us/them." Diplomacy and/or negotiation were concepts that rarely came up, and each season seemed to be a race as to how many of the dwindling number of remaining humans could be killed off. 

Season 4 ended with another radiation-induced "death wave" (an extremely handwavey notion of automated nuclear power plants from the previous war finally giving up the ghost and melting down--just go with it) sweeping the planet, sparing only one green valley, which everyone proceeds to fight over in Season 5. Season 5 features the return of the Eligius, a mining ship sent out decades earlier to search for oil on extrasolar planets, a ship carrying four hundred inmates in cryosleep. At the end of Season 5, one of the Eligius' factions sets off a bomb that destroys the last livable space on the planet, and our characters enter cryosleep to wait for Earth's return. 

Only Earth doesn't come back--it's finally down for the count (or so it seems) dead and uninhabitable. Aboard the Eligius, two characters who did not go into cryo decode the ship's secret logs, and find the existence of another habitable planet, Sanctum, which was discovered by another mining/colony ship sent out at about the same time. The Eligius is set on automatic pilot and sent to this planet, and seventy-five years later, Clarke and Bellamy are awakened to see themselves in orbit around their new home. 

I had said this would be a fine point for the series to end, and it arguably still is. However, after thinking about it, the setup on Sanctum for the last two seasons (except for the one awful plot twist, which I will get to) is not that bad. Sanctum has its own factions and its nasty secrets, the nastiest being the Primes, who use cybernetic technology to implant themselves in the bodies of their young descendants (thereby wiping away the people they inhabit) to live and rule the planet forever. This was a rather clever twist using the series' established worldbuilding. Naturally, there are rebels fighting against this (with the cry, "Death to Primes!") and Clarke and co. land in the middle of this mess with their own problems, namely all the prisoners still onboard the Eligius. 

Season 6 was preoccupied with this, and Season 7 should have been as well. Unfortunately, the show began to go off the rails with the introduction of the Anomaly, a giant green spinning something-or-other on Sanctum that sucks up two characters and a few minutes later spits one of them back out...and a few minutes after that, the grown daughter of the other vanished and also pregnant character (Diyoza, who deserved far better than the end she received). These are, as we come to find out in Season 7, artificial time-bending wormholes linking several other inhabitable planets, generated by huge alien-manufactured Anomaly Stones, which sport symbols you have to press in a specific order to travel to a specified planet. The center of this space- and time-jumping network, Bardo, is inhabited by a cult of survivors from the show's first Apocalypse. This new bunch used the Anomaly Stone discovered on Earth to travel to the home planet of the extinct alien race who created the network, where they want to meet up with another alien race for a so-called "Last War," after which the remnants of humanity will "transcend."

If this sounds like convoluted mystical bullshit, you are absolutely right. It's similar to what happened to the final season of the late lamented (at least by me) reboot of Battlestar Galactica, only I will venture to say that The 100's bullshit smells even worse. And it's all so unnecessary. The Season 7 storyline is split between the Anomaly/Bardo and the Sanctum crises, and the latter is far more compelling (led by Richard Harmon's John Murphy, who shines this season). You don't even have to get rid of the "Last War" concept, if you don't want to. All the elements needed for a Last War are right there on Sanctum, with the Sanctumites, led by Sheidheda, one of the resurrected previous Grounder Commanders, the Eligius' reawakened prisoners, and our core characters and their followers. You want your Last War? There it is! Earth is gone and Sanctum is it, and y'all have to finally face and stamp out the idiotic tribalism that has been the defining flaw of all the characters for the entire series. Hell, Octavia can even give virtually the same stirring Game of Thrones-like speech, and convince everybody to lay down their arms! 

But no! We can't be logical, or consistent, and end the show this way, can we? Instead, we suddenly have two (or more than two, according to The 100 wiki) alien races where no aliens have gone before, and Clarke facing a "Judge" from one of them to decide whether humanity "transcends" or dies. If this sounds like more convoluted bullshit, you are again correct. In fact, this morning I realized this actually wasn't a "choice" at all, and showrunner Jason Rothenberg, whether he knew it or not, pulled this concept from another franchise with the far more sinister tag "Resistance Is Futile." 

Yeah, that's right. As far as I can see, the remnants of humanity on The 100 were forced to join a higher-plane hive mind, as seemingly all other intelligent space-faring races in the galaxy have been forced to do. They were not "transcended" but Borg-ified, taken to Alien Heaven--and at least for the non-Bardo-ites, taken against their will--where they can all bond and live happy, trippy-dippy, free-floating bodiless lives for eternity.

(Which would have been okay, I suppose, if the characters had ever talked about wanting to go to Heaven, alien or otherwise. They didn't. The 100 has always been a grittier show than that, and the characters always fought, both for survival and each other. That's why it would have been a more powerful statement for them to finally lay down their weapons in the final episode, with no alien machinations behind it.)

This is absolute nonsense, and refutes the entire story and worldbuilding we spent six (and a half, I guess) good-to-excellent seasons on. The whole point of this show was humanity fighting each other and its own nature, and the potential for humans to move past this tribal instinct and learn to live with one another. Instead, we get this cheap mystical copout...and an even cheaper coda, if that's possible, in the last few scenes of the finale.

After the transcen...oh hell, let's just call it Alien Rapture, that's easier to spell--Clarke uses the network to travel back to Earth (where, gee whiz, we have a few hundred years of old-growth forest springing back in only decades!), where she is going to live out her days. She meets up with the Judge once again, who reveals that, in a final infuriating deus ex machina, staying transcended is a choice...at least for some. At that point Clarke comes across the twelve core characters (minus Bellamy, who died for a similarly nonsensical Anomaly/Bardo no damn good reason), who refused to stay in the Alien Rapture Hive Mind and were allowed to leave to live the rest of their natural lives with her on the inexplicably rejuvenated Earth. (They must have raised holy hell, and now that I think about it, they were probably expelled to keep their heresy from spreading. And as a bonus fuck-you-for-turning-us-down insult, they will have no children, and once they die the human race will be erased.)

This final scene was supposed to be so touching and poignant, with U2 playing in the background and everything...and I just cringed. All of this was unneeded and unwanted, contradictory to the show's original themes, and clumsily ret-conned to boot. As far as I am concerned, it completely trashed the show's final season. 

So, to sum up: Come on, people. Please don't dip into mystical religious and/or alien transcendental nonsense unless you've set it up from the beginning. I'm sure some people liked this, but it damn well left a sour taste in my mouth. 

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