The inherent problem with any sort of flash-forward in a TV show is the need to fill the audience in on what was happening during all the time we missed. Perhaps providing those details isn’t always necessary, but there’s always going to be a certain amount of curiosity, and certain amount of necessity built into moving characters into new situations years down the road. A show like The 100 feels particularly beholden to making sure the necessary storytelling beats are there because it’s a show driven by character choices and world building. The image of Octavia sitting on a throne above a fighting pit in the fallout shelter at the end of last week’s season premiere tells us a lot of what we need to know. Octavia rules the bunker, and violence has a prominent place in her underground kingdom.
The need to fill in the six years that passed on Earth, in the fallout shelter, and on the Ark is a potentially daunting task, but early on this season it seems like The 100 has made some smart choices in order to tackle the breadth of story without sacrificing pacing and character. Essentially, season five is offering up two premieres as the first two episodes. Both “Eden” and “Red Queen” take the time to tell the story of a certain set of characters. Where “Eden” followed Clarke’s emotionally tumultuous attempts at survival post-Praimfaya, “Red Queen” digs into the political and emotional struggles of the people in the bunker.
“Red Queen” begins around the same time as “Eden,” just over a month after Praimfaya. Octavia is not yet the intimidating leader she’ll be in six years, but she’s hardly soft. She’s sparring with Miller, butting heads with Gaia over her role as leader of Wonkru (One Crew), and doing her best to keep the peace as everyone settles in for five years of grim bunker living. It’s no easy task, and everyone is dealing with the impending stay differently. Abby is angry that Kane saved her life, and she’s developed a pill addiction, her dive off the deep end only exacerbated by what she knows is a close call with Clarke knocking on the shelter’s door.
When the group determines that there’s likely a thousand tons of rubble keeping them locked inside, everyone gets antsy, focused on their own survival. Five years with the possibility of escape after that is one thing. Five years with no alternate escape route is something entirely different. Eventually, tensions boil over and a group of original Skaicru, lead by hydroponic farmer Kara, execute a mutiny and lock themselves on Level C, home to the farm and the water recycling. They have everything they need to survive the five years alone, a move hastened by Kara when she doesn’t want to go through the process of culling the population. Her trauma, of losing her husband in the initial fight for spots in the bunker, is still raw, and she sees this forceful occupation as the only way to avoid future tough decisions.
This is the inciting incident, the one that sets Octavia on her path to becoming the true leader of Wonkru. It’s a compelling, if familiar bit of conflict, and it’s that familiarity that keeps “Red Queen” from being as resoundingly inspired as last week’s premiere. The idea of Octavia facing a tough choice, like Clarke before her, is a nice bit of mirroring, as each woman steps into a role that’s been thrust upon them. With that said, the narrative beats are also fairly predictable. We’ve been down this road before so many times with Clarke that it’s difficult to feel the emotional weight of Octavia’s decision.
Still, as predictable as the steps may be, they do feel necessary. The result is an episode that’s not as compelling or fresh as “Eden” as a whole, but “Red Queen” still has a wonderful grasp of pacing and tone. While there’s nothing terribly unique in the story of Octavia coming into her own as a leader, stifling Kara’s attempts at isolation and forcing everyone to work together as a single unit, the violence and brutality of it all is fascinating. The 100 has always been a show that’s interested in exploring how social and political systems, and the shifting morality of the people within those systems, is influenced by environment. In many ways the bunker is more unforgiving than Earth to the Grounders or Skaikru. The forced cooperation is a struggle for groups that have spent years and years either surviving on their own or fighting with each other for resources.
In other words, suddenly instituting a new system of pseudo-democracy—if you can even call it that, though no label truly fits—doesn’t come easily. Octavia, spurred on by Jaha, Indra, and Gaia, must make it happen by force, and she rises to the occasion, slashing her way to the top of the mountain and cementing herself as the leader of Wonkru.
At what cost though? That’s the most interesting question. What did Octavia give up, what did she sacrifice of herself, in order to take that spot? Are the people of the bunker better off now? “Red Queen” largely works because it builds to the moment where these questions become relevant. It’s an episode that while sometimes familiar, is certainly interested in complicated questions about the necessity of violence in this world, in order to keep people alive. “Red Queen” isn’t the most immediately impactful episode, but it is a promise of conflicts and tensions to come, pairing well with last week’s premiere to offer up a new direction for The 100.
- Jaha’s death is rather effecting for a character that, in my mind, had kind of lost its way. While Jaha’s arc may not have been the most satisfying in later season, he gets a perfect final moment. “Take me to Wells.”
- If there’s a single line that sums up the themes and actions of this episode, its Abby’s “we’ll survive. We’ll just wish we didn’t.”
- Kane makes his way into the pit at the end of the episode. Let’s hope he’s just part of the clean-up crew and not destined for a fight to the death.
- After Octavia fights of the Grounders who want to kill every remaining member of Skaikru, it doesn’t take her long to implement the death penalty for those that go against Wonkru. Doubling down on violence is hardly ever useful, and that might be the moment where Octavia truly changes.