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The 100: A Spoiler-Free Season 1 Review

I’ll just throw my hands up into the air and admit it: I like The 100.

I don’t even know why I’m being sheepish about liking a CW show; I like a lot of CW shows. In fact, I probably watch more shows from them than I do any other single network. It’s just that The 100 is probably the epitome of what makes a CW show. Beautiful people? Check. Attractive art design and cinematography? Check. Nigh-unbelievable utilization of production budget? Check. Emotionally driven storytelling? Check. Ridiculous quantities of action adventure? Check. Totally implausible TV science, to-hell-with-it storytelling, and a likable cast? Check, check and check. (Okay, so, I secretly think everyone should watch CW shows.)

If you want to know what The 100 is about, I’ll invite you to the a general plot comparison to two famous young adult franchises: Imagine an “alternate universe” version of The Hunger Games where all the tributes are abandoned in the jungle like Lord of the Flies, except in this world Peeta’s kind of a cheater and you spend the whole season waiting for Katniss and Gale to get over their philosophical differences and jump each other. Is that too vague? Well, the teenage readers will feel me on this. But for the rest of you muggles, here’s the IMDb synopsis:

Set 97 years after a nuclear war has destroyed civilization, a spaceship housing humanity’s lone survivors sends one hundred juvenile delinquents back to Earth in hopes of possibly re-populating the planet.

Sounds pretty jacked up, right?  I mean, there’s so much wrong with this premise. I could write a college term paper on what’s wrong with this premise. Trust me when I say that there’s probably not a single thing you could think of that’s wrong with premise that I haven’t already chewed over at least three times. Watching it doesn’t really help fix those qualms, either.

And yet, I really like this show. I’ve seen all thirteen episodes of season one, and I’m pumped for season two. Why am I excited, if it’s such a terrible premise? Great question, reader, and I’ll lay it out for you straight: the characters, actors, writers, producers, and everyone involved with The 100 takes the premise completely and utterly seriously, to the point that you don’t even care if it makes no sense because hell yeah, you’re in. They got you. They hooked you. You care.

clarke griffin the 100 review

Eliza Taylor plays Clarke Griffin on ‘The 100’

Of all of them, you care the most about Clarke Griffin (Eliza Taylor). I didn’t quite bond with her at first; she seems too much of the heroic cliché. Clarke is noble-minded, sincere, and serious. She dreams big and wants to save everyone. She’s Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, Avatar Korra. So why, thirteen episodes later, do I look at her character and grin this huge, toothy grin? Because less than two weeks on planet Earth is enough to turn her into a brutal, lethal Katniss Everdeen. I’ve never been so proud to see cynicism overtake a hero’s narrative. That’s probably a jaded point of view, but trust me, the journey is great fun. It’s like the comprehensive opposite of everything happening to Oliver on Arrow.

The 100 tells two coinciding narratives. In space, the last several thousand members of the human race eagerly track the fate of their 100 criminally delinquent colonists. This is boring and spoiler-y, so I’m skipping it.

On the ground, we’re blessedly spared too much Lord of the Flies business. While there’s violence, competition, and murder amongst the teens, it’s less a philosophical trip through religious iconography and more of a practical song-and-dance: with no government, people want to settle old scores and stake their place in the new world. From this emerge two leaders. Clarke is the daughter of an elite doctor and partially-trained medic herself. She’s an idealist and a big fan of The Social Contract. Clarke is primarily focused on acquiring basic needs for her fellow colonists and exploring the surrounding region. Her opposite — and her eventual ally — is Bellamy Blake (Bob Morley). Blake stowed away on the drop ship when he realized his younger sister Octavia would be sent to the surface (all you need to know about Octavia Blake: she’s a fantasy YA princess trapped in an apocalypse YA novel.) Being a few years older and several inches taller than anyone else, Blake sets himself up as king of the mountain. At first he promises the kids a rule-free paradise (queue the sex and drinking) but it only takes a few episodes for him to turn into a military autocrat.

The other characters drift back and forth from loyalty to Clarke or Bellamy, and it doesn’t take long to realize both leaders are necessary to help the group survive. No sooner do they form an alliance than the real trouble begins. Menaced both by Grounders (warrior descendants of the terrestrial human survivors) and by the political machinations of the “adults” in space orbit, bodies drop like flies. Season 1 ends on a pretty zesty cliffhanger that any sci-fi fan could see coming a mile away, but one that still massively entertains.

Nothing is really shocking or new about The 100; its appeal comes from seeing familiar tropes executed with bloody soap opera relish. Because we’re talking about The CW network, woven in with the politics and conspiracies are a couple of love triangles, some more interesting than others. The core romance between Clarke and handsome, floppy-haired Finn (Thomas McDonell) is the weakest, but thankfully it never interferes much with the main adventure plot. In part this is because of Clarke’s hero gleam. She doesn’t have time to cry over boys when she still needs to part the Red Sea and lead her people to the promised land.

Although the four main characters (Clarke, Finn, Bellamy, Octavia) are given substantial development, the rest of the ensemble is fairly one-note, and I hope we can see little bits of them developed further in Season 2.  I expect we’ll also learn more about the Grounders, and how they survived the original nuclear cataclysm. Until then, you’ll probably find me hunched over my computer watching Clarke/Bellamy fanvids on YouTube. Three gleeful stars out of five for Season 1 of The 100.

three stars