If tonight’s episode of The 100 could be summed up in two words, it would be “unlikely alliances.” And I’m not just talking about the Grounders and the Sky People. No, I mean Lincoln and Bellamy, Octavia and Indra, and especially Jaha and Murphy. The point here is not a game of random mix and match, but to illustrate how unexpected partnerships can ultimately beget success—to varying degrees. In addition to these unlikely alliances, The 100 also serves up a couple of major tropes, both of which are executed with varying degrees of success.
Spoilers ahead for tonight’s episode, as well as spoilers for Mad Max 2, AKA The Road Warrior, one for this season of AMC’s The Walking Dead, and one for Rocky IV while we’re at it.
Tropes are often viewed in a negative light, but much of genre storytelling, from movies to books to videogames to comic books, thrives on the deployment of hundreds of different tropes. In the case of tonight’s episode, Survival of the Fittest, viewers were presented with the Begrudging Respect trope (Octavia proving herself against the Grounders) and the Last Refuge trope (Jaha’s quest for the city of light).
Regarding the latter, this one is more of a dystopian trope. In this case, the Last Refuge represents the myth of a shining oasis that exists beyond the day-to-day suffering of everyday survival in a post-apocalyptic reality. Sometimes these places are real, as it was in the The Road Warrior (the decoy oil tanker is merely a means to an end, a decoy, if you will). And sometimes it’s not, as is so often the case on The Walking Dead (Terminus anyone? Or Washington, DC, for that matter?). But these fabled “other” places, these safe havens of legend, all represent the same thing for any and all group of survivors—hope. In the case of The 100, there are two such places. One is the aforementioned city of light, the other, the coast. Real or not, perhaps they’re one and the same.
Jaha certainly pitches this city of light to Murphy as if it’s real. But the true purpose behind their unlikely union is Jaha needs someone to take him to the landing site, where his son, Wells, is buried in an unmarked grave. Jaha’s first trip to the drop ship is not only a chance for closure, it also provides the former chancellor with an unexpected reality check. And who better, really, than Murphy to hold Jaha accountable for his actions aboard the Ark. Murphy is bitter for a number of reasons, all of them valid, all of them like fresh wounds upon his battered psyche. Murphy is right when he tells Jaha he has blood on his hands—including his own son’s. Unlike last week, when Clarke confronted her mother’s betrayal of her father, this confrontation between Jaha and Murphy is far more dramatic and interesting. But perhaps what’s most interesting about these two together is that they understand they have one fundamental thing in common—they are both outcasts. Perhaps this is why Murphy agrees to join Jaha in his quest to find the Last Refuge.
As for Begrudging Respect—this device didn’t work as well, at least for me, especially because the outcome was telegraphed at the beginning of the episode. When Lincoln tells Bellamy that Octavia was always strong, at some point we will see this strength in action. As I said earlier in the season, I have a hard time believing that Octavia could stand toe to toe with a Grounder, especially one twice her size. This is not to say I don’t appreciate the strength of her character, which has nothing to do with her physical capabilities. That she could simply earn Indra’s respect (and thereby the Grounders’ respect) simply by not giving up seems too obvious a way to bridge the gap between two cultures (As Rocky Balboa did in Rocky IV by going the distance with Ivan Drago; by the end, the Soviets were chanting Rocky’s name, for crying out loud). I like Octavia a lot, but her character is not being used to its fullest potential just yet. I could believe Clarke or Raven more in service of this trope—we are shown their strength time and again, rather than told about it.
As for Bellamy and Lincoln, their unlikely alliance is not nearly as fruitful or eye-opening as the others. At the end of the day, Lincoln is unable to overcome his addiction, endangering himself and Bellamy in the process. It’s heartbreaking to see this happen, but who knows, perhaps this is all part of Lincoln’s plan to get the two of them into Mount Weather. Either way, it looks like we’ll find out next week. I can’t imagine Bellamy will be turned into a Reaper, but The 100 has never shied away from putting beloved characters through the wringer before.
Some closing thoughts:
“Suicide by Earth” is a nifty turn of phrase even as it raises the question of how the Ark could allow such a thing to happen enough that the practice became an idiom in their space-faring culture.
Murphy’s calling Camp Jaha “Camp you” was another great line that was easy to miss.
Grounder commanders are reincarnations of former commanders? I’m not sure how I feel about this.
Earth’s fauna has not been a threat in some time. Being attacked by a random gorilla isn’t exactly what I was expecting. Brutal and ferocious as he was, it didn’t quite satisfy my craving for irradiated animals. Plus the effects are normally pretty great on The 100, but CG animals are always tough to pull off, and tonight’s gorilla, while intimidating, wasn’t on par with what this show has delivered in the past.