The 100

1 December 2014

I was born in space. I’ve never felt the sun on my face, or breathed real air, or floated in the water. None of us have. For three generations, the Ark has kept what’s left of the human race alive. But now, our home is dying and we are the last hope of mankind. One hundred prisoners sent on a desperate mission to the ground. Each of us is here because we broke the law — on the ground there is no law. All we have to do is survive. And we will be tested: by the Earth, by the secrets it hides and, most of all, by each other.

I rarely comment or recommend TV shows, mainly because I’m a very uncool geek … outside of consumer electronics and PC gaming1. I do not appreciate things that most TV fanatics consider core prerequisites of fandom. I don’t care for Star Trek, Star Wars, Lost, Mad Men, Walking Dead or Game of Thrones.

However, I have come to love The 100, pronounced ‘The Hundred’, which airs on the CW network in the US. Being a Brit, I don’t know what else this network does but it apparently has a reputation of airing mediocre teen dramas that care more about the exterior appearances of its cast than its storylines. I can’t comment aside from saying The 100 is not that.

I stumbled on The 100 due to a recommendation from my mum2, as the first series has been syndicated by E4, who will watch anything sci-fi. I was passively watching the TV with her when she showed me an episode off the DVR. I shrugged it off at first as most kids do when their parents tell them something is worth checking out.

I can’t remember the details but one day I was bored so I somehow circled back onto this suggestion, fully expecting it to not satiate my boredom one iota, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I was watching the fifth episode (not beginning with episode 1 shows how little my faith was in my mother’s recommendation) and — in retrospect — I’m glad I did. The middle of the series is where I think the show gets good.

The first episode is a pilot shot well in advance of the rest of the series, so it lacks any real depth. I can summarise the action for you in a sentence. One of the kids gets hit by a spear, a pretty girl gets bit by a giant eel, two boys have a hormonal standoff and another boy (one of the lead characters, Bellamy) starts bullying people around.

As an opener, it’s very uninviting. The only interesting bit is the small glimpse at the friction between members of the Ark, which foreshadows the power struggles that come later in the series. On reflection, it’s nowhere near as bad as my memories but that’s because I am now biased by my investment in the series. I can easily see how new viewers will abandon the show because of the mediocre opening episode.

That’s why I think I’m lucky that I — out of sheer laziness — started in the middle. It turns out Episode 5 is where most people believe the show actually gets good, although I think Episode 4 is sublime.

It’s almost inconceivable that this show goes from a cliche snake bite rescue to a public hanging in four episodes. Spoiler alert: someone gets killed at knifepoint and someone gets brutally bound and hung as a public display of ‘righteousness’. The contrast in character development, intensity and emotional attachment is crazy.

That’s enough digression. Describing The 100 is difficult. At it’s core, it’s a show about making hard choices where no option is all good. This show is about consequences and repercussions. The constraints of low oxygen, limited food and a myriad of unknown threats are merely plot devices that exacerbate the decision making opportunities. All the Grounders, Reapers and Mountain Men offer exciting action sequences but the meat of what makes me come back is the underlying cause and effect.

When people fight, they remain scarred and injured. When they get shot in the spine, the bullet paralyses them in one leg. When a good guy kills people, he goes mentally insane.

This isn’t to say I don’t like the setting. The futuristic nature (97 years in the future, supposedly) enables some pretty visuals and interesting situations. For the first season, it also creates some interesting juxtapositions between the situation on the ground (where technology is very much lacking) and the developed Ark. The Ark is a life of luxury when compared to the carnal survival culture of the people on Earth, but both parties are suffering in different ways.

It’s also worth noting that The 100 is fast-paced. Season 1 has 13 episodes and Season 2 will have 16. Stuff happens fast. Story arcs that I expected to last a series or more were resolved in a matter of episodes. There’s a middle ground between something being overplayed and something being rushed that The 100 executes so perfectly. The show changes drastically with Season 2’s new environments and much larger ecosystem, keeping it fresh. I love it.

The portrayal of romance is too often the weak link for such TV. Once again, The 100 delivers by not falling into the common trap of letting love triangles and jealousy engulf the entire plot. It needs to be included to be realistic: sexual love is part of being a teenager. The show uses the relationships and love interests to cause more conflicts and raise interesting moral questions. For example, Finn courts Clarke from the moment he lands … despite having a long-term girlfriend in Raven on the Ark. However, given the situation of uncertainty and doubts about ever seeing anyone from the Ark again, did Finn really cross a line? Naturally, Raven then crashes to Earth the very next episode to cause some awkward encounters.

In the first season, the story takes place in very few locations: the Ark, the camp, the forest. With Season 2, the world has grown to include many more areas as the characters are split up into several contingents, following the events of the finale. It becomes more complicated as a result, although this should only be a transitory cost.

Crucially, though, the show retains the core elements that define The 100. You soon find out how the Reapers, Grounders and Mountain Men are not so disparate and actually form an interconnected economy. They have scaled up the show from Season 1’s ‘base defence’ vibe elegantly indeed. The additional budget for larger sets and better visual effects are pumping out better stories each week in this new season.

1 Even saying that I’m a ‘PC gamer’ is a stretch. I play a lot of League of Legends and I used to play a lot of Starcraft. That’s my complete gaming portfolio. I’m very fanatical about very few things, across my entire life really.

2 Remember the part about me being an uncool geek?