The 100 S4E6: "We Will Rise"
We Will Rise exemplifies what is both going right—and wrong—with this season of The 100.
Maybe this whole review will be one big confession and reflection back on season four thus far, and I’m okay with that. We’ve hit the halfway point and it’s a good time to assess where the season stands so far and what is working and what isn’t.
My problem is that so far about half of the storylines in this season are working for me and the other half are not. The graceless delivery of the thematic material, especially through clunky dialogue peppered with near retcons, is eye roll inducing. Taken as a whole, the first three episodes feel like they were dropped in from a different, better The 100, one reminiscent of the successes of season one and two with the thematic ambition of season three.
However, starting in episode four the plot outpaced the character’s development, to the point where at the end of episode six I kept asking myself have these characters and their relationships changed any? Why are we halfway through the season with scattershot development, especially for Octavia and Bellamy, and no real shift for anyone? Bellamy thinks he’s Horrible Very Bad (okay show, I got it, thanks), Octavia is ricocheting all over the place, Clarke is...what is Clarke, exactly, and why are people constantly lecturing her? Becca’s Lab is the only location/set of characters with steady development, perhaps being served by the fact that the characters are in close proximity with no other distractions to their development.
As it is, I’m glad Arkadia burned, and that one by one the core group of characters are peeling away from that location. Like Polis before it, it seems a place where characters, development and plot momentum go to die—or at least be treated with the burden of about three tons of exposition before people move on.
It all goes back to some Storytelling 101 maxims that The 100 often has problems with. One, let the characters drive the story. Two, show don’t tell. And maybe if there isn’t enough time to properly show and explicate what is happening, cut some of the damn plot.
Look, clever plotting is nice and all but it’s not the be-all, end-all of storytelling. It’s not what makes people go wow! when an intricate story slides perfectly in place. You know what does that? Properly attuned stakes. Believable character development. Investment in what that reveal does to the story. Even now, season four character development especially is struggling under the weight of pacing the reveal to (I assume) Cadogan and his cult, most everyone spinning their wheels going through the same motions of the last three seasons.
Even more frustrating is that there are relationships and developments that are being properly managed—even though I wish the show would go deeper and mine more from the excellent cast and fraught dynamics. Clarke and Roan, for example, were set up in Echoes (4.1) to run parallel as leaders who want to lead their respective people through a difficult time in a better way. Their scene in Roan’s throne room is one of my favorites of the series, both of them taking off the mantle of leadership to stand vulnerable before the other. It was fantastic! The show sought to revisit that moment in The Tinderbox (4.5) and almost achieved it, but it was undercut by retconning the impact of Lexa (yes, she was a visionary leader—but yes, she also made critical mistakes that should complicate her legacy) and Roan lecturing Clarke, which by this point in the story makes me want to throw shoes at my television. We get it. Clarke has messed up—she has. And just like that yes, your audience understands Bellamy Feels Very Bad About That Thing He Did, we also understand that Clarke Has Things To Learn About Leadership.
But at this point, honestly, from who? Who in this group of people is doing better than Clarke? The answer is no one, but apparently not, since everyone from Red Shirt Riley to Raven to Jaha sees fit to berate her at some point or the other.
As it is, Clarke is now on an errand to Becca’s Lab, leaving the leadership of their people to Kane and maybe Jaha. So...what was the point of all of the Leadership Lectures? I have no idea. Hopefully, it’ll come back around. Once again, Bellamy is in another confrontation with his sister in Med Bay for this episode where she basically tells him that if he wasn’t her brother, he’d be dead. Understandably he’s upset. But yet again...here we are, repeating the same dynamics and almost the same dialogue from Join or Die (3.13) last season.
Funny you should mention Join or Die since the beach scene in this episode between Bellamy and Clarke was also a redux of that scene (and two other scenes before it—Day Trip and Blood Must Have Blood Part Two). Even better, in that review, I critiqued the show for repetition bordering on the ridiculous and...well. There’s paralleling and then there is just not coming up with new material for your characters to sink their teeth into. In the case of the scene between Bellamy and Clarke in this episode, it was both that and wanting to capitalize on the romantic tension between them without actually moving the characters forward in either their development individually or together. At this point, it’s starting to look cowardly that neither Bellamy or Clarke can engage in their traumas with each other beyond oblique references that get brushed off.
The only really new, exciting material is coming from the storyline on Becca’s Island (and thank god Clarke and Roan are heading there). The relationships there are tense and full of backstory that intersects in interesting ways. Murphy and Raven’s relationship is the prime example. Murphy shot Raven at the end of season one causing her permanent damage in her spine. They haven’t shared significant screen time since the middle of season two, but here they are, all of that festering resentment Raven has felt about her leg being exacerbated by whatever is going on with her brain. Luna is the perfect character dovetail for them both, having lived a life of violence and killed her brother, but fleeing from her past to make a peaceful life on the oil rig. Luna, whatever you think about her philosophies, knows more than anyone how to move from one way of life to a radically different one.
The major difference between the storylines thatare delivering is that the characters in those arcs/locations are allowed to be angry, to feel their emotions and have those ugly confrontations. This was the case in season three with Jasper and Raven, and continues to be the case with Jasper, Raven, Murphy, Luna, and Abby. It’s no coincidence that the spaceship reveal worked because it was grounded by Abby and Raven who have been given stellar, complicated arcs so far this season.
So yeah, I know, most of what was above wasn’t specifically about We Will Rise which is an episode that demonstrates exactly what is both right and wrong in the season so far. When the episode works, it’s cracky good fun that feels weighted by terrible moral quandaries—exactly what The 100 is at its best. Clarke and Niylah’s sweet moment in the bedroom, Raven’s attack on Murphy and his subsequent blustering to Luna, Luna’s mermaid-guru ways, the Mad Max-style car chase that can only be pulled off because the direction and stunt choreography on this show continue to be aces—all of those things are examples of what I love about this show.
On the flip side, there are the spinning wheels of character development plaguing all of the characters in Arkadia. Clarke not only has those pesky leadership lessons to learn, but one has the sense that she is just going forward because the plot demands it. Worse, in the case of Bellamy and Octavia especially it feels like the show has been circling this particular drain forever. Octavia continues to fling her trauma at Bellamy, both rightly and wrongly, and he continues to take it ad infinitum, forever. The Blake Siblings are one of the foundational elements of the show and to have them stagnate is frustrating. Bellamy finally articulated to Clarke that hey—they’re running out of time—which they are—but in an aborted maybe-confession that went nowhere. What’s the point of having an oncoming apocalypse if no one acts like it?
Handily enough, the ever-present idiot-chorus that is the Arkadian mob made an appearance this episode to bang us over the head with some Theme! They want to execute Ilian for his “hate crime”, and some dude reminds us over and over again that his kid (who is five, did you hear him? five!) is going to die. Octavia, ever the teenage nihilist these days, ends up making it possible for them to beat him up and bring him out to where Lincoln was executed. The scene that follows is one of the most excruciatingly bad The 100 has produced, with Octavia about to kill Ilian overlaid with the execution of Lincoln from season three. Marie Avgeropoulos and Henry Ian Cusick’s acting, as well as the dialogue and cinematography, were enough. It was somehow both cheesy and cruel without adding anything to the scene itself.
Lest one thinks I hate the show, I don’t. Am I frustrated? Yes. Especially since the first three episodes were so promising and the middle three have been so messy. Do I think that spells doom for the season? Nope. I don’t. However, as The 100 officially enters the back half of season four, I hope that the relationships, questions, complications, and dynamics that have been building start paying off in ways that make what is sure to be a daring final act worth it.