Friday, May 20, 2016

REVIEW: 'The 100' - Clarke Journeys to the City of Light to Fight Alie in 'Perverse Instantiation - Part Two'

The CW's The 100 - Episode 3.16 "Perverse Instantiation - Part Two"

In the season's epic and mind-bending conclusion, our heroes begin to face the reality of their tragic situation. Everyone prepares for a final showdown.

This has really been a rocky season of The 100. So many of the issues the show had this season were about pacing. The first half of the season was committed to a storyline of rushed character details and motivations. Everything that pertained to Pike and Bellamy was such a retread of the past that no longer had any business on the show. It lasted for way too long and deprived the rest of the narrative from finding nuance. Plus, controversies surrounding the deaths of Lexa and Lincoln didn't help things a whole lot either - both in representation ways and in execution. The Alie story was much more compelling because it was such a change from the stories of the past. It placed the conflict of the season on a much grander scale as Alie is trying to save all of humanity from pain by taking away their free will. It's been a very ruthless and effective arc. "Perverse Instantiation - Part Two" is a thrilling conclusion to the season that somehow manages to pull everything together in a compelling and earned way. It's surprising how much the show sticks the landing here. This ending shows the morally compromised storytelling the show did so well in the first two seasons. It was lacking all season long but it was here in spades and made the finale the most enjoyable episode of the year.

Of course, that's allowed to happen because finales can exhibit breakneck thrills and action without needing to bog down on too many contemplative details. This is the last stand between Clarke and Alie. The stakes have been raised. And now, the finale follows through on this last ditch effort to save all of humanity or die trying. That's a tall order for this finale. And yet, the energy is raised and doesn't let up until the end. It makes sure that each character motivation works while also addressing all of the concerns and emotions of the past. Does this finale justify everything that has happened this season? No way! But it does bring things to a solid conclusion that feel earned and rewarding to everyone who stuck with the show through all of it. The pacing on display here allows that to happen. Of course, it only sets up more darkness for the future. But it's an entertaining experience nevertheless.

The finale gets right into the action with Clarke disabling the chip from Abby. She does so with the plan of transferring Ontari's nightblood into her body so that she can take the flame and unlock the kill switch that can destroy Alie and the City of Light. The Commander's Tower has been sealed off. But this is the only course of action that is left to take. Either Clarke does this and succeeds or they all die or succumb to Alie's chips. It's a plan that everyone gets behind because they are all out of options. They are stuck on this floor with no way out and Alie's army climbing up the side of the tower. Things look so hopeless for the heroes. But through some luck, they manage to succeed with this final stand against Alie. It takes a lot of effort from the entire team. It's a precarious situation for the entirety of the finale. Clarke takes the flame and then has to take Alie's key to enter the City of Light to find the kill switch. Her friends have to keep the floor secure for as long as she needs to succeed in this endeavor.

Clarke's journey into the City of Light also gives the show a different aesthetic for the finale. This show embraces the use of a post-apocalyptic landscape to great effect. This harsh and violent world has shaped all of the characters into the people they are today. They have all done horrible things in the hopes of surviving for one more day. But now, Clarke wakes up in a clean and carefree cityscape. It's the biggest glimpse yet into the City of Light. Alie and Jaha have been there before. But now, Clarke is actively exploring the place for the one thing that can destroy Alie. It's a startling image for Clarke. She has never seen an environment like this before. It's strange for her to see Jasper just casually walking down the street enjoying some ice cream. That's the kind of happiness he hasn't had in a long time. But it's not real either. None of this is. It is simply a reality Alie has created for human consciousness while also eliminating all of their free will. Earth may be a world of brutality and death but it still allows these characters to be human. That's something that Clarke stands for and will not go down without a fight.

Fortunately, Clarke gets some help in this endeavor. Lexa returns to shield Clarke from Alie's army who wanted to keep him from getting to the kill switch. It's such a thrilling and moving moment too. Clarke fought so passionately to protect the flame because she needed to be with Lexa again. She needed to hold onto the chance that her identity still existed somewhere even though her body was dead. Clarke loved her. The circumstances of Lexa's death were so awful and horrendously executed. But here, the show essentially gets a do-over and does absolutely everything right. This is the final moment that Lexa deserved. It stays true to the character while also advancing the plot forward in meaningful ways. It's not something that just happens to showcase the brutality of this world - aka something the audience has known about since the very first episode of the series. Instead, Lexa is fighting to protect Clarke. She gets to share a true declaration of love. The flame recognizes just how serious this threat is and will do anything to protect Clarke's mission. But in the moment, Clarke just cares about being with Lexa again. She still moves forward with this mission. Plus, Lexa gets the virtual sendoff she deserves. She "dies" in a blaze of glory fighting the army Alie has assembled.

It really is so thrilling to see the show remember its character motivations so well in this finale. This really is such a badass episode for Clarke, Lexa, Raven and Octavia. Clarke fights to save the world from destruction in the name of true love. Lexa reciprocates those feelings while also making sure that Clarke will succeed in this mission. Raven provides a crucial assist in the City of Light by opening a door that Clarke needs to gain access to the kill switch. And lastly, Octavia demands justice for Lincoln's death by killing Pike. He has caused her so much pain and she wants him to suffer just as cruelly. Of course that doesn't happen until the very end when the fight is over with. But it's still so thrilling and easy to understand why these characters do what they do. They are women of action who needed to take reality for all that it is right now. They aren't simply moping around being forced into action for reasons that are too opaque and formulaic to understand. The ramifications are huge but they are deeply rewarding as well.

Clarke is successful in defeating Alie and freeing everyone from the City of Light. She returns pain to everyone who has been chipped. As she puts it, pain is something one has to overcome and not just erase. That is such a powerful line that really gives such weight to this whole story. And yet, it's not a decision Clarke can afford to take lightly. She journeyed into the city to defeat Alie and save her friends. When she is finally given the opportunity though, she has both Becca and Alie whispering on her shoulders telling her what to do. Becca urges her to embrace the moral way of doing things and save all of humanity from the threat from Alie. But Alie warns her that she would only be saving the human race for a limited amount of time. She notes that the still existent nuclear power plants around the world are starting to melt down. All of that radiation will essentially render the planet uninhabitable in just a few months time. So, humanity is doomed no matter what choice Clarke makes. And yet, she needs to believe they will find a way to save the human race. They've done so many times already. This new task will be more daunting than anything else. But now, Clarke has the strength to face it head on. So while everyone awakes from their chipped stated horrified by what they have done, Clarke faces the burden of knowing that the human existence is still in grave danger. That may be the show taking on more than it can handle for next season. But it's an effective tease nevertheless because of this finale's strong hold on the characters.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Perverse Instantiation - Part Two" was written by Jason Rothenberg and directed by Dean White.
  • There are really so many great character moments after Clarke flips the kill switch. Monty comforts Jasper and tells him they'll find a way to be happy in this world once more. Murphy and Emori share an emotional reunion as do Abby and Kane. Plus, Octavia finally gets to take her retribution on Pike by killing him after the world has been saved. 
  • Bellamy telling Pike that he made the wrong choice earlier in the season felt like a character moment that came half a season too late. It's frustrating whenever the show reminds the audience of that part of the season. But it still felt like something that needed to happen.
  • Also, it's such a good thing that Pike dies in the final moments of the finale. These last few episodes have really been trying to paint him as a more sympathetic character. And yet, he still needed to be punished for his past actions. There was simply no way of getting around that.
  • Clarke's journey to the City of Light is also compromised by the weak circumstances with the transfusion of nightblood. Ontari's body wants to give out but Murphy and Abby can't let that happen because Clarke still needs to finish the mission.
  • It's a very good thing that Jaha is still alive heading into the fourth season. He's the reason why this threat from Alie emerged against all civilization. And now, he'll have to deal with that guilt more than anyone else. He was essentially her right hand in this endeavor. So moving forward, he'll struggle with what his purpose is. That should make for an interesting journey.
  • Clarke will unite all of humanity in order to handle this new threat from the nuclear facilities. She took the flame which essentially made her the commander. But she no longer has it in her. So it could be difficult getting everyone to rally around her. But again, she won't stop fighting because she knows the world still needs saving.