The 100 season 3: trauma, free-will and perverse instantiation

The 100's fan-dividing third season zoomed in on the show's fascination with free will and individual agency...

We all know that The 100 season three had its ups and downs. Some fans have turned away completely while others had felt compelled to hold on more tightly than ever. It’s become obvious than ever that The 100 isn’t a show you can watch casually, and that can be a blessing or a curse when it comes to an audience’s faith in you.

But I would argue that this has been the show’s best season, which I would not have thought possible after a second run that surprised and delighted me to such an extent.

This was the year that The 100 really dove into its sci-fi roots, mixing ancient tradition and fantasy with ideas of artificial intelligence and virtual cityscapes with an elegance that other shows should take note of. Not since Lost have I seen a show switch gears so completely without betraying itself, and the juxtaposition of science and magic was one of the season’s most visually striking elements.

But it was also plagued by the fallout of some questionable decisions, and the real-world consequences of playing into harmful tropes and failing to address internal tensions. I personally dislike when things happening behind the scenes interrupt my fantasy worlds, but this got so loud and ugly that it couldn’t be ignored. I can’t help but envy those who will later binge-watch this show in a cultural vacuum.

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In the first episode of the season, John Murphy, former obligatory psychotic jackass and most hated character, said to Jaha: “Pain, hate, envy, those are the ABCs of me. Get rid of them and there’s nothing left.”

Perhaps indicative of the ultimate redemptive arc that Murphy would undergo across season three, this brief exchange would sum up the entire season.

Free will, even free will coupled with unimaginable pain, is preferable to the alternative. In an attempt to help mankind survive extinction, ALIE – the first, fatally flawed, version of an AI that had ended the world in the first place – removed what made human beings human beings, by erasing the trauma that made the City of Light such an enticing idea for them in the first place. There, there would be no difficult decisions or guilt or grief but, for these kids, that’s all they’ve known.

Jasper – a previously tertiary character who didn’t come into his own until late in the second season – was the unexpected crux of this huge idea. Although the season began with relative peace, singing in the car and more resources than Skaikru had ever been able to enjoy, Jasper’s mind was still stuck in Mount Weather. He couldn’t forgive Clarke for what she did, and his entire journey has been fuelled by the misery of his PTSD.

Like with Raven, trying to escape the physical pain of her broken body, we could understand Jasper’s interest in this seemingly easy world. Because he’s not our hero, we could even forgive him for being so seemingly weak.

Bellamy, meanwhile, didn’t have it so easy. He’s been a divisive character since the show’s beginning (sometimes, sadly, more due to shipping wars than anything else) but the show’s decision to have him partially responsible for the massacre of 300 Grounders was a ballsy one.

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But people didn’t want to understand his motivations like they might Clarke’s or Jasper’s. On a show with so many minority characters, Bellamy (though it has to be noted, Bob Morley is of Filipino descent) is somewhat representative of the norm when it comes to straight males leading a television series, and I think that gives him slightly less leeway in the eyes of the audience.

He was introduced as an antagonist for Clarke, and so a part of us expects him to eventually revert back to that archetype. Teaming up with Pike appeared to be that shift, but The 100 has never been about vilifying people because of their actions – however horrible. As he explained in the finale, he needed to think in black and white terms in order to survive in a world that’s anything but, and now all he can do is work for forgiveness.

Season three, and The 100 in general, can’t be talked about with mentioning Lexa. Lexa’s death and the audience reaction that followed will likely be what this show is remembered for (after 10-15 seasons, when it’s finally cancelled) and, while a valid and positive thing if it brings about genuine change on television, part of me thinks that’s a shame. Not because she wasn’t awesome and amazing and strong and pretty revelatory – she was all of those things – but she wasn’t the whole show. For some, she was, and that’s fine. But she was just one part for me.

I won’t comment further on her death, but rather enthuse about her triumphant return in the season three finale. Anyone disappointed that such a warrior didn’t get to die in battle was treated to Commander Lexa, saving the woman she loves at any cost. Those scenes between her and Clarke were brief, but they were infused with all of the love, strength, tenderness and gravity that their whole relationship had been.

But Lexa has always been there to serve Clarke’s story, and it was necessary for our heroine to be reminded that there’s something to fight for in that moment. All season long she had been running away from the guilt and shame brought upon her by the events at Mount Weather, and it was the memory of Lexa and her connection to The Flame that led to her once again being responsible for the fate of her people (and all people).

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All three seasons of The 100 have ended with a literal switch or a lever that has monumental consequences for our characters, but this time Clarke was alone in her decision. Would she choose to live a happy, pain-free lie, or would she allow her friends and family to choose their own fates? Door number two, of course, was what she ultimately picked. “You don’t ease pain,” she told ALIE and Becca, her creator. “You overcome it. And we will.”

My biggest question mark coming out of this finale is most definitely Jaha, who was more responsible for the almost-apocalypse than anyone else. It was through him that the show originally teased the City of Light during season two, and the first time we saw an ALIE-free Jaha at all this year was in the final moments of the final episode. The fact that the show left him alive at all is a slightly puzzling miracle.

And for once, the finale didn’t end on a wtf-style tease, but with impending doom and even more difficult choices ahead for the delinquents and the clueless adults around them. Next year’s villain won’t be an army or the residents of a secret underground bunker, but absolute oblivion that they might not be able to avert.

‘There are no easy answers’ isn’t an adequate motto for The 100, because there are often no answers at all. There are only hard choices and the people who have to make them. These ideas of free will and individual agency have been part of the DNA of the show since day one, but season three was where it decides to tackle them head-on.

The season was about trauma, and the length’s we’ll go to escape it. That this show that began as an updated Lord Of The Flies-esque tale on The CW has evolved into one of the smartest, most daring dramas on television is my favorite thing, and I can’t wait to see what these writers have in store for season four.