Plans are slowly falling into place. An infiltration. A covert attack. A bloody reality check of a training session for the people of the Ark – who’ve never really fought a day in their lives – delivered by Grounders who are only too happy to dish out lessons in combat. An unlikely alliance between strategists and warriors. Though still in its infancy, the plan to begin the take down of Mount Weather takes its first true but tentative steps towards the Grounders and Sky people saving their captured own and conquering an enemy with a very distinct advantage, in Episode 2.10 – entitled “Survival Of The Fittest” – of CW’s brilliant sci-fi drama The 100.
After a tense meeting with Grounder generals – who remain less than enthused with the new alliance between their peoples – Clarke and Lexa venture out into the wilderness to make their first move against the Mountain. But it is a wilder place than they bargained for, as for the first time a wildly powerful new enemy rises up to meet them in the forest and threatens to take them out before they even begin: something that causes the two leaders to rely on each other in a way they never have before.
Elsewhere, Kane has orchestrated a meeting between Indra and her soldiers, and the people of the Ark, that they might impart skills and technology to each other and be prepared to go to war. Smug in their perceived superiority, the Grounders approach the exercise, only to be shocked at the utter bravery, guts and determination of a woman who has spent most of her young life hiding in a hole.
And all the while, Bellamy and Lincoln seek to sneak into the heart of the Mountain: a necessary but terrible risk given that Bellamy has no true idea of what he will face once he’s in there, and Lincoln is walking straight back into the place where Cage tried to turn him into a bloodthirsty monster.
Everyone is on a mission this week, towards an end that may yet take their lives in the process. So with all that in mind, let’s take a look at the episode shall we?
IF YOU GO DOWN TO THE WOODS TODAY
We’ve seen them do business in the political arena – in the negotiation of their alliance – but this was the first week we’ve seen Clarke and Lexa step up and go to battle together, and far out but it made for a fantastic watch. Lexa, to a degree, has remained fairly secure in how she believes hers and Clarke’s relationship works; I think viewing Clarke as the weaker of the two of them, despite the formidable strength she’s shown to date – especially in killing Finn.
And even after they encounter the Pauna – an insanely powerful and vicious mutated ancestor of the Gorilla on this Earth – and Clarke goes gung ho with a hand gun in battling it (not to mention in trying to save herself and Lexa), even then, Lexa is still telling Clarke she’s weak. For not taking the kill when the Grounder general went rogue and tried to kill Clarke in the forest for standing up to him. For not leaving Lexa behind when the Pauna came. In this, as much as we as the audience have come to value Lexa as a character – even adore her to an extent – it was kind of hard not to get pissed off with the Grounder Commander when she rebuked Clarke like that.
So I was pumped to see the way Clarke stepped up, got right in Lexa’s face and reminded her of the fact that just maybe, she doesn’t know everything. That if someone saves your life, the right thing to do is actually say thank you before anything else. That the reason she didn’t leave Lexa behind was because she knew if she went back to the Grounder camp without Lexa, the alliance would be dead in the water before she could blink. Because in doing all of that, Lexa did something that I don’t imagine she does or has to do very often, and that’s say she was wrong. Wrong to either see or call Clarke as weak in any way. And it’s that that I was so glad to see, because in that moment, the relationship between these two was driven to a much stronger place: a place of equality, where Lexa acknowledges that Clarke has a right to stand toe to toe with her, and Clarke realises she is not a pushover just because she cares for people enough to make the effort to save them if she can.
The result was bigger than them, though. It caused Lexa to put a little more faith in Clarke’s faith in Bellamy. Fans of Bellamy and Clarke would have had their hackles raised a bit to see the way she told him it was the best thing for him to attempt to get into the Mountain; that she was being less than strong in telling him that after Finn, she could not bear to lose him too. (Seriously, when these two finally get their act together at some point, it’s gonna blow the roof off television. Can I wait? NOPE.)
But in this episode, it was a bit of return to form for her relationship with Bellamy, but to a healthier place: one where she acknowledges just how much she values Bellamy, as a strong, capable, smart person, by stating in no uncertain terms that she trusts him completely to get the job done inside the Mountain. Gone seemed to be the all or nothing approach to her relationship with him that she had last week (which is refreshing, because gurl no-one believed you could just turn it all off like that). Instead, she makes it clear how much she values him, trusts him, and has earned an equality with Lexa that causes the Grounder Commander to say ‘what’s good enough for her, is good enough for me.’ Indeed, it’s a point of togetherness that this alliance needed at its heart if it is to have any success in bringing down Mount Weather.
None of which will happen though unless Bellamy is successful in infiltrating Mount Weather: something which he cannot do without the help of Lincoln, who in turn must go back and pretend to be the monster he hates so much, in order to get them close enough. The courage here is huge. He is, after all, a recovering addict from the bloodlust-inducing serum that Cage uses to create the Reapers. I thought his mindset was summed up best as he told Bellamy about the first Sky person he’d ever encountered – a man who committed ‘suicide by earth’ – when he was a child. He had cared for the man, as much out of compassion as curiosity, only to be told to slaughter his patient, by his father in whom he’d confided the secret of the man he’d been taking care of. And the moment where he told Bellamy that he had spent his entire life in a world that kept trying to make him a monster? That really hit home.
Because consider the greater situation as it now stands. Lincoln was already hated by his own people, led by Indra. Then he became a Reaper, and was subsequently feared and hated by his own people. And now the woman he loves, is Indra’s second. So what happens if Lincoln is unable to come back from his reaper fate this time? What happens if he should come face to face with Octavia and Indra tells her to kill him? Will she choose her new master or the man she loves? Because given the way things stand now, it seems impossible for her to have both. Either way, Lincoln stands to be the greatest victim of all, despite the fact that he has continually sacrificed himself for the good of Octavia and her people. So what does this mean? Is the end being spelled out for this Grounder outcast? Or is it just the beginning?
LEADERS OF THE PACKS
This episode really was one that showcased the different kinds of leaders that exist on The 100. For the purposes of the exercise though, I think it’s helpful to focus here mostly on Jaha and Kane as two diametrically opposed leader types, because to be sure, both of these characters had big weeks this week.
Firstly, Jaha. Look, I get it, I really do. Being ousted as the leader of your people after you sacrificed yourself in space to give them a chance to get to earth, has to be a kick in the personal and political nuts. And back there on the Ark, you really believed about him for a while there that finally, he saw that all of this was bigger than Ark politics. Bigger than past mistakes or victories. Bigger than him.
But since he’s been reunited with his people, he has been nothing but an unsupportive, insubordinate pain in the ass, who refuses to see that without the Grounders as allies they are as dead in the water as if the Grounders had killed them anyway. He’s underestimated (or ignored completely in some circumstances) the fact that this proverbial Dorothy ain’t exactly in Kansas anymore, but rather an entirely new and deadly world. A new age and society with a structure that is vastly different from that which he once ruled. He is literally helping nobody, but doing everything to help himself back into a position of leadership: a hero complex he is willing to follow through on, no matter the cost his people might pay.
It was odd too to see just how well he began to turn Murphy in the end, too, despite the fact that Murphy was the one who better than anyone else, in the drop ship called Jaha out on his bullshit, not letting him simply and easily smooth over the damage he caused when he shunted the 100 down to earth to find out whether the surface was liveable. But despite that anger, you couldn’t help but the spark of desire in Murphy when it came to prospect of him getting a new beginning somewhere far away from this place, assuming the City of Light actually exists. One thing to point out here though is the absolutely cracking dialogue set out in the script for these two, because it gave us a great insight into both men. It was so unexpected to see their interaction, but at the same time poses some very interesting potential for the future if these two team up. But as a leader? I wouldn’t follow Jaha into a cave full of kittens, let alone off on some quest, to a place on the other side of a dead zone, with no plan, no back up and in a land full of people who’d prefer to kill them than invite them in for a conversation.
In contrast, you’ve got Kane. The first time we encountered Kane back on the Ark, waaaay back there in space, he was an awful person. A conniving human being who sought only to establish his own rule, through the undermining of the current Chancellor’s power. (That Chancellor of course being Jaha – you know. When all his nuts and bolts were still screwed in right and he was actually not an idiot.)
But while Jaha has backslid like it’s nobody’s business, Kane has undergone some pretty tremendous character change – at times through horrendous life experiences that caused him to re-evaluate what truly matters. The death of his mother in the Unity day bombing on the Ark. Taking responsibility for the death of the 300 volunteers who gave themselves up in the oxygen crisis. Risking his life to get to the Exodus ship hatch after it was commandeered by rebels. (That was the time we met Wick. Remember Wick? Our beloved Wick? WE LOVE WICK WHERE IS HE.) Kane, in short, has done some pretty extraordinary things.
Now, granted he’s still managed some monumental cockups on the way. Having Abby publically tortured for insubordination, case in point. That was dumb. But despite those fumbles, he has grown massively, and this week’s episode really showcased that. He has demonstrated remarkable diplomacy skills that have at times, saved his people from a deadly fate before they even knew they needed saving. He was the first one to champion Lexa as a great leader, despite the harshness of her rule, and he’s the one guy who gave Abby the reality check she needed: when she exclaimed that the Grounder were being led by a child, he noted that they were too. He’s the only adult that acknowledges that this is not the time to play the “I’m the grown up and you’re not” card. Instead, he’s actively acknowledged that it is the knowledge of the kids they sent to earth that has the best chance of saving their lives, if only the adults are humble enough to admit it. And on top of all that, he’s the only leader out of him, Jaha and Abby that’s taken any time at all to try and understand the Grounders in order to have a working alliance with them, and – if the battle goes ill – defend against them should they attack. Which is why you can’t necessarily begrudge him for asking Octavia to be his eyes and ears in the Grounder camp – despite the fact that it puts her in a very difficult position now that she’s accepted Indra’s offer to become her second. Either way, you really do need to hand it to Kane for what he’s done so far. Question is, will that growth continue? Or is there still a lust for power inside him that may yet overtake his desire for peace?
WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU
Which leads us of course to what I thought was the standout plot arc of this episode: to Octavia, and the beginning of an extraordinary life path unlike that of any other character around her.
Octavia has always been brave (not to mention reckless at times) in a way that no other character has, and often it’s been the choices she’s made with those attitudes that have gone on to determine huge outcomes for her people, as well as herself. Her falling in love with – and staying loyal to – Lincoln, despite the fact that he was a Grounder, has resulted in Lincoln becoming one of the greatest assets the Sky people have had yet. I mean seriously. He’s been tortured, insulted and brutalised by this race, and yet still he’s sacrificed his life time and time again that they might be saved. Because they are her people, and she is worth being saved. And he would not have experienced that side of the Ark people, had she not first been brave enough to put aside her preconceptions and natural fears of what and who he was. And that takes incredible character.
One of the areas where the show could perhaps be accused of falling down any, then, is in how – since that meeting – so much of Octavia’s story has revolved around Lincoln. Being in love with him. Being saved by him. Her saving his life. Her risking everything to find him after he goes missing.
Not to say that those parts of the show weren’t written beautifully, but it just felt like a bit of a waste of a great character at times. Not to mention a great actress in Marie Avgeropoulos, who must be utterly commended for the dedication she has shown physically and emotionally to the growth of Octavia. This week was no exception. Her fight in the rain and mud with the Grounder was every bit as blazing as the one shared by Anya and Clarke that rime at the drop ship. It showed a huge depth of strength and a vastness of spirit in Octavia, which made even the perpetually bitter and angry Indra sit up and take enough notice to ask her to be her second. And this? This is a massive deal. Why? It makes Octavia the place where the Grounder people and the Sky people meet as one, the same way Clarke is the place where the Grounder leadership and Sky people leadership meet as one. And really, with an alliance as fraught as this one, such connections can only add much needed strength.
This is the latest I’ve ever put in a review for The 100, and that bugs me a fair bit. It’s the kind of show that you legit put a night away for so you can watch it uninterrupted, and soak up the effect completely undiluted. (The show airs in the US at the equivalent of around lunch time Thursday here in Australia, so I get very jealous of all of you who get to watch it live.) But by the same token, after I sat down and watched “Survival Of The Fittest”, I was really struck by how great it was to watch and review it a few days later, without getting caught up in the hype and online reaction to the episode when it aired. Because to be sure, this was a huge chapter of the story, so naturally there was a big audience response to how things played out, and when you’re reviewing, it’s easy to get swept up in that; easy to be swayed by it at times. So in that sense then, I’m kind of glad this is coming out a little bit after the event; things were clearer to consider, take apart and understand, and in an episode like this I think that was hugely important. There were just so many pivotal things that happened this week in the context of the greater story. That said though, I’m sorry I made you wait.
But on to the episode itself.
Akela Cooper absolutely knocked it out of the part this week, delivering what I think was one of the best episodes of the season. She did a brilliant job in two particular areas. The first was that she completely changed up who the characters interacted with this week; or, if they interacted with the same person (take for example, Clarke and Lexa, who’ve shared a lot of screen time together over the last few weeks), Cooper shunted those characters into situations that caused a juggernaut of growth, both in the individuals and their respective relationships. The growth in Clarke and Lexa’s relationship was, to be sure, some of the best we have seen yet; likewise, seeing Bellamy and Lincoln interact the way they did as they sought to infiltrate Mount Weather, and Jaha and Murphy forming their strange but compelling alliance, were fantastic arcs.
But for me, the most outstanding element of this episode was by far what Cooper did in furthering Octavia’s story. She is such a brilliant character, yet so much of her strength and nuance was being lost in the context of her relationship with Lincoln.
Instead, “Survival Of The Fittest” showcased an Octavia Blake that in many ways steps up to Clarke’s level as a champion of just how powerful, relentless and game changing a strong female lead can be in a story. In short, Akela Cooper nailed it, with a clever and uncompromisingly brutal script that didn’t just steal your breath: it punched you in the oesophagus, reached down your throat and snatched the breath clear out of your lungs. Oh, and kudos for the ‘let’s rip this soldier’s arm off while we’re at it’ approach, lady. After everything, I TOTALLY didn’t pick that she would go out like that. What a kick in the ass. Well done.
All of this dovetailed perfectly with Dean White’s return to the director’s chair, too. White, of course, has been one of the regular go-to directors for those really gritty, fast paced and action packed episodes, and given the fact that they (finally!!) introduced the massive, mutated animal element to the mix this week, they could have chosen no-one better to bring this chapter to life. Indeed, in an episode that looked more like something you’d see in a movie as opposed to the small screen (seriously, was anyone else getting the Dawn of The Planet of The Apes vibe?), White’s direction grabbed the audience by the collar, thumped its back to the wall, and refused to let go until the credits rolled. And it was SO. FRICKING. COOL. That said, again – like Cooper’s script – I think White’s biggest triumph this week was hands down, the way he captured the growth of Octavia, particularly in her battle scene in the rain with the Grounder. The blood, mud, bravery and brutality of that whole sequence was staged and done perfectly; in a way that – if audiences had any doubts whatsoever about Octavia’s long-term value to the story, before – they certainly were clear on the subject afters. Legit. One of your best, Mr. White.
All in all though, we have reached a massive precipice in the broader narrative. A point of no return for many characters, as they determine just how far they’re willing to go to conquer the mountain, and just how willing they are to trust a former enemy to help them do it. The world now sits on the edge of a sharper blade that they have ever encountered before; the question is now, though, not just whether they will succeed, but how great the human cost will be in the trying.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS
Did I mention that Octavia is amazing? BECAUSE SHE IS AMAZING.
Can we all please stop and talk about how great Kane’s character is at the moment? Aside from the fact that Henry Ian Cusick is fricking perfect in this role, Kane has totally stepped up as a leader, and is such a far cry from that slick, slimy politician we met at the beginning of season one.
Okay, people. WHO PUT THE MAGIC MUSHROOMS IN JAHA’S PRISON FOOD. #LookitAllThePrettyColorsMurphy #FollowMeBecauseIAmABeautifulButterflyEmergingFromMyCocoonOfDespair #MemberThatTimeiImaginedAFakeBabyAndStrappedMyselfToAMissileInSpace #GoodTimes
DAT GIANT FANGED MONKEY, THO. WUT.
Looking forward to the upcoming bout between Bellarke Shippers and fans of ClarkLexa. #GetReadyToRumble
Did anyone miss Jasper this week? *…crickets…* *…tumbleweed rolls past…*
Oi. John Murphy. STOP MAKING ME LIKE YOU. (I blame you, Richard Harmon, for being so delightful in real life. Legit son, you could charm the fuzz off a peach.)
Looking forward to finding out what’s happening with my guy Monty in his metal case of emotion. In other news, SOMEONE RESCUE MY FAVOURITE NERD STAT, PLS.
Is the Cerebus process just Mount Weather’s really bitchy way of taking all the pretty men left on earth and making them cannibals? Discuss.
Finally! Season Two’s biggest twist has been revealed! Bellamy wears boxers. A revelation which, I imagine, should answer around 70 percent of questions in the Writer’s Tumblr inbox. Cc: email@example.com