Over the last few weeks I’ve seen the CW’s The 100 mentioned regularly in threads over on 4chan across several boards. The general sentiment has been that it is definitely worth checking out especially if one is interested in seeing Fallout the TV show, or at least the closest thing to it yet. And certainly as the show progresses, this seems like a comparison that isn’t far off.
While 4chan is hardly an accurate gauge of quality or worth, the anonymity of the image board has often allowed for brutal honesty that is quick to criticize even the most seemingly acclaimed or popular works. The 100 under normal circumstances would expectedly be something easily trashed and torn apart for its apparent focus on teen angst and drama. However at the time of this writing, /tv/ has had near daily threads on the series, of which are often those of the highest post counts often maxing out, and having to make a second thread. Which is comparatively telling that in the same period, the same couldn’t be said for the likes of arguably more deserving or relevant shows like Better Call Saul, Last Man on Earth, or The Walking Dead. If the /tv/ board from the last two weeks was any indication, The 100 was seemingly the most popular and universally liked series that was currently airing among the anonymous masses.
And while situated among the rest of CW’s roster of teen dramas and genre offerings, The 100 provides a rather intriguing look into a nuclear post-apocalyptic landscape that while certainly relying on problematic characterization initially that seems more fitting in the likes of some teen romance, quickly sheds this in favor of a more dark underbelly that is uncompromising in its ability to savagely show the depths that the main characters are willing to go when given impossible choices.
As a pure statistical figure, the titular 100 quickly becomes the 47 by the first season’s end, and a similar more drastic culling takes place aboard the Ark which is rapidly failing. But more significant however are the fundamentally unexpected shifts and developments the narrative takes in reaction to the choices made by Clarke and her friends. Choices that go against what one would normally expect from the likes of CW which is quickly becoming saturated with caped superheroes with polarized moralities where they can do no wrong and the odds are always overcome.
The 100 is conversely situated far within the grey, where there is truly no easily likable or hate-able characters. As a narrative placed within desperate means, heroism and morality often take a backseat to what is simply practical.
For a brief summary of what The 100 is, the television show is set nearly a century after a cataclysmic nuclear war has left Earth a radioactive wasteland. Humanity has survived however, aboard a collection of space stations that formed together into the Ark, where a couple thousand people live. Resources are extremely scarce and all crime no matter the severity is met with ejection into space (floating) as both an extreme measure to maintain control, but of also limiting the population.
However for those under the age of 18, they are instead imprisoned until they come of age. At the start of the show, the Ark is critically failing and a hundred of these delinquents are declared expendable to be sent to the Earth’s surface near Washington D.C. to see whether it is inhabitable in a “Hail Mary” last-ditch attempt.
The series then switches between two parallel narratives, one of which follows the 100 on the surface as they explore their surroundings to learn about the state of the planet in their absence and adapt to their new home, and aboard the Ark which follows efforts to extend the viability of the station by either waiting on the 100 to see if the planet is livable, or by culling the population in order to extend the amount of limited oxygen they have left.
Over the course of a few days I essentially marathon-ed the two seasons thus far, the latter of which just recently finishing airing. And while the series doesn’t make the greatest entrance and has its fair share of logical inconsistencies, it is certainly worth checking out, especially for genre fans or those specifically looking for a Fallout-esque drama.
With the exception of some secondary characters introduced in the latest season, The 100 does an admirable job of avoiding polarized characterization, where various characters can easily be placed on some sort of narrative or morality based spectrum. Clarke as the protagonist of the series is unsurprisingly situated within a position of leadership, yet her early rival Bellamy avoids simply being an antagonistic forced directly opposed to her ideals or efforts.
While Bellamy is seemingly cast as a potential villain earlier on with his attempts to cut communication with the Ark and also solidify his own leadership through brute force, it quickly becomes apparent that he isn’t stubbornly guided by narrative concerns for conflict or selfish gain. And even within the first episodes that has Clarke and Bellamy clashing, Clarke isn’t necessarily the voice of reason. For example the murder of Wells and subsequent accusation of Murphy which nearly ends in a mob-ruled execution places the rather naive Clarke at fault.
This characterization is paralleled on the Ark as well, that sees the conflicting counselors cast in opposition, yet all of whom believe they are acting in the best interests of humanity. And from a logical perspective, it is difficult to actually back the fantastical and rather outlandish beliefs of Clarke’s mother Abby, and the faith she places within the 100 especially in light of their initial lack of direction or motivation. Under the guidance of Bellamy, the vast majority of the 100 begin to forcibly remove their bracelets making them appear dead to those on the Ark.
And Counselor Kane is easily cast as a potential antagonist as well, one who is initially blamed for the harsh enforcement of the Ark’s law that had previously resulted in Clarke’s imprisonment and the death of her father by floating. But to a greater extent, his opposing plan to cull the population in order to buy more time might appear entirely merciless and sinister.
But Kane similarly to Bellamy never drops into the pitfall of simply being a stubborn obstacle to the more central characters of the series, instead presenting different and often more sensible courses of action especially in contrast to the somewhat illogical faith both Abby and Clarke often put into unlikely and idealistic outcomes.
Although Clarke and her mother Abby are conversely not merely presented as the white-washed embodiment of a supposed correct morality even when faced with impractical odds. It is later revealed that Abby herself turned in her own husband and Clarke’s father, resulting in his death, while Clarke makes exceptionally more horrific choices, such as letting a whole gathering at tonDC including her own friends get bombed despite knowing of the attack beforehand.
As far as the primary character progression of Clarke is concerned, The 100 is seemingly focused with presenting the dilemma of remembering “we are the good guys” by Abby’s own words despite having to make questionable choices. And in the aftermath of the second season’s climax, it is altogether shocking at the depths Clarke goes to ultimately save her friends. Actions that would otherwise mark a character as irredeemable and past any sort of narrative reconciliation. But The 100 makes no efforts to stray away, and honestly presents Clarke amidst a scenario that had no other logical recourse. Left in tears at the finale, she painfully tells her mother that she “tried to be the good guy” and in a twisted revelation, Abby proclaims “maybe there are no good guys.”
And from a narrative perspective, The 100 walks a fine line between offering up a satisfying level of narrative or character fulfillment through viewer expectation, but also letting dice fall where they may. So despite the turn-around of Bellamy in his plans to cut off communication with the Ark, it is ultimately too late and hundreds of innocents get floated as a result of his actions.
Such continuous tragedy presents a reality of the situation the Ark survivors face, and is utilized efficiently in properly progressing the characters that it impacts. Both Bellamy and Kane understandably feel a great deal of guilt over their actions, despite having done what they thought best at the time.
And in this manner, The 100 unlike many of its CW contemporaries wastes little time on drawing out the infighting and gossip-induced drama that one would likely expect, but pushes forward to actually explore a more depthful examination of how to properly proceed in such desperate situations.
Most representative of all this is likely in the character of Finn, arguably the series primary romantic interest for Clarke and the manner in which he ultimately meets his fate. While I would freely admit my fondness for CW’s other offerings like The Vampire Diaries, I’d also have to admit that these particular shows tend to have an issue with killing off any of their core casts. The Vampire Diaries is a particularly prime example of this, in its ever revolving door of dead characters coming back through fantastical means, and sure enough there is a certain given that along with Elena, the two Salvatore brothers are safe from ever being written out. The show arguably runs off the romance and tension between Elena and her primary romantic interests, so despite the odds or where the narrative may naturally be headed, neither of the brothers are expectedly going anywhere.
In comparison, The 100 conversely follows a more merciless path with its characters that can just as quickly introduce a seemingly significant character, then kill them off. And often is the case, odds that are insurmountable are simply that. Clarke is regularly faced with situations with no conceivable solution, and thus tragedy is often the result.
But possibly more intriguing about The 100 situated so comfortably among its teen demographic, is the sense that it devotes little time to what its parent network often attempts to sell. There is little focus on romantic drama or tension, or character in-fighting over some mistaken one night stand. Arguably the expectation should have been that once Raven risked everything to be reunited with Finn to only realize he had moved on with Clarke, that this could have served as an easy source for “drama” yet in the face of objectionably more significant issues, Raven and the other characters concerned waste little time ever really addressing it.
While Clarke is initially cast as the more morally conscientious leader especially in contrast to the militaristic Bellamy, Finn continually works as the primary voice for peace and non-violence. Certainly in Season 1, the primary character conflict or progression can easily be mapped as Clarke shifting between two sides of a spectrum, with Finn on one side, and Bellamy on the other. And with Clarke’s romantic interest in Finn, it becomes somewhat clear that Finn should have been a character that would have been around for the long haul by standard narrative expectation.
With the eventual capture of the 47 by Mount Weather, and Finn desperately looking for Clarke in Season 2, his characterization takes a seemingly shocking twist. Single-mindedly focused on saving Clarke, Finn quite literally does anything to find her even casting aside reason and logic. He executes a Grounder that had previously been questioned and then proceeds to massacre a whole village of innocents in a type of twisted emotional catharsis and mental confusion.
His crimes quickly become an enormous obstacle to the proposed peace between the Ark survivors and the Grounder army, and his eventual capture places Clarke with an unwinnable situation. What was most fascinating about this particular narrative resolution wasn’t the notion that Clarke might cleverly figure a way around this, but how the writers knowingly painted her into a corner and didn’t allow her escape. Ultimately even if Clarke could have saved Finn, doing so would have likely triggered a war. So Clarke does the only thing she can do, kills Finn herself to prevent him from being tortured.
Ultimately there is something immediately fascinating about a CW show particularly, that is so ready to not only kill off its main romantic interest which whether an accurate assessment or not, has often been seen as the network’s main strategy to pull in views, but more so that the show’s creators seem entirely unconcerned with devoting any time to character drama for its own sake. Given the show’s premise, the situations the Ark survivors continuously find themselves in are far more interesting then any sort of adolescent angst could ever offer. And surely if the showrunners were seemingly concerned with focusing in on the various teen relationships and dynamics, they wouldn’t have been so quick to quite literally drop in the rest of the Ark adults so rapidly, breaking any chance of The 100 becoming a wholly teen-centric venture.
And while certainly fans of the show will likely be more concerned with shipping Clarke with Lexa or Bellamy, The 100 itself spends little time with posing questions of romantic possibility, rather if Clarke regrets not warning the tonDC gathering of the impending missile strike or what the ultimate psychological effect will be of having to have irradiated Level 5 at Mount Weather, killing hundreds of innocents including children and those that actually aided the 47, such as Maya.
In regards to whether The 100 is Fallout the TV show, or whether it even matters is something worth tackling. At the very least, it was the primary reason I ever gave the show a chance. And there is certainly more then a passing resemblance. The Ark is fairly analogous to the Vault, while instead of a single player character being unleashed into the unknown, The 100 air drops a large group at once.
And much like the RPG series, The 100 is initially concerned with exploring and learning about this unfamiliar world inhabited by mutants, freaks, and other wildly creatures like giant killer gorillas or crazed cannibal tribes.
The choice of location of Washington D.C. is also too eerily similar to Fallout 3‘s own Capital Wasteland to be written off as mere coincidence. Nor is the presence of antagonistic groups like Mount Weather which are in character, a near drop-in for the likes of the Enclave or a mysteriously hinted at Brotherhood of Steel-esque group on the horizon. It is all to the point that one would naturally expect the Ink Spots’ “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” to play in, as opposed to the shows extremely contemporary scoring.
But Fallout past its irradiated aesthetic is remembered not merely for its stylistic choice of setting, rather the manner in which it presented its various narratives and sense of player agency. Much like the harsh world presented, players were often faced with choices that had no clear right answer. In Fallout 3 for example, whether one should kill Harold to end his suffering, or leave him in hopes the Wasteland will turn green once more. And in this sense, The 100 doesn’t merely appropriate its post-apocalyptic stylings, rather properly explores the ramifications of such a proposal.
In the past season, Clarke’s ultimate decision to abandon the tonDC gathering is fairly telling. Having learned of Mount Weather’s plans to missile strike the gathering of the Grounder forces, Clarke rushes to prevent mass casualties. But upon arrival and through Lexa’s guidance, Clarke realizes there is no way they can conceivably evacuate everyone without tipping off Mount Weather to the presence of their inside man Bellamy.
So Clarke makes the strategically sound yet horrific choice to quite literally walk away potentially dooming a large majority of those she just recently allied herself with, as well as named major characters like Lincoln, Octavia, and Kane. And while most of the significant character do survive the attack, from a characterization standpoint the decision was quite striking.
And much like Fallout, The 100 doesn’t necessarily cast blame or fault with Clarke’s decision after the fact. While the aftermath of the attack is unsurprisingly tragic and messy, there is still a lack of a viable alternative. In contrast, while the culling in the first season could have potentially been avoided after they learned of the 100’s survival, tonDC simply had no avenue of escape. It was a choice ultimately between sacrificing those at the gathering or putting Bellamy in danger, who at that point was their only advantage.
But ultimately, simply labeling The 100 as some type of Fallout-inspired derivative would be doing it a great disservice. It maintains its own unique identity that sees an exploration of a more collective dynamic then merely focusing in on a single “Vault” dweller. And also there is a greater emphasis on actually progressing humanity’s endeavors in re-establishing order within a nuclear wasteland, not simply existing within a static environment.
In its relatively two short seasons thus far, the amount of both character and narrative progression should be a clear sign of a certain degree of dedication from its writers. Of which sees a definite passion to actually properly explore the world they have created and not resort to drawing out conflicts in favor of ensuring long-term financial viability.
And possibly in this same vein, it must also be said that The 100 likely has one of the worst starts or introductions a series could receive. The initial pilot did nothing to garner confidence in the series’ potential merits, nor did it drum up interest in its characters, most of which appeared as annoyingly naive teens completely lacking a much needed holistic attitude of their dire situation. And even the adults were depicted as narrow-mindedly driven without compromise, unable to simply sit down and collectively discuss a next course of action.
But quickly much of this problematic characterization shifts away to reveal thoroughly more complex individuals then at first glance, but also a series more concerned with actually exploring its world then narrowly focusing in on overblown drama.
And if any further rationale is needed to give The 100 a chance, it might also be worth mentioning that it features what is likely the most diverse range of prominent female characters currently on television without lazily casting them in typically male roles. Amidst discourse and criticism over the supposed lack of “strong” female characters in media, The 100 takes a refreshing attitude that equally presents them front and center without seeming to deliberately seek some form of social brownie points.
Whether actually problematic or not, the issue with intentionally trying to rectify a supposed social disparity within media is that the very act of doing so, likely causes more problems then it solves. For example, an inclusion of a “strong” female presence for its own sake is arguably as offensive as its exclusion. What is fundamentally refreshing with The 100 is that it doesn’t come off as adamantly focused on appeasing some type of social quota, rather its female characters simply fit into their selected roles.
Clarke, Abby, or Lexa don’t merely come off as fulfilling a needed role as female leaders, and if anything gender seems inconsequential. Rather the placement of characters are dependent upon the natural progression of both the individuals involved as well as the contextual narrative concerns. Clarke doesn’t simply rise up to be a leader, rather gets there somewhat haphazardly but also because her personality and upbringing naturally lends themselves to it.
And ultimately past gender considerations, the most striking aspect of The 100 has been the manner in which many of its characters can fundamentally be redeemed or evolve in unconventional ways, yet still maintain a level of consistency or coherence. It is entirely acceptable for example how Murphy goes from being falsely accused of murder, to actually murdering two people, then in a sense of abandonment finds purpose in Jaha’s journey to the City of Light. Or even Finn’s turn from token pacifist to mass murderer isn’t simply a case of cheap twists, rather a believable outcome of someone met with a situation that cannot be solved with their own polarized and narrow-minded outlook on using violence.
To some degree, I’m reminded of Caroline of CW contemporary The Vampire Diaries, seemingly introduced as a sunny one-dimensionally opposed character to Elena in the same vein as Cordelia from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, yet progresses into something much more.
In a sense, The cast of The 100 goes through similar transformations, yet isn’t limited to singular case studies. It shouldn’t be entirely shocking to find that the initially most frustrating characters will soon become those that a viewer ultimately gets emotionally invested in. And this all happens without having to ignore its prior characterization, rather builds off their imperfections.
In this vein Octavia might seem overly promiscuous at start but her haphazard nature is consistent with the revelation that she spent most of her life in isolation, subsequently socially stunted. And because of this, it isn’t entirely shocking that she ultimately finds more kinship among the grounders then her fellow Ark survivors.
Ultimately, I can’t recommend The 100 enough and it isn’t a stretch at all to say that a series hasn’t gotten me this excited in years. It’s to the degree that I almost regret binge-watching it this past week, given it has left me only with a huge span of time until I can get my hands on more.