When the season premiere of The 100 aired just over a month ago, it looked like there was perhaps a hopeful message in amongst all the talk of nuclear destruction. Even as the season’s progressed, with one monumental moral decision after another piling up, there’s been an undercurrent of hope; that these people, no matter their differences, could come together to avoid the end of the world. It’s a message that echoes through the premiere, and it’s one that’s more than needed during this time of political uncertainty and instability. The 100 has never been escapist television by any means, but there was something uplifting about the season premiere, as Ice Nation and the Sky People began a process of fortifying their alliance for the greater good of all people.

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Now, that’s all gone to shit.

There’s hardly any hope to be found in “We Will Rise,” despite the seemingly joyous episode title. Right off the bat, with the Ark still up in flames and the people of Arkadia looking on, Jasper confirms that this world is now one ruled by hopelessness. Jaha, stricken by fear of what comes next for everyone, can’t help but wear his panic on his face, so Jasper gives him some sage advice: stop caring. Jasper’s entire mindset right now is that everything is bad and only getting worse, so why not just embrace that fact and enjoy these last few days in the bliss of acceptance?

It’s a heavy way to kick off the episode, but appropriate considering that “We Will Rise” is largely concerned with issues of loyalty and survival. Not only does the cold open kickstart Jaha’s character arc, which has been stagnant since his descent into the City of Light, it also sets the stage for numerous plot threads that muse on the idea of self-preservation. For a little while now, the Sky People and Azgeda have retained a tenuous peace, understanding that if they are to survive the coming nuclear apocalypse they’ll have to work together. Now, as the devastation draws nearer, there are cracks in the alliance. Ilian burning down the Ark is the tipping point, and a literal manifestation of the alliance between these people being burned to the ground.

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It’s hard not to see the real-world parallels evident within the in-fighting and hatred that dominates so much of “We Will Rise.” Divisive rhetoric is at a fever pitch right now, across social media and in our homes. A struggling economy, a growing class divide, and an uncertain future when it comes to jobs and the value of work has left many looking out for only themselves, the idea of the “greater good” seemingly thrown out the window. The rhetoric of Us vs. Them is everywhere, and the lack of a stable, rational government only accentuates that feeling that it’s nearly impossible to bridge the divide.

At its best, “We Will Rise” explores this real-world anxiety with a nuance that runs contrary to the consistently ludicrous spots the characters find themselves in. Watching Raven try to execute her test runs in the spaceship isn’t all that compelling—spoiler alert, Raven always figures this stuff out—but the struggle is necessary to underscore the sheer hopelessness of the situation. Everyone keeps assuming that things will work out, that Clarke or Raven or Abby will find a way to either stop the nuclear disaster or use the Nightblood to make everyone immune. Now though, with not enough fuel and mob rule taking over everywhere, these people are confronted with the very real possibility that there’s no future. Maybe Jasper was right all along.

If there’s any embodiment of hope here, it’s Clarke. Not only does she have a new romance blooming with Niylah, she’s also the lone person everyone seems to rally around. When Bellamy accuses Roan of only caring about his own people, he has this to say: “It’s all anyone cares about. Except for Clarke.” She’s the one person who seems genuinely focused on the future of all people. Or at least that’s the angle the show is peddling. Not all that long ago Clarke was in denial about her role as a leader, and the direction the plot takes in this episode seems to swiftly sweep that conflict under the rug. Clarke literally shrugs off the Ark blowing up, as it conveniently allows her to sidestep the difficulties of deciding who gets to stay and who has a date with the black rain.

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That type of convenient storytelling is what prevents “We Will Rise,” and really much of this season of The 100, from really taking off. The thematic work has been strong, and this episode in particular is a gut-wrenching hour, uncomfortable in its relevance to the current political climate. Plus, characters such as Octavia, Jaha, and Murphy have been given meaningful arcs this season, while so many others remain rudderless. But too many leaps in logic and cut corners when it comes to storytelling means that the overall picture of this season remains fuzzy, and only occasionally compelling.

Perhaps the ridiculously high stakes that comes with the impending end of the world has The 100 struggling to adapt; it’s always been better at the personal and intimate, and those are the moments that shine in “We Will Rise.”

Stray observations

  • Turns out this whole “A.L.I.E. inside Raven’s brain” thing is really messing with her head. She might have killed Murphy if Echo wasn’t there.
  • Nice to see Clarke and Kane sharing a moment. Not only do they have the Abby connection, but they’re also cut from the same leadership cloth.
  • Nothing quite like your current lover letting you know that your dead lover would be proud of your actions.
  • “Octavia is dead. She died when you killed Lincoln.”
  • The shot of Murphy throwing the ball in front of the test ship is absolutely stunning. The stark white, the slight glimmer of the LED earpiece, the framing; a welcome visual flourish.
  • There’s only one response to anyone who wants to know what Clarke is doing in any given moment: “Being Clarke.”

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