The 100 has always been a show going in two different directions. One the one hand it’s a grand, sweeping look at a dystopian universe, complete with warring clans, radioactive rain, mutated human beings, and of course we can’t forget giant water snakes and gorillas. On the other hand, it’s a show that uses that epic scale to tell an intimate story about growing up in a world plagued by war and violence, the day-to-day conflicts only seeming to grow more deadly each day. The stories that make up The 100 are constantly being pulled in two directions, needing to attend to the tricky mythology that defines the show’s ambitious scale (on a small budget, no less) while also pulling back and offering up nuanced character moments that allow the show to muse on some of its main themes, including guilt, the morality of wartime decisions, and notions of sin and the afterlife.

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The strains and triumphs of those two types of shows have been present all season long. Where the season premiere did a wonderful job diving right back into the political conflict that still plagues the people living on earth, despite their supposed alliances, “We Will Rise” struggled to define the traumas of the characters saddled with saving the world, and maybe making some difficult sacrifices in the process. This week’s episode, “God Complex,” is perhaps the most obvious example of two different shows operating as one. There are essentially two stories to follow, and they both exemplify what is and isn’t working when it comes to this season.

“God Complex” immediately picks up with the team at Becca’s old lab as they’re about to run the radiation test on their chosen Grounder. They hesitate for just a moment before Abby assures them: “this really is our only hope.” If you read last week’s review, you know that I’m pretty tired of the show leaning on the “this is our only hope” thing as a justification for immoral violence. Here, it’s deployed in less than two minutes, proving yet again that with every failed plan comes another “last chance.” So, the team turns on the radiation. Everything is looking up, as the Grounder survives the amount of radiation that’s akin to the black rain. But then everything goes wrong, and the man essentially boils to death, black blood spurting out of his mouth and spattering the case, as everyone looks on, horrified.

Here is where the whole “our only hope” angle just doesn’t work. Abby can say it as definitively as she wants, but we know it isn’t true. We know that even though this guy roasted in there, they’ll find another way. Sure enough, a blood sample determines that some sort of additive to prevent blood clotting ended up working against the Nightblood treatment. What does that mean? It means that they can run the test again on someone else, and with Roan and Luna figuring out that Emori lied about her attacker, the team decides that she’s next.

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This is where things really get messy. Yes, The 100 loves to present moral conundrums, and the dystopian setting allows for a lot of moral ambiguity that’s beneficial when it comes to thematic exploration. At the same time, the show has a habit of using the potential consequences of such actions to create stakes that they never follow through with. For example, Clarke, Abby, Raven, Miller, and Jackson all struggle with the idea of using Emori as a guinea pig, but they also accept that it’s the only option (because it’s always the only option, remember). The show wrings a lot of pathos and moral complication out of this decision, from Luna refusing to give up her blood, forcing Roan to knock her out, to Raven pointing out that what they’re doing is no better than what they chastised Mount Weather for doing. That’s all good stuff, but it ends up feeling meaningless when Clarke decides to use herself, rather than Emori, as the test subject.

In that moment, when Clarke injects herself, it’s a true character revelation. It shows that Clarke is willing to put her own life on the line for her people, and not the other way around. That’s a big moment in this season, where she’s largely been a low-key dictator. But “God Complex” immediately takes that moment away, as Abby won’t let her daughter undergo the radiation; she smashes the chamber to pieces and breaks down crying, saying she just couldn’t let it happen.

This is a misfire in two important ways. Firstly, it allows Clarke to get her moment of sacrifice without actually having to, you know, do any sacrificing, which is an easy way for the show to give her a bold character moment without actually following through with any consequences. Furthermore, the sudden shift in priorities for Abby, and really the rest of the team, is a stretch. Moments ago they were all willing to sacrifice someone for the greater good, and now they’re all okay with Abby’s impulsive, destructive decision? It doesn’t ring true.

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While that section of “God Complex” nukes its own character progress, the rest of the episode is digging into the mythology a little more, and it’s much more captivating. There’s an urgency to the search for that bunker that feels real and character-based. It’s not just Kane and Jaha trying to save everyone’s life. It’s Kane trying to be a good leader, and Jaha trying to redeem himself and affirm his actions as a religious leader of sorts. More than that, The 100 always does a good job building tension out of chaos. The show hardly ever goes off the rails, instead tapping into just the right fever pitch of insanity to make every single decision, like Indra shooting down the Ice Nation guards, feel monumentally important.

Really though, the appeal of this section of the episode is in the potential it represents. Sure, it’s fun to watch Jaha, Kane, and Monty uncover one secret and clue after another alongside Gaia, but the possibilities of what’s to come is the real thrill here. “God Complex” creates a meaningful moment out of Jaha opening the hatch—a moment that pulls from Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Lost, especially with the presence of Henry Ian Cusick—a revelation and a sign of hope that’s been a long time coming. This kind of revelation is what the rest of the show, that portion that’s just repeating narrative beats, is missing. The doom and gloom is all well and good, but there needs to be a little hope. The beauty is in the duality; the salvation lies within.

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Stray observations

  • So Jasper’s whole thing now is attending Arkadia ragers, and all it takes for Bellamy to join in is a single look from a pretty girl.
  • Murphy begging with Clarke to not test Emori was heartbreaking. There are few more complicated characters on this show than him.
  • “First we survive. Then we find our humanity again.” Unless it’s your own kid, right Abby?
  • Despite all the problems addressed in the above, I do like that the show is explicitly using Mount Weather as a comparison point for what Clarke and Abby are doing. Always a positive when characters don’t have short term memories.
  • Jasper is kind of bummed by the whole nuclear devastation thing, but he does see at least one positive: “I don’t miss mosquitoes.”
  • Finding the bunker is huge, but you have to wonder how Roan will feel about some of Ice Nation being killed by Indra and her army, and her insistence on Ice Nation never setting foot inside.

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