About halfway through tonight’s episode of The 100—which also acts as part one of a two-part finale wrapping up next week—after saving Bellamy, Miller, Brian, and Octavia from certain death, Murphy is eager to leave Polis and get as far away as possible. When Bellamy tells him they can’t leave because Clarke is in trouble, he replies with a barb: “Clarke’s always in trouble.” It’s a joke, kind of, but there’s something in Murphy’s exhausted delivery of the line that rings true. He’s sick of getting stuck in the same situation time and time again. No matter what these people do they end up in a fight for their lives, and as much as that might be a realistic product of the violent world they live in, it doesn’t always make for great storytelling.

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I say that because as well constructed and exciting as “Perverse Instantiation: Part One” is, it suffers from feeling overly familiar. The basic premise of the episode is this: with their backs against the wall after Luna refused the Flame and A.L.I.E. brought destruction to the peaceful oilrig, Clarke, Octavia, and Bellamy have no choice but to try and get to Polis and kidnap Ontari in order to make her the new Commander. That plan involves a timely, life-saving appearance from Roan, who agrees to break into Polis with Clarke acting as his prisoner, all while Bellamy, Miller, Brian, and Octavia cover them from the tunnels. It’s a solid setup, and The 100 executes heists and breakouts like few other shows can, but there’s a reason they’re so well executed; it’s a form of storytelling that The 100 relies on often.

In other words, how many times throughout the first three seasons of this show have we seen these characters have to either break into or out of some heavily guarded, hostile area? Furthermore, how often has the solution to a seemingly impossible heist/breakout been to team up with an individual or group who was previously an enemy? The answer to both questions is very often. The 100 loves the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” trope, and it’s good to use from time to time, especially in a dystopian TV show. The 100 has a bad habit of using it to suggest complexity and depth though, and that feeling courses through tonight’s episode. Watching Pike and, to a lesser extent, Roan and Bellamy, team up with everyone else in order to kidnap Ontari and take down A.L.I.E. doesn’t feel in touch with earlier events from this season. Whereas previous uneasy alliances have been rooted in meaningful character development—namely Clarke and Lexa (R.I.P.) teaming up to fight the folks at Mount Weather—tonight’s Avengers Assemble moment doesn’t feel earned. It feels like a cop out, a way to shove aside the problematic first half of this season without meaningfully engaging with the consequences.

That said, it’s hard to deny that “Perverse Instantiation: Part One” is a tense and often over-the-top episode, making it a lot of fun to watch if you can get past some of the show’s more egregious problems. One of the best things to come out of this sometime-messy City Of Light plot is that the actors are allowed to let loose a little and play cold, villainous versions of themselves. That’s always a fun thing to watch; just look at how much fun The Vampire Diaries had with the Elena/Katherine slit in its early season. The standout here, other than Jasper going bonkers and stabbing Monty after the most adorable make-up hug ever, is Paige Turco getting to turn Abby into a monster who will torture her own daughter. Of course it’s not Abby doing it, but still, we get to see Turco put on a neutral, distant gaze and physically and emotionally manipulate her on-screen daughter. It’s uncomfortable and fun all at the same time, the climax coming when Abby goes to hang herself in order to get Clarke to give up the passcode for the Flame.

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There’s almost no way “Perverse Instantiation: Part One” wasn’t going to feel at least a little underwhelming because it’s only the first part of two; and yet the structure of the episode, no matter how familiar, makes this as solid and compelling as can be. Sure, I’m a little sick of seeing the same storytelling formula employed again and again, and I’m still not down with the way the show is giving Pike and Bellamy a relatively free ride right now, but there’s still the essence of a thrilling action/sci-fi series here. The 100 has undoubtedly lost its way this season, largely by ignoring nuanced character arcs for more outsized villains and a reductive sense of moral conflict, but it’s hard to not get excited when the show proves it still has some serious chops. It’s in the great performances, the stirring camera work—that elevator struggle was a thing of beauty—and the gorgeous set design. “Perverse Instantiation: Part One” has all of those things in spades, but it’s built on a shaky foundation of lazy storytelling and character work. If The 100 isn’t careful, it’s all going to come crumbling down very soon.

Stray observations

  • I am so psyched for Raven, but less psyched about Harper.
  • Clarke to Bellamy: “I trust you.” WHY?!?!?!
  • If Brian and Miller don’t get that future lake house with the corn I’m not going to be happy.
  • Bellamy, you have no right to get mad when Pike gets trigger happy with the enemy.
  • Indra and Murphy showing up to save the group would have been great, but Pike’s presence brings the scene down.
  • From “next week on The 100”: I don’t normally watch the “next time on” sections, but I caught it this week and I am so ready for Clarke to infiltrate the City Of Light. That has the potential to be really good.

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