Thursday, March 31, 2016

REVIEW: 'The 100' - Octavia Attempts to Save Kane and Lincoln from Execution in 'Stealing Fire'

The CW's The 100 - Episode 3.09 "Stealing Fire"

Clarke discovers a shocking truth. Octavia is forced to make a decision that could have devastating consequences. Kane and Abby share a moment.

This has been a pretty divisive season of The 100. That sounds like a fair statement to make regarding the last few episodes. This year has opened up such a massive conversation about what the purpose of the shows audiences watch every week really is. Should shows tell stories in service of the audience? Or should shows tell stories that are creatively exciting to the creative team? Most of the time, those two goals are easily aligned. A show tells the audience pretty early on in its run how it should be viewed. Not every show is for every person. Each individual show uses actions to inform the audience of what they can expect from it on a week-to-week basis. Over time, that builds the characters up and endears them to the audience. That's why it is so devastating when tragic things happen to them.

The 100 has been a show that has been unafraid to take narrative twists that are complicated and painful to the main characters as well as the audience. It has been unflinching in its examination of the harsh world that these characters are forced to live in. The problem with such a storytelling drive is that when the plot dynamics simply don't work, it can be so unrewarding and frustrating when horrifying things happen to beloved characters. The 100 has been a show that puts all of its characters through the ringer. It doesn't soften things because of the audience's affection for them. And honestly, it shouldn't do that. It would be such a disservice to the characters and the audience if bad things can't happen to certain characters because they are beloved or representative of a certain cultural identity. In the grand scheme of things, that shouldn't matter because the character shines through and the narrative makes it personally devastating.

And yet, the show has really made it hard for the audience this season. It's been more compromising than ever to continue watching these characters suffer. But a huge part of that has been because of the terribleness of the Pike storyline. It's a story that the creative team was really excited by. But various shortcuts in the narrative buildup have made every single twist feel disingenuous and manufactured. It has been a step back for the show this season. The first two seasons built the audience up with the belief that Pike's way of thinking wasn't right and shouldn't be allowed in this world. And now, the show is doubling down on that belief which causes so much pain for the majority of the main characters. But that also means that when something tragic happens because of this story, it doesn't quite work. And that makes the audience question whether or not they did the right thing investing in the show in the first place if it could just cast aside characters in sake of a complicated plot.

It was frustrating when Lexa died a couple of episodes ago. It was frustrating because of the way that it happened. The show only had Alycia Debnam-Carey for a limited amount of time. So it wasn't surprising that Lexa died as a result of that. But the specifics played into a dynamic that really hurt the show's overall image. And now, just a few episodes later, the show is at it once again with another character death. This time, it's Lincoln. Again, it's not surprising that he was killed off - considering Ricky Whittle's casting in the lead role on Starz's upcoming American Gods adaptation. However, it still feels like the show is yanking the audience around and playing with our emotions for no purpose whatsoever. Lincoln dies protecting his people. It's an honorable death. But it's just so senseless as well. It continues to push Pike as this tyrannical man in power. But it also adds fuel to the fire of just how horrible this story has been.

Lincoln's relationship with Octavia has been a huge story over the course of three seasons now. It was a dynamic the show wanted the audience to become invested in. The romance wasn't the most interesting aspect of those two characters. But it was a huge definer of who they were on the show. And yet, their idea of a happy ending was running far away from the societies that they were born into. They wanted to leave this place and find happiness with each other. It was a noble idea but one that really had no place on this show. They really couldn't just walk off into the sunset for a life of peace. This show has enjoyed keeping Octavia and Lincoln as prominent members of its ensemble. But now, Lincoln's death ensures that such happiness won't be coming for Octavia any time soon. And yet, that's problematic because that's really the only purpose of his death too. It shows Octavia more devastated than she has ever been before and continues to prop Pike by as a one-note bad guy who needs to be stopped.

Lincoln's death will likely be the most talked moment that happens in this episode. However, plenty of other things happen as well - including the buildup to that moment where Lincoln is executed at the front gate to Arkadia. All of the stuff happening with various people trying to save Kane and Lincoln from execution isn't that great. It's somewhat thrilling to watch as Octavia and company hatch their plan to break them out of captivity. But it's also a sequence filled with character interactions that feel more formulaic than genuine. It's good that Miller and Harper are distrustful of Bellamy and Monty when they want to help with the plan. But that really doesn't lead to anything interesting. The dynamic between Monty and his mother is also really forced and rushed. They are monitoring communications when all of this goes down. Monty reveals himself as a traitor only for his mom to ultimately protect him from Pike. It's a moment that isn't earned at all because the show really hasn't spent the time with them as a family unit. The same can also be said of Miller and his boyfriend. Again, the representation is great. But they are being flung into action and shifting alliances without the audience having a good understanding of them as a relationship. At least, the Abby and Kane interactions feel earned. But again, the episode has to rush through that inevitable kiss because there is just so much happening in this hour.

On top of all of this, Clarke and Murphy are dealing with the death of Lexa at Polis and the start of the conclave to crown a new commander. It's largely a story that proclaims that the threat from the Ice Nation isn't over just because Lexa killed their queen earlier in the season. Now, the hidden nightblood warrior from the Ice Nation, Ontari, has returned to ascend to the throne. It too is a very rushed story because it needs to keep the stakes as urgent as possible. Clarke is still devastated by what happened to Lexa. And now, she's furious that the transition to a new commander could mean the end of her people. The flame may hold the spirits of all the previous commanders. But it also amplifies the beliefs of whomever it is eventually implanted into. So, it basically boils down to a plot of Clarke doing whatever it takes to ensure that Ontari isn't given the flame. It's an exciting and tense situation. Clarke is fueled by a personal pursuit to save her people despite all the damage they've caused lately. But it's also a story where it's Clarke battling against the entire world by herself again. She's beaten the odds before. She has left Polis in search of another nightblood to take the flame. But it's still very clunky getting to that point. And right now is the time where the narrative threads of the season should be coming together. Instead, they are just become messier, more isolated and divisive.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Stealing Fire" was written by Heidi Cole McAdams and directed by Uta Briesewitz.
  • Titus also kills himself in order to keep Ontari from receiving the flame. He is the one man who knows how to perform the ceremony. Though it can't be that difficult if all Clarke needs to do is follow the instructions that have been written down.
  • Clarke is totally right about it being a poor succession plan for who takes the flame amongst the nightbloods. It's a fight to the death in order to be chosen. But only nightbloods can take the chip. So that can present so many problems in the future should commanders keep dying as frequently as they have been.
  • The best moment of the hour was easily Octavia laying into Bellamy for being the reason that Kane and Lincoln need saving right now. With Pike going through with the execution of Lincoln, that means Octavia will only be more furious with her brother moving forward.
  • Also, Bellamy really needs some personal introspection right now. He wants to help undo the situation he helped create. But then, he acts surprised when people don't want to accept his help. Plus, he's hardly in a position to judge Indra for how she chooses her people over Octavia. That moment really didn't work at all.
  • Clarke and Murphy are such a great pairing. She is such a go-getter who will do anything in order to protect her people despite the obvious danger. Meanwhile, he just wants to do whatever it takes in order to survive personally.