I had given very little consideration to The CW’s new Sci-Fi drama series, The 100, until I had been encouraged to give it a chance and I am so glad that I did. Now I am here to tell you why you seriously need to clear your schedule and watch this thing through ,because The 100 is nothing short of amazing!
Granted, it takes about three or four episodes to get going, but once it does you’ll be hooked. The characters are deep, nuanced, and layered. The stories are compelling and intricate. The moral dilemmas and trilemmas get more and more difficult to decide on. And the action just never lets up.
Based on the books by Kass Morgan, the story begins ninety-seven years after an apocalyptic nuclear war that has left planet earth apparently uninhabitable. Orbiting the radiated earth are twelve international space stations which joined together to form the Ark – the last hope of human kind. Their mission is to survive long enough for the earth to become habitable again, but that mission is failing.
Life support systems are shutting down, air is running out, resources are scarce. The smallest crime is punishable by death by “floating” – which means they push you out of an air-lock. That is, of course, unless you are below the age of eighteen, in which case you are sent to juvenile detention. In this bleak scenario, the council in charge of the Ark makes a tough call – they decide to send 100 young prisoners down to the surface of the earth. They must discover if the land is habitable, but also free up 100 lives worth of oxygen and resources for the Ark.
We are then treated to two story points-of-view, each as fascinating and relentless as the other. On the Ark we have a space-age survival thriller, full of political machinations, betrayals and gut wrenching moral decisions. On earth, there is a forest-bound, post-apocalyptic survival story as the 100 teenagers struggle to cope with the new environment. We soon discover that the 100 are not alone – there were survivors of the nuclear apocalypse – the ‘grounders’ – and they are less than pleased with the arrival of these ‘sky people’.
The stakes are high, constantly mounting, changing, and building on top of one another. I initially kept expecting some sort of Deus ex Machina to save the characters from whatever impossible situation they were in, but that never happened. Usually, things just got worse. Distrust grows, betrayals burn and explode, equipment falls apart or fails, and redemption for some seems impossible, no matter how hard they try.
Early in the season you might be forgiven for dismissing some of the teenage characters for being bratty, for being irrational and getting tangled in old-fashioned love triangles. But much like The Legend of Korra (another favourite of mine), all of this is building up stronger character arcs that ultimately pay off big time and in unexpected ways.
Some characters are, at first, seemingly damsels in distress; getting into trouble only to be rescued by the
‘stronger’ characters. But they grow, they build, and they become much more interesting people to watch. We get insights into their childhoods, we get to see how they became the people they are, and what leads them to become the people they will be.
But in amongst all the horrific actions, decisions, and situations, there was something I found a welcome breath of fresh air in post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi. A future where diversity is as natural as anything – be it gendered, sexual, or racial, there’s no limit. It’s amazing how rare this is, even in this day and age, to find future-visions where this is true. It’s not perfect, don’t get me wrong, the Ark is still a lot whiter than an international coalition would probably be, but clear steps have been taken in this future.
What’s more, it is the female characters that really make The 100 a truly stunning piece of art. Women can be anything in this show – angsty teenagers, mothers, old, leaders, followers, revolutionaries, warriors, engineers, artists, anything. Every character is complicated, fully human and layered. They aren’t just romantic interests. Their development and personal stories are central, and their agency constantly drive everything.
Clarke Griffin, one of the main characters, soon becomes the leader of the ‘sky people’. She never set out to be, but she finds out that she is good at it, that she can make decisions nobody else will. Her emotional and moral character are constantly under pressure and sometimes she breaks, sometimes she stands strong, sometimes she finds compromise. She is allowed to be everything a leader can be.
Her mother is another strong leader whose moral backbone is seen to bend and even break. The leader of the Grounders is a young woman named Lexa, whose firm and defiant stances show much brutality, and yet she is capable of great kindness and mercy, even love for those she should hate. Octavia Blake, a character who at first seems the damsel in distress, perpetually getting kidnapped or attacked, grows into a military force to be reckoned with. She is unapologetic about who she is and what she wants and is always willing to better herself for the greater good.
The greater good, indeed, seems to ever be in question. What is the greater good. Is any choice ultimately good? Are we deciding who is right, or who is left? Is the best outcome about the number of lives, or about who those lives are? How we go about saving those lives – does that matter more?
There is a common trope in many Sci-Fi and Fantasy stories like this, where the good guys must do a terrible
unforgivable thing in order to survive, or to protect those they love. Clarke, a 17 year old girl, is left with these decisions and what the weight of them does to her, visibly changes her.
The cinematography is top notch and towards the end of the second season I could see some very powerful imagery, deliberate metaphors subtly lingering, and the music was always perfect for every scene. The final episode of the second season had me in tears, wondering how the survivors would cope with what they had done, and how, just how, does Thelonious Jaha manage to always end up in the absolute worst situations every single time? How does that always happen to him, seriously?
The Hundred is one of the best television shows I have seen in a long, long time. Not completely perfect, not without its problems in the early episodes. But it is well worth wading through, it is well worth spending time with.
Get ye to a DVD shop, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or wherever you grab your entertainment medial. GO. NOW.