The 100: Contents Under Pressure Review

This week's The 100 showcases the series' great ensemble talent in another strong episode...

Here we are, seven episodes into the 13-episode season of the CW’s The 100, and I have become truly riveted by this show as it continues to come into its own. This is no longer just a high-concept idea about 100 juvenile delinquents being sent into a dystopian, post-apocalyptic wilderness. The show has evolved past this conceit (and its obvious early comparisons to Lord of the Flies) to explore deeper ideas about a society simultaneously on the brink of extinction and rebirth.  Indeed, tonight’s episode, the aptly titled “Contents Under Pressure,” is by far the darkest and grittiest episode yet.  Be advised, if you have not watched tonight’s episode (and I strongly recommend you do), there are definitely spoilers ahead.

The 100 prisoners were initially sent down to the surface as guinea pigs—is the planet safe? Is it inhabitable? But Project Exodus also represented a fresh attempt at utopia. As we’ve seen throughout the season, though, this group of survivors does not see or understand the potential they represent for mankind to save itself. Actually, that’s not true. Wells understood what was at stake, as does Clarke. She continues to believe in the greater good of their group, and what their success means to those left on the Ark. We’ve known that Bellamy, a reluctant leader like Clarke, is willing to put aside his own humanity in pursuit of the remaining prisoners’ survival. And, as we find out, that also includes torture.  But this time they’re not attacking one of their own, as they did with Murphy when he was suspected of murdering Wells. This time, Bellamy has captured the grounder who imprisoned Octavia—and he wants answers.

Initially, Clarke is against torturing the grounder, insisting it’s not who they are, that they should be above violence. But Bellamy is single-minded, especially when it comes to his sister’s safety. The fact that the grounder stabbed Finn seems to outweigh Octavia’s insistence that the grounder actually saved her life. Before long, he is strung up and beaten, but to no avail. He is damned by his own silence, as far as Bellamy is concerned, and he is determined to use brutality to extract the truth. “If he didn’t hate us before,” says a horrified Clarke, “he will now.” Interesting, isn’t it, that this boils down to one prisoner interrogating another prisoner. Bellamy, the grounder, they have more in common than they realize. After all, aren’t the grounders just people who were left behind when the rest of humanity escaped into space?

Clarke, ever the reasonable, practical one, suddenly sees torture as a justifiable means to an end if it means saving Finn from the grounder’s poisoned dagger. This, to me, is an important turning point, not only for the show, which has finally taken the gloves off, but for Clarke as well. Bellamy later tells her a simple truth: “Who we are, and who we need to be, are two very separate things.”

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This applies to the council members as well—especially Jaha and Kane.  They understand sacrifices must be made for the greater good. In this case, the greater good represents what is left of humanity, and these sorts of decisions cannot be made lightly. But in light of making contact with the 100, not only does the Ark learn the planet is inhabitable, but the loss of 320 people was apparently in vain. This forces the Chancellor to come clean about Project Exodus, but such transparency is too little, too late. The people are leery of the council’s actions and they no longer trust the Chancellor. Like so many others who lost loved ones in the Culling, Jaha has suffered a terrible loss as well—namely his son. It’s a devastating, emotional moment driven home by Isaiah Washington’s powerful performance.

Overall, the acting was great in this episode with kudos to Paige Turco and Eliza Taylor, whose tearful confrontation was truly heart-wrenching. Clarke is not ready to forgive her mother for her father being floated; she may never forgive her. As for Henry Ian Cusick, he really conveyed Kane’s inner conflict over what he views as the needless sacrifice of so many lives. Until tonight, I had trouble seeing Kane as anything more than a one-dimensional, mustache-twirling baddie, but no more. I’m truly invested in these characters in a way that has transformed this fledgling show into must-watch TV. The 100 seems to be at its best when its hands are the dirtiest.

Some closing thoughts:

The moral ambiguity in tonight’s episode reminded me a lot of Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica—specifically season one’s “Flesh and Bone.” In that episode, Starbuck puts her own humanity on the line as she tortures a captured Cylon to save the fleet. This similarity was further driven home for me when Kate Vernon, who played Ellen Tigh on BSG, showed up as Diana, the former Chancellor (Alessandro Juliani, another BSG alum, is also part of The 100 cast).

The 100 establish radio contact with the Ark thanks to Raven. This is big news, and changes the trajectory of the rest of the season. The council now plans a mass exodus down to the planet, but they can only fit a third of the Ark’s population on the next drop ship.

While this was probably obvious to a lot of people, the grounders speak English. This, too, greatly alters the show’s trajectory—or at least it should.

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4.5 out of 5