REVIEW | The 100 - Episode 3.10 - "Fallen"
He can hear their footsteps - slow, exhausted, heavy - as they return to their safe house of stone and shadows. One by one, Bellamy Blake watches the friends he betrayed with Pike, file in out of the mist and the rain, and an almost fallen night. Miller. Harper. Bryan. Sinclair. Kane, half carrying a shattered, bewildered Octavia at his side.
Then...silence. And a gaping hole where a good man should have been.
But - as we embark on this chapter of The 100, entitled 'Fallen' - it becomes abundantly clear that there is no time to reel; no time to properly grieve, or take stock: for anyone on either side of the blockade. There are too many agendas to negotiate, and too many cruel forces at work.
Nobody is more conscious of that fact than Raven. Viscerally aware of ALIE's presence in her head, Raven is desperate to remove the AI and in turn thwart ALIE's plans to take over the collective minds of humanity, starting with those in Arkadia. Turning to Abby and Jasper for help, Raven - knowing her own importance to the plans of Jaha and ALIE - concocts a brilliant plan to potentially short circuit the programming of the chip, using the health monitoring wristbands worn by the original hundred when they were sent to earth. But it's going to be a difficult ask to get the resources they need, given that everything that Raven sees, hears or finds out immediately becomes information ALIE can use against her enemies.
And yet. For all the danger she poses, for some, the threat of ALIE is not yet even on their radar. For some, the greatest threat is still infinitely - and completely - human. After an horrifically botched ascension process to a position she is not meant for, Ontari finds herself scrambling to look the part of Heda before the ever more suspicious assembly of ambassadors, who are still waiting on her to undertake the final rituals needed to absolutely declare her as the new Commander. But that position can only be filled by one who holds the Flame - or as we now know it, ALIE 2 - and according to lore, every Flame must have its Flamekeeper. Even a false one. And given that Ontari is in desperate need of someone to perpetuate the huge lie she has told, who better to help her survive than the great survivor himself: John Murphy. For him, switching allegiances is nothing new. But this time the price for doing so may be be a far more intimate one to pay.
More than one act of betrayal, it seems, is either about to come full circle, or take an entirely new twist altogether, as these many compromised ties of life and love begin to unravel in a climate of brutal chaos, as the next step is taken by an enemy unlike anything any of them have ever known.
BLOOD MUST HAVE BLOOD
Brutality is a common thread of the greater narrative of The 100. Often it's blistering and violent and shocking, to the point where sometimes you just have to walk away for a bit and let your guts settle because what you've seen leaves you feeling off kilter, in a way you're not quite sure how to process.
But what happens between Octavia and Bellamy when she returns after Lincoln's execution takes that thread, and sews a far crueller stitch than any enacted by a physical beat down. Pull that moment even a little bit apart, and it doesn't take much to see that the greatest brutality of all here doesn't actually shed even a single drop of blood.
Months ago when this episode aired, if I remember correctly, there was actually a pretty substantial outcry from fans about Octavia's physical behaviour in this scene, and in one sense, you can see where they're coming from. Bellamy doesn't deserve to be welcomed back with open arms by any stretch of the imagination, but beating him to a bloody pulp? For some, it was that violence - pointed, specific, one on one and done by his sibling - that went a step too far.
For me though, the violence wasn't the sting in the tail of this moment. It was the sight of seeing the last, powerful fragment of a family that had managed to hold together somehow, against all odds, fracture. It was watching a brother and sister who had risked their lives on multiple occasions to protect each other, come apart at the seams. To hear the words You are dead to me pass between them with such a finality that it felt like it had been set in stone. Even in the face of huge obstacles, they've managed to survive. And yet for all that effort, just as the world around them is broken, so too are they breaking.
And as I sat there watching what happened, much like Octavia's violent attack, for me it felt like choosing to judge these characters in the heat of the moment would help nothing: not my understanding of their behaviour in the context of the plot, nor my experience as a viewer. Because neither Octavia or Bellamy are angels by any stretch - none of these characters are. So if judgement for their actions is all a viewer could do with that moment, then for my part I think somewhere the important message got missed.
If all you saw in this scene was Octavia's bloody knuckles, but did not feel more the horror of the madness of a world that took away the man she loves, and drove her to this point of all consuming anger, then you're not getting it. If all you saw in this scene was Bellamy copping the beating of a lifetime after behaving like a stubborn, traitorous, deadly prick, but didn't feel more the horror of the fact that before you is a human being that is so broken and conflicted by the ugliness of the person he's become in order to not only survive but also process the world, that he's willing let his own sister beat the shit out of him as punishment - a kind of self flagellation - then you aren't getting it.
This is not a competition over who deserves more to be the punisher, or the punished.
Because in the end, the truth is that grief and fear have the power to drive us all to want terrible things sometimes. To do terrible things. To become terrible. It's ugly and it's wrong, but that doesn't alter the fact that it happens because we're human and we're flawed. Granted, we might not turn into this episode's Octavia. And you'd certainly hope you didn't turn into Bellamy, the killer on the hill. But on the whole, goodness and mercy aren't the rules for humans. They're the exceptions. And we're kidding ourselves if we think otherwise, which is what makes it hard to watch this show at times: because you know the reflection it's meant to be, of humanity. Of us. But to me, which character deserves a free pass here and which one doesn't, in order to behave a certain way, is not the point of the exchange between Octavia and Bellamy.
The point is that here, we saw the absolute bottom of the barrel. Here, we saw what could be the end of something powerful. Or, we might have seen the beginning of something entirely new. No-one will ever appreciate the feast on the table before them, more than someone who knows what it is to starve. And make no mistake: this is the moment of the Blake sibling's great starvation. Their relationship has gone without trust and forgiveness for so long. There's a bitter, consuming thirst there that has gone unquenched for months. They've forgotten the taste of what it is to tell their family that they love them no matter what, and mean it. Because too often it has been a promise that's gotten broken between them, for one reason or another. Words of unity, of love and of loyalty are nothing more than hollow sounds between them now. And it's an awful thing to watch.
But it's for that exact reason I feel like this may be the moment we look back on for Bellamy and Octavia - one day, when their relationship has been...well maybe not restored, but perhaps reforged - where we appreciate the darkness they had to come back from in order to keep their bond intact. That sure, the world may have tried to bend them to the point of snapping, but in the end the world didn't succeed in breaking them.
Because above all, for me as a viewer of this show - and to be honest, a human being living in 2016 - I want something that reminds me that no matter how messed up and horrible the world gets, some good things are stronger; that can and do survive, despite the world. Things like love, and loyalty. These are the places that hope springs from. These people live in a nightmare - hope that something better will come of all this is the only thing they've got.
I mean, after all. Without hope, what's the point of keeping going?
PICK YOUR BATTLES, CHOOSE YOUR SIDES
If you've read any of my other reviews of this season, you'll know that Monty's mother is not exactly my favourite person in this show. In some ways, at times I've loathed her more than Pike (which is saying something). In that sense, I struggled to feel any tangible concern for her when she comes to Monty with a tense but tearful plea, asking him to run now that Pike knows he's a traitor to their cause. She lost the right to play the concerned mother card a long before this moment, long before she turned her boy in; her line about not wanting to lose both the men she loves falls flat if it's meant to bolster any lasting sympathy in me as a viewer.
But honestly, we know she's not going to last til the end of this story. This moment is pretty much all about Monty, and him going the full Bellamy as he realises just how much he cocked up in abandoning his friends for Pike's power trip. And that moment after they've handed Pike to the Grounders - having tricked their former leader into thinking he was about to put the breaks on his insurgency problem for good - when Monty and Bellamy reunited, you begin to understand that these guys now have a huge process of being made accountable, ahead of them. Moreover, it's going to cost them where it hurts, big time.
Running with the same brutal theme, Raven's life continues to be dominated by pain and adversity. And what I love about how the writers have subsequently crafted her whole arc, is how it has made her the most powerful foil of all for a character like ALIE, when it comes to arguing over whether in life, there could ever be a higher purpose for suffering. Not that we want it, not that we wish for it - because who would? - but whether there something important and strengthening still to be gained from it. And it's a hugely pointed question to ask.
I've seen many fans argue that the writers have treated her horribly in causing her life to be so wracked with heartache, loss, betrayal and agony. And like the outcry over Octavia, you can sort of see where they're coming from. When you have a real place in your heart for a character - much like a real person - you cannot help but want the best for them. What you would never do is wish hell on them; wish an existence on them that seems to strip them of their ability to thrive, or know contentment or joy. But wanting good things? That in itself is a good thing! It's a happy and natural to desire the best for what and whom you care about.
But it's also here that I would go back to an early argument I made about Raven in this area. Because I think - I believe - that if you were to strip her of her burdens, purely for the sake of wanting to see her happy, then you'd immediately cause some pretty disastrous side effects in the context of the character's life, not to mention the greater story.
For one, to wrap a character in cotton wool so that no real, impacting harm or heartbreak come to them is to ignore the entire premise of the world the writers have created for is in The 100. It would feel inherently wrong to have a character like that in the context of the narrative, and the jarring sensation of such a spanner in the works is pretty hard to ignore when you're emotionally invested in what's happening. It would be distracting, not to mention annoying if the rest of the characters weren't treated like that. In short, Raven would kind of start to piss you off. And she deserves infinitely better than to be turned into a thorn in the audience's mental side.
But secondly - and far more importantly - it again raises the big questions: how is it right to strip a person of the chance to be strong, just because I don't want them to have to be strong? How is it right to take away someone's choices, just so I feel better about what might happen?
Spoiler alert: it's not right. It's selfish.
Raven is a character of incredible spine, and guts. The tenacity of her human spirit to keep going - even in the face of what she has to deal with in the form of having ALIE's evil digital tentacles wrapped around her brain - is not only amazing, not only powerful, but also hugely necessary in the context of the current characters being put before us in popular culture. Because seriously. Name me one character that you can think of off the top of your head on TV right now, as extraordinary as Raven, that you think would make someone with a disability specifically feel empowered, even mighty in their skin in the way that they survive every day with a barrier, as opposed to weak and in perpetually in need of saving by the able bodied guy? If you don't have a disability or mental health issues or barriers of some kind, then maybe that's something you've not considered before. But can I tell you, to people who do deal with those things every day, they think about it a lot. And it matters to them - to us - a lot. It matters whether or not people with disabilities, mental health issues and barriers exist in the shows that we watch, and whether or not they are represented with any modicum of honesty, dignity and equality.
But without question, Raven is that representation that this community deserves. She is that brave and clever and complex and above all, honest example of what it is to not let the world's beliefs in your abilities or apparent lack thereof, define you. And I am so proud to be able to point to this show I love and be able to say that a character like her exists on it.
Moreover, I'm exceptionally proud that she has been made to be the main point of friction and resistance when it comes to combating ALIE. Seriously. Raven weak? Beaten? Small? Lacking? ALIE too big? Too strong? Too smart?
Excuse me for lol'ing but piss off.
While all the other humans are fighting humans, Raven - the girl with the messed up leg and severe PTSD - is the one going one on one with the monster that ushered in a nuclear apocalypse. ALIE literally has to return Raven's mind to the pit of her greatest pain in order to push her to a breaking point. And yet there Raven is. Contending. Eye to eye, toe to toe, in a slug fest fight with the digital devil in the red dress, Raven is taking as many punches as she throws.She is not holding back, She gives her all. She does it all like a boss.
And I frakking love her for it.
For all ALIE's clinical insight and mathematical abilities to predict, it was Raven - human, flawed and supposedly broken Raven - who works out a way to eliminate ALIE - her world-destroying digital enemy - from the very human minds ALIE is trying to enslave. And I am overwhelmed with the magnificence and importance of the message of strength and equal capability that is sending to audiences. People in their millions. Honestly, this character is a gift and she validates that fact more and more every week.
This was another huge theme this week, and it played out in some pretty massive ways for a lot of characters, You have guys like Jasper who seem to have rediscovered their life and their purpose by finally deciding to actively resist giving into his grief over Maya, permanently. You have guys like Jackson, who - led by Abby's example - have resisted the urging of guys Jaha (seriously someone just punch him in the face right now - that is my own personal 24/7 urge when he is on screen) to just give in to the 'beauty' of the life promised by the chip. And he does - eventually the desire to stop pain makes him give up. And it's horrifying, this newly illuminated/zombified Jackson.
You also have people like Kane, Abby and Sinclair, who are determined to resist whatever comes their way, in order to protect the young men and women that arguably they must now view almost as their own. Sinclair of course we don't know quite as much about; in the very least though, we know that he has an enormous amount of courage, brilliance and tenacity to see the right thing done. His resistance is somewhat par for the course there, But in particular here I want to focus on Kane and Abby, because theirs is a whole other kind. A resistance is actually kind of unique in the context of a show driven by young, independent adults.
In so many ways, Kane and Abby are the last, true representation of what parents and parenting look like in a world where age is irrelevant to independence. You only have to look at the fact that it was little kids and not full grown, life-seasoned adults who were waiting in the wings to succeed Lexa as Heda, to realise just how much age doesn't matter in the construct of this new world. There's something extraordinary in that: that the concept of parental authority on the earth now is not a reality, so much as it has become a relic of a past age. It makes you realise that on this world, in this life, there's not just no such thing really as parental authority anymore; there's no such thing as a childhood. That whole idea seems to have vanished in the furnace of survival.
Particularly in Abby's case, you see just how powerful and innate that maternal instinct remains, even in the face of huge peril in the form of ALIE. Here you have this whole society that seems to have decided that a parent is simply one who gives birth and puts a child into the world; humanity has seemingly abandoned the idea of nurturing and protecting the young as a means of preserving innocence, and in a lot of ways, hope, as opposed to just putting off death, But when the rubber hits the road - when ALIE threatens Raven's life by making her slash her own wrists: something that she and Jaha will only let Abby fix if she ingests the chip, and lets ALIE add her to her collection of playthings - all those decisions and cultural changes are little more than a spit of rain in the wind. Because ALIE gets it. She gets the fact that some instincts are ingrained in our bones as human beings, and she puts the screws on that pressure point mercilessly, because she at least understands that much about how humans are wired.
To be sure, it was a horrific moment watching Abby put her veritable head in the lion's mouth in order to save this extraordinary girl she has come to cherish every bit as much as Clarke, I think. It was chilling to watch Jaha get his way in actively helping to strip both of these formidable women of their sentience and free will, in order to enslave their minds and their skills. It was invasive, and cruel, and violating. But as discussed earlier about Bellamy and Octavia, and in a lot of ways about Raven too, I think this is going to be one of those pressure points where ALIE will eventually be made to realise that no programming in the world - no matter how brilliant, how informed, or how perfectly crafted - will ever fully be able to negate the infinite, terrifying, beautiful and powerful possibilities that are made possible by the twin existence of human instinct and free will.
For the record, I am also equally looking forward to Jaha eventually coming to that realisation. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't hope it stings him down to the bone when the penny finally drops.
NATURE VS NURTURE
Whoever came in after Lexa as Heda was always going to find themselves standing in the longest and most formidable of shadows. The shoes to fill, after all, are enormous. I found myself thinking back a lot in this episode to moments with Lexa like that when she battled Roan and killed Nia. There was a fierceness there, but also a very adult and wizened sense of justice and consequence. She didn't have to tell people she was born to be the Commander. She simply showed it to be a fact, in everything she did. All of which leaves Ontari in a rather impossible situation, because she ticks none of those boxes.
She has usurped the throne on the premise of a lie. She has literally no idea what she's doing; she's been raised into a power hungry dictator by a power hungry dictator; she's angry at everyone; and she is prone to tantrums. And Ontari's tantrums, as we saw, are all fun an games until an ambassador loses his eyes. But the one speck of sense she does have allows her to see that a sharp sword and the skill to wield might make people fear her, but not enough to let themselves respect and be led by her. It also allows her to see that for all her skill as a warrior, she is a one way ticket to garbage town as a liar. And as she realises those things to be true, you can see how much the potential consequences raised by them, terrifies her.
Suddenly the killer and usurper needs a saviour. My goodness, how the worm turns.
THE THINGS WE DO TO SURVIVE
When you go back and look at all the times that Murphy realistically should have been killed off – whether he may have deserved it or not – you can't help but be genuinely amazed at his knack for self-preservation. What’s clear too is that many of these key moments occurred because Murphy was able to twist other people’s agendas to his own advantage. His goal is not power, like ALIE, Ontari or Pike. It’s not leadership, like Kane. It’s not ‘to do the right thing’ or save people, like Clarke. It seems - simply, and perhaps somewhat primally - to be not to die, and maybe even get something out of living if he can do so in the process. And despite his recent character growth – as he begins to discover that deep down he’s not necessarily the monster he’s thought himself to be all this time – it hasn’t altered even a little bit his ability to manipulate people or a situation. His willingness maybe, but never his ability. Indeed, even without others realising, Murphy has quite often been the biggest power player in the room.
But not this time. Shackled to a wall, Murphy stands pretty much defenseless before Ontari, and she more than makes the best of those circumstances. And so it is, basically speaking, that he finds his life threatened unless he sleeps with her. Now make no mistake. This is a man who knows that yet again, he is about to be used as a means to an end for someone who is threatening his life unless he accepts their terms and conditions. In that sense, this is nothing new for Murphy. Indeed what's really sad is that it's now a feeling and a state of being that he's used to. Think about that. What kind of messed up existence does a person have to live to be so used to abuse and the threat of abuse, that they start to accept it as a matter of course, to live from one moment to the next.
On principle, Murphy in this scene kind of reminded me of those people you hear about when a corrupt country announces that it’s going to have its first ‘democratic’ election. Their head of state will tell the nation and the world that of course the people are allowed elect their leader. Of course they are free to choose whomever they please out of the candidates listed. But when the time comes and the individual finds themselves standing there in the booth, looking down at a ballot that has only one name on it while a cocked gun is held to their head, they can only put their head down and tick, because they know nothing has changed at all. They simply do what they have to - which is what they have always done - to survive the moment.
Herein lies the crux of the argument. Just because someone willingly undertakes the task before them in order to neutralise a threat, doesn’t mean they’ve given their consent to be threatened. Murphy’s situation in that theoretical sense is no different. Is Murphy a man who will seem to do almost anything to survive? Yes. Does that equal consent when it comes to Ontari’s demand that he sleep with her? No.
It’s weird because as I watched and wrote about this scene, I couldn’t help but think back to that scene with Monty and his mother a couple of episodes back, when – to justify all the horrible betrayals they were both committing – she says to her son that if it’s something you have to do to survive, then it’s always the right thing. That is of course an abominable lie to ingest and believe. It was wrong when she said it. It was wrong when Pike said it. It was wrong when they used it as an excuse to murder innocent people and spy on their friends. And it’s every bit as wrong when Murphy goes to bed with Ontari because – regardless of his seemingly acquiescent attitude in the end – it’s been made clear to him that she will make him regret it in the most painful way possible if he doesn’t do what she tells him to. So he takes the only option he can.
He lets himself be used.
You know, horrible events brimming with personal and emotional compromise are par for the course in the world of The 100. In that sense, hard as this is to watch, it’s a plot arc that very much stays true to the greater narrative. From a creative stand point, I never cease to be thankful for the integrity of that attitude. It's what helps me to keep watching when what I'm watching is difficult.
That said, I struggled with this particular scene, on two levels. The first is that - extraordinarily - somehow I've been made to care hugely about Murphy: something I never thought I'd say if you had asked me in season one. And for all his flaws - and he has many - I struggle with just how often he ends up being someone's whipping boy. And now this.
It's weird in the sense that my first thought in watching this scene was to wonder about the consequences if this scene had have played out with roles. What would have happened if Murphy was a woman and Ontari a man; how there would not be a planet within three hundred light years that could miss the roar and outrage that would erupt: that such a thing should happen on a show that claims to champion strong female characters. The rape of a female lead on The 100 would go off like a powder keg in a bonfire on social media. So I had to ask myself. Does it matter less here because he's a man? Is that why it was Octavia's beat down of her brother, and not this scene, that really got people's hackles up enough to get loud about it for a while?
All of which led me to my second and far more important thought: that by definition, rape has no gender. Because that's what this was. It's what sex without consent is. It can happen to anyone and be committed by anyone, and Ontari committed it by coercing Murphy. Herein lies what I think is the heart of this plot arc. Of the whole show, really. This is not a story about how men treat women. Or how women treat men, or men treat men, or women treat women, or races treat races, or rich treat poor, or masters treat slaves, or jailer treats prisoner.
This is a story about how human beings treat other human beings. And though it was not a long scene by any measure, it was enough to serve as a guttural reminder that humans have a gift for treating each other like they're little more than rungs on a ladder. Like they're only fit to be stood upon, to make one person feel taller at the expense of another. And it's wrong. This whole attitude is wrong. But whether we try to change when we encounter such a reminder, of such a fact? Well. That’s a different kettle of fish altogether.
In the context of the story though, I am extremely interested to learn now where Murphy’s story is heading. Because by nature, he cannot help but eventually find a way to subvert authority. He is a born dissident, and one can only imagine that he will let himself be Ontari’s pet on a leash for so long. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what happens when Ontari discovers that about Murphy for herself.
Because if there is one thing we have learned about John Murphy by now, it's that he never forgets what you did. And he rarely forgives.
Hard as it was to watch, I had a huge amount of time for this episode, and for the people who brought it to life with such a visceral energy. Performance wise, the stand out without question in this episode was Lindsey Morgan, who delivered an absolute masterclass in acting skill. That shift she made between tortured Raven and cold, terrifying ALIE, was haunting. Indeed if we learned anything in this episode, it's that Lindsey Morgan is in a league all of her own at the moment. If anything, I would argue that she plays the hardest character of all on this show, and my goodness but is she doing a brilliant job. Knowing that she has an episode ahead of her now which is going to focus in even more on her conflict with the dreaded AI in her head, is even more exciting to consider.
Direction wise I think Matt Barber did a great job. He had a really specific task to nail with this episode in that he had to capture, up close, the harsh and deeply personal shifts in character for many characters. For my part I think it was a task he achieved with much success. As for the script, I thought Charmaine DeGrate and Javier Grillo-Marxuach made a great team, There were some huge moments across the board in this episode, many of which dealt with some pretty fraught and painful subjects - not the least of which was the concept of consent - and to do that well, in order for the episode to be a success, the writers needed to strike that balance between compassion and raw honesty. And that's exactly what they did, with particular commendation for the way they really drove forward Murphy and Raven's stories in particular.
I know I'm hugely late to the party, and that by now all you guys will have seen what's to come. But as I sit here, having reviewed for the first time in over six months, I can honestly say this episode served as a pretty sharp reminder of why I cannot help but come back to finish it. The next step is the new chapter ahead as Raven finds herself facing ALIE at one final, blistering internal set of crossroads, as she goes to war for the possession of her brilliant mind again. Having rediscovered his purpose, Jasper now finds himself again face to face with with person responsible for killing Maya, which means he too is about to face his biggest demon head on. And Clarke? Well. As always her timing is impeccable. Her mother's mind and their people's home fallen, Clarke now finds herself reunited with more than one familiar face in the race to stop ALIE. Many dark rivers are about to converge, I think. Question is, who will survive the flood?
FINAL THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS
Witness protection was fabulous, thank you.
True Story: six months away did nothing to dim my desire to absolutely wallop Thelonius Jaha in the nuts.
Is it just me or did all of Cusick's hair reach new levels of perfection this year? Because HOT DAMN WITH THE DAD BEARD BRO YOU NEED TO SETTLE DOWN.
Stepford Zombie Jackson is more painful to watch than John Travolta trying to say Idina Menzel.
Lord help us if he ever has to introduce Lin Manuel Miranda.
Let's just all agree that Lindsey Morgan and Richard Harmon are Emmys waiting to happen.
Seriously just GIVE THEM ALL THE LITTLE GOLDEN LADIES WITH THE BIG BALL AND POINTY WINGS LIKE YESTERDAY.
Did anybody else think the first time they saw Octavia's Punch Fest that it looked like Bellamy had a tooth knocked out? Because for reals. I had an actual moment fearing for his face.
Marie Avgeropoulos is the baddest badass ever to bad. MAY SHE REIGN FOREVER.
Someone who I didn't mention above but who still deserves a shout out after this episode is Devon Bostick, who I thought performed really well, I'm looking forward to finally welcoming back a stronger, more in control, and more empowered version of the old Jasper.
p.s. I missed you guys.