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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A brutal power struggle makes for a grim episode of The 100

Illustration for article titled A brutal power struggle makes for a grim episode of The 100
Photo: Jack Rowand/TheCW
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Like anyone else with eyes and a heart, I spent most of my week navigating the horrific news coming out of Texas, scrolling through Twitter and jumping through TV channels, swarmed by an endless barrage of images that capture the inhumanity of a this current administration. They’re difficult images to shake; they’re images that should not be shaken off. Listening to the pained cries of children, ripped from their families while searching for hope, seeps into your being. Pictures of children locked up in cages with little more than water and a few blankets will cloud your week.


I say all this as a preface to this week’s review of The 100 because it not only feels like a way to share my headspace as I put these words down, but also because so much of “Acceptable Losses” is about the way almost any monstrous action can be justified by slippery rhetoric. With Praimfaya in the past and a number of crews and alliances struggling for power and survival, there’s a power vacuum on earth. Diyoza has claimed Shallow Valley, Octavia is preparing for war, Clarke and Bellamy are trying to avoid more violence, and this tiny section of earth is suddenly a hotbed of political and military tension, and everyone is using that to their advantage.

There are leaders here, but that term can’t really be used in its more positive connotation. Rather, we’re bearing witness to the rise of authoritarians, whether they label themselves that way or not. Diyoza’s unwavering devotion to keeping Shallow Valley and not giving an inch to Wonkru is hardly surprising, and neither is her continued mistrust of those fleeing to her colony. From what we know, she’s never been afraid to turn on anyone in order to secure her own safety. She may speak of “her people,” but those are mostly empty words. She has some loyalty in her, but she also knows when it’s useful and when it’s a detriment.

Octavia, on the other hand, is growing more ruthless. She’s crossing one line after another as the season rolls on. “Acceptable Losses” sees her hiding Cooper’s experiments—breeding killer worms in live bodies so that they can be delivered to Shallow Valley—and such a secret is one step too far for those closest to her. Indra balks at the plan, and Bellamy and Clarke can’t believe that Octavia would be willing to put the lives of their friends at risk. “This is war,” says Octavia again and again, just like so many characters throughout the years on The 100, three words that, in her mind, justify whatever plan she can come up with.

Here’s the thing, though: it’s easy to manufacture a crisis, or a sense that there’s no other options. Much like the way the Trump administration will cite bogus crime rates and immigration statistics to justify their inherent, bottomless cruelty, so to do Diyoza and Octavia find ways to tell themselves, and their followers, that the incredible violence they’re undertaking is unavoidable in this world. Sharing the valley, or a mutual search for more inhabitable land, is out of the question because it doesn’t fit the hardened, militaristic personas they’ve created for themselves. Diyoza is known for being ruthless, and Octavia’s warrior status turned into literal myth. Both leaders are trapped in this war, but it’s one they’ve created for themselves. When you fail to see the humanity of people simply trying to build a better life for themselves, and only see them as enemies or, worse, subhuman, all that’s left is fear, anger, and the push for more violence and dehumanization.

The tone of “Acceptable Losses” is suffocating in its bleakness. Yes, there are glimmers of hope, and Echo manages to infiltrate Diyoza’s eye in the sky, but such moments always come at a cost. Octavia and Diyoza may be the ones leading everyone to violence, but there are plenty following in their footsteps, decrying their leader’s violence while also making their own immoral decisions. Echo doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice Shaw in her quest to crack the enemy ship’s surveillance, despite pleas from Raven. Clarke and Bellamy may chastise Octavia for the ease with which she’s willing to put Raven, Echo, and the others in danger, but she rightly points out that they’ve done the same in the past.


So what’s left, then? What’s left when all the humanity from this place and time has vanished, and all that’s left is endless war and hatred? Jasper faced down those questions and decided there was nothing left. He said that if humanity had to go to war to claim the last livable place on earth, then perhaps humanity wasn’t worth saving. It’s a sentiment that, when Monty finally reads it in Jasper’s suicide note, he comes to understand. He feels hopeless, as if there’s no way forward anymore, as if there’s no way for good to triumph over evil because no one even knows what “good” means anymore. “Acceptable Losses” is punishing because it sits in that hopelessness, and asks us to look around us and identify and interrogate our own justifications for, or blindness to, hateful, immoral actions and policies.

Stray observations

  • “I’m officially scared of your sister.” We all are, Harper.
  • Madi, you had one job!
  • Monty tries to prevent war with algae. He is the sweetest, purest character on this show.
  • “God, I miss space.” I bet Monty never thought he’d say that.
  • Kane and Abby are breaking my heart, as they do.
  • Everything you need to know about the tonal and thematic thrust of this episode is in the first 30 seconds, as Diyoza says that Shallow Valley is the “last sanctuary on earth,” a statement that’s immediately followed by jarring gunshots.

Kyle Fowle is a freelance writer based out of Canada. He writes about TV and wrestling for The A.V. Club, Real Sport, EW, and Paste Magazine.