Three weeks ago, The 100 executed a pretty great episode despite a number of character problems. The reason “Terms And Conditions” worked so well was because of the focused plot. The episode found some great momentum and tension by crafting a good ol’ fashioned prison break episode. Putting a bunch of the characters together with a common goal made for exciting television because at least the conflict was clear, even if the buildup was a complete mess. Keeping that episode in mind is important when examining “Stealing Fire” because it’s essentially the same episode but with a different result, and that’s kind of a problem.
As has been the case for most of this season, “Stealing Fire” packs a lot of good moments into its hour, but so much of it is bogged down by shaky character motivations. The episode starts off well enough, setting up a few intriguing ideas right off the bat. With Lexa now dead the search for a new Commander is on. Lexa’s first choice, Aidan, is participating in the cleansing ritual before the battle for the Flame, aka. the chip that contains the soul of the commander. Things are looking up for Clarke, as Titus lets her and Murphy go, and all the potential Commanders have agreed to uphold Lexa’s peace with Clarke’s people. That is until Ontari of the Ice Nation shows up and stakes her own claim. If it wasn’t clear she means business, she straight up murders all the children, including Aidan, a bit later, shocking Titus and ruining any plans Clarke might have had for peace.
It’s an intriguing subplot. It continues to expand the world of The 100 while delving into themes of political control, violence, and revenge. But much like Pike, Ontari is a pretty thin character, at least for now. She’s an outsized, exaggerated villain like Pike, strictly focused on violence. Normally, even the villains on The 100 are nuanced, fighting for something meaningful and understandable, no matter how reprehensible. Ontari and Pike are too close to caricatures though, with very little nuance in their motivation. They both basically want power and control for the sake of power and control, and while that’s not necessarily bad motivation, it’s not particularly complex or interesting one week after another. Alas, Ontari essentially forces her way into the mix, so we’ll see how her power play continues in the coming weeks.
Less interesting is the plot to get Kane, Lincoln, and Sinclair out of Arkadia and safely on the side of Octavia and Indra. It’s not that the basic structure of the storyline isn’t engaging, it’s that it’s basically the same as “Terms And Conditions.” That episode staged a coup that failed right as Kane approached the gates. “Stealing Fire” does the same thing, except the escape is successful. The episode can only create so much tension when we’ve seen the narrative beats already. To give credit where it’s due, the show does a good job of adding some emotional stakes into the mix, something that wasn’t present in “Terms And Conditions.” There’s the revealed betrayal and then reconciliation between Miller and Bryan, and perhaps even more touching, a budding romance between Kane and Abby.
The Kane and Abby romance angle works because it’s been a long time coming. These two people have been through a lot together, and they’re cut from the same cloth. They’ve clashed in the past but they essentially have similar values. They want what’s best for their people and they understand the need to emotionally protect those closest to them. Seeing them share a passionate kiss before Kane escapes and Abby stays behind to take care of her people is a rewarding moment that feels earned because it’s built on past character moments.
Can the same be said for the separation, and ultimate destruction, of Octavia and Lincoln? It’s hard to say. It’s obvious that Lincoln’s death at the hands of Pike is going to be a divisive narrative decision coming on the heels of Lexa’s death. That’s two beloved character deaths in a matter of weeks, but I’d argue that Lincoln’s is different. They share something similar in that each actor was poised to be on another show full time in the near future—Ricky Whittle is playing Shadow Moon on American Gods—but the way their character’s deaths play out is different. Where Lexa’s death felt contrived and a bit of an abandonment of the essence of the character (and that’s without getting into the bigger concerns of killing off a prominent queer character), Lincoln’s death feels more in tune with the character’s arc within this story.
Look, a character death is never really good. It’s almost always going to be upsetting, and it can’t help but feel a bit contrived because, after all, this is TV. It’s a story being written, edited, changed, and then put out into the world while things behind the scenes continue to change from one season to the next. It’s hard for a show to properly write off a character without it feeling contrived because that death is of course going to influence events going forward. So, when Pike kills Lincoln as punishment for trying to escape, it sucks. It sucks that The 100 has this caricature killing one of the show’s more nuanced and likable characters. It sucks that we won’t get Ricky Whittle’s subtle but strong performance anymore. But, I’d argue his death serves a purpose and is in line with who Lincoln is.
What I mean is that Lincoln has always been about protecting his people and, more importantly, protecting Octavia. When Pike threatens to kill all the captured Grounders if Lincoln, Octavia, and Kane escape, Lincoln chooses to sacrifice himself. I think that’s important to keep in mind. Whereas Lexa’s death felt pointless, Lincoln’s feels noble and in line with his values. He does what he’s wanted to do since the beginning: save Octavia. Octavia has grown into a strong, capable, driven person, and she’s ready to carry on Lincoln’s legacy. Her angry, determined facial expression that closes out the episode allows for such a reading. Octavia is about to kick some ass.
Plus, the final scene was wonderfully put together. From the song choice to the shifting perspectives to the swirling camera, The 100 made sure to go straight for the heart. It’s a brutal, upsetting, infuriating moment, but isn’t that what we want from our TV shows? Don’t we want to feel something? “Stealing Fire” isn’t a great episode. It bears too many similarities to “Terms And Conditions” and relies on the same shoddy character motivations as previous episodes (ie: what was up with Monty and Bellamy?). But it does go for broke in the end, and it’s unbelievably affecting. I’ll miss Lincoln and Ricky Whittle, but The 100 ultimately sends him off in a way that feels appropriate in the merciless world of this show.
- Octavia full-on calling Bellamy on his bullshit behavior was maybe my favorite moment of the episode. “You’re the reason they need saving.”
- Abby’s teary “I can’t do this again” to Kane absolutely wrecked me.
- I really enjoyed Murphy as the reluctant sidekick to Clarke. Her go-getting behavior does not match up with his more laidback attitude.
- Great comedic moment: Murphy getting dropped outside the pod room by Ontari and then deadpanning “she’s here.”
- I do not like any of the stuff with Monty and his mother. It feels so tone deaf, much like Bellamy’s sudden character shift.
- As if Bellamy is going to give Indra shit for “only being loyal to her people.” That guy needs a few days of quiet introspection.
- Alright everyone, be nice to each other in the comments. We’re all going to miss Lincoln and we’ll certainly all see his death in different ways. Keep it respectful.