I didn’t expect this post. I didn’t expect that Sense8 would already belong in the “Throwback” category.
The first time I wrote about Sense8, I connected it to the feeling I got experiencing Pink in concert performing “What’s Up?” I quoted from an earlier post about Pink:
No matter how corny the song, or Pink's delivery of the same, it's quite a moment when all those youngsters throw the peace sign in the air and sing "hey hey hey hey, what's going on?" In fact, it's this element of pop community that I like best about Pink concerts ... So now Pink sings that song as if she's known it all her life, and based on the voices in the Fillmore who sang every word, her audience has known it all their lives as well, and it's a great pop moment that reflects the optimism of the young just as other Pink songs reflect their sadness. The song indeed no longer belongs to Linda Perry, it belongs to Pink and the fans who know and sing all the words.
When I see the characters in Sense8 merging, I experience the most beautiful community of them all, one that results from the blending of the eight into one. It is as if my long-ago dreams are manifested on my television screen.
When I wrote those words about Pink, I was reeling from the news that Sleater-Kinney was going on “indefinite hiatus”. As the years approached a decade, “indefinite” seemed like a tease.
After 23 episodes, 16 cities and 13 countries, the story of the Sense8 cluster is coming to an end ... It is everything we and the fans dreamed it would be: bold, emotional, stunning, kick ass, and outright unforgettable. Never has there been a more truly global show with an equally diverse and international cast and crew, which is only mirrored by the connected community of deeply passionate fans all around the world.
I am not one to indulge in direct public revelations about my life. My “memoirs” as represented on this blog consist largely of my thoughts on movies and television and music. I purposely don’t spend much time exposing my “inner self”. This is, perhaps, a character flaw. Certainly, I have a tendency to look away from the problems of others. I am too alienated from the world to make the proper connections to my fellow humans.
My wife had a tough day at work, and she asked if we could go out to a nice restaurant for dinner, which we did. Donald Trump did something stupid ... I can’t say what, in fact as I type this I don’t know what he did today that was different from the stupid thing he did the day before. Some of my friends are doing well, but others are struggling.
But, if I am being honest, the only thing that really mattered to me was that The 100 would be airing their Season Four finale.
In too many ways to count, the characters on TV shows and in movies are more real to me, more important to me, than the human beings I know. I know this isn’t right, but there it is.
There is room for both our interaction with the world and our experience of works of art. But I’m aware that there is an imbalance for me, that I’m more intensely involved with the art than I am with the real.
And so, as I watched the extremely tense season finale of The 100, I cared, deeply, about what might happen to the characters and their world. If you are unfamiliar with The 100, it takes place around 100 years after a nuclear apocalypse. Season Four has focused on an impending second nuclear apocalypse, and the attempts of the remaining survivors to cope with that situation. There was excitement in watching our heroes and heroines showing their strength in the face of the potential end of the human race. It must be said that part of the excitement came from knowing that the people behind The 100 have never been shy about killing off popular, important characters, so that no one’s survival was guaranteed. (This is not quite true ... there is one character, arguably two, that won’t be dying any time soon.) In fact, death on a major scale is an integral part of the series. Of course, the built-in premise is that only a few people survived the initial apocalypse. But as the show progressed, characters were forced to make decisions with no good answers that often meant pulling the plug on hundreds of people. This video, made after only two seasons had aired, shows how the main character, Clarke, has been responsible for the deaths of more than 900:
I am deeply invested in Clarke, and the other characters on the show, especially her relationship with Lexa ... although I am nowhere near as invested in that relationship as some fans:
OK, I lied. I was right there with those fans.
I don’t quite understand it. There are better shows than The 100 ... The Leftovers is probably the best of what is currently running, or The Americans. But none of those other shows connect with me the way The 100 does. More to the point of this post, nothing in real life affects me the way The 100 does.
I dropped Hulu when Criterion moved their collection to FilmStruck. Thought I wouldn’t miss it, since I mostly used it for the Criterions, but today, the Hulu series Casual began its third season. Given that my wife was kind of hoping I’d re-up with Hulu so we could watch The Handmaid’s Tale, I gave in.
Based on the first episode of the new season, I am still not sure why I’m watching Casual, or even writing about it. I had a couple of things to say, but then I looked at earlier posts and saw I’d said it already:
There are television shows (and movies, for that matter) that my wife tends to avoid because they have no characters to “root for”. It’s not about a contest, it’s just that she likes to have a least one person who has some chance of becoming a good person, if they aren’t there already....
Casual, a Hulu series which just finished its second season, is about a woman who is breaking up with her husband and moves, with their daughter, into her brother’s home. Once we meet the siblings’ parents, we understand why they are having such trouble as adults ... they had a rough childhood in a psychological sense. And over two seasons, the three main characters work gradually towards becoming better people. All three of them are extremely self-absorbed, but when they step outside of themselves we see some pretty decent people. The characters feel real, with all of their flaws, and we root for them.
Except ... the brother is the #1 amongst equals when it comes to self-absorption. He tramples on the lives of others, always thinking that he is the one who is suffering (in fairness, he often is). I know this kind of person ... I am this kind of person. And I try to do better, as does the character. But he is so horrible that, using my wife’s criteria, he is practically unwatchable. The writing is good, the acting is good, but I simply can’t stand that guy. I don’t even like when he gets a comeuppance, because I know it will lead to more scenes where he thinks only of himself and his traumas.
Let’s just say he hits too close to home for me. It’s a good show, but I can’t say I enjoy it much.
That first episode of the new season gave me no reason to change my mind. Yet here I am, back for another round.
In the early years of our marriage, I had the idea that we should buy a large table for the kitchen, so we could invite groups of our friends for dinner parties. We’d get six or eight folks, eat, and have great and friendly conversation. It was a vision of community that may have grown from the utopian dreams of hippiedom I had as a teenager.
The reality was, and is, that I’m riddled with anxiety and paranoia, such that I rarely even have six or eight people who I’d invite into my home. I know many more people than that, fine people, but my hermit-like existence no longer has room for those idealistic visions.
There was one time in my life when I participated in a communal enterprise. I took part in a journal called Bad Subjects, “Political Education for Everyday Life”. I wrote my first piece for them in 1992, and soon after joined the production team, on which I worked until approximately 2001. In that year, I wrote “Feel Like Going Home: Notes on Self-Marginalization”. Although it’s 16 years old, some of it still resonates for me.
Eight years haven't done as much for me as I'd hoped. Bad Subjects was kind enough to take me in. There was room then, and in fact there has always been room, in Bad Subjects for marginal folks. All we had to do was commit to the attempt, and we were accepted into the community. The beautiful utopian vision of Bad Community has made a difference in the lives of all who have participated in it, myself included. But I've been fooling others and myself; I've been posing, I haven't been a true believer. I thought it would happen, but so far I've fallen short. At times, I've misrepresented myself, but for the most part, I think it has been clear where I come from. The anti-utopian in a group of utopians, the non-believer in the midst of faith, the loner in the middle of the community. It's a sign of the magnificence of the Bad Community that there has always been a place for miscreants like me, and always will be. But Lord, I feel like going home.
I’m reminded of this because of a recent series of posts on Facebook, which began with a fellow Bad Subject from Australia saying that her memory of those times was jogged when she saw Ana Marie Cox on TV. (Cox had spent a year with Bad Subjects in the mid-90s.) While the journal had its start in Berkeley, once it went online its community became international, and an email list lasted for some time that featured lively debate amongst like-minded folks. Our Australian friend got the attention of others, and a new Facebook group was quickly formed so we could talk amongst ourselves once more. It is good to see that old communal spirit rise again.
But, I still feel like going home. As Pee-wee says,
Which leads me to Sense8. It’s hard to explain the series. Heck, I’ve just spent several paragraphs talking about everything except Sense8, and when I wrote about Season One, I spent the first half talking about Pink and Linda Perry, as if I can only come close to the show’s essence if I work in the shadows. In Sense8, eight people from across the globe share a connection that is odd enough to place the series in the sci-fi genre. They are “sensates”, linked to the others in their cluster emotionally and mentally. One way the connection works, that goes unexplained, is that they seem to be able to be there for each other in a physical sense. So if one sensate is about to be overpowered by a few bad guys, the sensate that knows martial arts will take over and kick some ass, without ever actually leaving her jail cell.
In a recent review of Season Two, Tim Goodman wrote, “For Netflix's ambitious drama Sense8, the path to entry – and the ability to truly appreciate what comes after – is deceptively simple. You have to give in to it. You have to go with it. ... Sense8 is probably better described as a series you experience more than understand”. It shares some of this with the recent Legion, another show where the pleasures did not come from “figuring it out” but by letting it wash over you.
What entrances me about Sense8 grows out of that unexplained connection among the cluster. I spent my earlier years wishing for community. I spent some time later dipping my toes in the river of community, but not making it to the other side. And now, I’m old and a hermit.
But when I see the characters in Sense8 merging, I experience the most beautiful community of them all, one that results from the blending of the eight into one. It is as if my long-ago dreams are manifested on my television screen.
And they do the impossible, taking the cliché song choice and making it new again:
To get the basics out of the way (and if you are reading this, you know the basics, so this isn’t really a spoiler), 13 Reasons Why tells the story of Hannah Baker, a high-school student and recent suicide who left behind a box of cassette tapes that she recorded just before she killed herself. Each side consists of Hannah singling out someone who is in some way one of the 13 reasons. There are seven tapes ... the B-side of the seventh tape is blank, because she only needs 13 sides to tell the story. The subject of the first tape gets the box of tapes and listens to them all, after which they give the box to the subject of the second tape, who etc etc until all thirteen subjects have heard all of the tapes. The person who has the box throughout the series is Clay Jensen, and as he listens to the tapes (one per episode ... yes, there are 13 episodes to the series), we get flashbacks to the events on the tapes.
The performances are solid from top to bottom, but two actors are most important. Dylan Minnette plays Clay, and he is equal measures sympathetic and irritating, which is entirely appropriate for the part. The should-be-star-making role of Hannah goes to a newcomer from Australia, Katherine Langford, and she is the best thing about the show.
13 Reasons Why does a great job of showing the endless trauma of attending high school, where awful big things happen occasionally, but where mostly awful little things happen every single day. If you aren’t one of the cool kids, you’re screwed. Many of us got through high school by becoming part of a subculture of non-cool kids. But there are always those who are both non-cool and friendless ... it barely matters if the kid is actually cool and actually has friends, if they don’t recognize those facts ... and their high school lives are abysmal. Hannah is new to the school, and almost immediately she gets slut-shamed, from which she never regains a positive status among her peers. She has some friends, but she tends to push them away, usually because those friends are unthinking and do things that hurt Hannah (these things being the focus of each individual tape recording). 13 Reasons Why shows how cliques work in high school, and how reputations are made. It does this is a mostly realistic way.
Knowing how the story ends creates an ever-growing tension as we watch the episodes. Hannah’s life is crumbling before our eyes, but in the flashbacks, the kids don’t realize their part in how Hannah’s life ends ... to them, it’s just high school. Eventually, events shatter the composure of some of the kids ... auto accidents, physical assaults, things that can’t be ignored. But only Hannah, the author of her story as she records the tapes, takes in the accumulation that threatens to ruin her.
The implication is that Hannah commits suicide for the 13 reasons, and in the context of the series, this is believable. Some have criticized the show, though, for blaming events, when many suicides come from a place of deep depression that might be chemical rather than social. Hannah is increasingly disturbed, and she becomes crucially sensitive to how others treat her, but there is never a suggestion that she might have a chemical imbalance that could be alleviated via drug therapy. No, Hannah’s suicide grows entirely out of those 13 reasons, all of which are about how she is treated by others. (This also leads to a final “message” that we all just need to treat each other with more kind attention.)
The decision of how to show the most horrible events in the story are powerful, and I don’t think there’s any reason to dismiss the approach the show takes, although some will find it too hard to watch these scenes (which is partly the point). There are two rapes, and while the first is mostly in the dark, the second is much more visible. Director Jessica Yu (she did two episodes ... other directors include Tom McCarthy, Helen Shaver, Gregg Araki, and Carl Franklin) shows just enough visual context that we know what is happening, but she spends almost the entire scene on the girl’s face. We see the trauma, and we see on her face the terrible way she becomes an empty shell. Far from being exploitive, the scene is sickening and upsetting.
Hannah’s suicide is also unbearable. In that episode (directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez), we see the final hours of Hannah’s life, and then we watch the final minutes. Many have complained that the actual suicide (via slit wrists) is so graphic it could serve as a how-to for troubled viewers. But the people behind 13 Reasons Why specifically wanted to avoid the usual presentation where we see the suicidal person about to commit the act, then cut to someone discovering the act after the fact. They wanted to show the ugliness of suicide. They insisted that the audience was repulsed. I have seen a few comments claiming that 13 Reasons Why romanticizes suicide. Well, the actual suicide is the least-romantic act imaginable.
There is, in fact, very little romanticizing being done throughout the series. We are always aware of the effect of the accumulation of events on Hannah’s psyche, and at no time do we think, gee, I wish I was Hannah.
While the series is on Netflix, I strongly advise against binge watching it. It would be emotionally overwhelming, for one thing, and each episode deserves processing before moving on to the next. The series is too long, and at times it is repetitive, but it’s a bit like the way Clay listens to every tape from start to finish. You’ll want to do the same with 13 Reasons Why.
I want to single out a couple of actors. Justin Prentice does such a great job of playing a rich, privileged jock that you always want to slap the smirk off his face when he shows up. And then there is Wilson Cruz, who first came to our attention in My So-Called Life as Rickie Vasquez. Cruz appears as a lawyer in a handful of episodes in 13 Reasons Why, and between the ever-lasting love his fans have for Cruz, and the obvious connections between his first series and this one, it is delightful to see him. (His character is named “Vasquez”, which has led some to imagine it’s just Rickie, grown up with a new first name.)
Finally, I have read a few people saying 13 Reasons Why promotes revenge. This supposedly even makes suicide more appealing, since Hannah gets “revenge” by exposing everyone in her tapes. Again, there is nothing in this show that makes me wish I had led Hannah’s deeply sad life. (People looking for a revenge drama might check out the fine vigilante show, Sweet/Vicious.)
Not sure how to tag this ... Wainwright made it for the BBC and it aired in the States on PBS, but it’s a film, not a series. She works in television, having given us the excellent series Happy Valley. As is often the case, To Walk Invisible has one person I’ve heard of (Jonathan Pryce) and a cast of excellent actors who are unknown to me (although a few of them were also in Happy Valley). One other similarity to that earlier series: To Walk Invisible takes place in Yorkshire, as did the series, and I can barely understand what people are saying (friends from South England once told me they needed subtitles to understand Happy Valley).
To Walk Invisible tells the story of the Brontë family in the late 1840s, when the sisters first published novels under male pseudonyms. (Pryce played their father.) Their tormented addict brother Branwell is also an important part of the story, although given the time constraints (it lasts two hours), he takes up perhaps too much time. In fact, To Walk Invisible might have benefitted from at least one more episode, as events feel rushed throughout.
The focus is almost entirely on the sisters’ lives. You’re left to fill in the narratives for Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights on your own, which may be for the best, since I imagine anyone who wants to watch a story of the sisters will have already read the novels. To some extent, the novels come out of nowhere in To Walk Invisible, at least as specific individual works. The film shows how the sisters had to fight the sentiments of the time, reflected most clearly in their use of pseudonyms to hide their gender. And we are led to believe that they are excellent writers, especially Charlotte. But while their skills are made evident, and while their struggles to be recognized are a central theme of the movie, there is little reference to the fact that these weren’t just any novels, but were Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.
In one respect, this is a good thing, because To Walk Invisible avoids the common fault of biographical stories that “explain” a book like Jane Eyre by showing examples of the author’s life that supposedly informed their creation, as if they lacked the imagination to come up with the work on their own. So we don’t get a scene of Charlotte seeing a woman in an attic. But it does seem odd that Charlotte could have been writing any old novel, given the lack of interest shown in the actual book she produced.
To Walk Invisible looks great, and sounds great if you can handle the accents. The acting is top-notch. There’s too much Branwell, and it’s too short overall. But as is, it’s a worthy accomplishment. 8/10.
On the one hand, it’s easy to describe Legion. It takes part in the Marvel X-Men universe, and is something of an origin story for “Legion”, a lesser-known X-Men character who is the son of Professor X. Legion, known as David Haller, was diagnosed as schizophrenic when he was young, and his actions do little to dissuade us from that diagnosis. But it turns out he has mutant powers, which, since no one really understands them, leaves him extremely confused.
So far, this is simple. The cast is an interesting blend of people you know from various projects. Dan Stevens, who plays David, was Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey. There’s Rachel Keller, who made a name for herself on the second season of Fargo, which, like Legion, comes from Noah Hawley. Jean Smart, who has been around for a long time, agreed to join the cast without knowing anything about it, because she loved working on Fargo so much. Aubrey Plaza is Aubrey Plaza, but there are so many parts to her character that she expands the definition of an Aubrey Plaza character. (And since I love Aubrey Plaza without ever actually watching her in anything other than talk shows, I’m glad she’s finally in something I like.) There’s Bill Irwin, who founded the Pickle Family Circus, and Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords.
All of this sounds quirky, but it doesn’t prepare you for what turns up on the screen. Because Hawley spends much of his time inside the head of David Haller, who, it is safe to say, is the ultimate in Unreliable Narrator, since he isn’t ever sure what’s happening in his head, or if it’s actually outside of his head. He can’t be reliable even if he wants to. Hawley dumps us in the middle of this ... he doesn’t really explain what’s going on with any clarity until the next-to-last episode of the season, which means we spend six episodes asking each other, “what the fuck?” Legion is as trippy as any show you’ve ever seen, and while there are good reasons for that, you have to allow yourself to be confused.
There is a lot of strong acting on the show ... if you’re expecting Matthew Crawley 2.0, you’re in for a surprise. And the look of the show perfectly matches the themes and the “reality” of this alternate world. It’s a pleasure to watch, even if/when you are clueless about what you are watching. And maybe it’s because I love Fargo the TV series so much, but I spent the entire season of Legion assuming that Noah Hawley knew what he was doing, so instead of my usual frustration at obscurity, I gave myself over to his vision.
I am nowhere near fluent in the X-Men universe, so I can say with confidence that such knowledge is not required to enjoy Legion. And if you don't like superhero sagas, trust me, this isn't like the ones you're familiar with. If you think the world has gone downhill since the 60s, when trippy visuals were the norm, you will love Legion. Just be warned that there are few shows as weird as this one. A-.
It was about a year and a half after the end of Season One when Season Two of Humans arrived in the States. While the story isn’t particularly complicated, it does feature lots of characters, and I confess I began the new season not quite remembering all that had come before. After Season One, I wrote:
An English series about a time in the future when robots in human form work as servants for humans. ... It features the usual batch of English actors I’ve never heard of, all doing good jobs, with special kudos to Gemma Chan as one of the “synths”. Oh yeah, William Hurt shows up. Humans is a good combination of social commentary and personal experiences ... I wouldn’t say it breaks new ground, but it does well with the old ground. It’s certainly intelligent enough to maintain interest for another season.
Hurt’s character died late in Season One, but he is replaced in S2, in fame and stature if not in the narrative, by Carrie-Anne Moss. This means there is still one actor in Humans that I’ve actually heard of. Of course, by this point, I know the returning characters, and they are still doing good jobs, with Gemma Chan still worthy of singling out. I’d also toss in Emily Berrington and Ruth Bradley. It may be more than coincidental that all three actresses play synths ... they make more of an impression than the human characters.
Humans benefits from short seasons. There have only been 16 episodes so far, just the right amount to fit the amount of story and characterization Humans offers. I said before that it doesn’t break new ground, and that holds in the new season, as well. The show is well-done, but it doesn’t stray too far from other robots-in-society stories we’ve known. While the synths are shown sympathetically, after two seasons the title of the show still holds ... ultimately we’re watching from the perspective of the humans.
I’m not trying to damn Humans with faint praise. I like the show quite a bit. But it’s just another show about humans and machines that can’t quite live up to the greatness that was Battlestar Galactica. And while the straightforward presentation is helpful to clods like me who have trouble keeping up, it comes across as rather mundane compared to shows like Sense8 and Legion. B+.
In early 1961, CBS needed a show to quickly fill a time slot left open by a failed series hosted by Jackie Gleason. The new show was called Way Out ... CBS had The Twilight Zone running at the time ... it consisted of half-hour episodes peeking into fantasy and sci-fi tales. The host was Roald Dahl, later famous for, among other things, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Dahl would introduce each episode, similar to what Rod Serling was doing on Twilight Zone. (Boris Karloff filled this function with Thriller, as did Alfred Hitchcock on his series.)
The first episode of Way Out, “William and Mary”, based on a story by Dahl, tells of a man with terminal cancer who agrees to an experiment where his brain is connected to an artificial heart after his death. It works ... the man also retains one eye so he can see. He sends a note to his widowed wife, explaining what has happened. She takes him home with her, and proceeds to flaunt actions in front of him that he disapproved of when he was alive.
Reviews were good. Ratings were OK on the coasts, not so much in the rest of the country. Way Out was cancelled after 14 episodes.
There was one episode of Way Out that has stuck with me for 55+ years. This is where I offer my usual caveats about the limitations of memory. We’re talking about an episode of a short-lived television show that aired in 1961 (June 30 for the episode in question). We’re talking a time long before On Demand and video recorders and the Internet. Unless a show was very popular (I Love Lucy, for instance), reruns weren’t always shown. It is likely that the only time anyone was able to watch that episode was the night that it aired.
So, to place myself in the time period, on June 30, 1961, I was 8 years old, having turned 8 ten days earlier. It would have been near the beginning of summer vacation between 3rd and 4th grade. I was, in short, very young. I’m surprised my parents let me stay up to watch Way Out, which aired Friday nights at 9:30 ... perhaps this was because it was summer vacation.
The episode was called “Side Show”. There were a few actors that remain at least a little familiar: Myron McCormick, who was in what seemed like every TV series back then (he died in 1962); Murray Hamilton, a “hey, it’s that guy” playing a character named Harold Potter (J.K. Rowling wouldn’t be born for another four years ... hmmm, this would make a good plot on a fantasy series); Doris Roberts, then in her mid-30s, who 35 years later would begin a long run as a regular on Everybody Loves Raymond. The plot is about a carnival act run by McCormick that features an “electronic woman”, who seems normal except she has a light bulb where her head should be.
Reading that now, I think, “this would have worked better as a radio drama”, where the ludicrous image of the light bulb head wouldn’t be actual, but only a fantasy of my mind. But the truth is, the only thing about that episode I have remembered since I was 8 years old is that damn light bulb. It haunted me at the time. In later years, the memory of it haunted me. And in more recent times, it still gnaws at my mind, because it was still one of the few things that were unavailable for re-visiting. There was a copy in some TV museum on the East Coast, and a few of the other episodes turned up on YouTube, but “Side Show” remained only a memory.
Until I was looking for something else on YouTube last night and found out that a year or so ago, someone had added a few Way Out episodes. Including “Side Show”.
It’s a weird thing, revisiting a past that has been just beyond your reach for decades.
I was surprised there was an actual plot to the episode. Because all I’d remembered was the light bulb.
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.
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.