One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Emily Dickinson, LXIX
A small fire crackles at their feet: a bare lick of warmth and brightness in the air between three friends trying to stave off a chill that - whether they acknowledge it or not - cannot entirely be blamed on the weather. Hidden in the shadows, they tug innocently on the threads of tall and spooky tales from their old life; stories once told to scare kids back under their blankets. Nothing more. They grin and laugh nervously at the notion of terrifying things that once went bump in the night. But outside? Outside, the dark is restless. For just beyond their sight, a monster has crawled out from beneath the earth with its teeth bared. And it is ravenous for only one thing.
Unaware of what hunts them, as we come upon this next chapter of The 100 - entitled 'Demons' - we find Clarke, Bellamy, Raven and Co. hurtling across the countryside back towards the Ark they have only just fled. With ALIE having successfully captured all the minds there, she has moved on to the next phase of her plan in the belief that the bones of the old ship have nothing left to offer her. It's an arrogance borne of a victory in battle, but it may yet prove to be her downfall in war if Raven Reyes has anything to do with it.
That said, ALIE's power is growing, and it's about to go to a whole new and terrifying level. As prisoner and current Flame Keeper for the false Commander, Murphy, is about to discover - courtesy of a stunning betrayal, and the return of an old foe - the AI that once destroyed their old world is far closer than anyone suspects to returning to rule the new one.
But for all her digital devilry, where Clarke is concerned, right now ALIE's machinations are about to take a backseat to something far more primeval. As more than one person is about to be reminded, blood shed in the night can be just as deadly as blood the colour of it.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN OLD ARKADIA
If you're anything like me, there's something unnerving but deeply captivating about the idea of a place filled with abandonment where there used to be life. Even more so when the echo of the people who were there is still so strong. Half eaten plates of food in an abandoned mess hall. Empty corridors leading to rooms with coats on racks; beds with the sheets pulled up, still creased and exactly as the owner left it. Workbenches and computers surrounded by partially built gadgets left in pieces, one or a thousand half solved problems still lingering in the air. And before they reach any of that, the worst reminder is found, by Octavia no less: a pool of crimson mud, still fresh with Lincoln's blood after his execution by Pike.
Such is the strange, now empty shell of the Ark and the makeshift alleys and tenements that spread out in her shadow. And yet. It is to this place where Clarke and her friends now head, for for the answers that might help them beat their insanely powerful foe.
One of the things that has been a huge plot tool this season has been the creation of diametrically alternate universes within an already alternate universe. Go with me here. It's not just that things have been tipped on their head - it's that the world keeps alternating between absolute opposites for the characters at the heart of this story right now. Think about it. The Ark was once the only place that used to keep these people alive. Then it shunted them out to most likely die on the ground. Then it crash-landed and became a ground symbol of hope for life. Then it became a became a symbol of death and synonymous with killing. Then it became a place to gain answers as to how to kill ALIE. Now something that raises only questions is inside and it's trying to kill them. It goes from haven to hunting ground and back again, in the blink of an eye.
It get's bigger. The earth that tries to kill them in the beginning, becomes their shelter and hiding place. The Grounders that once hunted Sky people then became the Sky people's prey. Mount Weather which was full of people that were once a symbol of hope that life could exist on the planet surface, couldn't live on that surface without killing the people who could. The very idea of ALIE 1 and ALIE 2: how the very thing designed to save humanity is what almost kills it, yet the very thing that almost kills humanity can only be killed by a version of itself. How Clarke is both Saviour and Wanheda. The list goes on.
In short, this is a world in which it's neither smart or practical to have preconceived expectations of what anyone or anything should be, and that includes having such expectations of yourself. Such expectations in the world of The 100 are deadly. Nothing - even a children's toy, playing a dying tune in the shadows - is as it seems. As a storytelling tool, though, a character's preconceived expectations of anything can create a kind of violent and cruel but still brilliant poetry in the context of the greater narrative, in the way few other tools can. And I loved how that concept manifested itself throughout this episode. I also really love that even though the Ark crash landed and now no longer serves its old purpose, they've still found some really smart ways to keep it useful in the context of the greater story. It's the last powerful symbol of the world the Sky people left behind, up there in space, and for my part I think it's hugely important that they don't forget their old life. I'll be interested to see if we revisit it at all before the end of the season.
The theme of seeking higher things? Well you can attach it to a lot of arcs over the course of the show. Clarke, Raven, Abby, Jackson, Kane in particular are only a few of the many examples. In a rather darkly funny way though, Murphy is the opposite. Higher things seem to keep seeking him. He kicks and rails against them every time, and yet somehow the man who so very nearly ended up swinging on the end of a rope all the way back in Season One, now finds himself at the heart of the greatest battle of all between right and wrong, good and evil, in this post-apocalyptic world. The very thing he does not want to believe in, seems very much to believe in him. All of which means now that - astonishingly - the snarling, bitter miscreant who was once seen by Grounders as useful as nothing more than a contagion monkey, is now front and centre as Flamekeeper and respected, trusted adviser to a Commander. Somehow, at some point, John Murphy became the good guy.
You know, I loathed him in the beginning. I wanted to kick him in the shins literally every time I saw him on screen. But since then I have been nothing short of massively impressed with how interesting and engaging his journey has been, and with how well he has been used to drive this story further, into some incredibly interesting places of moral conflict.
It was hard, then, to see that Emori had been turned by ALIE and Jaha, because of all that she's meant to Murphy, and for him as he's grown. It's hard because the more you know him, the more you start to root for him. You start to want good things for him, and Emori is the epitome of a good thing. She sees through his hard outer casing of snark and disillusionment, right through to the part of him that is capable of good and compassion and greatness. Honestly if we lose her in the end, I'd be so sad. She's been a sensational spanner in John's works; he has been better for her, and the story has been better for them being a team.
The other side of that coin though is ALIE and Jaha. The more you see of the pair of them, the more you realise just how much they believe that there is no going higher than them. They believe they are the pinnacle to which all others should aspire to ascend. And that whole last moment of seeing ALIE on the Commander's throne seems to give weight to such a claim. After all, it's like Ali used to say. It ain't braggin' if you can back it up. But for all that, the lofty conceit of those who think they are unbeatable, often proves to be the cause of their downfall. And given that they have set themselves so far above all else...well. If they lose, one can only imagine the catastrophic impact when they hit the ground.
OF MONSTERS AND OF MEN
One of the core elements of this show is the concept of redemption: can a person be redeemed in any way by the choices they make as they move forward, despite the things that they've done in their pasts? Indeed it's a question that has been asked - and often answered - in regards to so many characters over the course of three seasons. Kane, Abby, Jaha, Clarke, Lincoln, Bellamy, Octavia, Jasper, Murphy, Finn, Lexa, Dante Wallace...take your pick really. Even Pike to an extent. What that subsequently meant was that regardless of what each of those characters did or have done in the time they are/were given, there is/was an unmistakable grey area in all of them. A part of their composition as people that retained its sense of humanity: some to a far greater degree than others, of course.
Dante Wallace for example - although he did horrific things to the Grounders they captured in order for his people survived - never fully lost sense of the weight of what he was doing. Hence why he had the authority of experience to be able to give Clarke the 'I bear it so they don't have to' speech. He knew what he was doing was wrong, and he retained the guilt of it; he just was willing to keep going because ultimately he valued the lives of his own more than the people he killed. The weight of conscience was, however, not a trait he passed on to his son, Cage.
All of which makes for the segue that brings us to Emerson: the last remaining Mountain Man, who finally bit the big one in this episode after a deadly stand off with Clarke in the hollow bones of the fallen spaceship.
The question regarding whether or not Emerson could have been redeemed is not worth asking in the same way it's worth asking in relation to others. It's a moot point on so many levels; he was given multiple chances to go and do something better with his life, including taking responsibility for his own actions in and outside of Mount Weather. And he was certainly given a massive reprieve when Clarke spared his life in Polis.
No. The facts surrounding Emerson are far worse than any answer to that question. Because I don't think this was just a case of him not wanting redemption. I think it was a massive case of him not believing that he needed to be redeemed. His belief in the superior worth of his own life and those of his people, fed into the concurrent and despicable rush of fulfillment he got out of dominating those he saw as lesser. Grounders. The Sky people. Basically anyone who hadn't been sheltered in that rock fortress their whole lives. You saw it in his eyes from the minute we met him last season. Human testing was something he looked forward to. This guy was a bad, bad guy. He also just happened to have people that mattered to him.
As I tried to come up with a way to sum his character up, all I could think of was people like the Nazi soldiers who worked in concentration camps. Having children of their own at home, and families and friends they cared about, did not make them a better or more redeemable person when it came to the fact that they spent the rest of their time murdering the children, families and friends of others.
The fact of their having kids that they went home and read stories to and spouses they kissed when they walked through the door, is not a get out of jail free card that excuses them from being accountable for the atrocities they have committed. Especially when they took pleasure in those atrocities, and believed it was fine for them to do what they were doing. There is no ignorance someone like that can plead. They are, quite simply, every bit as evil as the people who commanded them to take the actions they have. Emerson is no different. He was a Nazi for a new world, and there was no excuse for his behaviour. Not the death of his child or his friends or anyone else he cared about. No excuse at all. What's scary too is that it's a similar journey Ontari risks taking, and if we've learned one thing in 2016 it's that people with power who also believe they are above the law are terror waiting to happen.
Now, there is a life and death reality to that arc within the greater context of this story, of course. But the underpinning principle and lesson for us all is the same. Most of us...we never like to believe that we are the monster in any given situation. We never like to believe that we are capable of being such a person. But the truth is that all of us are capable of being monsters - to ourselves and to others - and it's our responsibility to keep those things in check. And if we don't, we need to be held accountable.
All of which though - much as I hated him as a person - made me thankful for the existence of Emerson in the greater narrative. He turned out to be hugely important: not just as a catalyst for action and personal growth of the characters, but as the embodiment of a much needed lesson in the context of speaking into contemporary culture; a parable of sorts for a 21st century audience. As far as justice goes, though, one can't help but think that the way ALIE 2 took him out - decimating his mind and shredding his innards - was a deserving fate for one of the cruelest and bitterest men the new earth has ever yielded.
Speaking of redemption arcs, one of my favourite lines this week came from Sinclair, when he spoke of ALIE 2 being Becca's second chance to atone for what she did in creating ALIE 1. Was she arrogant in creating the AI as she did in the first place? Absolutely. Arguably that's where ALIE 1 got it from. Arrogance is humanity stripped of humility. And there is nothing humble about world domination. So whether or not ALIE 2 is enough of an atonement for what Becca did is arguable. But the existence of ALIE 2 suggests Becca knew on some level that it would not be right for such a power to not have some kind of overriding switch or fail safe. For all her clever hubris, underneath I still believe she wanted to make the world a better place for all its inhabitants.
But it was an idea that went further than the history of the first commander in this episode, as we once again revisited the notion of Clarke's accountability and atonement for what happened at Mount Weather. Putting aside the evil he brought with him, the other thing Emerson represented to Clarke was him being the last surviving member of the Mountain people. To be honest, I think that's why she spared his life when Lexa gave her the chance to kill him. Aside from wanting him to live with the consequences of his actions, I think she was also acutely aware of the idea that her genocide would be complete by her taking his life. So she gave him the only thing she could: a chance. It's one of many she's given, and in light of that I think it's safe to say that the idea of atonement for her actions is never far from Clarke's mind, but always seemingly far from her reach.
But as we've seen over the last couple of episodes in her relationship with Jasper - who has hated her vehemently for so long after Maya died in the mountain because of what Clarke did - maybe it's not a matter of atonement. After all, what possible thing could she do that would be of equal weight to the worth of her friend's loved one's life? Nothing. Both Jasper and Clarke know that. So what do they do when atonement seems impossible? They move forward as best as they can. They draw a line in the sand, and do their best - even though it's hard - to push ahead to a future they both share. In Clarke, you see the benefits of that attitude in the way that despite everything, she just keeps going. She keeps fighting, keeps loving and supporting and doing the best she can for her friends: even if it's at the cost of her own life, if the situation calls for it. You see how willing she is to give herself up to Emerson to save her friends from dying in the airlock. It's not guilt driving her to do that. It's love.
But in what was a really beautiful kind of twist this week, you also see the outplaying of that new emotional freedom in Jasper, in the way that he comforts Octavia when she finds Lincoln's room. For so long, the only things Jasper has had room for in his heart and his mind - even his body - have been grief and anger. But in working towards letting go of some of that, it's left room within him to be more aware of the weight of the burdens borne by others. I loved that moment where he told her that it was okay to fall apart a little. Even though Octavia's response is to say that a warrior doesn't mourn the dead till the war is over, in light of Jasper's growth, you can see in him the proof that there's hope. That there is an other side to the wall of pain and violent anger that now exists in Octavia where her love for Lincoln has always been, In Octavia's case, I think that is a hugely important hope to have. Without it, she risks letting the anger, bitterness and grief not just own her, but become her. She risks being overpowered by those things in a way that cuts her off from the world. And to me, that is too great a heart - one so capable of great love, resilience and courage - to be lost. Especially in a world that needs those things more than ever.
THE DARK BEFORE THE DAWN
I never thought that Sinclair would last the full distance of the story of The 100 by any stretch, so in one sense I thought I'd be a bit more prepared to see him die eventually. But in truth, I really struggled watching him be taken out in such a way in this episode. It was one of those moments where you always hope that good will win the war, but you know in the back of your mind that sometimes it's evil that triumphs in a battle.
The hardest thing, of course, in his dying was to know that after everything she's been through, Raven has now lost her father as well. What made that doubly painful here was the really distinct echo to how Finn died. In that moment it wouldn't have mattered that the reasons were different. To her heart and her eyes, it was, above all, another man she loved, dying at the end of another knife in the dark. She has been so strong and been through such hell, that with every passing moment the want of the audience to see her know love again, know joy and relief, becomes stronger. For my part I truly hope that such days still lie ahead for her. She deserves that much and infinitely more.
As for Sinclair, seeing his body laying on the funeral pyre beside Lincoln's - which Bellamy had carried to his sister, that she too might be able to say the goodbye of his people...her people...to the man she loved - was a powerful image of love, loss and sacrifice. Seeing Raven stand side by side with Octavia - two phenomenally strong women steeped in grief and yet still utterly empowered to go on and fight the greater fight - was a stilling moment, and honestly one for me that will I'll look back on as a core image of this whole season.
Equally as poignant was the echo of the Grounder farewell to the dead, in the firelight. Yu gonplei ste odon. Your fight is over. What made the moment even more powerful was that the last voice to echo those words came from Bellamy. Strange to remember how what would only have been weeks ago, he took part in the massacre of Grounders on the hill nearby. For me as a viewer, remembering that fact as I watched, added a breathtaking amount of pathos to that moment. And then just like that, Octavia speaks the worlds they all need to hear. They must go. They must move on, use Lincoln's book to find Luna, and end this reign of terror once and for all. They must leave the dark if they are ever going to find the light that will save them.
Good lord. Where to start.
From a plot standpoint, the practical successes of the episode are obvious. Writer Justine Juel Gillmer crafted a chapter of this story that that gave a fitting end to a key character in Emerson, while giving others the opportunity to grow, become better and become stronger. The fallout of this was that those who have now left the Ark to find Luna have made some massive and necessary decisions: the kind that will help each of them in their own way begin to move away from the pain, choices and anger of the past. As we discussed earlier in regards to Jasper, if these characters can make room inside themselves for hope, and more importantly forgiveness, it has the power to change everything. Technically speaking, I also loved the clever nod to the horror movie genre that "Demons" was. The monster appearing out of the red smoke. The snatching of characters in the dark after telling campfire ghost stories. That cold chill on the back of your neck as you wonder if that shadow is just a shadow or something far more sinister. And who could forget the dying carousel toy. This was TV designed to haunt as much as tell a story and it was excellently done. With that in mind, mad props too, to the crew and design team who staged this episode. The lingering visual effect of this episode was fantastic. It added enormously to the viewing experience.
But for me, the greater success of Gillmer's script came in the form of what really made "Demons" one of the stand out episodes of the season so far. This episode drove the greater story forward, as well as the arcs of individual characters, in an incredibly sharp way, and yet retained enough stillness and space to speak some really powerful and hugely important truths to the audience. It takes an extraordinary writer to strike that balance, and for me I thought she did an exquisite job.
Direction wise, it was so good to have P.J. Pesce back. He's directed some game changers for this show ("Murphy's Law", "Many Happy Returns" and "Coup De Grace" to name a few), so he comes into the all important tail end of season three with a fantastic eye for capturing what makes these characters and this world so compelling. That said, I also think his style particularly complements Gillmer's writing, in that both have a real knack for capturing those things that make for a truly affecting sensory experience for the audience. They're great at honing in on the physicality of what's happening to the characters in the context of an episode, and I thought Pesce did a great job of doing just that in "Demons". It was the kind of episode that leaves you feeling the chill effect of it for a while afterwards. He's back in a few episodes too, so lord knows the clever ways he'll mess with our brains then.
Either way though, we are getting perilously close to the cliff edge of this season. Having successfully captured Polis, ALIE and her enlightened slave population are in prime position to chip the rest of the known world. Her power will soon border on limitless. Indeed, every time so far we think we've understood how vast her plans are for the world, they turn out to be far smaller than the terrifying reality of what she want to achieve. And yet somehow, hope remains, in the form of a small band of emotionally battered but brave people in possession of a plan, and the only thing in the universe ALIE truly fears.
A better, smarter - and, in a visceral twist of irony - more human version of herself.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS
Ah, Toby Levins. You were fantastic in this show. Truly excellent. I won't miss Emerson but I will miss seeing your skills put to use on my screen in this show. Was also really cool to see yet another home grown actor demonstrating the incredible depth of talent that exists here, in a great show about how you have a 40-60% greater chance of surviving the Apocalypse if you are an Australian who doesn't bathe regularly.
In an effort to write the best review I could on this episode, I have had to watch it three times. Which is great because now the nightmary stuff is reeeeeeeally ingrained.
Especially the warped carousel music YEAH OKAY THANKS A LOT JUSTINE.
Scream out to my gal Chelsey Reist who again put her pipes to smashing use in this episode.
Goodbye again, dear and most wonderful Alessandro Juliani. Thank you for all the awesomeness you brought to the show. I miss you. Again. Like, BSG was hard but THIS ONE HIT ME IN THE FEELS.
The moment with Octavia finding Lincoln's coat and holding it to her nose just to remember the scent of him was heartbreaking in every possible way.
And then she finds the book and it has not only the map but is filled with drawings of her, and Marie Avgeropoulos once again highlights why she is one of the best actors working in TV today.
So glad to see Jasper moving forward with his life again, even if it is slowly.
That said, Monty continues to be one of the most traumatising characters to watch this season. That whole thing where he makes the connection about his mother's consciousness still existing somewhere in ALIE 1's programming, and about what might happen to her if Clarke successfully destroys ALIE 1...it's heartbreaking. He and Raven are getting emotionally harder to watch every week. That said, the pathos and strength of both arcs is still insanely good.
Have I mentioned this week that Richard Harmon on my TV is one of my favourite things ever? Because he is.
Emerson's "They're lucky to have a friend like you" jab is rich but cold.
Be interested to see how Raven's theory of using the Ark to gain backdoor access to ALIE 1, in the hopes of using it to aid ALIE 2, will work.
Also wonder if in any way the person hosting ALIE 2 sees that or any vision of Becca, in a way that's similar to how people so clearly see ALIE 1.
After the humongous DCU crossover thing the other week on The CW, part of me just keeps expecting Barry Allen to show up out of nowhere and make things even more complicated then leave again, tbh.