First off, let me reiterate that I love The 100. Hands down, it has been the highlight of my viewing schedule for the 2014-2015 season. (It helps that Hannibal isn’t back until June, but that’s a different post.) The stories face down big questions without flinching, the characters have huge arcs, and the acting is great. (Extra thumbs up to Devon Bostick in the season finale. Is the goggle-wear jokester turned axe murdering badass weeping over the corpse of his dead girlfriend really the same guy who’s Roderick in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies? Holy crap.) But I’ve been burned by shows I loved even more than this, so now I can’t help but start looking for the cracks even when everything is seemingly firing on all cylinders, if you will permit my mixed metaphor. I think it’s some kind of sickness. Englishmajoritis, or some such.
So what worries me most about The 100? Is it the story? I love a good story, but I watched a daytime soap for 25 years, so I have a fairly high tolerance for following the occasional questionable storyline. Are the big questions starting to overwhelm the show, a problem I had with Battlestar Galactica, but felt The 100 avoided early on? Actually, The 100 is still doing well integrating questions of survival, death, justice, forgiveness, and other Important Questions pretty darn elegantly. (This morning I woke up and my first groggy thought was “At its core, is The 100 about forgiveness?” That blog may happen someday.) Perhaps the show is plagued by fridge logic? For instance, according to one of the show’s writers, only 52 days have gone by total in these two seasons. This means some pretty amazing things have happened in a short period of time, such as Octavia becoming a kickass warrior without even the benefit of a montage. But let’s face it: if something is cool enough, most of us are willing to run with it, and Octavia’s transformation is that cool.
Yet, being me with my bizarre illness, I worry. And what worries me most going forward is the direction of the two main characters, Clarke and Bellamy. I fear both could easily fall over their respective lines to become Mary Sue and the Boy Scout.
(TV Tropes page on Mary Sue)
Adults always defer power to 17 year-old girls in a crisis, right? Well, obviously they do when the 17 year-old girl in question is always right, even when making the really tough choices. This is one aspect of The 100 I’ve always found a little questionable. If you look to history, sure, there have been teenagers leading armies and countries, but that’s generally because of birth. I buy people following a 19 year-old Edward IV since many thought he was ordained by God to rule. But Clarke’s age seems to only trouble her mother, the rightful leader (more or less) of their people, for about five minutes. It doesn’t seem to bother anyone else at all. Which is odd, because it’s not as though the Sky People believe Clarke is some sort of Joan of Arc.
And then there’s her angst. Can there be Mary Sue angst? A friend of mine feels the show is being heavy handed in forcing the viewer to sympathize with Clarke for having to kill Finn/let a missile fall on her soldiers and allies/kill hundreds of people including innocent children. I’m not sure I entirely agree with her, but I do worry about suffering from compassion fatigue where Clarke is concerned. I think the other danger is that all of these moments and Clarke’s angst about them threaten to overshadow the events themselves. What’s more important: Finn and the dead at Tondc and Mt. Weather, or Clarke’s feelings about her responsibility for them? (Answer: Both are hugely important.) Again, I think the writers haven’t gone too far in making all of these things about Clarke, but I certainly understand my friend’s concern, and sometimes I do see them edging toward that line.
The point of all this being, Clarke started off as a fantastic character. A young woman shouldering huge amounts of responsibilities, but often in conflict with Finn and Bellamy about the right course of action. With Finn gone and Bellamy 100% Team Clarke, her sympathy levels can only go up with someone challenging her besides herself. (Perhaps Raven needs to tell Clarke to suck it up and get a brace for her angst?)
The Boy Scout
We’ve mentioned the book Save the Cat several times. The title refers to showing a character doing something good, like saving a cat in a tree, to build sympathy for the character. This is especially important if the character is particularly unsympathetic. When The 100 begins, pretty much no viewer likes Bellamy Blake. He’s an arrogant bully willing to risk the future of the human race to conceal the fact he attempted to assassinate the head of the government back on the Ark. He begins saving cats in Episode 3 when he’s kind to Charlotte, a 12 year-old girl plagued by nightmares. What’s especially important about this, what makes it a real cat save, is that he does not have to be nice to her, yet he is for purely altruistic reasons. It’s the beginning of the viewer’s reevaluation of Bellamy.
But now at the end of the second season, Bellamy is a shiny boy scout who could use some of his rough edges put back on. Let us list the Good Deeds of Scout Blake in Season 2.
1) Tries to rescue Finn from a Grounder warrior.
2) Rescues a girl hanging on a cliff after the first guy who tries falls to his death.
3) Gets said girl medical attention, before sneaking away to help Clarke find Finn.
4) Works with his sister to save her drug crazy, cannibal boyfriend.
5) Is part of the group who tries to help Finn escape his execution.
6) Agrees to go undercover into the lion’s den to save his friends and hundreds of people he doesn’t know.
7) Nearly dies of guilt when he meets the small child of a man he had to kill to preserve his undercover status.
8) Goes completely John McClane blowing something up that is the key to saving his friends.
9) Goes back and saves a stranger because he promised her he would.
10) Refuses to let Clarke take the full weight of killing hundreds of people, and pulls the fateful lever with her.
Not much of an anti-hero anymore, is he? He hasn’t saved a cat so much as an entire litter. Going forward, I see the writers’ biggest hurdle as saving Bellamy Blake from becoming painfully boring. What initially made Bellamy compelling was the sense that if you scratched the surface, there would be so much more underneath the bad boy exterior. I’m now hoping the writers keep layering: scratch the boy scout and find the bad boy.
So, going forward, here are some things I would like to see to avoid Mary Sue and the Boy Scout. First off, Clarke needs to face some real consequences for her actions beyond feeling sorry for herself. In fact, I spent the entire second half of the season waiting for Jasper to find out Clarke killed Finn as part of the deal to rescue him and the others in Mt. Weather so he could punch her in the face. It doesn’t have to be Jasper, an actual punch, or specifically about Finn, but I want someone to tell Clarke she did the wrong thing. Octavia gets a little angry with her at the beginning of the finale, but that goes nowhere, and the season ended with Clarke walking off on her own, so I’m truly worried no one is going to say she made mistakes because it’s more important for her to brood some more. But I could be completely wrong. The pace on The 100 is relentless, so her walkabout could end pretty quickly. We’ll see.
And Bellamy needs a bad boy relapse. He helped kill those people in Mt. Weather and Clarke has just walked off to leave him to deal with that all on his own. Perhaps he can seek solace in bedding down multiple women at the same time like he did back in Season 1. And speaking of Bellamy’s love life in Season 1, if the writers don’t fear the shippers, it could be interesting to see him make a move on Raven. Who knows? I’m not actually a fan of the Raven idea, but I do hope the writers don’t allow Bellamy to continue unimpeded down the road of Hero.
And if my wishes come true, won’t that just make the eventual Clarke and Bellamy reunion in Season 3 all the more interesting?