What a long, strange trip this first season of The 100 has been. When it comes to dystopian stories, it’s easy to rely on the tropes of the genre—a hardscrabble existence, limited supplies, blighted landscape, jaded survivors, shoddy tech. The 100 has all of these things and more, but its creators decided they would take things up a notch or two, elevating what could have been a rote premise and sending it into orbit—literally and figuratively.
Producer Jason Rothenberg, along with a talented roster of directors and writers, imbued this fledgling show with a welcome gravitas by exploring themes that run deeper than a typical genre show. It’s one thing to survive, but the bigger feat is to somehow keep your humanity intact. It’s a theme the show’s creators explored with great confidence throughout the season. Indeed, The 100 really hit its stride with the episode Contents Under Pressure, in which the torture of the few is seemingly outweighed by the benefit of the many.
As for that long, strange trip, part 2 of the season finale, “We Are Grounders,” is a long way from Octavia striding from the drop ship and proudly declaring, “We’re back, bitches!” Indeed, tonight’s episode is so gritty and so violent and so action-packed, it almost feels like a different show from the pilot. In that first episode, mutant fauna seemed like the biggest threat to the 100. Two-headed deer quickly paled in comparison to the war-like Grounders. Yet even the Grounders turned out to be the least of the prisoners’ worries, as we found out last week with the introduction of the Reapers. And tonight, we quickly learn there are even bigger threats lurking in this dystopian landscape.
Spoilers ahead as we delve into the second half of this wow-filled finale.
Two dangerous plans were put into motion, both with devastating, far-reaching consequences. The first plan, to land the Ark on the planet, is so audacious you just know it has to work. And work it does, though not without loss of life and an important sacrifice by a key character. At first it seems that Kane will be the hero of the hour, but it’s Jaha who steps up to manually start the Ark’s descent to Earth. It’s a supreme act of selflessness that leaves the chancellor behind on the now-derelict remains of the station. The Ark’s fiery re-entry into the atmosphere is chaotic and catastrophic, a visual tour de force that left me wondering how even a 5% survival rate was even possible. Seeing one of the station’s thrusters firing happens so fast it’s easy to miss, but it’s an important detail that points the way to how Abby and Kane could have survived such a violent landing. But more on them in a bit.
As for Clarke, Bellamy, and the rest of the survivors, fight or flight quickly becomes the former as they’re forced to return to camp. There, they will make their last stand against the approaching Grounder army. And this is when the second dangerous plan is put into motion—mainly, to draw the Grounders into the camp before firing the drop ship’s thrusters to wipe them out. Again, it’s such a far-fetched scheme that you hope you get to see it play out onscreen. But the plan has no hope of success if Raven, the camp’s only true mechanic, can’t overcome her injuries to rewire the drop ship’s thrusters.
As I wrote last week, The 100 is a show governed not only by inescapable countdowns but a dearth of supplies, too. This is not a good combination when facing down an angry barbarian horde. But Bellamy has a way of inspiring his fellow prisoners to fight their demons, imagined or otherwise. The Grounders’ attack on the camp is brutal and bloody. The landmines do some damage, but it’s not enough to stop the siege. We get a bit of a Michonne moment from Octavia when she saves her brother by driving a machete through a Grounder’s skull. Even when Finn and Lincoln show up with the Reapers, it’s still not enough to really turn the tides. What the cannibal cavalry does, though, is allow Lincoln to safely escape with an injured Octavia—but not before a tearful, heartfelt goodbye between the oft-estranged siblings.
The Grounders soon breach the camp’s walls, driving the prisoners to the temporary safety of the drop ship. Finn and Bellamy, however, are still caught up in the melee. Clarke must sacrifice the lives of the few for the benefit of the many. It’s Anya who finds a way into the drop ship just as the door closes. The angry mob immediately pounces on her, kicking her when she’s already down. Clarke jumps to her defense, insisting, “We are not Grounders!” And yet what comes next is far more devastating than anything we’ve seen on this show. The drop ship’s thrusters fire, instantly incinerating the Grounder army. The plan is a success, are Finn and Bellamy among the charred skeletal remains? Clarke’s certainly not sure, but if a scoundrel like Murphy could survive the season, my money is on Finn and Bellamy’s survival, too.
As for Abby and Kane, two more survivors despite near-impossible odds, to see these two bathed in warm sunlight, surrounded by tranquil waters, is a sight to behold. It represents hope, it represents promise. More importantly, Abby’s standing atop the ruins of the Ark represents one more shot at utopia. That is, until we realize there are even bigger threats, and bigger mysteries than the Grounders and the Reapers. The fabled Mountain Men, as it turns out, are not some cartoonish Bigfoot types. They may be from Mt. Weather but they’re not the cavalry the prisoners were hoping for. Clarke (and at least Monty, as far as we can tell), are prisoners of a different sort now, locked away in a government quarantine facility.
And that’s all she wrote for season 1. The 100 may be a fledgling show, but it manages to go out on a high note that truly makes me impatient (and yes, hopeful) for season 2.