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The 100 is back, along with its dirty faces and complex morality

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The season three premiere of The 100, “Wanheda: Part One,” picks up right where season two left off, and in more ways than one. It’s not just that the show drops in directly after Murphy sees the video that reveals, essentially, how earth came to be in its current post-nuclear state, but also that The 100 is once again ready to tackle bigger themes related to war, loyalty, morality, and identity. The thematic work, along with increasingly solid character dynamics, is what made the second season of the show really stand out, and largely what had people rushing to catch up on Netflix before the premiere.

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To say that The 100 is right back on track with its first episode though would be a bit misleading. “Wanheda: Part One” is a solid, and often compelling, premiere, but it also suffers from the usual premiere problems. There’s the need to catch up with everyone, to fill in the blanks that were left behind at the end of last season, and to begin setting up where the story goes this season. “Wanheda: Part One” does start off well though, avoiding many of those issues by simply jumping ahead in time, and doing so in a way that doesn’t feel totally contrived. The 100 checks in with Murphy first, as he spends 86 days losing his mind in that bunker, watching the video footage of pre-nuclear earth over and over again. When he emerges after the 86th day and finds his way to the mansion that Jaha, who says he’s found the City of Light, is staying in, the time jump doesn’t feel jarring so much as rooted in character development. Sure, it’s necessary to move the plot forward, but it also sets up the tension between Murphy and Jaha which will surely come into play as they journey, perhaps, to the City of Light.

That jump ahead puts the Grounders and the members of the Ark, now living in a community labeled Arkadia, three months removed from the attack on Mt. Weather. On the surface, everything is going rather well for most of the group. It’s a time of peace, and while Bellamy, Lincoln, and a handful of others are still patrolling the grounds and running missions for supplies, there’s very little conflict. A treaty has been reached, and nobody is being killed. Bellamy even has a new girlfriend who brings him copies of The Iliad. As always though, that surface cracks to reveal a lot of rot underneath.

Jasper, for instance, isn’t doing so well. The plucky, goofy kid is gone, replaced by a morose, bearded man who’s dealing with the loss of Maya by drinking himself into oblivion and lashing out at his friends—“careful, Monty might melt her,” he says to Bellamy when someone mentions his new romance. Then, when out on a mission, the truce is essentially broken. Jasper confronts a group of Ice Nation warriors and nearly gets his throat slit, forcing Bellamy to shoot two of them and Octavia to throw a machete through the chest of another. This sets the stage early on for the episode’s underlying theme: peacetime is an illusion in this world, just a pause before more violence.

That violence is absolutely coming, and probably coming for a lot of people. In the most immediate danger is Clarke, who having exiled herself after the guilt of her decision became too much, is living in the wild, killing cougars, and frequenting a trading post. Kane and Indra warn Bellamy and the others that Clarke is in danger (being hunted “by everyone,” they say), but that’s readily apparent in her situation. The only reason so many of the original 100 have survived is because they’ve been able to rely on one another. Now Clarke is disconnected from that support system, and while she’s found a sympathetic companion in Niylah, the woman who runs the trading post, it’s not enough to keep her safe.

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Some of the episode’s most interesting subtext comes into play during the story of Niylah and Clarke. There’s the further exploration of Clarke’s perhaps fluid sexuality, which was first explored last year with Lexa, but more complexly, it’s fascinating to see how Niylah views Clarke. While Clarke is burdened with guilt for killing a number of people, Niylah sees her as a folk hero of sorts. Not only does she protect Clarke from Grounders searching for her, but she tells her that she supports her previous deadly decision. “You ended the reaping,” she says. It’s an interesting and complicated thread, about how violence and war creates heroes, villains, and antiheroes, and hopefully the show unravels it further as the season goes on.

Essentially, “Wanheda: Part One” is a setup episode, but it’s a setup episode with depth and intrigue. There’s the fact that Clarke, under the name Wanheda, is wanted and believed to have powers that others can inherit if they kill her. There’s Jaha continuing his descent (ascent?) into spirituality (for lack of a better word), hoping to take a reluctant Murphy along with him. There’s Raven, learning to deal with her disability, and Octavia’s rift with Lincoln about where their loyalty stands now that it’s peacetime.

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In essence, there’s a lot going on in the premiere, but everything that made season two so remarkable is there. “Wanheda: Part One” is busy, but it’s a stirring episode of television, from the gorgeous and heart-pounding visuals—that horse-and-car ride scene set to the Violet Femmes’ “Add It Up” is glorious—to the smaller character moments. The premiere takes the thematic and psychological elements of last season and expands upon them, all while building a more complex and vast universe. It’s not perfect, but it’s a damn good start.

Stray observations

  • Welcome back to reviews of The 100! Last year we weren’t totally sure how many people would tune into this show and the reviews. I have a feeling, thanks to marketing and Netflix, there’s going to be a lot more discussion this year.
  • I didn’t talk a lot about Jaha and Murphy above because it seems their story is just getting started, whereas so much other stuff happened with everyone else.
  • How many of you were grinning during the topless fight training scene with Bellamy and Lincoln?
  • I got a little Mad Max: Fury Road vibe from that Violent Femmes scene.
  • Bellamy: “Raven, stay in the car.” Raven: “Yeah right.”
  • Early predictions: has Jaha truly found enlightenment and some sort of paradise, or is he drinking the Kool-Aid?
  • Nyla: “No kill marks?” Clarke: “My back’s not big enough.”
  • Murphy: “Pain, hate, envy? Those are the ABCs of me.”
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