REVIEW | The 100 - Episode 2.12 - "Rubicon"
With a guard at her side and the world on her shoulders, Clarke Griffin cannot sit still as she awaits the final arrival of the remaining grounder nations to Tondc for the once in a lifetime summit between Grounder forces, as they prepare to do battle with Mount Weather. Nobody understands more than she does that this alliance between their peoples is their only hope of defeating Cage, and saving her friends from whatever fate awaits them inside the mountain. Such is the climate into which we are thrust in this week’s newest episode – entitled “Rubicon” - of the CW powerhouse, The 100.
Things are already on a very sharp edge, but their already urgent mission is suddenly forced to step up another, brutal gear entirely when two devastating pieces of news come to her from Bellamy, who is still spying for them inside Mount Weather. The first is that Cage and Tsing have stepped up their schedule to harvest the bone marrow of their Sky captives, meaning that Clarke and Co. are running even faster than they thought out of time to save their friends. The second news is just as if not more terrifying, and perhaps with even more dire consequences. Unbeknownst that there is an enemy eavesdropper nearby, Cage reveals that he knows about the Tondc summit and plans to bomb it once all the delegates are there, killing once and for all the Grounder Commander, and the Sky girl who has been nothing but a sharp and constant thorn in the side of his plans for ground domination. Either way, then, for Clarke a terrible choice now exists: warn the people on the ground of the coming attack and in doing so alert the Mountain that there is a spy in their midst, or let the hit be taken, let lives be lost, but ultimately go on to fight another day.
But they are not the only lives in jeopardy. Inside the Mountain, Jasper, Monty and Co. are being forced to watch on as every few hours Tsing returns to take another one from their midst for harvest. But when Bellamy sneaks in amidst the guards and arms Jasper, for the first time he and the rest of his people have a hope that their fighting back will make a difference. All the while, their biggest ally – Dante – now sits imprisoned by his own son, seemingly helpless. Outside the Mountain, and far from the brewing battle there, Jaha continues to lead Murphy and a small number of Ark people, through the desert on his quest to find the City of Light. But when they encounter a mysterious stranger in the desert – one who says she knows the way to the City – it’s hard to fathom whether she is to be trusted, or whether she’s leading them right into a trap.
Either way, all are on a journey of discovery this week – about the world, about life, and about their true selves – but not everyone it seems will be happy with what they unearth. So with all that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the ep, shall we?
If you’re anything like me, you had to go google a definition of the word ‘Rubicon’. And according to that search, it’s defined as “an act of winning a game against an opponent whose total score is less than 100, in which case the loser's score is added to rather than subtracted from the winner's.” So first of all, ten points Messrs Ginsburg and McIntyre (the two ridiculously clever lads behind tonight’s ep) for the wily poetry of the title. Me gusta, you clever.
But given the sheer human cost of this episode – because there was a massive amount of incredibly violent and painful death in this episode – and even though Cage dealt a massive blow to his enemies on the ground, and Lexa and Clarke escape the attack with their lives, it would be hard to refute the fact that nobody came out of this week a winner, of any kind. Indeed, it seemed that every victory came at the cost of the victor’s soul, whether in portion or the whole.
Much like last week, in ‘Rubicon’ the writers again chose to delve into the season two core theme of hard truths and leadership decisions in the field of battle, and wisely they came at it from both sides of the fight.
On one hand you have Clarke, who has just assumed the ‘crown’ as Abby so cynically describes it, from her chancellor mother. Without question, using the captured Grounder guard – Emerson – to send a message back to Cage about the fact that she and the alliance are coming for him, but will let him live if he stops what he’s doing, showcased a newfound grit in Clarke’s character, which is necessary given the confidence it imparts to her people. But by the same token, it was always going to provoke the mountain in one way or another to flex their attack muscles, and given the fact that she said they had an army it is unsurprising then that Cage would try something to wipe them out if he could.
Either way though, there is a large measure of responsibility that now rests on Clarke for what comes next: yet another stark reminder that in life, every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction. And if Clarke does not play her cards wisely here, the result could be deadly across the board as opposed to in just one location. Her discussion with Lexa though – when she makes the Grounder Commander aware of the Mountain’s plans – highlights perfectly the fact that while she has grown in strength as a leader, she still frays on some very important edges due to the emotional conflict that continues to rage within her, anytime human life is on the line and will be directly affected by the choices she makes. We got such a huge insight into that inner struggle she has going on this week, and one thing that was really cleverly done was in how the writers used Lexa and her mother to embody the warring parts she already has seething inside her. On one hand you have Lexa, who is absolutely right when she says that Clarke knows saying nothing to the people around them is not only their only option if they are to live and fight another day; but also the only chance they have to give Bellamy the continued opening he needs to bring down Mount Weather from within, without raising suspicion that there is a spy inside their walls. Yes, Indra and Kane and Octavia are still out there in the village. Yes, dozens will die – maybe hundreds – when the bomb hits. But this is the only way they have to best capitalise on the information Bellamy has given them, and Lexa tells Clarke as much, adding the fact that she knows that Clarke knows she’s right.
But then you have Abby – who is already…I don’t know what you’d call it…pissed, angry, embarrassed maybe for the fact that her ‘kid’ daughter has assumed the role of leading her people, leaving her mother as Chancellor in name only – and Abby is in no way forgiving of the fact that Clarke chose to let the bomb hit. She is abhorred by the fact that her daughter actively let people die from an attack that she could have warned them about. More than that that she actively chose to let her own people die: people who trusted her implicitly with their lives. So to a certain extent, she is as right as Lexa is when Abby tells Clarke that even should they win this war, Clarke will never be able to wash her hands clean of the blood that is now on them. But by the same token, Abby is a leader guided almost entirely by emotion, and while that may have worked consistently as a leadership style amongst her own people, it is a luxury that sadly Clarke cannot afford. By the same token though, Lexa is equally losing out when she governs entirely by strategy and sees emotion only as a weakness. After all. Does she not herself say that the attack will fire up the army to fight harder? Is inspiration not an emotion at heart? In short, even Lexa is becoming more aware that emotion still has a part to play. So which example then does Clarke follow? Or will this finally be a case of Clarke being her own example, to herself, and leading with a style that faults and all embraces the strength of both Lexa and Abby’s leadership styles.
The other side of this coin, however is Cage and Dante. Dante I think we can all agree has come more than ever to see the error of his ways in stealing life to stay alive, and is trying now perhaps to make amends by helping the Sky people trapped in the level below, by thwarting his son’s attempts to save himself by killing them all. He would have known of course that in helping Bellamy to compromise level 5 and let in the radiation, he would without question that he’d be killing some of his own people in the process. But so great has being their abuse as a society, of the thousands of grounder people they have inevitably drained over the years to stay alive, that you can’t help but wonder whether he questions now if they even deserve to stay alive, let alone go out and live on the ground.
But it’s Cage that’s the real centre of this discussion. Because you think about his mentality behind killing all those people in Tondc. Yeah sure he says he’s just trying to protect his own people, but remember the hideous passing comment he made about Grounders. He called them savages, and said he just wants to get out on the ground and let them get back to the practice of killing each other. In short, he still sees them as animals. As sub-humans. As anything but equals when it comes to who matters more when it comes to having the right to live. Contrast that with what Clarke told Emerson: she is coming for Cage. But if he lets her people go, she will let him live. Cage has no such capacity for mercy; he believes that his enemy isn’t human enough and therefore worthy enough to warrant mercy, which is why he’d happily bomb another ten Tondc’s if he had to. And it’s that ultimate contrast that will, I think, see Abby come to forgive and understand her daughter more one day. Where as Dante? Well, he makes his feelings pretty clear. Cage has basically sold his soul. He is the embodiment of everything corruptible and evil in the human spirit; he is everything that Clarke is not.
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it. If the Grounders win and get a hold of him, is there even enough of his body to cut in payment for every life he has taken? Personally, I doubt it.
It was a strange pairing from day one, but my goodness the pairing of Jaha and Murphy has reaped some fascinating benefits for the greater narrative of not only this season, but also The 100 as a whole. Despite the fact that Jaha is turning into some great, misguided zen-master type – one who is insistent that he is doing the right thing by making the journey in search of the City of Light – what I’m really loving is the quite extraordinary growth his attitude has sparked in the character of John Murphy.
I’ll be honest: I was a lot more comfortable with showrunner Jason Rothenberg’s erstwhile description of him as a cockroach. After all he’d done, that judgement of Murphy in my mind as a fan, sat very comfortably thank you very much. I was quite happy to feel so absolute about him. And yet, in the cleverest and most infuriating way, John Murphy is suddenly a character that I cannot help but care about. This growth – and indeed, an example of the behaviour that has made me begrudgingly have to take note of – was showcased beautifully in John’s (listen, I’m even calling him by his first name. John. I am SO DISCONCERTED RIGHT NOW.) interaction with Emori: the desert girl with the sad but false story of attack who ultimately betrays them and steals their possessions.
That whole scene where John and Emori walk along discussing their respective reasons for being cast out from their people, was beautifully done. Of particular note though was the that moment where he said that – as Emori is basically the only person in the world who doesn’t completely hate him right now – he didn’t really want to screw that up. Ummm, what? Since when does Murphy care about what people think? Since when does Murphy respond to a girl with a disfigured hand that she should not cover it up, because it’s kind of badass? SINCE WHEN?! And yet here he is, with a sweetness and sincerity that for the first time since we met him, does not seem permeated by some kind of devious, selfish sub agenda. Here he is, unwittingly making us care. Massively.
As to whether we’ll see Emori again, I like to think we will because she’s an interesting character, and I’d be fascinated to see what John would be like if suddenly he met somebody for who he’d be willing to be unselfish for. To me, that would be a very exciting prospect indeed.
Almost the entire episode this week was filled with the deaths of innocent people, and yet in the midst of all that, there was one who finally and brutally got her just desserts. From the very beginning, something was not right about Dr. Tsing. Not her bedside manner, not her technical style as a doctor: nothing. So it was not exactly a surprise to see her revealed as one of the most cruel and insidious monsters inside of Mount Weather.
What made her equally terrifying though was that she seemed to believe her own party line; that she had every right to take the lives of the Sky people and was not in any way ethically compromised by the cost. She’s basically the Voldemort of Mount Weather I guess you could say, in a clinic littered with the bodies of kids that she’s stuck her drill bit into and murdered; whatever scrap of her soul was left after years killing grounders, it was gone completely by the time she got to dragging Jasper away from his friends towards the chamber where she’d killed so many before him.
So to see her begin to burn and crumple in a blistering, boiling heap was so satisfying; to see Jasper standing over her and echoing her deadly poetry back to her even as she fried – “You are so special to us.” Then something weird happened. What a gross thing, I thought to myself – worse, about myself – that I could enjoy so much seeing all of those guards and her drop like bags of lead in the contaminated air. Was it wrong to feel so glad that she died the way she did?
Either way, Dr. Tsing. Your fight is not over, because you never fought a day in your life. You are simply no more and no less than dead; a monster leaving the world – to quote the great Sir Walter Scott – unwept, unhonored, and unsung. The fight of those you would have slaughtered, however, is only just beginning.
Prior to watching this episode, I saw a great tweet from a fan of The 100 (I’m sorry I didn’t write down your Twitter handle either – if this is you that I’m paraphrasing then please let me know!) that insightfully noted how where other shows are threatening the missile strike – keeping their trigger finger hovering over the launch button til the last minute – The 100 is already watching the payload soar through the air and decimate the target into oblivion. Where other shows are celebrating their umpteenth eleventh hour reprieve, The 100 is standing there covered in tears, ash and blood while fallout rains from the sky. Where other shows would have the adult pull the child into their arms safe and sound having just plucked them from horror, The 100 has the child front and centre making the decisions that define that horror; being leaders and game changers while their parents and guardians can only look on in self-judgement as to how they raised the children that now stand before them.
With this in mind, “Rubicon” – penned by Aaron Ginsburg and Wade McIntyre – was a magnificent, unrelenting and fiery examination of exactly that mentality; a brilliant cross examination of battlefield mindsets that in no way shirked the ugliness that comes with the fact that in a broken world, death and sacrifice are cruel but unavoidable costs in the quest to survive. That sometimes to win the war, you must concede a battle. Yet in the same breath, Ginsburg and McIntyre likewise showed us the equally violent underbelly of that concept, cleverly yet brutally examining through Cage’s story the fact that human survival means nothing if it is done at the ultimate cost of your soul. Indeed, one of the really clever things these guys did in their script this week was establish early that Cage was planning to bomb Tondc, while at the same time cutting back constantly to the village itself; reminding us incessantly of the fact that it was teeming not only with life, but also with the fragile, glinting promise of hope. It was such a smart story telling tactic – letting us see all those faces and making us so acutely aware of the mass of physical life in Tondc – because it meant that when that missile landed, we were really made to feel the human impact with equal depth and despair. It meant that we as the audience were likewise made to weigh up both sides of Clarke’s decision to say nothing when she knew what was coming: sides which were sharply personified in the respective responses of Lexa and Abby to the crisis. Of similar note was the fantastic and brutally conflicted dialogue between Cage and Dante, particularly in that last scene. The writing was spot on, and indeed Johnny Whitworth and Raymond Barry (as Cage and Dante, respectively) brought it to life with a gripping conviction such that – however you feel about the characters – you could not help but finish the episode with a massive appreciation for these actors and their skill. In short, this script was as brilliant as it was gutting and added even more weight to the already very heavy argument that The 100 is, simply, one of the best and most important shows on television in 2015.
Meanwhile, Mairzee Almas had a fantastic week in the director’s chair: a turn dominated by a vision that really captured the blistering essence and consequence of human interaction, particularly between Cage and Dante. The other real strength of Almas’ direction was the way in which she used the contrast of physical environments to compliment the actions and emotions of various characters in core scenes this week. For example Clarke and Abby talking about hiding Clarke’s secret – that she knew the missile was coming – in the cover of shadows on the mountain side. Or the way she captured Jaha and Murphy’s adventures in the desert, because it’s such a strangely dynamic landscape that visually just works, just as Jaha and Murphy share a strange dynamic that emotionally, just works. Or inside the Mountain as Jasper stood over Tsing watching her writhe on the ground screaming as she succumbed to the radiation; after all, how many times had the shot perspective been of her standing over someone else’s body while they screamed and writhed for their life? The really brilliant example of this though was Cage and Dante in Dante’s white cell – notably, the same one in which Clarke had been held (indicated by the Van Gogh painting on the wall). Clinical, stark white so often symbolises a disinfected purity. Classical paintings so often evoke the concepts of class, cleverness and the best and brightest of what the human imagination is capable of. So to have Dante and Cage in a slanging match in just such an environment, where they are discussing the black, miry, pitch-thick ethical and physical atrocity of what Cage has just done, was a brilliant tactical decision vision wise for the episode, and Almas captured that perfectly. Indeed, the pathos she achieved was palpable; I really hope she’s back soon.
But yet again, we must ask: where to from here? Because every week, The 100 is turning in as a standard episode what other shows turn in as a mid-season or season finale. Every week it says in no uncertain terms, ‘You think you know what’s coming next? Just wait.’ And then ‘next’ comes, and you realised that they weren’t bragging because they backed it up. But this week, some really interesting questions were posed and I for one am really looking forward as to how they’ll answer them. For one, now that their marrow stock is running loose on the radiation-breached level 5 inside the mountain, what will Cage and his kind do when they finally get back in? And perhaps, more importantly, what will Jasper and Co. have done to combat them by the time they get there? And don’t forget – Maya and Bellamy are trapped on the other side of that door, in just as precarious a position. If they are discovered, we have already seen what Cage is capable of. Could a bloody fate await them? Could they be used as bait? Likewise, how long will it take for Cage to realise that Clarke and Lexa are not only not dead, but are coming for him and his people, with an army fuelled now not just by loyalty but also by grief and a bloodlust for the Mountain Men who killed their family, friends and comrades? What of Kane and Indra? What of Octavia and the addiction ravaged Lincoln?
But while all these things are up in the air, one thing stands certain. Ash, blood and fire have rained; hope now lies bleeding; and a major battle has been decided. But we should make no mistake that this war is, without a doubt, only just beginning. As for what’s coming? I think it’s safe to say we ain’t seen nothing yet.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS
Keep your orange jumpsuits, plastic housewives and political powerbrokers. Octavia Blake: Grounder Second is hands fricking down one of the most fantastic stories being told on television in 2015. That is all.
Also, Marie Avgeropoulos in her Grounder getup is stunning. That whole scene where she is standing over Lincoln and yelling at him in Trigedasleng like the raw hearted badass she is, was BRILLIANT.
The ground is yours, Cage? Yours? SOMEONE COOK DIS ARROGANT FOOL PLS.
Also. (Johnny Whitworth + Cage Wallace) x (7 cups of tea + undisclosed amount of pop rock chocolate) x 10 hours of reviewing – a full night’s sleep = Johnny Cage = Mortal Kombat reference = MIND FRIGGING BLOWN OMG SERIOUSLY THOUGH WHAT DAY IS IT I CAN’T FEEL MY TOES.
Na na NAH NAH. Na na NAH NAH. HEY HEY HEY. GOO-OOD BYE. #TsingGotSung
That said, the Mountain have a barbecue and don’t invite Raven “The Rachel Ray of Apocalyptic America” Reyes? RUDE.
Really enjoyed the introduction of Emori to the narrative, and the exchange she had with Murphy about being cast out by their respective people. Found it really fascinating when she showed her hand, and Murphy reacted with such an honest appreciation of her for doing it. I think that was the first truly non-derisive smile we’ve seen from John. On John. Ever.
What? Don’t be absurd. Of course I’m not suddenly feeling attracted to Murphy. No. Don’t be ridiculous. Shut up. Go away. I BLAME YOU FOR THIS, RICHARD HARMON.
This week Raven Reyes hugged Clarke Griffin and it was EVERYTHING.
PSA: I am not responsible for my actions should something deadly have happened to either Kane or Indra. Cc: Everyone and Everything
Because he is perfect and amazing and awesome this season, I am shipping Bellamy Blake with basically everything right now. Except for those soldier outfits. While humanity survived the nuclear war, it would appear military fashion apparently did not. Because don’t tell me those caps won’t give him the worst hat hair ever.
Apocalyptic mutant human on horseback appears with an RPG because OF COURSE HE DOES.