It’s time for me to just admit that the CW has somehow stolen my soul, and even though I think Arrow is my favorite show on the network (even if it’s not having its best season), the show that has me thinking is The 100. When discussing the show with a friend, she specifically brought up the significance of a location referred to as the Art Supply Store, and jokingly, I said I should unearth my latent academic and write a paper about it. Somehow, she decided it shouldn’t be a joke, and when I mentioned it to some other fans of the show, the next thing I knew, I was committed to writing something on this topic. (Although this is definitely a blog, not an academic paper.) So, for those of you who don’t watch The 100, the basic premise is explained here. If you don’t mind spoilers, read on, although know you might find this all more than a little head scratching. If you do watch the show, make sure you’ve seen at least through Season 2 Episode 8.
So, what is the Art Supply Store? Literally, it’s some family’s fallout shelter that they never made it to before nuclear war wiped out most of the earth’s population. For the viewer, it’s a touchstone for the character arc of Finn, who begins the series as a slightly reckless free spirit but transforms into a man making decisions he’s ill-suited to make, and unsurprisingly, does not always make them well.
At first the Art Supply Store is significant to Finn as the source of pencils he can give to Clarke, who is an artist (and clearly his love interest). It is a place that allows him to show love, and he wants to keep it exclusively for him and Clarke. But its secrecy is sacrificed when Finn and Clarke need to hide Charlotte, a confused twelve year-old girl who has just confessed to murder in front of an angry mob. When the three arrive, it marks the first time the viewer has seen the location, and one is immediately struck by its hominess. Considering these characters were born and raised on a space station, their lives rationed and regulated, this simple haven marks the first place they have ever had to call their own and feel safe from those who want to control their lives, whether it be the government back on the Ark or the tyrannical mob on earth.
Sadly, things don’t turn out well for Charlotte or the 100’s ongoing attempts to contact the Ark to let those left in space know the earth in habitable. Depressed, angry, and descending into hopeless, Finn returns to the security of the Art Supply Store. Clarke follows him, and they spend their one night together. The Art Supply Store now takes on an air of perfect happiness and freedom, but happiness has a way of fading and freedom becoming more difficult than anticipated.
At this point, Finn and Clarke are slowly becoming part of the ruling class of the 100 and starting to have responsibilities beyond what they choose themselves. As this part of their lives complicates, so does their relationship. Someone else from the Ark makes it to earth, and who should it be but Finn’s girlfriend, Raven (who Clarke knows nothing about until Raven gives Finn a very enthusiastic and affectionate hello). Both of these changes in circumstance are seen at once when Clarke and Raven go to the Art Supply Store together. They go hoping to find parts for Raven to repair a radio, which they do, but that’s only important for the plot. Taking Raven to their haven shows that Finn and Clarke are bringing Raven into their circle, but it’s also where Raven, sharp girl that she is, begins to suspect there’s something going on between Finn and Clarke. For the remainder of Season 1, Finn and Clarke, along with Raven, firmly enter the center of power among the 100, forcing them into responsibilities none of them at 17 or 18 are especially equipped to deal with. Meanwhile, their personal lives hang in limbo.
The return to the Art Supply Store in Season 2 clearly delineates the differences between Season 1 Finn, the anti-gun idealist looking for a safe place away from those in power, and who he has become. He now has power and a gun, and he brings Bellamy, the one character who has always been an unquestioned leader among the 100, as well as two others of the 100, to the Art Supply Store. Why are they there? To interrogate a prisoner who might know where Clarke and another 47 of the original 100 are being held captive. The Art Supply Store no longer signifies safety and freedom, but the difficult and brutal responsibilities of leadership. Finn doesn’t hesitate to beat and threaten the prisoner, and once he has the information he wants (or thinks he wants—the prisoner is lying), he executes the prisoner while the others are still debating what should be done. It’s the remorselessness Finn shows in this moment, in the place where he protected an innocent girl and made love with Clarke that so starkly shows the change in him. Granted, at this point, the Art Supply Store is known only to Finn, Clarke, and Raven, making it an ideal place for an interrogation, but it was not the only location available to Finn, Bellamy, and the others. (I’ve never been entirely clear on The 100 geography, but I don’t think the dropship, the group’s original camp, is terribly far away.) Yet taking the prisoner to the Art Supply Store shows better than any other location could Finn’s change from peace-preaching outsider to ruthless member of the inner circle.
If the viewer ever hoped there might be a chance for Finn to return to the nonviolent man Clarke fell in love with from the executioner he has become, the final trip to the Art Supply Store crushes that hope. At this point, Finn has followed the prisoner’s false information and in the process massacred 18 unarmed civilians. Nearly literally, the corpse of the prisoner is between them now. When given power, Finn turned to murder, and while Clarke is responsible for a fair share of deaths as well, hers have always been either mercy killings or in battle. Finn has tarnished their sanctuary with misused power and become someone other than the person she loved. “I don’t even know who you are anymore,” she tells him. His response? “Neither do I.” And then Clarke speaks the last words the viewer has heard uttered in the Art Supply Store: “What have we become?”
The answer to that question, particularly for Finn, can be answered by watching the five instances characters go to the Art Supply Store. Finn has transformed from idealist to killer, a person who first brought someone to the Art Supply Store to keep her safe, but then used that space for torture and murder. With it so closely mirroring Finn’s character development, I hope the writers retire the Art Supply Store—its greater purpose than simply being a set has been fully realized.