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the 100

The 100 is a show about communities. It’s about a lot of other things ... it tends to attach itself rather easily to current affairs, even though it takes place sometime in the 22nd century. It is as ambitious in its own way as the reboot of Battlestar Galactica, and if I don’t think The 100 is as good, that I would even mention them together is important. But at its core, The 100 is about the various communities that have formed over time, and the ways in which loyalties are compromised. The most obvious community is the titular Hundred, also known as The Delinquents, criminals (by the standards of the day, they are all adolescents) who are sent to Earth 97 years after a nuclear apocalypse has made the planet uninhabitable. (The few survivors end up in a space station, The Ark.) The Ark’s life support system was failing, and The 100 were sent to find out if the Earth had become habitable.

At this point, I’ve described a series that fits into the general concept of The CW, a network known for aiming at an audience of young adults. The first thing that happens on The 100 is that the adolescents are separated from the adults (who include the best-known actors on the series, like Isaiah Washington, Paige Turco, and Henry Ian Cusick). They are able to survive on Earth, but they quickly lose contact with The Ark, leaving them in charge of their lives and their civilization.

While The Delinquents are an umbrella community, factions form immediately. We also learn of other communities (clans) comprised of the offspring of survivors of the apocalypse. These various communities are not specifically fluid ... it is difficult to move from one community to another. But within the communities, things are very fluid, with friends becoming enemies, people rising (or falling) to the occasion, and people dying (this happens a lot on The 100). The result is reminiscent of a soap opera, in that relationships between individuals are central to the show’s appeal, but a soap opera with apocalypse as the backdrop.

I’ve detailed this in order to describe why I love The 100, despite its many faults. I care about the characters, not just as individuals, but as community members. The apocalyptic setting heightens every action, and there are times when “the problems of these little people don’t amount to a hill of beans”. But by insisting not only on the daily battle against the apocalypse (which would make a dark show even darker) but also on the desire to maintain some semblance of humanity (which offers what little hope you can find in The 100), the series resonates far more deeply than might be expected.

And on the rare occasions when people change affiliations, it can be heart-breaking.

I may be focusing on the group, but the one-on-one relationships are also crucial, perhaps more crucial than I am suggesting. There is plenty of material for shippers who want certain characters to get together romantically. The 100 mostly steers away from this, but possibilities exist. That some of the most intense relationships are between people crossing community boundaries only makes those boundaries more clear (and, to some extent, more damaging). So one of the most interesting character arcs belongs to Octavia, a Delinquent who goes from near-airhead to a fierce warrior, falling in love with a “Grounder”, adopting another Grounder as a mentor, and thus constantly having to evaluate her loyalties in ways other characters can dismiss.

In the midst of all this, one relationship stands out, between Clarke, a Delinquent, and the most central character in a large cast, and Lexa, a Grounder commander. The world of The 100 is one where the great variety of sexual preferences is taken for granted ... after an apocalypse, there isn’t time to worry about who is sleeping with whom. Lexa is a lesbian, and Clarke is bisexual. They are leaders of their respective communities, and while their respect for each other grows, their commitment to their people means betrayal is always a possibility. The chemistry between Eliza Taylor (Clarke) and Alycia Debnam-Carey (Lexa) was palpable, and many fans shipped “Clexa”. Some of the most poignant scenes in the series are when Clarke and Lexa come together for the common good, with each step also bringing their relationship closer. When they finally slept together, Clexa fans rejoiced.

And then came the “Bury Your Gays” trope. Right after they have sex, Lexa is killed. The outrage from fans, especially in the LGBTQ community, was instant and enormous. Clexa became a symbol of existing problems with representations of gay characters, with many fans resolving to never watch The 100 again.

I wrote about this after last season’s finale:

Tonight's season finale proved that the creators of The 100 know quite well how to properly send off a beloved character. If the send off we got tonight had occurred in, say, Episode 307, I'm guessing the uproar would have been reduced, or even absent. That those creators felt perfectly happy saving this send off for the finale, while participating in a trope that lost them a significant part of their viewership, is remarkably clueless at best.

I love The 100, and I loved most of the season finale. I really loved that send off. But it pisses me off the way it was mishandled. It's like a combination of when Tara died on Buffy, and when Friday Night Lights was derailed by that stupid murder subplot in Season Two. For many people, Episode 307 made The 100 beyond redemption. I'm still here, just as I stuck with Buffy until the end. But part of me wishes I'd just skipped all the episodes between 307 and the two-part finale.

I also thank Jason Rothenberg for creating the character of Lexa in the first place. (She wasn’t in the books.) Rothenberg finally seems to understand why the method of Lexa's death outraged so many. It's not about giving in to your audience, it's about understanding the place of your work in a broader social context. The 100 does not exist in a vacuum.

I understand that every character on The 100 is one scene away from dying (well, I doubt they'll ever kill off Clarke). I understand that Alycia Debnam-Carey was leaving for Fear the Walking Dead. I don't object to the decision to kill off Lexa. It's the way it was done that's the problem, and while I'm beyond happy that Clexa got their final moment, and that Lexa went out a badass, I would have been just as "happy" if it happened in Episode 307. Better put, the emotional damage of Lexa's death would have been tied directly to her final moments as a warrior and a lover, instead of being Just Another Dead Lesbian. Her death would have carried more dramatic weight within the context of the show.

Ironically, Lexa’s death led to arguably the most emotional scene in the show’s history, 9 episodes later in the season finale.

It would be interesting if Rothenberg had concocted this finale after seeing the reaction to Lexa’s death, but in fact, they were filming the finale when the first episode of the season aired. So Rothenberg always had this great finish in mind.

And, after her death, he assured people that Lexa’s presence would not be forgotten. He has held to that, not only in the above scene, but also in the first episode of Season 4, when Clarke told her mother that she loved Lexa.

Ultimately, The 100 ranks high on my list of current shows. But it ranks even higher on how much I look forward to it. Is it as good as The Americans, to use one example? Not even close. But I can’t wait for next week.

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