“Human Trials” is the type of episode that The 100 turns out too easily. It’s an episode that catches up on a bunch of storylines, pushes them into new and interesting directions, and manages to tease the possibilities of the larger, season-long narrative, yet feels fragmented and convoluted. There’s a lot going on in this episode. We check in on a number of characters, the mystery at Mount Weather, and also watch as the characters we thought we knew go through some serious changes. ”Human Trials” handles all of its threads with confidence, but at times, the storylines feel rushed, character decisions and narrative turns too easily executed.
Much of “Human Trials” revolves around different characters coming together or moving apart. There’s no stagnation on this show; the status quo is never the status quo for very long. It can be frustrating at times, especially when characters change their moral outlook from one episode to the next, but it also gives the show momentum, and a sense of unpredictability. When Clarke is reunited with her mother during the episode’s opening scene, it’s endearing. They’ve both presumed each other dead, and they haven’t seen each other since Clarke was shipped to Earth in order to see if the planet was livable. It’s a moment that’s been built up since the series premiere, and the saccharine nature is earned. The same goes for Jaha and Kane, who are reuinted after Kane is captured by the Grounders while trying to make peace with them. We don’t get much information as to why they’re holding the space people as prisoners, but the very premise of Jaha and Kane teaming up à la Anya and Clarke is exciting.
Abigail is so relieved to have her daughter back that it begins to cloud her judgment. Something about wearing that Chancellor’s pin seems to render its wearer void of empathy, no matter how much was there before. Clarke, after being reunited with Bellamy, Octavia, and Raven, is ready to go and search for Finn and Murphy. Abigail refuses to let them leave, and says there isn’t enough manpower to send out a search and rescue team. This is the first example in “Human Trials” of The 100 playing fast and loose with character decisions. After spending a season and a half with Abigail, I don’t believe for a second that she’d suddenly abandon the very kids she sent out to rescue her daughter. The writing can be lazy on this show from time to time, with characters making decisions that are out of line with what we know about them. Bellamy reminding Abigail of her role in Finn and Murphy’s mission is the lone saving grace here; it challenges her power and acts as a reminder for the audience of the stakes involved.
Over at Mount Weather, Jasper is still ignoring the shady behavior of the Mount Weather people. You’d think the Hitler-bunker vibes of President Wallace’s office would set off a few alarms, but no, he’s still wonderfully ignorant. For now, that’s ok, because we get a few Monty-Jasper bromance moments, and a further look into just how depraved the people of Mount Weather might be. When Maya is exposed to radiation after a ventilation mishap, she’s taken to the medical ward with 75% of her body covered in burns. The normal procedures aren’t working, and the only option is to do something unorthodox. Jasper jumps at the opportunity to allow Maya’s blood to flow through him, therefore cleansing it of radiation. Again, the reasoning behind Jasper’s decision is flimsy at best. The writers tie it in to a sense of bravery. He’s shamed by Monty earlier for not wanting to go after Clarke, so he makes up for his cowardice there by helping Maya recover. It’s a decision that seems pretty ludicrous though. Why do this for Maya? Is Jasper just that noble? It’s the Octavia-Lincoln storyline all over again; we’re being told two people care for each other, but we’re not being shown why.
In terms of flimsy character decisions, Finn’s descent into madness feels unjustified at best. After searching the Grounder camp for Clarke, and finding nothing but some old clothes, he massacres a handful of people right before Clarke, Octavia, and Bellamy show up. Again, the writers have positioned Finn’s sudden rage as a reaction to the loss of Clarke, but it doesn’t feel earned or in line with the Finn we know. Characters change their minds all the time on TV shows; heck, that’s what drives the plot and keeps the audience on its toes. Too often though, The 100 just expects the audience to go with it, to embrace whatever path a character has chosen in that given moment. Too often they expect us to ignore the past actions of a character, to ignore their backstory and moral character, and accept that sometimes people act crazy when they live in a dystopian setting. That‘s not enough here. That‘s not enough to justify Finn’s slaughtering of unarmed Grounders. Having Bellamy utter to Clarke, “losing you, fighting the war…it’s changed him,” doesn’t amount to substantial character motivation. Slaughtering the Grounders adds a layer of complexity to the plot–after all, the people of the Ark need them on their side to fight the Mountain Men–but it does so while sacrificing crucial character insight.
Back at Mount Weather, we learn they’re not only conducting “unorthodox” medical experiments. They’re also using some sort of serum to turn Lincoln into a supersoldier. Everything in this storyline is captivating. There’s the great visual of Lincoln tied to that creepy dentist’s chair, his body illuminated merely by a light coming through the ventilation system. There’s the slowburning mystery, where small clues about why Lincoln is being injected and kept restrained are revealed throughout the episode. The storyline builds to its crescendo, where Lincoln fights another would-be super soldier for another injection, perfectly. There’s tension and intrigue built into the narrative, and even more than that, it gives us a reason to care about Lincoln, something that’s been sorely missing since he debuted on the show.
“Human Trials” is an exercise in how much leeway we can give a show that’s trying to juggle a plethora of storylines. It’s an episode that’s brimming with narrative momentum and explores ideas of imperialism and power, yet the character motivations often feel contrived, a checklist completed in order to move the plot forward as quick as possible while sacrificing nuance in terms of character development and consistency.
- Kane plants a tree before continuing on to the Grounder camp, in case you needed a visual metaphor for how he’s trying to turn over a new leaf.
- I love when this show reminds us, through brutal radiation burns, that Earth is uninhabitable for a lot of people. The first season hardly ever touched on the conditions of Earth, so it’s nice to see the show branching out, letting us in on the experiences of people outside of The Ark.
- Great cut from one window to the next, one showing Lincoln restrained, the other showing Maya and Jasper in the hospital beds. Serves to underscore the different types of brutality going on at Mount Weather.
- “Not so fast Pocahontas”
- Ravem dropping some serious truth on Abigail: “She stopped being a kid the day you sent her down here to die.”
- “I think I liked you better as a peacemaker.”
- The 100 is taking a week off, so see you all on December 3rd for an episode titled “Fog of War.” Get excited.