If there’s been an overall complaint about The 100 in these weekly reviews, it’s that the stakes of the show are perhaps too high. When every single episode revolves around an apparent life or death situation, there’s no room for nuance. Like any piece of art, a TV show needs to have ebbs and flows, be it on a episodic or season-long basis. In other words, if every single decision that needs to be made within the world of The 100 is treated as life or death, every decision, over time, becomes meaningless. If every twist in the plot operates at a fever pitch, and if every consequence of a decision is treated as if it’s the ultimate moral test, the impact lessens with each new situation.

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“Gimme Shelter” is an absolutely thrilling episode, one bolstered by a focused story that plays out like a disaster film. It’s the season’s best hour, and that’s coming off last week’s solid episode, perhaps signalling that the show is set to close out the back half of this season with its strongest offerings. And yet, despite the urgency of this episode, and all the inspired shots and atmosphere, there’s still that usual issue of everything being life or death. It’s a storytelling crutch for The 100, one that’s especially notable this season; by making every single moral decision an existential crisis of epic proportions, you lose the nuance that comes with these people dealing with smaller problems. When everything is important, nothing is important.

So, barely ten minutes into “Gimme Shelter,” Abby and Clarke are reunited at Becca’s lab. Immediately, Abby comforts Clarke about the lost barrel of fuel, which has ruined any hope of making Nightblood in space. Clarke’s reply is, as ever, heavy, as she’s completely downtrodden: “It was our only shot.” This is the language The 100 uses consistently, and we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. Fixing up the Ark was the “only shot.” Making peace with the Grounders was “the only shot.” Now, zero-gravity blood science is the “only shot.” Sure enough, only moments later, Abby throws out another idea about how to make Nightblood, this one involving some shady, intential exposure to radiation for one unlucky soul. In other words, the “only shot” is never the sole way forward for the Sky People, and the show’s insistence on sticking to such high stakes is robbing it of not only its nuance, but also the emotional impact that should come with the actual big moments. Right now, this season of The 100 is trapped in an endless, repetitive cycle: an end-of-the-world problem arises, the team comes up with “the only solution,” that solution either doesn’t work or never gets a chance to work, everyone then looks real sad about the future, and then someone proposes another solution that’s labeled as “our only shot.” The plot mechanics shouldn’t be this visible, nor this predictable and familiar.

It’s a shame that the show is stuck relying on empty words to gussy up the stakes, because “Gimme Shelter” is a taut, exciting episode that doesn’t need the exaggeration. In many ways, this is a self-contained, simple episode. It tells two stories. There’s the black rain wreaking havoc on the people of the Ark, as well as Octavia and Ilian out in the woods, and there’s the story of finding another way to make Nightblood. That’s it, that’s the whole episode. The 100 uses the lack of narrative sprawl to craft two compelling, tightly written stories. When the show is allowed to focus, moving away from the need to check in on a number of characters, good things happen. Here, Bellamy’s arc, where he tries to find redemption by saving a father and son trapped in the black rain, only to be forced to let them die, is a heartbreaking, effective story that finally sees Bellamy becoming a fleshed-out character again. Every other nod toward redemption has been haphazard at best, but this one feels real because the stakes are so personal and intimate, and Bob Morley turns in a devastating performance that really sells Bellamy’s inner turmoil.

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Similarly, using Murphy and Emori to tell a story about the Nightblood cure is a nice change of pace, moving away from the constant back-and-forth between Clarke, Raven, Abby, and Kane, and instead allowing the tertiary characters to do some heavy lifting. That means Emori immediately recognizes that she’ll be the one that ends up the guinea pig for the radiation treatment, so she goes to Murphy, who’s cooking dinner and looking all sorts of charming, and says they need to escape. A better plan comes along though, as a Grounder breaks into the house, allowing Emori to spin quite the tale. She tells Clarke and Murphy that this is the man who tortured and abandoned her, despite his denials and pleas of ignorance. With his criminality established, it’s easy enough for Clarke and Abby to decide that he should be the one to undergo the forced radiation exposure. “It’s the only option,” after all.

As the episode comes to a close, Emori reveals to Murphy that she has no idea who that man is, and that she just needed to make sure she wasn’t the one in that toxic chamber. Murphy, because he’s Murphy, recognizes how brilliant the move is. After all, he’s all about self-preservation. It’s a tonally perfect ending to a thrilling episode built upon ideas of survival, yet suffers from the show’s continued reliance on impossibly high stakes.

Stray observations

  • Quick thoughts on the Octavia-Ilian story: a little too overwrought for me. For one, I can’t stand the “make me feel something else” trope when it comes to pain and sex. Secondly, I found the story didn’t quite have the same emotional impact of Bellamy’s arc, though it might give Octavia a new, interesting direction. We’ll just have to wait and see.
  • “Why don’t you make a fire? You’re good at that.” Octavia, always throwing shade.
  • Kicking off the episode with the chaos at Arkadia as the black rain falls is a great choice. Immediately establishes the tone of the episode, and “Gimme Shelter” keeps those anxiety levels running high throughout.
  • “I can’t protect anyone.” Bellamy, you’re breaking my heart. I can’t emphasize enough the strength and depth of Bob Morley’s performance in this episode.

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