The 100 Tries to Humanize Monstrous Characters in "Join or Die"

Friday, 29 April 2016 - 2:36PM
The 100
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Friday, 29 April 2016 - 2:36PM
The 100 Tries to Humanize Monstrous Characters in "Join or Die"
Aside from the controversial character deaths, the primary complaints about The 100's third season have centered around two characters: Pike and Bellamy. The former was introduced as a somewhat cartoonish villain from the outset, while the latter went from a mostly redeemed character to a nearly unredeemable one. Last night's episode, "Join or Die," took a break from killing off major characters to humanize Pike and Bellamy--to varying degrees of success.

I never thought I would say this, but the attempt to make Pike more relatable was far more successful. Pike has been problematically written all season, not because he's evil, but because he's one-note to the point of being a caricature. The 100 is usually very complex, and paints everyone in moral shades of gray, but Pike was just an aggressive, obnoxious xenophobe without any redeeming qualities. But "Join or Die" went a long way towards helping the viewer understand his motivations, as the writing for the flashbacks was top-notch (not to mention that it was incredibly fun to see the gang looking so young, innocent, and CW-fied), and made Pike seem like a bona fide human being. 

At first, I thought I would be annoyed by the flashbacks, because they were making him seem far too righteous and noble considering what he would soon become (the Ark was only six months ago in the show's timeline, after all). But the writers struck a perfect balance by portraying his empathy for the kids, but also showing how terribly misguided he was in expressing that empathy and desire to help them survive. To be fair, lots of characters like to beat the shit out of Murphy--it's pretty much become a running joke at this point--but ending with Pike terrifying the children "for their own good" ensured that the flashbacks weren't glorifying his character to an unrealistic degree. Instead, they depicted him as a man who wants to do the right thing, but reacts from an emotional place and goes about it completely the wrong way, which we've known from the beginning.

If I had one complaint about the attempts to humanize Pike, it's that it's too little, too late, and these flashbacks would have been much more effective approximately seven episodes ago. But that's nothing compared to the baffling choices for Bellamy in this episode, as his redemption arc is falling completely flat. As I've written before, I've never had as much of a problem with his quick descent into villainy as everyone else, but I do think that this plotline will only work if his actions have the appropriate consequences. Until now, the show has gone out of its way to remind us that Bellamy has done terrible things that can't be forgiven easily, to great effect. I cheered when Kane called Bellamy out on his selfish motivations, and when Raven/A.L.I.E. called him a murderer and reminded us that he's always kind of been a jerk. But then, this episode saw Clarke comforting Bellamy as if he's somehow the victim, bonding with him over their shared genocidal tendencies and telling him, "You have to forgive yourself."

This scene between Bellamy and Clarke was interesting, because I always thought their relationship would be the key to his redemption, but in a completely different way. Since she's been away for most of the season, Clarke hasn't watched Bellamy go through these changes, so I could only imagine she would be horrified when she found out the extent of Bellamy's unforgivable actions. He helped Pike murder 300 people in cold blood (which is far more than Finn, by the way, and Clarke was appropriately aghast when that happened). I can understand forgiving him eventually, especially since she feels guilty about her actions at Mount Weather, but many, many steps were skipped here. Bellamy doesn't need to forgive himself, because he doesn't even fully understand that he's done anything wrong. Octavia understands that, and rightly calls him out when he still refers to Grounders as "hostile." Since the story is still developing, I'll reserve judgment on whether the characters overall forgive him too easily, but Clarke is enough of a mouthpiece for the audience that it doesn't look promising so far.
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