Review: ‘The 100’ Ep 5.11: “The Dark Year”

Maybe if those people jello cubes hadn’t been so large and the camera focus so close up as to make poor Octavia trying to chomp into the giant jiggly things look kinda comical.

Maybe if the climactic bunker flashback scene hadn’t been quite so … extra – They couldn’t just try to force Bob the Grounder guy eat a person, it had to also be his brother.

“But Blodreina my brother Greg just died in the fighting pits yesterday …”

“BOB SO HELP ME GOD IF YOU DO NOT EAT THIS GREG JELLO CUBE I WILL SHOOT YOUR GODDAMN STUPID FACE!!”

Truth be told, there’s a lot of things going on here that go far beyond a couple campy scenes.  Any show like this can easily veer into cheese territory if everything isn’t perfectly firing all cylinders.  If you’re even slightly annoyed by other facets of the show, stuff like this starts to make you roll your eyes.

I actually think “The Dark Year” is a pretty important factor in what went wrong with season 5 as a whole, but not because of a campy scene or two.  Last week it really started to sink in for me that this season, which many of us thought we were enjoying until a couple/few eps ago, has actually had significant pacing and plot structure issues.  And this ep is the perfect demonstration: Why did the show wait until nearly the penultimate ep of the entire season to finally explain what the hell The Dark Year was?  And did we really even need an entire episode devoted to it?  Think about the fact that in the present day, almost nothing actually happened in this episode other than battle strategizing, marching, and Abby detox.  We’re at the final 3 eps of the season and this is the level of plot movement we’re getting?

I shouldn’t be shocked; obnoxious plotting seems to be a hot TV trend right now.  The latest seasons of Westworld and The Handmaid’s Tale both started within a week of The 100 S5.  I was so excited for all of these shows as I probably counted them as my top 3 favorite dramas heading into the current season of each.  I’ve never been so disappointed by so many TV shows at once in my life.  And infuriating plotting has been a key factor in all of them.  Uggh.

So back to the question: did The Dark Year really need to air quite this late in the season?  Let’s start by asking ourselves what the point of the story was.  The point was to show us how Octavia got to be such an insane tyrant so irrationally obsessed with waging war on the Eligius people to get WonKru to the valley, at any cost.  The answer it gives us is that WonKru had to go through such terrible horrors in the bunker that at this point, Octavia will accept nothing less than them owning the valley because by god they fucking deserve it after the hell they’ve suffered for the past 6 years.

It’s strange then that after refusing to back down on anything the entire season, O is suddenly so willing to compromise with Bell on sharing the valley in this ep.  Other than that weird about-face, I get what the show is trying to convey here about O’s motivations.  But wouldn’t it have been so much easier to just have told us this key part of the story a bit earlier, maybe somewhere closer to mid-season?  I complained last week that the show purposely structured the episodes so that you’d think O was a complete dumbass all through ep 5.10 because they hadn’t yet given us this key part of her motivations (she’s still a dumbass but at least I get more why she’s acting so crazy).

Why structure it like this?  And did we need a whole ep devoted to this part of the story rather than just giving us the important pieces of the story in a more condensed fashion sprinkled into earlier eps?  In this sense, The 100 seems to have been plagued this season by the same need to be cool/inventive/artsy in its story-telling as high-profile shows like Westworld and Mr. Robot.  Just tell me a great story that entertains me and makes sense!!  I don’t need a dang Picasso painting.

And again telling the story this way just creates the feeling that you’re stalling out during a part of the season where you should be on a nail-biting fast-paced race to the finish line.  If you’re going to have a flashback ep this late in the season, it needs to be for the purpose of propelling the rest of the season forward, rather than explaining ridiculous behavior that’s already happened.

Slow Pacing is Actually Fine as Long as You’re Entertaining Me

This is another key point that I think needs to be made here, because I don’t necessarily think that slow pacing has to be a bad thing.  I can be totally fine with an episode that consists of nothing more than a bunch of characters just sitting in a room together going nowhere as long as whatever they’re doing in there / whatever they’re discussing / whatever interactions they’re having are entertaining me.  You are never going to hear me complain about story pacing as long as whatever you’re showing me onscreen is compelling.

What’s compelling is of course very subjective, and The 100 made a conscious choice to put a few storylines at the forefront of season 5 that have garnered very mixed reaction from the audience.  For better or worse, the writers decided to devote a lot of S5 screentime to the Bunker Horror Show, and I don’t know that this was what a lot of the audience had in mind when they were envisioning an enjoyable season 5.  It’s not what I personally had in mind.  Of course we knew there’d be focus here, but we also thought season 5 would be more of a step forward for the show in general rather than spending quite so much time looking back (and only on the bunker).  And yes, everyone knew cannibalism was coming this season, but by the time ep 11 hit, we were all so desperate and tired of waiting to see all our season-long character issues finally dealt with that spending the better part of an hour on cannibalism instead was extremely frustrating.

OMG, remember at the end of season 2 ep 10 of Mr. Robot when Darlene and Cisco got gunned down in that diner, and then the show spent the entire next episode on some fucking weird ass dream sequence episode with Angela and Whiterose sitting at a table next to a fishtank the entire time??  We literally did not even check in to find out the fate of Darlene and Cisco until ep 2.12, the season finale.  God, I was absolutely livid.  I just came to the realization that this is exactly what The 100 eps 5.10 and 5.11 have been.  This is a huge part of why I’m so angry.  Again it goes to both plot structure and the question of what the audience wants to see vs. what the writers are interested in exploring.  When the two things diverge, it really becomes a problem.

Torture Porn

I talked about this in my review last week and I knew it would apply even more so this week.  The main thing I have to add this week on top of what I already said in my last review is that darkly-themed shows like this tend to get to a point in their lifecycle where they start to rely too heavily on dreaming up fucked up shit to put on screen rather than just telling a good story.  I get that the bunker sucked ass; I got it just fine from the flashback ep the show already gave us: 5.02.  I don’t need to also have a whole additional ep devoted to watching WonKru eat human jello and shooting each other in the face to get the suckiness of it all.

Yes, I get that the writers want Octavia’s and Abby’s and all the bunker peeps’ crazy behavior this season to make sense and feel earned.  But I swear I feel pretty sure that this all starts with Jason just waking up in the middle of the night going, “Cannibalism!!” and then he works his way backwards from there on his storytelling.  Like, “Cannibalism!!  What can we do with it?”  And then we quickly get from that to an entire season devoted to Octavia as an obnoxious psychopath, Abby as a junky convulsing on the floor 24/7, and Kane standing around pontificating about war and peace and the human condition.  Uggh.  Super.  Just what I was hoping to spend a whole season watching.

There Are No Good Guys

I don’t know how much I want to get into this here because I want to explore this theme in my season 5 review once everything is said and done.  But this episode really revolved around this theme so this is a good time to broach the topic.  All season I’ve been realizing that I’m starting to feel uncomfortable with how far The 100 seems to want to take the idea that there are no good guys, which seems to also conversely mean (to the show) that there are no bad guys, either.  That’s the thing that’s really been getting to me lately, especially as we witness terrible people doing terrible things in Trump’s America every single day.

This tweet made me think of something: In season 2, The 100 still seemed to understand that there are some actions which actually push a character past the point of being redeemable.  When Finn went insane looking for Clarke in ep 2.05 and mowed down an entire Grounder village, that was it for him.  We got like 3 more eps of our characters trying to figure out what the hell to do with him because he was a close friend of theirs and Clarke’s/Raven’s former love interest, so obviously the characters were very conflicted about what should happen to him.  But ultimately, it was clear that they knew in their hearts that there wasn’t much that could be done.  Lexa insisting Finn be executed for his crimes allowed Skaikru to avoid having to make a decision like that, but either way it was clear that the show understood they couldn’t keep Finn on as a good guy from that point forward.

Season 5 Octavia has been a pretty clear-cut villain, which is why I’ve been o.k. with the way the show has approached her arc until now.  But ep 5.11 at several points really seems to be quite focused on making a lot of excuses for O’s post-bunker behavior.  For example:

Madi: “How can you still be against Octavia, after what your mom said went on down there??”

Uhh, Sweetie, she JUST tried to have you executed less than 2 episodes ago!!  Are you forgetting that?  That’s literally the entire reason Clarke took you in the Rover to escape to Eden!  Did you forget that Octavia is precisely who you were escaping from??  Because she was trying to murder you?  But now because you found out about the bad stuff in the bunker, it suddenly means Octavia is justified in every horrible evil murderous thing she does now?  It’s … I’m baffled.  The show is not at all clear as to who it wants us to side with in this scene, but it feels a lot like it’s supposed to be Madi.  It doesn’t make any sense but this ep seems like it’s starting some sort of Octavia redemption arc.

And that’s my issue: Just because you’ve now explained to me what made you evil, that doesn’t mean I’m now going to accept how evil you are and partner up with you on any kind of endeavor.  If some guy who got beaten by his dad as a kid then goes on to beat his own kids and wife and dog, or goes on to shoot up a school, I’m not going to be like, “O.k. dude I get why you’re like this.  It’s cool.  You’re not a bad guy, you’re just damaged.  Let’s go have a beer.”  Or, “O.k. Mr. Terrorist, I get that the reason you blew up a bunch of kids at an Ariana Grande concert is only because you’re fighting against XYZ oppression from western society” or whatever.  Like, let’s be friends now I’m sure you’re cool.  It honestly sometimes feels like this is what The 100 is trying to convey, particularly in this ep with Octavia.

And that’s the other issue the show has this season with the “there are no good guys” theme – Season 5 seems to be very devoted to giving us a story in which we’re not sure who to root for.  I get that the show likes to live in the moral grey area because it feels that the traditional good vs. evil stuff is cliche and not realistic.  But what The 100 writers are forgetting is that in order to tell a compelling story, your audience needs to like/love at least some of the characters.  They need someone to root for.  Otherwise why the hell are they even watching your show??  What is the point?  No one wants to watch a bunch of assholes doing various levels of unpleasant things on their TV screen for an entire season.  The show did give us Clarke to root for in the first half of the season, but now they’ve even taken her away from us.  She’s in a weird space right now, which I’ll get to next.

And here’s the thing: Like I alluded to earlier, obviously no one is perfect, but in the real word, there genuinely are good people out there, and there genuinely are super shitty people.  The 100 has now pushed itself so far into the grey zone that it has now become just as unrealistic as the cheesy good vs. evil motif it’s trying to subvert.

Clarke Has No Fucks Left to Give

Clarke is in a weird space here that I actually totally get if I can force myself to ignore the fact that she’s still irrationally refusing to destroy The Flame (I can’t).  As long as she’s still refusing to do this, the audience is going to have a hard time getting in her head space or rooting for her.  And even if she were to have the balls to do this, I’d be able to get with her in this ep, but it would still be extremely depressing.

The reason it’s depressing is that Clarke is just as exhausted as we the audience are with season 5 at this point.  And she has just as many fucks left to give, which is to say, very few.  She’s got Abby whose life she needs to save, and she’s got Madi who she needs to protect from O.  In order to do those things, she’s got no choice at this moment other than to work with McCreary.  And that’s one thing to remember here – Even if Clarke would pull her head out of her ass and destroy The Flame, she’d still have to spend at least this one ep siding with McCreary in order to save Abby.

It’s jarring that she doesn’t even spend half a second considering her actions before selling out WonKru to McCreary, but it also makes sense – The only reason she went with the original plan to disable the eye in the sky was so that she/Bell/Harper/Monty/Madi could escape Polis in the Rover.  Now that that’s all shot to hell and she’s in Eden, she just wants to stop WonKru from getting there and winning the war, which would once again put O in the perfect position to kill Madi (hey I have an idea, how ’bout just destroying the goddamn Flame and taking away O’s motive!!)  Bell and Monty and Harper are just gonna have to fend for themselves to try to avoid getting swept away in WonKru’s crusade.

If we could strip away everyone else involved in this, Clarke siding with McCreary would be an absolute no-brainer – How the hell is McCreary any worse than O right now?  The answer is, he’s not.  They’re exactly the same in terms of their level of evil and the amount of hesitation they’d have in killing Madi and Clarke (zero).  In fact, O is worse right now because she has a much stronger motive to kill Madi.

But O and McCreary aren’t the only ones involved.  And that’s a problem with Clarke right now that I’m just realizing – Even in the past when she’s done terrible things affecting Bell or when she and Bell are in huge fights, it’s never involved one of these two leaving the other to die.  Has it?  I don’t think so.  It’s involved Clarke leaving O to die plenty of times, but never Bell.  Usually it’s all been in the name of saving Bell – the Bunker, TonDC.  And I know this situation is different because it’s the first time Bell has betrayed Clarke, but still, she only shows the slightest moments of regret in leaving him for dead.

It’s weird but I guess also goes to her “zero fucks left to give” state of being: The best way I saw this described was in this tweet saying that right now, “Clarke regrets people.”  She’s lived for 6 years refreshingly free of the complications of the human race.  She spent those entire 6 years reliving her memories of her friends, regaling the stories to Madi, and drawing pictures of their adventures.  She’s idealized them.  She loved them (especially Bell) so much and her love only grew during those 6 years.  And now they’ve come back from space as seemingly different people.  Bell keeps reminding everyone that SpaceKru is his “family” now, a family that doesn’t include Clarke, and a family that Bellamy protected by putting a giant target on the back of Clarke’s adopted kid and only human connection.  At this point all the humans who came back to Earth and totally fucked up everything Clarke had going are all starting to blend together now.  Everyone is an alien.  Her friends who left on that ship 6 years ago are gone forever.  She spent those 6 years holding out hope for their survival, but ironically it’s only now that she’s gotten them back that she’s having to let them go.

So I get it, but Jesus Christ if you kill all the character bonds, especially the bond between Clarke and Bell, the supposed central one to the series, what do you have left?  I think it totally makes sense that after 6 years apart, this will be a painful phase they have to work through in order to re-form those bonds and (one would hope) come out of it stronger than ever.  But what’s really killing everyone is the fact that the show waited until the end of the effing season to get here.  You can’t come back from a point this abysmally low in two goddamn episodes.  What the hell was the show planning to do if they didn’t get a season 6, which was a very likely scenario??

Jason seems to be writing this show as if it gets Grey’s Anatomy-level ratings and is guaranteed at least 12 seasons.  He’s not even trying to write for the show he actually has, which is a genre show with a small devoted audience that is in danger of cancellation every single season.  I totally understand that you wouldn’t want this to dictate and affect your writing in a negative way, but Jason takes this mentality to the extreme.  You’re gonna wind up having told a very disappointing story if it ends with everyone’s favorite characters all being dicks and hating each other at the point your show gets cancelled.  And if instead of maximizing your precious limited time by giving focus to your best storylines, you waste it all on crap no one cares about.

Madi

I almost forgot to bring up another important factor in what’s bringing down the Clarke storyline in the past few eps: Madi is not Madi anymore.  Her character has been a big hit this season, so it’s only natural given everything else the writers have done this season that they’d ruin her character as well.  Ever since she put the flame in her head we’ve lost her.  She’s now turned into CreepBot 5000, giving Clarke advice that’s now just becoming nonsensical, as I touched on above.  I guess the one bright spot has been her constant nagging of Clarke about Bellamy, but Clarke seems so immune to it that even this winds up being ineffective.  The only way this Flame storyline will have even been slightly worth the trouble will be if FlameBot Madi convinces Clarke to get her head out of her ass re: Bell.  Otherwise I dunno where she goes from here other than acting weird and then tragically dying like every other commander.  Depressing.

Clarke & Abby

Oh and one last thing here that I also almost forgot: Yet another reason why Clarke’s storyline in this ep is not as effective as it could be – She and Abby have barely interacted this entire season.  She saw Abby only once when they rescued her from the bunker and then that’s it.  Since Abby went to Eden, we’ve really seen no concern from Clarke whatsoever about what’s up with her mom.  Have we?  Am I forgetting something?  I guess I recall a brief mention in regards to stopping the worm plan in 5.07, but that might be it.  Now suddenly in ep 10/11 she’s concerned about her mom again, but the audience isn’t feeling much of that connection this season.  Logically it makes sense, but it’s not really hitting us emotionally.  It’s not uncommon for these two to be separated for long periods of time, but Jason has effed with the characters so much this season that all their relationship dynamics are messed up and not what they used to be.

Raven, Shaw, Pilot Mechanic, and The Rest of SpaceKru

The only characters we really have left to root for on this show who are prominently featured in this ep are Raven and Shaw.  The other still-good characters we have left are Monty, Harper, Emori, and on a good day, Murphy.  Bell is also mostly fine in this episode but his constant obsession with hurling the “my family” bomb at everyone he’s excluding from it is the equivalent of Clarke refusing to destroy the Flame right now.  Regardless of whatever else these two do in any given episode, as long as they are continuing this behavior, I’m always right on the verge of smacking them upside the head.  My hand is always halfway cocked and ready to launch.

On the bright side, Bell finally seems to be totally done with O, but this isn’t the first time we’ve been here and he always lets her dupe him again eventually.  I was exhausted with this back-and-forth seasons ago and yet here we still are in season 5, doing the same song and dance.  It’s like we’re stuck in an endless loop that only gets worse as the series goes on, as now O is just a full-on villain so her behavior is a thousand times worse.  Kill me.

Monty gets one nice scene here by the fire with Bell which has produced some very cute gifs.  So.  There’s that.  We have to grasp at whatever straws we can at this point.

Anyway back to Shaw and Raven, really the one and only bright spot of this ep.  It sucks for them that they have to play out their story while the rest of the show is going down in flames.  In a sense it’s good for them because they can be the one bright spot people can cling to, but it also kind of lessens everyone’s overall investment because the rest of the show is breaking our spirits.  Still, their story is good in this one:  Shaw gets to be a full-on action hero before Raven eventually gets over her anger with him putting himself in danger and brings her man in for the make-out sesh.  How the hell did she give him the silent treatment for 4 whole days though!?  That’s insane.

Then there’s Echo.  I honestly have no idea what is up with her in this ep.  Raven/Shaw’s kiss transitions to Echo sitting on a log looking super bummed and I don’t even entirely know why – Like yes, her boyfriend is in danger marching with crazy O’s army … but Jesus at least he’s on his way back to her.  He’s made huge progress since the last bazillion eps of just being stuck in Polis.  So what’s Echo so bummed about?  And her quip to Kane about “trust has to be earned” … I mean … that had to be a joke, right?  She senses the irony of her statement?  Uggh.

Bellarke is Dead

Yeah we were wrong about Bellarke.  And it’s not our fault – The show made a concerted effort to foreshadow Bellarke as finally coming down the line for the entire first half of the season and apparently it was all just to fuck with us.  To get us to tune in knowing full well all the show was gonna do was to obliterate them completely.  And probably for good.  We’ve been duped for ratings.  Per usual.

Becho is endgame.  And Clarke can just marry The Flame or something.  Have fun with season 6, guys!  Jason took his audience for fools and I think he’ll find out in season 6 that they’re not as foolish as he thinks.  People are already in the process of giving up and checking out of this show.  There are plenty of other shows out there (like literally all of them) that will actually tell a complete story when it comes to their popular ship(s).  Sure, they’ll eff the ships up after getting them together, but at least they’ll get their moment of glory first.  The fact that The 100 flat-out refuses to follow through on what they’ve painstakingly spent 5 seasons setting up with Bellarke is has got to be the most bizarre thing I’ve ever witnessed on television.  Especially considering they have no problem telling a complete story with literally every other ship they’ve ever had on this show.  It’s beyond comprehension.

Whatever we get in the season finale will be on the level of a handshake and a slap on the back.  What Jason decided to do with season 5 has guaranteed that the show will get cancelled far before this ship ever becomes canon.  So, Bellarke sisters, it’s time to throw in the towel now unless you’re interested in 13 more episodes of Kane’s musings, Flame mythology, Octavia acting like a dick and Bellamy groveling to her like a dog, Becho lovemaking sessions, and Clarke just standing in the background wondering WTF is happening.  I’m not.

p.s. I’m being purposely caustic with this of course, but I really truly believe there is no other way to read the evidence that’s been presented to us in recent weeks both on the show and in comments/interview answers by Jason and the cast.  This is me bringing everything back to reality.  Logic tells us this shit ain’t happening.  You can’t fix what’s been broken in 2 eps.  And Becho is still going strong despite the fact that they were basically ignored all season.  I give up.

Final thoughts before I end this:

  • There really was no more fitting way to start this episode than with Abby barfing.  It’s a good representation of the audience trying to get through these last few eps realizing what Jason is doing with this season.
  • Eligius 3 is mentioned again here.  Certainly Shannon Kook’s character will be from that ship.
  • Harper’s “Wait!  She’s speaking Trig for a reason” should not have needed to be said.  Bell and the audience shouldn’t be that stupid.
  • Is the word for “pilot” in Trig really “maverick”?  Lol.  Wow.
  • It took me until my 3rd watch of the ep (getting screencaps) to catch that little Mackson bonding moment over eating people.
  • Oh my Christ.  It also just took me until my 3rd rewatch of the ep to notice Bellamy by the fire staring longingly at what I think is Echo’s sword before Monty walks up.  <Abby barf noises>  Remember what I said earlier about Bellarke being dead?  Hammer 10 more nails in the coffin and shovel 10 more mounds of dirt into the grave.
  • Unless they screw it up in the final 2 eps, which they absolutely can, Diyoza will have been one of the few successes of season 5.  It’s too bad she had to spend so much time standing around shooting the shit with Kane though.  And I have no clue what they’ll do her in the finale.  Killing her will be a waste of a good character.
  • The final twist with Kane and Diyoza making a deal with McCreary to keep O out of the valley would be interesting if it didn’t all feel so convoluted.  The “no good guys” thing means we’ve basically got two groups of people filled mostly with assholes and nobodies who are about to fight each other.  Alliances switching all over the place gets confusing after a while and doesn’t have much impact if you can’t even find anyone you want to root for to begin with.
  • After waiting all season to find out what that Clarke/Echo scene will be, I’m fully prepared for it to be lame/disappointing as hell next week.

My rating for ep 5.11: 65/100

We’re stalling out when we should be focusing on moving forward and we have zero time to waste.  We barely have anyone to root for anymore.  The logic around who Clarke (and the audience) is supposed to be siding with is nonsensical and confusing.  We’re wasting time trying to redeem Octavia when we could have avoided this entire problem by just not making her so horrible this season in the first place.  Why bother if the show doesn’t have the balls to fully commit to making her a villain?  The show wants to have its cake and eat it too with her.  We only have 2 eps left and we know that almost none of its issues will be fixed.  Things are looking grim.  In my 5.05 review I mentioned that I was afraid to be gushing so much about how great the season was because I was probably jinxing it.  Turns out I was right.  See y’all next week.  My expectations are at rock bottom.

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