REVIEW | The 100 - Episode 3.07 - "Thirteen"
A wise person once said that ‘it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’ And make no mistake: change has come to the peoples of the earth. But such is its magnitude, it is clear from the outset of this week's episode of The 100 - entitled 'Thirteen' - that no-one will emerge out the other side of this revelation, unscathed.
Still trapped in a hidden bunker in the bowels of the Polis marketplace, Murphy continues to be interrogated by Lexa’s right hand man, as Titus seeks to determine exactly what John knows about the tiny blue microchip given to him by Jaha. But when a chance arises in Titus’ absence for Murphy to break his bonds, John suddenly finds himself face to face with the ancient legend that informs almost all life on the ground, and even some of his in space. It is a beginning defined by the end of life as the world once knew it; a ground-breaking technological origin story etched into the stone walls of a hole in the ground. And it changes everything.
Elsewhere in Polis, Lexa and Clarke find themselves presented with Octavia who has been captured as a prisoner of war, by the same villagers she tried to save from her brother and Pike. Driven to strike a compromise that will both somewhat appease the clans and give Arkadia time to come to its senses, Lexa issues a decree that the armies of the 12 clans will blockade Arkadia for a time. A declaration that includes a kill order for any Arkadian discovered outside the 5 mile perimeter the armies are to set up.
It is an arrangement that sees Octavia issue an ultimatum to Clarke about choosing her true place in the world, and sees Lexa make an offer that will be insanely hard for Clarke to refuse. Indeed for the latter women, a choice to lay down the wounds of the past has come. In place of those wounds, lies the opportunity to finally take up the beauty and promise of the bond that they share.
But then life never does happen on our terms, does it. So comes to pass for two much beloved characters, a shattering loss that will strike at the very heart of everything worth fighting for.
Who, then, will find peace? Who will make peace? And who will be left in pieces?
Alright kids. Here we go.
THE WAY OF ALL FLESH
Prior to ‘Thirteen’, we were promised that this would be the episode that finally drew back the curtains on so much of the significant information that to date has remained hidden. At the heart of all that, of course, was the origin story of the end of the world. The most cataclysmic event in the history of the human race.
Now, later we will discuss in more depth the whole ALIE vs ALIE 2 connection. What I want to focus on here is the mythology behind that connection, and the powerful way the expectations and beliefs of both sides were torn away to reveal the truth of their incredible link.
Firstly, let’s look at the two men at the heart of this process of revelation. Titus, on one hand, is a man of extraordinarily deep belief in the ‘religion’ of sorts that surrounds the role of Commander and the history that informs it. I should note here that I hesitate to call it that, too; ‘religion’ is such a limited, reductive, alternative term for the expression of faith. The concept of religion is so manufactured and manmade, so based in process and tradition; faith I think is something else entirely. Faith requires action. Faith without deeds is dead, as the saying goes.
Either way, though, in Titus you see a man loyal to something that he cannot fully understand, yet still implicitly trusts. It makes for an incredibly stark contrast to Murphy: a man who openly admits that he will do or say just about anything to survive, and entirely lacks belief in a greater purpose for any of it. I loved that in order to reveal the massive historical connection here, they chose two characters like this. Two people so diametrically opposed in how they approach life and deal with the world. I think there’s an important lesson in that: how no matter how different we seem to be, in the end our foundational sameness will find a way to draw us back together, whether we like it or not. Perhaps, you might say, we are not quite so in control of things as we like to think we are.
In regards to the mythology itself, I loved the plethora of ways they chose to reveal it in its entirety. I loved that they chose to reveal the same legend in completely opposing environments: visually going back and forth between the sleek, futuristic blue glow of the Polaris lab, and the dusty, relic laden cave with firelight bouncing off walls covered in primal cave paintings, as they revealed Becca as the first Nightblood.
But more importantly, as they revealed that a Sky woman was the first Commander.
In the case of Titus, the look on his face is an indicator of how the rest of the Grounder population would react too if they knew. Can you imagine them finding out that their entire civilisation hinges on an irony this incredible, this unbelievable? It would obliterate so much long held belief. So much of the framework behind how their society operates, I mean, could a civilisation even survive having such a rug pulled out from under them? Is there even a scale that could measure the effect of such a collapse?
On the other side of this exchange you have Murphy, who – despite having had the tar licked out of him for hours now – is still smart enough to join together this epic collection of dots. And seriously. How gloriously ironic that a man without a people – a man rejected by almost everyone and everything he has ever known – should be the one to reveal the permanently binding connection between the entire remainder of the human race. I mean, John Murphy being the one to tie all that together? The sheer pathos of it was fantastic. On top of that, just as these men are exact opposites, so too were the environments in which their link was revealed. The whole thing was a masterstroke.
The fact they followed up that whole part of the episode, with the wonderful moment of reconnection between Murphy and Clarke, only added fuel to the fire of that stroke. Because think about it. When these two landed on the ground, they were just kids. Yet mere months down the track, here they are: a hated, homeless exile who has just made the discovery that will change everything forever, and a feared saviour who is torn between two homes, neither of which give her a full sense of belonging. They in many ways are as opposite as Murphy and Titus. They also arguably share a much more personal and bitter history.
And yet the moment she sees his face, Clarke not only checks to make sure if he’s okay, but actively stands between Murphy and Titus’ pointed gun, telling the Flamekeemper to leave her and her friend alone. Honestly, I thought that was a little moment with big implications. For my part, I can’t wait to see what it might mean down the track, even though I know not all of it will be good. Not as long as Murphy is Murphy and Clarke is Clarke, right?
The question now though is what Titus and Murphy in particular will do with the knowledge they now have. How will the revelation change the game plan on either side of this impending battle? And how will ALIE react when she realises just how close to her grasp ALIE 2 is?
While a huge portion of this episode was dedicated to Lexa and Clarke, and the Becca/ALIE storyline, we must never underestimate the hugely important turn of events that happened around Octavia this week. She was at the heart of two very significant moments that, for my part, I think will go on to define key points in the conflict to come. Because while we saw nothing of Arkadia in this episode, we must not forget that what’s brewing there is still every bit the game-changing terror and the danger. Octavia – as a member of the Resistance (you’re damn right I’m capitalising it) – is the tangible link between what is happening off-screen there, and what is happening on-screen here: firstly with Clarke, then with Indra.
Let’s start with Clarke. Now, naturally Clarke’s feelings for Lexa are playing a huge role in whether or not she stays in Polis. On paper, Clarke’s argument is that she would undoubtedly be about to do more for her people, in the Grounder capital as an ambassador. But in reality, we know that desire is not really what’s informing her decision. What I love about Octavia in the context of this is that she is ballsy enough to call Clarke on it. She knows Clarke has big feelings about the Commander. But Octavia is also brave enough to remind Clarke that while she may have a place in Polis now, she also has a people she left behind, and they are a people about to have twelve clans of angry Grounders descend on them, who want nothing more than to slaughter every last one of them.
Octavia reminds Clarke that it’s not enough to hope that her people will eventually and quickly see the error of their ways, and exact due punishment for what Pike has done. The Sky people are trigger happy and fearful at the moment, which is an extraordinarily hard mental and emotional barrier to break through if they are going to change. It can’t just be anyone who gets that ball rolling. It has to be someone they respect. And at the moment, Clarke is the only one with enough of that authority to contend with Pike.
I love the foresight and boldness of Octavia in that moment when she doesn’t shy away from laying the hard truth on Clarke. It’s gutsy and and brutally on point. Hell, if I was that ALIE 2 chip, I would be making a bee line for Octavia Blake as the next leader of the free world, such is her heart. Such is her mind. What remains to be seen now, though, is whether or not Octavia’s interaction with Clarke will be enough of a catalyst to drive Wanheda back to her Clarke Griffin roots. If so, it needs to happen quickly. They are literally down to hours now.
But the other (and by far my favourite) interaction regarding Octavia this week came when she confronted Indra. Now, Indra is clearly suffering from a brutal case of survivor’s guilt after the field massacre: something that is understandable given the fact that as a warrior, one imagines she would rather have met an honourable death alongside her comrades. But you cannot argue against the fact that had she died – as Lexa did, at the proverbial hands of a bullet sent flying without reason or warning – she too would have been just another great warrior, killed in a way that did not reflect the fierceness and courage with which she had lived her life.
But ultimately, life wasn’t done with Indra. Octavia knows it, and given the fact that Indra stayed alive when so many others did not get that chance, it’s about damn time Indra got the memo too.
After spending so long knowing Indra as this badass warrior, who had lived through lord knows how many horrific battles and yet still strode out the other side, it was confronting to see her broken and struggling so badly. One suspects, too, that she is probably giving herself over to the effects of her injury, inevitably as penance for not dying alongside her fellow warriors. You did not die with honour, she seems to be telling herself. So now you must live with your shame.
Octavia though walks straight up to Indra’s attitude and punches it in the damn face. Because she knows that her former leader can do better than this. Because she knows it’s exactly what a good mentor would do for their second – not to mention their friend – if the roles were reversed. Unlike another lieutenant perhaps might when angry-clobbered by their mentor, Octavia doesn’t hesitate to return Indra’s backhand to the face. Octavia knocks Indra on her ass.
She tells her former mentor that if she must, she will go into battle against her own people – even her own idiot brother if she has to – but is smart enough to know she can’t do it on her own. She’s also brave enough to tell Indra to stop feeling sorry for herself and get up out of the dirt. To tell her commanding officer that she has two choices. Take her revenge, or die here in self-imposed ignominy. Above all, I loved how Octavia demonstrates here that she is loyal to a fault. Octavia cares enough to deliver a brutal case of tough love to the person who has been hardest on her, but to the person who was the first to treat her like she was capable of being something more. And Octavia is back to repay that favour with a roar.
Honestly, the moment that they strode together out of the gates – no longer as mentor and second but as warrior to warrior: equal in every way – was an iconic milestone for these phenomenal women. Think about it. A person that once would have seen the Skikru slaughtered where they stood, now stands firmly beside the fiercest and bravest Sky girl of all, ready to march into a fight.
If you are wondering what hope looks like, that’s it.
In ‘Thirteen’, I found myself thinking a lot about the ‘Unity Day’ episode all the way back in season one, for a lot of reasons. I thought about how disunity with her peers was what sent Becca to earth and caused Polaris to be destroyed, yet on the same day, the unification of the rest of the stations not only created the Ark but also a new population out of one that had been decimated. I thought too about how the last Unity Day spent in the sky was defined by an event that scattered every person it didn’t kill, with Sydney’s bombing of the festivities.
All that time on the ground, a similar tug of war was going on. A push and pull of political agendas. Of clans coming together and the Ice Nation rising up with cruel and deadly force against the Commander. Even then, the Sky and the Ground were not so different to each other. Both were in desperate need of the ability to learn how to rise above and move forward.
All of which brings us to Ascension Day: the day on the Grounder calendar where Lexa and her people honour the commanders that came before her; the spirits of the Commanders who live on through her; and the future Commanders in whom her spirit will live on, once she is gone. It made me realise that we really have reached that point now in the entire story: the point where pretty much every character has been forced to rise above, or be left behind. If this is your world, then to live, you need to find a way to enact your own Ascension Day of sorts, or die. There is no in between.
And really, there are no two characters who embody that whole concept than Lexa and Clarke. Both women have had to work hard to move past the painful parts of the lives they have lived to this point. They’ve had to get past the darkness and consequences of their own choices. They’ve had to learn to not dwell on the injustices committed against them by others. Even by each other. And now here they stood, on a precipice overlooking a place neither of them had dared envisioned before.
One of the things that I valued most about the love scene that ensued with Clarke and Lexa was the fact that once they came to that point, all masks and duties had been wiped away. When they stood opposite each other – when they loved each other – there was more than honesty between them. There was a beautiful, deeply felt sense of safety. An unsaid promise between both of them that here, in this moment – even as rumours of war bristled violently in the world outside – it was okay to be completely defenceless. A wordless declaration that here, in the arms of each other, there was shelter. There was real, tangible, soulful warmth. I think the moment you were made to feel that most was when you realised that Lexa was brimming with tears, with relief, when she finally got to be with the woman she loved. A moment of stunning, heartrending tenderness.
But it was not a moment without revelation, either. Here we learned more about the Nightbloods and the process of the Conclave that chooses the next Commander. Their whole discussion over Lexa’s back tattoo – about how there are only seven markings for the Nightbloods who were killed at her Ascension, even though there were nine present – and the fact that Lexa was not keen to disclose the details of what was clearly a painful memory, was fascinating. Not to mention a pretty clear indication that Lexa – though she might be gone now – will still play a huge part in unravelling the greater mystery of the world playing out overhead. Whatever Lexa did not say in that moment feels like it will come up as an important detail later.
Which brings us, of course, to a truly shattering moment. One steeped in great tragedy, as well as vehement contention amongst fans.
I’ll be honest and say that like many others, I pegged that Lexa was going to die at some point this season. I didn’t know how or when or why it would be, but it just seemed too weak and implausible to do something like have her sent into exile. What I in no way saw coming though was how she died: a stray bullet, fired by Titus no less, directly after she’d just had this incredible, life changing experience with Clarke. In this I can see exactly why so many viewers would have felt cheated, shocked, angry and bewildered by this kind of death for a woman who has survived battlefields and gladiatorial arenas. How could the writers rip the happiness out from beneath her – from beneath Clarke – so immediately, so callously? Indeed, in this I will acknowledge that the fans who felt angry had every right to feel that way. I get that it’s a situation that was bound to make a heap of people feel betrayed. In regards to those fans and their sentiments, I wholly respect where they are coming from.
But to be honest, I can also see the school of thought that caused Lexa to be killed off in a manner like this. Seriously. Go with me here. The overarching premise that defines the story of The 100 as a whole, is that it takes place a world where nothing and nobody is safe. In order for a) the writers to stay true to the integrity of that premise, and b) in order for us to really understand and take in the show for what it is, we must accept that sometimes, horrific, unjust, unexpected things will happen to – and because of – the characters we love. We have to remember and actively acknowledge that their lives are no more or less valuable than anyone else’s, just because we care about them. In which case, as horrifically difficult as it is to accept this manner of death for Lexa, we must also acknowledge that it is a death which falls very much into line with the greater principle. A moment of hard storytelling that still showed creative integrity, even though the writers knew the backlash would be enormous. Say what you will but I actually think that’s pretty brave.
In what is perhaps an ironic twist, I’d argue too that were Lexa writing her own story here, she may very well take the same approach as the writers did, in the sense that she strikes me as someone who would say ‘when it’s your time, it’s your time – regardless of whether or not it’s how you thought or wanted to go’. She likewise strikes me as someone who – when questioned about the fairness of this death – would simply say that life is not fair.
But above all, we have to remember that she herself told Clarke that if you are going to make the right choice, you need to come to terms with the fact that not everybody is going to see it as right, and not everybody is going to approve. Moreover, even when they don’t always approve, if it’s right, then as a leader you must still have the courage to follow it through for the greater good. In this one school of thought, we know exactly where Lexa stood. And she seemed to me to not be the kind of person who would have put herself above the law in that sense, either.
I look at situations, for example, like Semet turning up with Octavia as his prisoner, then Semet demanding that Lexa exact blood for blood vengeance on the Skikru. Now, do we get where Semet is coming from? Of course we do. He has suffered huge loss at the hands of the Sky people. But that doesn’t change the fact that to seek blood for blood is to actively make the choice to not stop a cycle of violence. Which is why you have to admire Lexa’s courage in taking Clarke’s advice. Because Lexa got the fact that popularity or unpopularity have no bearing on whether or not a concept is right. And Lexa understood that hard as it was, change had to start with her. In a deeply poetic way, the journey towards the greatest truth of all really has begun now with her. With her death. She was the key to the world all along. I mean what a deeply powerful, extraordinary thing.
Now to many readers, all this might seem like me bending Lexa’s character traits to justify my own thoughts. If it comes out that way, I’m sorry – I don’t mean it to. All I’m going on here are my observations of her character over time, and the potential application of them to her own situation. This is quite literally just my two cents worth. You can choose to agree, or disagree and I will honour either opinion, as long as they’re respectfully offered.
But for all of that, I thought those final moments between Lea and Clarke were, in a word, magnificent. Distressing as they were – with Lexa’s black blood spilling over Clarke’s hands, pouring everywhere like the ink of an extraordinary story that has at once come so far, and yet still, heartbreakingly, has barely begun to be written – I thought the last words between these two incredible women were exquisitely wrought. Lexa’s grit and courage as she, of all people, told Clarke not to be afraid of what was to come. Clarke, murmuring the words of the Sky people’s farewell to the dying. A farewell that ultimately became an epitaph to the love they shared for each other. A declaration that one day they would find each other again on the other side.
Say what you will about her death coming via something as simple and sudden as a stray bullet. Disagree with it vehemently if you must. But you cannot deny that this moment – in and of itself – served as an extraordinary farewell not just to Lexa, but to her and Clarke as a couple.
Because in the end, Lexa – a woman who had lived most of her life in a state of battle or grief – died not only in the knowledge that her fight was over, but also that she was loved and treasured by the one person who meant more to her than any other living soul. As you consider their words, ask yourself if you would have demanded anything less than such a goodbye for a character you love.
What is clear is that even though she's gone, the weight and authority Lexa held in life will continue to bear heavily on the greater narrative despite her death. Indeed, it’s absolutely clear even now, that the Commander we have lost today will continue be a formidable source of revelation in the days to come.
And as scarring as it is for Clarke to have lost someone she cared about so much, in this way, I have no doubt that everything she has learned from and about Lexa – from their first meeting in the aftermath of Finn’s massacre, to this final farewell in a tear stained Polis bedchamber – will cause her go on and be an ever greater leader herself. One that has just as much power to endure the battles of life; to change the world and lead her people well, in it. Indeed. The Spirit of the Commander might live on in the next, but Lexa’s heart will live on forever in Clarke’s. And the heart, as we all know, can drive human beings to accomplish extraordinary things.
THE VIEW FROM HERE
All of this brings us to perhaps the most important part of this review. Maybe even the part you were most interested to read, given what you know of me as a reviewer. I will start by saying that I do get what it’s like to lose a character you care deeply about, particularly when it’s such an unjust death. For example, I remember when Fred Weasley was killed in the final Harry Potter book, I was so distraught I stood in a doorway at 4:00am and sobbed until I thought my ribs would give way. A good, innocent boy being ripped away from his family by a murderer hit violently home for me. I am from an extremely close family. As such, I will always relate heavily to any emotion surrounding a story that includes that theme. To that end, I understand some of the pain that Lexa fans will be feeling at the moment.
But – as a dear, wise and beautiful friend who identifies with the LGBTQ community said to me yesterday – the death of Lexa, in the context of what she has specifically meant to so many people, represents something infinitely bigger than simply the loss of a great character.
Now, not being a member myself of the community that Lexa’s presence represented, I know that I can never fully understand the exact nuance of the distress those of you who are, must feel about Lexa’s death. Especially the way she went out. I wholly acknowledge my own limited ability to relate in this area, and likewise recognize that the LGBTQ community have a perspective here that is beyond my own.
This in turn naturally affects the perspective from which I review. In this I have been so thankful for the input of people like my dear friend (she knows who she is), who have done much to help me understand the level and kind of emotions expressed about Lexa’s death, in order that my words here might be articulated better and more compassionately. To those people, I owe an extraordinary debt of gratitude for the life experience they have shared with me in order that I might learn from them. I am better for it.
As such, with that in mind – even if I were to do it in the hopes of trying to do justice to a character you love – I won’t write here in a way that suggests I now somehow fully comprehend what you feel. Because I can’t. I won’t do you that disservice; I hope profoundly that you return the action in kind. Even if at times we disagree entirely on some things.
We are, after all, in the end still human beings before anything else, with lives, loves, hopes and dreams of equal worth and value. This is what we should honour in each other, before anything else, isn’t it? Before even a word of an opinion is uttered, on any topic.
But, in as far as my own experience of Lexa went – in the way that I related to her one human being to another – I will say how much I thought your champion showed an honour in the end that, in hindsight, I realised I should more often have afforded her as a reviewer. She was a credit to the devotion you showed her. And – though some who read my reviews might say too little, too late – I am thankful to have been as affected by her as I was in the end.
As I said, I understand both schools of thought to a degree over why the writers chose to kill off Lexa the way they did. But still. To the people who have passionately but respectfully made known their disagreement – and their pain – over how Lexa died, I won’t sit here and put my opinion on all this, to you, as though it’s the be all and end all. As though it is somehow more informed than your own perspective. It’s not and will never be.
Honestly, as I sit here, all I can think is that I wish I knew better what to say to you, and how to say it. It’s ironic really. This review is over nine thousand words long, and still. I can’t find the right ones to best convey what I'm thinking, to you.
Instead then, all I can offer you here is my dearest hope for you as a fan of this story.
For the record too, by fan, I mean a real fan: someone who feels greatly about this story, and is determined to engage with others, about it, with respect and passion. I don’t of course refer to the trolls who have so insidiously attacked the writers and other fans over this. You are not fans. You are a cowardly, malicious blight on every good thing great storytelling stands for. You are unwelcome amongst the good people who love and create this show.
Instead, to the true fans I say that I hope you decide to stick around, despite this hard loss. It just feels like this story still has so much left to challenge us with – challenge us all with – and I don’t want you to miss out on that. More importantly, I don’t want fandom to miss out on you.
ALIE, A LIE
One of my favourite characters in all of pop culture is a guy named Dr Ian Malcolm, from Jurassic Park. There is this fantastic scene where Hammond – the guy who runs the park – is explaining to a room full of bewildered admirers how he recreated the dinosaurs. He holds up this small amber stone that contains the DNA he needs to build his new animal kingdom. A tiny thing, with so much power. All he as to do is tap into it. Most of the people looking on are enthralled with this idea of manipulating these tiny strands of ancient life and giving them a rebirth. Most are captivated by the potential of what fierce, incredible thing they might bring to life. Most people, except for one man. Malcolm takes one look at Hammond’s attempt to play God, and he says this. Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.
As I took in the origin story of Becca, ALIE and ALIE 2 this week, I found myself being reminded of those exact words, and the perfection of how they apply here. Because Becca – like Hammond – was not a bad person. In using her brilliant mind, she was not seeking to damage the world, or take away life. But that didn’t mean that she wasn’t being arrogant in creating ALIE. So consumed was she with all the hypothetical good ALIE could do, that she never stopped to realistically think about the evil ALIE was capable of. She might have tried to create a failsafe in the Poison Pill Virus, but still. This was her own personal Tower of Babel. And because of her misjudgement, her superciliousness, billions died. She stood there at the ship window, forced to watch the nukes soar; gazed in horror as the mushroom clouds began to billow up into the atmosphere. Listened as her colleague’s wife and child were obliterated by a catastrophe of her making. Becca tried to play God and the entire earth lost.
All of which brings us now to ALIE, in all her forms. In ‘Thirteen’ we bore witness to the most powerful difference of all between ALIE and ALIE 2. The difference that makes you realise why Becca thought – albeit naively – that ALIE 2 could possibly have saved the world after her precursor had destroyed it.
On one hand, the chip that Jaha offers – that ALIE has created – offers a life free from pain, fear and heartache. ALIE offers something that gives human beings a way out of every hard thing; death then becomes nothing more than the passing from one sweet, pastel oblivion to another. ALIE offers people the chance to do what sometimes we all want to do: to permanently escape the discomfort and hurt of life, without giving up our lives. It seems, on the surface, so appealing. ALIE is the doorway to the easy way out.
On the other hand, ALIE 2 has this entire time been functioning inside Lexa. Lexa, who was in pain until her dying day over what had happened to Costia. Lexa, who did not follow orders blindly, but gave them fearlessly and powerfully. Lexa, who got angry. Who did not walk around with a blithe blank stare on her face and mind hollow of all but the desires of the computer chip in her neck. What we see here is that Becca must have succeeded in her mission to make an AI system that adopted human wants and needs as its own, and operated accordingly. What ALIE 2 didn’t do however, was take away even a scrap of the pain from the person it had melded with. The programming of ALIE 2 seems to have a far better understanding of the fact that everything is connected. Good memories to bad. Best intentions to imperfect actions. Pain and heartbreak to necessary growth and strength. ALIE 2 appears to be programmed to help humanity learn from its mistakes, not stop to them from making any to learn from.
In short, where the chip of ALIE is a tool of slavery, the chip of ALIE 2 appears to be a tool of empowerment. One entices with lies; the other strengthens in order to face ugly truths. Nearly identical programming; two utterly opposed purposes. You can see here then how ALIE’s smooth, calm exterior is hiding the freak out she is experiencing, knowing that somewhere out there, there is a more powerful, more adaptive version of herself. It will be a threat she is desperate to contain. And given that her artificial intelligence is still ultimately imprinted with the flawed humanity of her creator, you have to wonder. To what ends will such desperation drive the creature that killed the world?
From a plot standpoint, in any case, I am fascinated to know how ALIE will react and move forward once she knows ALIE 2 is in the possession of the Grounders. How that all plays out is going to be brilliant to watch unfold. Brilliant, if somewhat terrifying. I’m also fascinated to learn exactly what effects the ALIE 2 chip has on the person who holds it. Especially when you consider the fact that both Lexa and Titus describe the chip – AKA the spirit of the Commander – as something that ‘chooses’ who its next recipient will be. How does all that work? How does it all go together with the legends that Murphy and Titus discuss? Only time will tell, I guess.
As far as ‘Thirteen’ goes, though, one piece of technical excellence that needs to be highlighted here is the staging of the Polaris station’s inner sanctum. I loved the gleaming blue of it; the central placement of the infinity symbol that would go on to shape generations of faith on the ground; the stark contrast of the black substance Becca was injecting herself with as it splashed against the ground after she’s surgically implanted the chip into herself. Everything about that whole environment had elements of familiarity – the Polaris station has elements of the Ark to it; the spilt black blood of Becca made for both a precursor and an echo to Lexa’s spilt blood – yet it still had an identity all of its own. I loved that. How the past and the present interlaced in such tangible ways. To me that was very cool, and showed fantastic vision on both a design and storytelling level.
The experience of this episode has left me with a lot more to say than I usually would in a review: most of it in terms of the final verdict. As such, I’ve decided to change things up a bit this week and separate the technical/creative side from the audience impact side of events.
In some ways, the whole beast of this episode – the acting, the writing, the set design, the direction: all of it – kind of reminded me of what it’s like when you go see Springsteen in concert. He’s human, of course, and not everything will always go to plan. There are rare moments where something maybe isn’t on time, or in time. But when he performs – when that big, gruff, earthy voice tears through the stadium air like a straight up lick of fire – you are electrified. You are hooked. And you know in that exact moment that he hasn’t turned up looking to meet a benchmark: he’s turned up looking to break one. He doesn’t want to exceed your expectations; he wants to shatter them, and he wants you to go along for the ride, boots and all. Best of all? When he sings, he never does it as though he’s waiting for a better audience than you to come along. Every chance is the best chance, so he uses it to the full as if it’s his last one. To me, that’s the pervading attitude that seems to be driving The 100 now. It is ground-breaking by nature, not by accident, and I love that it’s gotten to that place.
In which case, first we need to talk first about the sheer, blistering courage of this script, Javi Grillo-Marxuach. Because damn, son. This was phenomenal. You know, I got to the end of this episode – thought back on all that happened – and wondered what it must have been like for him to be handed this chapter of the story, and to go then and have to craft it. Knowing that Lexa would die. Knowing that the connection between all these plot arcs were going to converge in the ashen, pitiless crucible of this chapter.
I mean think about it. For months, the writers’ room will have had to sit on the contents of ‘Thirteen’, knowing that it would cause an eruption amongst fans. This, without question, would have been the episode – above all others – the writers’ knew would be the equivalent of setting a bomb off in a TNT factory: the initial boom would be huge, but it would not be the last boom by a long shot. Everyone and everything would take a hit, but in doing so, revelations that had long been hidden would suddenly come tumbling out. That must have been a huge task to undertake, and an even bigger creative responsibility. But it was a plate that Grillo-Marxuach well and truly stepped up to. There was a fierce, unabashed, unrepentant edge to everything he create here – the plot, the dialogue, the character development.
For example, Clarke and Lexa didn’t just kiss. There was nothing token about their moment. There was rawness, intimacy, honesty, fire, vulnerability and strength in every second of their love scene, and then all over again in those crushing final moments where Lexa died. The beauty of their connection and their love for each other was as haunting as it was full of honour and courage. It will go down as one of the most heartbreaking goodbyes I’ve ever watched or written about. It took my breath away.
Titus and Murphy didn’t just exchange a few verbal barbs and insults, either. There was intricacy and legend to the mythology and history that was unveiled this week, and it was a mercilessly wrought exchange between two men who are ultimately the antithesis of each other. There was pathos and intrigue as current events were interlaced perfectly with events of almost a century before. These weren’t loose ends being neatly tied together. These were iron chains of connection, long buried but finally unearthed by the characters in a way that left none of them in doubt about the fact that they are permanently and inseparably linked. Especially when it was revealed that the spirit of the Commander is none other than the computer chip that contains ALIE 2.
In short, nothing about this script was half assed. Every single thing about it played to the strength of the actors in any given scene, and honoured the robustness of the greater story that needed to be told here. Because as I have so often said, this story is bigger than any one character. If we are to appreciate The 100 for what it is, we need to accept that fact, even if to do so stings us at times.
And though it might be a short sentiment to utter, Dean White as director simply carried on with the masterclass he showed last week. The man is a gift to fans as much as to the writers and the actors in the way that he is able to draw every last drop of nuance and guts out of a scene, and out of the actors taking part in it. In particular here, I want to highlight the Titus/Murphy ones which I thought were amazing. I read an interview Richard Harmon did earlier this week about how much he values working with White, and honestly you can really see the strength of that creative partnership here. Neil Sandilands also had a deadset blinder this regard, as Titus. All three men brought their A game across the board, and it was a privilege to watch.
All of which brings me, though, to the performance of one woman. Alycia Debnam Carey, in her final turn as Lexa. Usually at this point I would talk about the actor. But somehow here that feels wrong. Too impersonal. So instead – whether she reads it or not – I’m going to address this verdict directly to her.
One day, lady, when you are older, and you look back at the expanse of what will no doubt be an extraordinary career, I can only imagine the warmth, poignancy and deep emotion the memory of this role will invoke for you. Maybe even sadness; I don’t imagine it was easy saying goodbye to Lexa in any way.
I imagine this is because the role of Lexa was not simply one you played. Or even one you owned. It was one you embodied, seemingly down to your very bones. You played Lexa with a grit, nuance and courage that took people’s breath away. One day, I hope someone finds a way to adequately express thanks to you for all that you have done. Not just for this story, or for the fans, or even for the LGBTQ community who I know have been proud to watch you champion their cause in the context of this role.
I say that because I cannot speak for them here. I can only speak for me.
And to you, I say thank you. Thank you for playing Lexa with such gravitas and spine that it forced me to be a better writer to write about your performance. Thank you for reminding me of why this story is so worth investing in, in the way that you poured yourself into making Lexa as phenomenal as she was. Thank you for so often frustrating my sensibilities and for tipping my expectations on their head. For making Lexa so compelling, so unpredictable, so layered, that I could not help but be up until all hours, just trying to find the best words to pick apart her plot arcs and her actions and her motives. Thank you for being an actor who made all that time worth it.
In short, if you ever have an uncertain moment – one where you find yourself questioning whether if, in the end, you ever really did anything that changed a life – look back on this time and this story and know always that that’s exactly what you did. For so many. You are extraordinary. I cannot wait to see what other incredible characters and stories you will go on to bring to life. Good luck, and thank you for everything.
Once upon a time, there was a world. For all intents and purposes, our world. And there was no more broken place in the universe. We were born on to it with all the potential to live well in it; to govern its inhabitants and its resources in a way that meant it would continue to give back to our kind long after we were gone. Both would be sustained. Both would flourish. But this was hard work we did not have the spine or heart to do. Instead we selfishly took what we wanted, whenever we wanted it. We daily sowed the seeds – in ourselves, in each other – of envy, ignorance and mistrust and reaped harvest after bitter harvest of war and paranoia. We were at an impasse. Until one day, a woman with a brilliant but injudicious mind had the idea to save the world by eliminating human error. Only in doing so, she almost eliminated humanity itself. After all. Of all that exists in the vast expanse of creation, there is no more malfunctioning element than humans. So, of everything that should be eliminated in order of threat, are we not the most logical choice to go first? Herein is the guts of the question. Herein lies the nature of The 100 beast. Herein lies our challenge.
With that in mind, I say sure kids. Go for it. Shout and growl all you like about how much you hate the unjust world you think the writers have created here. A place where a character like Lexa - vital, powerful, beautiful, strong and extraordinary as she was - can walk around a corner in her own territory, and get shot dead by a misguided zealot with a gun in their hand and their own brand of justice to enforce. Hate all you damn well want on how quick and cruel and unfair you think this end is for a person you care about. Be angry at all of it, and stand firm in the fact that it’s right for you to be angry. The 100 world is so full of things worth living for, and people who deserve life, which means that events like what happened to Lexa, like what’s happened Raven and Maya and any number of other innocent victims, are as wrong as it is possible to be. So go ahead. Hold this fact in your fist and shake it at all and sundry. Get mad.
Then I dare you. Go watch the news. Go watch segment after segment about real families in our reality, who come home to eat dinner after a day out at work then get shot in their sleep by someone they trusted. Go look at footage of politicians who are wildly popular yet clearly rely on ill-informed, vitriolic mob justice rather than intelligent, brave, compassionate political action to gain the attention and loyalty of their people. Go watch stories about how wide spread corruption is; how online bullying is causing kids to think they have no other option but to kill themselves. Look outside and see people hating on other people just because neither side wants to stop long enough to understand the other before attempting to silence them. Go watch an entire news cycle to see just how many people in the world think that the answer to stopping violence is enacting more violence.
And then ask yourself: when you strip away the science fiction, is the traumatic, blistering, wild, beautiful, brutal and deadly world of The 100 really so very different from the one we have created for ourselves now? In being furious at what's happened here, are we mad at a writers’ room, or are we just savagely terrified at seeing our own reflection for what it is? Who should we really be angry at here?
Indeed, in The 100, we are looking at a fictional world that could still just as easily come to pass given how our generation behaves. And if it did come to pass, it would be a world that rose solely out of the ashes of our misdeeds, our prejudices, our animosities. It’s a reality that our generation – people like you and me – would be responsible for, and that is a point that I think is being hammered home to us week after week after week with this show. Literally since day one. We are responsible for more than the world we create for ourselves. We are responsible for the world that others will one day inherit.
In which case – as much as I know this episode has stirred up passion and anger and praise and hostility, in equal measures – I will say again what I know I have said before about this story. If you hate the injustice of what you have seen on The 100 in the context of the greater narrative, then before you scream bloody murder at the writers, maybe go take a look at yourself in the mirror first. Before you tweet a threat or an insult at a writer or an actor or someone that you blame for a story that didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, think about the hateful story you are writing for yourself as you type. Think about the fact that you had a chance to do something constructive, and instead chose to be everything that the characters you love would despise in someone else.
Because make no mistake. One hateful little story can quickly become one of millions of hateful little stories. At which point the hate is suddenly not so little as it was before. Suddenly it’s powerful.
Suddenly one day you wake up and realise you’re not an Octavia Blake; you’re a Charles Pike.
All of which makes light of a hugely important truth that The 100 as a whole, but particularly this episode drove home this week. And that’s that all change in life – even then kind that alters the very fabric of the human race and all it stands for, be it for better or worse – ultimately still starts in the heart and mind of one person, who has the conviction to act on what they believe.
A person like Becca who, in a sustained fit of genuinely misguided arrogance thought that the answer to saving ourselves lay not in learning from our mistakes but rather in stopping us before we made them. A person like Lexa, who ultimately taught Clarke that in order to lead your people to the greater good, sometimes you had to sacrifice their approval, and that to do that would take courage. A person like Octavia, who daily refuses to be defined by what not one but two societies tell her she should be; who demonstrates the power, integrity and importance of knowing your own value and acting on it, before anyone else tries to determine it for you. These are just a handful of examples from the wider collection of character journeys.
Becca ended the world. Lexa united entire nations under one banner. Clarke killed one race of people to save another. Octavia demonstrates daily to two opposing civilisations that no-one has the right to tell a human being what their value is and what role they must play in order to be valuable enough. A single individual. A mass human impact. It literally Just. Takes. One. So – these characters would tell you – make it good and make it count. Because no-one is ever guaranteed a second chance to do a better job, or make right a mistake.
Seriously, fans. Look at it. Look at this story that you love. A story that is bigger than any ship. Any creed. Any colour. Any gender or gender preference or sexuality. A show that is passionate and unrelenting and courageous enough to examine the human condition without rose coloured glasses. And if you reduce it to anything less than that – if you just give up on it just because things didn’t go your way, or because you didn’t get what you wanted, or when something happens that you don’t think is fair – then you are missing out the part of this story that matters most. You are missing out on the challenge being issued, to do something better with your life. And, dear reader, for your sake, that it is a chance I genuinely hope you don’t let go.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS
That whole nuclear launch scene made me feel everything and then you had to go make sure I heard the voices of a man’s family before they get blown up while he is listening. DO YOU PEOPLE NOT GET THAT I ONLY HAVE ONE HEART TO BREAK EVERY WEEK? Seriously. Right in the feels. And in the bank balance (my therapist says hi, btw).
Whoever is responsible for set design – especially this episode – deserves an ENORMOUS RAISE. The cave paintings in particular were a stroke of freaking genius. So good. So clever.
Yo, Clarke. Telling Octavia to ‘stay here’? Dude it’s like you don’t even WATCH The 100.
When Clarke calls Murphy her friend, if your heart didn’t tingle even a little bit, you should seek medical attention.
I know Titus promised Lexa that he would protect Clarke, but given that Titus was about to kill Clarke when he accidentally killed Lexa, I wonder how long that promise he made is going to hold.
You owe me a new notebook, Rothenberg. ;)
Above all, hear this.
It takes courage to be yourself, but it takes grace to be your best self.
If you remember nothing else this week, remember that.