What was particularly remarkable about the first season of CW’s The 100 was how fully-formed it was upon arrival. Sure, its premiere had some of the same problems that effect so many pilots–too many storylines; too much exposition; the use of an Imagine Dragons song–but soon after, the show quickly built a world, and a set of characters, that was engaging week after week. The first season wasn’t just about tuning in to see how a group of space kids would survive on radiation-plagued Earth. Each episode was necessary viewing because it expertly established the backstory of those kids and their families on the Ark. The show gave us glimpses of past lives that shed light on the characters’ current motivations and actions. It tackled class, privilege, sexuality, politics, and morality with nuance; no easy feat on a teen drama. With the second season premiere, The 100 has once again established a mysterious and inventive tone, one that answers just enough questions while asking a whole lot more.

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“The 48” picks up right where last season’s finale left off, with Clarke quarantined at Mount Pleasant. The 100’s best weapons are its ambiguity and ability to misdirect, and this first scene perfectly deploys that arsenal. The holding cell she’s in is sterile, roomy but somehow claustrophobic. Clarke looks out the port window of her cell’s door, looking for Monty across the way, but she only sees an empty room. Then a figure in a hazmat suit walks by and into Monty’s room. Clarke bangs on the door, yelling for answers to who knows how many questions. Most shows would be satisfied with keeping Clarke in that cell for awhile, dragging out the mystery of everything that lies outside of it. The 100 doesn’t operate like that though, instead creating tension from momentum. Clarke smashes through the port window, unlocks the door, and takes the young, frightened hazmat-suited worker hostage. They roam the hallways, Clarke demanding to see her friends. The worker leads her to a room in a basement somewhere, and the show pulls out one of its best cuts. After the chaos of the hostage taking, we cut to a room of refined people eating supper. The music is languid, soothing. Then one of the guests sees Clarke, yells, “contamination breach,” and all hell breaks loose again. It’s a blistering introduction to the second season. And while it’s maybe too easy to mention Lost (more of that later) in relation to The 100, this episode bears similarities to the second season premiere of that show, where the introduction of the hatch, a new, unfamiliar environment (and below the surface, if we really want to dig into the parallels here) brings with it a sense of fresh narrative possibilities.

Clarke’s adventures inside (or underneath?) Mount Weather give the episode its most intriguing elements. The 100 manages to dole out its mysteries one little detail at a time, teasing us along until we can finally grasp the bigger picture, usually many episodes into the season. Mount Weather, as Clarke says, seems too good to be true. It’s run by a sickly-sweet President named Dante Wallace (played by the consistently great Raymond J. Barry) and seems to have unlimited food and water supplies. It’s eerie in its sterility though–a Norman Rockwell painting in the middle of post-apocalyptic America. If season one was, on the surface, about how to survive in unfamiliar territory, this season seems to suggest that the familiar, the return of “normalcy,” can be just as dangerous.

In regards to Mount Weather, we may not know much yet, but we do get a few more details that add to the mythology of this universe. It turns out that Dante Wallace’s family, among many others, previously occupied Mount Weather. When they encountered “outsiders” some 50 years ago, his father assumed the planet was once again habitable. Once he opened the doors though, many people, including Dante’s mother and sister, died from exposure to the radiation. Thus, these people have lived underground since. Grounders, and the people from the Ark, metabolize the radiation more efficiently, and thus are able to live on the land. These details are certainly murky, but they’re a welcome, and swift, addition to the backstory of Earth.

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The rest of the storylines here tend to flounder a bit, mostly because they’re focused on getting pieces into place. Octavia is off with Lincoln, heading towards the sea, but she soon falls ill due to the poison on the end of the arrowhead she’s been shot with. The presence of Lincoln (the character, not the monument we see) is a welcome one; he’s a supersoldier in this post-apocalyptic world, and he adds gravitas to an otherwise meandering storyline. The episode also quickly establishes that Finn and Bellamy are alive, if a little beat up–seriously, the budget for facial gore makeup in this episode must have been huge. Finn is being held captive by that The Hills Have Eyes-looking Grounder. Bellamy looks to save him, but is captured as well. It’s not long before the adults from the recently-crashed Ark show up though. Councilor Kane (played by Lost-alum Henry Ian Cusick) takes charge quickly, informing the boys that, “we’re here now. Everything’s going to be ok.” Not only is this a significant moment because it completely shifts the power balance that existed throughout the first season, but it’s also a clear foreshadow that things most definitely won’t be alright from here on out. In fact, it’s not long before Kane is ordering for Bellamy to be arrested for assaulting Murphy–you know, the guy that tried to hang him in last season’s finale. The re-introduction of the adults to Earth is bound to be one of the season’s strongest areas of thematic exploration. Already in this episode, we see how the adults assume they will take up positions of power and influence, and the show continues to touch on the theme of the negative consequences of foreign occupation. In the first season, this was achieved by questioning methods of torture and how useful they are. Do they provide necessary intelligence, or do they only serve to create more enemies? Here, there’s a palpable sense of rah-rah patriotism and moral superiority as the adults from the Ark invade their surroundings. “You’re not animals,” says Kane to Finn, clearly drawing a line in the sand between the people of the Ark and the Grounders.

We also spend a bit of time catching up with Raven and Murphy, who are the lone occupants still at the dropship. Not much happens in terms of plot, but their scenes are evidence of what elevates this show above your average teen drama fare. After Raven calls out Murphy for being a dick­–he did shoot her, so fair point–and asks him how he could turn out that way, he tells her about his floated father, and the alcoholic mother who blamed him for his death. It’s the type of revelation that can feel hokey or manipulative, but because the cast and writers on The 100 play it with absolute sincerity (Richard Harmon does a great job delivering Murphy’s monologue), it feels consequential and believable. Moreover, it adds another layer of character motivation. One of the best things about this show is how every character acts in accordance with their backstory. Both Raven and Murphy exude a tough exterior because of their absent or inadequate parents. It’s simple but effective storytelling.

Finally, the show delivers yet another killer cliffhanger. Chancellor Jaha is still alive aboard what’s left of the Ark in space, though he’s given up on contacting his people below. He’s accepted his fate, and powers down the ship’s system before laying his head down in exhaustion. As a picture of his dead son fades from the screen in the background, we hear the cry of a baby. Jaha raises his head, suddenly, alert. The camera swoops down the hallway and out into space as the cry continues. Cue credits. Seriously, this show has taken its notes from the best parts of Lost.

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Stray observations:

  • Welcome to The A.V. Club’s weekly reviews of The 100! I thought the show’s first season was a near-perfectly constructed sci-fi teen drama with a great sense of place and tone, complete with a stellar cast. I’m excited to be along for the ride this season, and I’m looking forward to engaging with this show (and all of you commenters out there) for the next few weeks.
  • Still impressed with the costume design for the Grounders. This show really has a remarkably cohesive and inventive aesthetic.
  • Clarke continues to be a great example of a wonderfully-written female protagonist; resourceful, intelligent, flawed, complicated. That shot of her ripping off the high heel was superb too; character insight without dialogue.
  • Touching on character motivation once again, Clarke can’t escape the shadow of her father’s death. She wants to go back outside to find Finn and Bellamy because she has to save everyone.
  • Finn and Bellamy think the Grounders took Clarke and the rest of their friends. This can’t end well.
  • Even Murphy knows he’s a dick: “Yeah, I would have shot me too.”

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