Thursday, April 28, 2016

REVIEW: 'The 100' - Pike's Worst Fears Come True While Clarke Finally Finds Luna in 'Join or Die'

The CW's The 100 - Episode 3.13 "Join or Die"

Clarke is on a mission that could change everything. Murphy gains insight that might prove useful in ensuring his survival. Kane reaches a breaking point.

The 100 has gotten better over the last few episodes as it has increased the focus on the Alie storyline. And yet, this has been a very troubling and frustrating paced season of television. Character developments were rushed in the beginning while other stories were slowed down for no reason whatsoever. Characters became more one-note and twists happened in order to move the plot forward while not offering strong emotional stakes to the narrative. All of these mistakes continue to define the show even at this point in the season. For instance, why did the show need to do last week's homage to slasher films instead of fleshing out the conflict with Pike better at the start of the year? And now, the show is continuing to double down on Pike and his horrible and monstrous view of the world. Yes, he's no longer the big evil on the show. But his character motivations still insight nothing but anger. The show attempts to course correct in "Join or Die." But it's a completely muddled mess that takes away from the stories that are actually working.

At the start of this hour, Pike and Kane finally get to Polis. How Jaha and Alie got there before them even though they had a head start is a mystery that is never adequately explained. It happened in order to set up that horrifying first impression of a city that has violently changed. Polis isn't the same destination it was during Lexa's time as commander. Kane looked at this place as a beacon of hope and unity. He wanted to accomplish so much between the two civilizations of people. But now, it's a place where blood is literally running down the streets. Alie is torturing whomever doesn't take the key and enter the City of Light. All of this happens in order for Pike to turn to Kane and say that this is what he expected the grounder capital to be like. It's a horrifying decision that happens to make Pike look sympathetic and justified with his actions. But it doesn't work at all because Pike has been such a one note caricature of a villain.

Seriously, it is so frustrating to see the show attempt to redeem Pike throughout this episode. His actions this season have been horrendous. He upheld a harsh point-of-view that the show has consistently struck down as a simplification of the way this world works. The narrative twisted that motivation further and further until Arkadia was nothing more than a dark place filled with death and hate. Pike was at the center of that. He deserves to be harshly punished for his actions. But here, he's being presented as a good guy who was right all along. He was afraid of the grounders. And now, what they are doing in Polis is further confirmation of that viewpoint. It aligns him with the heroes of this story. But Pike doesn't earn such character complexity. The show wasn't interested in making him a multi-dimensional character for the majority of this season. So, it can't just put in the minimal amount of effort here and hope the audience will come to understand Pike.

Those efforts are increased by the deployment of flashbacks to the Ark as well. They are completely unnecessary too. They showcase Pike teaching basic Earth survival skills to the members of the 100 two weeks before they were dropped to the ground. It's a storyline meant to showcase the noble and virtuous qualities of this man. He has to prepare the kids for the ground without telling them what is going to happen to them. It's a story that essentially means nothing until the final day of class. Pike forces the 100 to do whatever it takes in order to survive as a group. It's amusing because it once again features Murphy getting beat up. But it's a completely pointless story. It highlights a shift in the leaders of the Ark from what they were then to what they are now. But that was already apparent in the narrative. This story is in service of Pike to justify his actions. It's simply too late for justification given everything he has done this season. It should be meaningful that Murphy and Indra need him alive to battle their captors. But it's just a lackluster plot twist that happens because Alie is a much bigger threat to survival. That should be interesting but it's not.

This episode attempts to find redemption for Bellamy as well. The show really blew it when it came to Bellamy siding with Pike in the conflict with the grounders. It was a rushed development that basically exploded his whole character arc over the three seasons so far. What he did during that time with Pike can't be easily forgiven. And yet, the show is already on that path with Bellamy. It's just another moment that really isn't earned at all. Clarke is desperately searching for Luna in order to save this universe from Alie. But that story stops just long enough for her to tell Bellamy that Octavia will eventually forgive him as long as he learns to forgive himself first. That is such a laughable moment. Octavia is completely in the right regarding Bellamy's role in Lincoln's death. He needs to take some responsibility for his actions and not expect her to forgive him so easily. Very little time has passed since that event. He just wants to move forward like they are brother and sister again. The fact that Clarke wants to validate that opinion is even more troublesome. Her arc of forgiveness this season has been very muddled as well. The show is trying to connect the two stories but it's just so frustrating and doesn't lead to any genuine character growth that actually works.

While this episode was all over the place with misplaced character dynamics, there were still a number of plot beats that worked really well. Kane undergoing torture in order to fight against Alie's control was a compelling story. The look on his face as he realized that Abby took the key was heartbreaking - as was seeing him on that cross in pain for hours. He eventually takes the key after Jaha threatens to kill Abby. It's the exact same way that Jaha got Abby to take the key. It's an effective strategy. But it's also repetitive without adding a new perspective on things. It just continues to show the growing numbers in Alie's army. Meanwhile, Clarke finally finds Luna only to learn that she doesn't want to be the commander. That's why she left. And now, Clarke, Octavia, Jasper and Bellamy are on an old oil rig in the middle of the ocean. That's a chilling final image that ensures that the debate with Luna isn't over yet. But it's also a very rushed moment at the end of this episode that doesn't have the necessary stakes it needs because of the lack of focus in the hour that preceded it.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Join or Die" was written by Julie Benson & Shawna Benson & directed by Dean White.
  • The flashbacks were also an excuse to see some returning faces from the 100 while also showing how the ground has changed all of the kids. But again, it's character dynamics the show has largely outgrown.
  • However, the flashbacks also helped show that Jaha really hasn't changed as a leader at all. He was very forceful and secretive about his plan to send the 100 to the ground. And now, he's even more demanding with his need to welcome everyone into the City of Light.
  • Indra, Murphy and Pike are one of the weirdest character pairings the show has ever produced. And yet, they have to be allies united against this common threat. After it's done with, then they can unite to kill Pike once and for all.
  • Kane doesn't really know anything about where Clarke and company are, right? He knew about the cave but they didn't stay there for long. It likely means Alie will be returning to Arkadia shortly. So the people there - including Raven - should be worried for their safety.
  • The emotion in the scene where Kane is being nailed to that cross is very effective and bone-chilling. It continues to show that this show can execute horror and tension in an emotionally devastating way very well.
  • It was also a cool image to see all of the new grounders coming out of the ocean and sneaking up on Clarke and Bellamy. The debut of Luna gives the show the opportunity to show a different type of grounder community.