The 100: Join or Die Review
The 100 takes a step in the right direction by revisiting life aboard the Ark.
This The 100 review contains spoilers.
The 100: Season 3, Episode 13
While I’m still not a fan of the whole City of Light storyline, I can appreciate how insidious Alie is as her sphere of influence continues to grow. What started as a kind of fringe cult inside the walls of Arkadia has now become a kind of scourge that’s spread all the way to Polis itself. Alie’s power steadily increases with every new convert, but she can’t achieve her true potential without Alie 2.0. But more on that in a bit.
“Join or Die” is not just about taking a moral stand, it’s about fighting back against impossible odds to survive another week, another day, another hour. We see the former take shape as Kane refuses to take the chip—he’s seen what it’s done to his most trusted friends and allies, and he can’t allow that to happen to himself. By resisting Jaha, he is resisting Alie. And by resisting Alie, Kane has a better chance of protecting those who have not joined the City of Light. And as we see in “Join or Die,” there are precious few people left who haven’t yet ingested the chip. So it would seem that Kane has simply traded one resistance force for another, literally sacrificing himself in a brutal scene in which we witness his actual crucifixion.
I’m no stranger to violence in television or film, but something about this scene in particular struck me as especially unnerving—which I realize was the point. Henry Ian Cusick’s acting in this moment readily conveys Kane’s profound pain, which made the very act of nailing him to the cross all the more unsettling. But I also found Kane’s near-martyrdom to be gratuitous. Yes, I realize his suffering is in service of the plot, but at the same time, there has to be a different way to move the story forward. Especially since in the end, Kane ingests the chip to save Abby anyway. At least it appeared that way; there’s the slim chance he only pretended to take the chip, but Alie would immediately call him out for it, I suppose (this is just me hoping against hope that we haven’t lost Kane, too, to the lady in red).
My bigger issue here is that viewers can only absorb so much pain and suffering before we reach a saturation limit. I realize The 100 has always trucked in graphic violence and torture (Murphy nearly being hanged in season one springs to mind), but we are heavily invested in these characters now. When they suffer, we suffer, too. How much more of this are we expected to endure before viewers decide they’ve consumed enough over-the-top violence from a single television series—especially one that is so popular with a younger crowd? This is a broader question, of course, but it’s relevant to this episode in particular.
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What worked for me the most about “Join or Die” were the flashbacks. Indeed, a lot of this episode’s success is owed to placing viewers on the Ark a few weeks before the 100 are sent down to the surface. It’s in these scenes that we meet a different kind of Charles Pike, who is simply the Earth Skills instructor, and not the bloodthirsty chancellor of Arkadia. The Pike we see in these earlier moments is the reasonable one, incredulous that the council would send children down to die on the planet.
To make matters worse, the prisoners have no interest in learning credible survival skills because they have no idea what their immediate future will bring. Knowing how to build a fire from scratch or understanding which plants might be poisonous are hypothetical to people who are stuck aboard a space station. If it were up to Pike, he would tell the prisoners exactly what is at stake, that the skills he’s teaching them will soon be put to use. Instead, the threat of being floated looms large over his head, compelling Pike to remain silent against his better judgment. That he insists on accompanying the 100 to the ground says volumes about how staunchly he stands by his principles.
This kind of character development is crucial to make us care more about Pike and what he believes in, but I wish it had come sooner in the season. The writers needed viewers to hate him earlier in the season, though. And to do that, Pike had to be more one-dimensional. What’s in store for him as this season winds down remains to be seen, but I have the feeling that Pike will make an important sacrifice that will be made all the more poignant by what we’ve learned about him in “Join or Die.”
Meanwhile, the quest for Luna continues. While I expected this story to play out with Clarke and company finding Luna at the very end of the season, they instead make contact in this episode. Which makes sense, given that she rejects the idea of becoming the next commander. From a more meta point of view, just because Clarke believes in a cause doesn’t mean other characters should immediately fall in line with the idea. So it was refreshing to see Luna turn her back on her birthright. She doesn’t know Clarke—why should she care what this stranger wants?
Some closing thoughts:
It was interesting to see Jasper and Octavia in these flashback scenes. He’s no longer that doofus with the goggles, and she’s no longer the sheltered girl who lived under the floor.
The stripped-down version of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” was a great callback to the first season. Just like seeing Jasper and Octavia, this song is a reminder of how much darker and grittier this show has become over three seasons.