The 100 S3E9 "Stealing Fire" Review #2
Stealing Fire contains the same narrative missteps that plagued the first half of season three, but also hope for a better future since Clarke finally has a plot.
Stealing Fire is the first episode in a long while—maybe since Wanheda Part 2 (3.2)—that I actually enjoyed as a piece of entertainment until the ending. Which is weird to say since I have a couple of significant criticisms of the episode, especially Lincoln's death, but those problems tie in with the problems of season three as a whole. Stealing Fire is just the newest episode that showcases those weaknesses.
The most satisfying moments belong to Arkadia. Not only was the cat-and-mouse game thrilling (for the second episode in a row—Terms and Conditions also benefited from this structure), but the emotional beats between Kane and Abby will be remembered by fans for years. When Kane is given five minutes to say goodbye to Abby, she cradles his face in her hands and whispers to him, “I can’t do this again,” recalling how she saw her husband, Jake, executed on the Ark. There is so much love, devastation, and strength between them, brilliantly performed by both Henry Ian Cusick and Paige Turco. Two and a half seasons of slow-build characterization and relationship development brought them to that point, and it was satisfying and heartbreaking.
Team Delinquent was also in top form, beginning with a half-silent scene in which Bellamy cuts a bug out of Miller’s guard jacket. Tension and distrust thrum in the silence between Miller and Bellamy, previously good friends. Chelsey Reist, Jarod Joseph, Christopher Larkin, and Bob Morley imbue the scene with a complex history shaded by painful distrust.
The Delinquents (and Abby helps out later) decide they aren’t going to let Sinclair, Lincoln, and Kane die. They hatch a plan to misdirect Pike and his guards so they can intercept the prisoners and get them to freedom.
Scenes between Monty and Hannah manning the radio and Harper and Octavia feeding false information made for exciting viewing as every line uttered turned out to be a switchback to reveal further subterfuge. In between all of this, Bryan chose to side with Miller. Octavia used her childhood growing up under the floorboards to assist them in hiding the prisoners. Abby and Kane share a passionate kiss (finally!).
The 100 is at its best when it uses shared history and love to push people into action, despite their complicated relationships. Even though this arc ended in tragedy, what led up to it was satisfying on several levels.
Using the cave as a meeting place for the Rebellion is a smart choice of imagery for these scenes, and an example of what both subtext, symbolism, and cinematography can do for storytelling. Caves recall all sorts of symbolism and mythology. From this episode and promos for upcoming episodes, The 100 is going to use it to the full effect, particularly in regards to Bellamy.
When Bellamy leaves Miller’s bunk after taking the bug out, he tells them that if Octavia wants to save Lincoln she needs to meet him at the dropship. Instead as she goes to hug him—and wow, Marie Avgeropoulos with venom in her eyes—she drugs him and takes him to the cave. Octavia chains him up and has Indra watch over him. This takes Bellamy, such a powerful figure, out of the prisoner-escape narrative completely.
I’ve seen some complaining about that, but I think it’s actually a smart move character-wise. Yes, we all know that Bellamy could have been essential to saving Lincoln from execution.
No one trusts him. Why should they? Octavia, in particular, has even less reason to believe that he has come to his senses. After all, she brought Clarke in to talk to him, and he ended up handcuffing Clarke to take her to Pike. So, yes—it makes sense that she doesn’t believe that he’s seen the error of his ways. To her mind, she and the Delinquents are capable enough to do this on their own. The risk of Bellamy informing on them is too great.
It’s powerful, if frustrating, storytelling. But as an audience we are supposed to be frustrated at this point. Everything has gone to pot! Our hero, Bellamy, not only caused this situation but can’t fix it!
I happen to like that, though. The hero can’t fix it. He is literally chained, in a cage, guarded by someone who loathes him. He begins a series of confrontations that I believe will continue*, and the first is with Indra.
At first glance, Bellamy is pleading with Indra to let him go. The subtext that develops is the question of Bellamy’s identity in regards to Octavia. Since Octavia was born, Bellamy has been her brother and father-figure. He has protected her, risked his life for her, committed crimes to keep her safe. His identity in relation to Octavia is the cornerstone of his entire sense of self.
But that identity, as Octavia’s protector (and by extension the protector of all the Delinquents), has crumbled. He made the wrong choice in siding with Pike. His friends and now his sister don’t trust him. Octavia has actively chosen the Grounders by way of Lincoln and Indra. In turn, both Lincoln and Indra have chosen Octavia. When the horns sound that signal Lexa has died and a new commander has been chosen, Bellamy tries to lash out at Indra as she prepares to leave. “You’ll always choose your people over her," he says.
“Octavia is my people,” Indra says. Though Indra has to go, you can see that Bellamy knows it’s true. Octavia doesn't "belong" to Bellamy anymore, she has rejected him and been inducted into a new group of belonging. Part of his essential self has been sheared away.
The main thrust of the Polis plot this episode is to introduce Ontari, the new Commander, and to push Clarke to leave and return to Arkadia. One hopes, anyway.
The narrative problems that have plagued this season of The 100 are in play here. First, in the space of about fifteen minutes in-episode, Ontari is introduced and then hacks of the heads of the other novitiates in their sleep to become Commander. This is shown off-screen, though we are treated to a (mostly off-screen) sack of heads as proof. Though we knew it was coming—Conclave was explained in Thirteen (3.7) as being a fight to the death between the nightblood novitiates—it’s still grotesque.
The scenes in Polis are helped by King Roan’s return and his willingness to call out Clarke’s blind spots. This is essential for Clarke’s character. She is always convinced that she has the moral high-ground, and Roan doesn’t let her get away with it. Murphy is also at play here, and his sass and resignation to always being in terrible situations provides both levity and a welcome foil to all of the dramatics swirling around him.
The award for Character Whiplash this episode goes to Titus. In the space of one scene Titus—who has never trusted or liked Clarke—goes from blaming Clarke for Lexa’s death to giving her the Flame-chip and helping her escape. In the next scene, Titus throws himself on Roan’s dagger after confessing that he gave the chip to Clarke, therefore Ontari can’t legitimately become Commander. Titus bleeding out in a golden tub of water is the second of three gruesome tableaux this episode, and ends with Ontari commanding Roan to go hunt Clarke.
Yes, I fist-pumped there. Roan and Clarke are a compelling duo, and Roan hunting her again is a parallel that begins to bring this story full circle.
Mostly I’m happy that Clarke, the hero of our story, finally has a plot. She is going back home to Arkadia to find Lincoln, hoping that he can lead her to Luna—the missing novitiate that Lexa let live. Clarke riding on a horse through the forest and leaving Polis behind felt liberating, even though we know the heartbreak that awaits her when she returns.
LINCOLN, SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY, AND HOW FAR IS TOO FAR
All of this brings us to Lincoln’s execution. There are so many ways this scene can be interpreted, and it’s not an easy one to dissect. Here’s my take.
I always expected Lincoln to die in this story. In Anyone Can Die stories characters that represent mercy and grace are never long for their world. Lincoln was a warrior, but also a person that longed for peace, and he lived in a society that found no value in that desire.
Lincoln’s sparse storyline this season makes his death even more frustrating. Lincoln has been largely sidelined since episode five, sitting in a prison cell with other Grounders. He hasn't interacted with anyone but the prisoners, Kane, and sometimes Bellamy. The story gave him (kind of) a choice in his final moments, but Lincoln would never choose to save himself over the lives of others. So if the choice is already predetermined is that really character agency? It's the appearance of it, maybe, but not the real thing. With that in mind, most arguments about a “good” death ring hollow.
All of that said, Lincoln did die a hero. He died for his people, for his friends, and for Octavia. It's difficult to balance the competing influences and perceptions on the story, so while I want to criticize how it was shown, I also want to respect Lincoln as a character and the influence he had on the story. Lincoln (and Ricky Whittle) will be missed.
His is surrender is one of the most chilling sequences The 100 has ever done, and props to Michael Blundell for that. In a season of outstanding cinematography, this episode steps it up yet another level.
Watching the execution felt like a punch in the gut. The 100 has offered many visceral viewing experiences in the past seasons, but Lincoln’s execution, along with Lexa’s murder in episode 7, top out at how painful a viewing experience can be. In a relentless season of wrenching episodes and no breather to be found, how much is too much? Even if Lincoln had to die was a scene with blood splatter, in the dirt, in the rain, on his knees in the mud really appropriate? Especially given the social context of that imagery?
Those are complicated questions, and everyone is going to have a different take. In my opinion, that scene went too far. His execution could have been accomplished in a myriad of other ways, still with amazing cinematography, gravitas, and symbolism. To put such a scene only two episodes after Lexa’s death feels punishing, even to someone like myself, who expected his death (and Lexa’s for that matter).
The last question to ask when considering the death of a main character is: will it matter? In this, I do trust The 100. Finn hasn’t been forgotten, neither has Lexa. Lincoln is the third major character to die in the series, and his loss will affect Octavia, the Blake’s relationship, the search for Luna, and hamper any efforts of peace between the Grounders (especially TriKru) and Arkadia.
I loved the cat-and-mouse game in Arkadia for the second episode in a row. The emotional and devastating scenes between Kane and Abby and Lincoln and Octavia. Murphy’s sass. Ontari’s chaotic brutality. Roan’s ambiguous allegiances. Clarke’s wily tenacity. Those dynamics are what I crave when I watch The 100, and they made up a large part of Stealing Fire.
The strength of The 100 always has been—and always will be—the core group of Delinquents. They ground the show with shared history, complex relationships, and love. That Clarke is headed back to Arkadia, and Miller, Bryan, Octavia, and Kane are headed towards to cave means that (HOPEFULLY) a reunion is coming. If Monty, Jasper, and Raven find their way there, all the better.
Still, for all I enjoyed this episode, it had significant flaws that overshadow the welcome developments. Titus’ character turn and the mishandling of Lincoln’s death are just two new instances this season of The 100 favoring plot and shock-value over natural development and considered imagery.
I’m left with the same predicament as reviewing Thirteen: an excellent episode with two major flaws that could have been avoided with more careful thought when writing the season. I'll grade it the same way: on the merits of the episode as well as particular ratings for the flaws.
Note: avgrrl wrote a review that is definitely worth checking out. Great things to say about Lincoln's death and this season so far. Link here.
*If you watched the season 3 trailer you know that there is a certain scene between Bellamy and Octavia, and I’m not talking about/referring to that until it happens.