Even though the second season of The 100 is only poised to be three episodes longer than its first (16 total episodes as opposed to 13), it already feels like those three extra hours of television are making a huge difference. The first season took some time to get moving, but once it did, it steadily built toward an inevitable climax: a clash between the Sky People and the Grounders. It presented a streamlined narrative, the tension it built coming from the efficiency of the storytelling. In its second season, The 100 still boasts that same efficiency and pace, but has also delved into deeper and more complex thematic territory. It would seem that the extra episodes have allowed the show to expand its thematic scope; rather than rushing towards a climax, there’s more time for the buildup, which in most cases is the most fruitful and compelling part of the story.
“Survival Of The Fittest”is representative of the best qualities of The 100: patience when it comes to storytelling, depth in terms of thematic exploration, and an acute focus on character motivation and psychology. The 100 isn’t ignoring its plot, obviously, but it is making sure that the narrative movement in a single episode feels true to the characters and to the story that’s been previously established. It’s not often that plot twists or a character’s actions feel out of place, and that’s a credit to the patience the writers have shown in developing this world, trusting that the audience will follow the show even in its most meditative moments; there always seems to be a worthwhile payoff.
“Survival Of The Fittest” builds around the theme of trust and uneasy alliances. Every major storyline in this episode involves tenuous relationships. There’s Clarke and Lexa’s attempts to work together and craft a plan to get into Mount Weather. There’s Jaha’s newfound friendship with Murphy, the two bonding over the fact that nothing is left for them back at camp. And of course there’s the alliance between the Grounders and the Sky People, one built upon the very combustible notion that they share a common enemy. All of these stories find dramatic tension by exploring issues of trust, especially during times of war and strife. Each story dives into the specifics of why each character or group of people is unable to fully trust the other. There’s history and precedent here that influences how the Grounders and the Sky People interact, and its that attention to detail, to engaging with the show’s past, that makes the conflicts, both internal and external, feel genuine.
The tension from the alliances also lets the show’s writing shine, and allows for the actors to find new depths to their characters. It’s immensely rewarding watching Lexa shoot down the aggressive tendencies of Quint. He’s a huge, burly man, but he cowers when Lexa admonishes him for speaking harshly to Clarke. Perhaps it’s simplistic, but it’s undeniably compelling to see the female characters on this show represent strength and good character. All of the Grounder men are eager to get into battle; open the doors and let the Mountain Men burn, they say. But Clarke and Lexa know better, and are focused on discussing a strategy that minimizes the threat of lives lost while also benefitting their cause.
Octavia moves through similar motions, unrelentingly fighting a Grounder as part of a training exercise in order to earn their respect. Indra, the coldest of all the Grounders, agrees to take her on as an apprentice, offering to turn her into a warrior. Kane, seeing that Octavia is getting close to the Grounders and understands much about them, is eager to use her as a spy, to be his eyes and ears in the Grounder camp. Again, allegiances are being tested, and it’s great seeing Octavia being given something of substance to do.
The best/most devastating payoff of the theme of uneasy alliances though comes in the form of Lincoln and Bellamy. When boiled down to its essentials, there’s not a lot that happens in their storyline. They spend the entire episode walking through the forest looking for the underground entrance into Mount Weather, and eventually find it at the episode’s end. That’s not much in terms of plot, but the underlying themes are staggeringly complex. Essentially, “Survival Of The Fittest” is paying off a story that’s been building since the fifth episode, where we saw Lincoln brutally fight for another injection from the Mountain Men. Shortly thereafter, we saw Lincoln struggling to recover from the damage the drug had done, going through withdrawals before coming out clear headed. Since then, Lincoln has been troubled, but not dangerous, which makes his relapse at the end of this episode all the more heartbreaking.
When Lincoln tells Bellamy that he can’t go into the underground, and that he remembers everything he did while drugged, it’s not out of fear of the Mountain Men or fear of dying. It’s an addict understanding that he can’t resist the drug that was given to him. Lincoln is fighting against his own vulnerability, his own weakness, and as much as Bellamy’s insistence on getting to Mount Weather makes sense–it’s the only option the Sky People have–it’s devastating to watch Lincoln get dragged towards a fate that he knows is coming. Clarke mercy-killing Finn may have been a shocking moment, but Lincoln’s acceptance of the injection at the episode’s end, a look of regret and futility on his face, was a heavy punch to the gut. The 100 has mined some dark territory this year, and while it can be tough to stomach at times, it gives slow-burning episodes like “Survival Of The Fittest” a necessary, and engaging, emotional and thematic depth.
- Jaha and Murphy’s first interaction was the most awkward/sinister retelling of Good Will Hunting that I’ve ever seen.
- Murphy gets the laugh line of the night when directing Jaha: “Camp You is that way.”
- So, what did we all think of the giant gorilla attacking Clarke and Lexa? Necessarily low-budget CGI aside, I thought it was mostly well-executed and served the purpose of putting Lexa and Clarke together in order to strengthen their bond. The sudden introduction of dangerous natural/wild elements into the show was a little jarring though.
- Another instance of The 100 boasting progressive writing: Bellamy thanks Lincoln for making Octavia strong, to which he replies, “she was already strong.” No damsels in distress here!
- Not sure how to unpack it yet, but it’s interesting the way the show is introducing the idea of faith as a guiding principle. We learn that Lexa and the Grounders believe in reincarnation and the idea of souls, and Jaha is heading out to find the City of Light, which sounds a lot like a religious pilgrimage to me.