In Defense of The 100: Why Trump's Presidential Campaign Helps Explain Bellamy's Arc
Spoilers for The 100 season 3 follow!
In the first season of The 100, Bellamy Blake was a brash, abrasive xenophobe who thought of the Grounders as nothing more than savages. He then underwent some impressively-written character development over the last two seasons, becoming a level-headed, mature, and seemingly tolerant leader. But over the first six episodes of the third season, Bellamy has seemingly done a 180 after falling under the influence of Pike, an inflammatory, virulent racist who thinks all Grounders should be wiped off the planet simply because they're the "other." Bellamy's arc has received near-universal criticism for being rushed, unrealistic, and untrue to his character. The vast majority of critics are citing it as the worst development of the season, with some even claiming that it could ruin the show.
Let's be clear: I definitely take issue with parts of the execution of Bellamy's character arc. It's one of a few storylines that has felt rushed this season (Pike's election to Chancellor is another example). I would have liked to see a few more episodes of Pike and Bellamy interacting to lay the foundation for their relationship. And the idea that Bellamy is motivated by his girlfriend's death might have worked—if we had known anything about her or cared about her at all. I only know her name—Gina—because I looked it up while writing reviews, but otherwise it would have been long-forgotten by now. Not to mention that killing off "the girlfriend" as a motivator for a male protagonist is lazy, unoriginal, sexist, and beneath The 100, which is generally both feminist and thoughtful.
That being said, I don't think I would go so far as to say that the overall transformation is unrealistic, or untrue to Bellamy's character. His tendency towards an "us versus them" mentality has been well-documented, so it makes sense that he would only need a little push from someone like Pike to return to that behavior. It's true that over the last two seasons, he's developed a friendship with Lincoln, he's forged a bond of mutual respect with Indra, and he even accepted that his sister wanted to become a Grounder. But xenophobes aren't heartless; there are plenty of people who would advocate blowing the Middle East off the map who would still get a beer with a Muslim co-worker, so long as they are "different" from the others, a "Good Muslim." Bellamy hasn't necessarily become more tolerant of Grounders in general; he loves his sister unconditionally, because she is "his people," which means that Lincoln is "his people" by extension. And when he agreed to massacre a peaceful army of Grounders, he went out of his way to spare Indra's life, because while Grounders are "the enemy" as an abstract concept, he views Indra specifically as a flesh-and-blood person. All of this is consistent with someone who is deeply reactionary at heart, but still has one.
And while his change may seem sudden to us (especially because we like him), events like the attack on Mount Weather have a tendency to awaken dormant prejudices in people. Yes, he knows that Ice Nation was responsible, not Lexa's coalition, but bigotry isn't rational. It's been fifteen years since 9/11, for example, and people are still using it as an excuse to discriminate against all Muslims in this country, even though we all know that a relatively small fringe group was responsible for the attacks.
Jason Rothenberg recently stated that the attack on Mount Weather was intended to be The 100's equivalent of 9/11, and that Bellamy's arc was written to represent seemingly reasonable people who became neoconservatives after the event:
"I knew liberals after 9/11 that became conservatives overnight, and it didn't make any sense to me and I didn't agree with them. But it was a phenomenon that I found fascinating, and in a small way, I'm trying to do that with Bellamy."
Bottom line: Bellamy's behavior makes sense because it reflects the reality that when it comes to bigotry, people make no goddamn sense. Bellamy's actions aren't logical because people who perpetrate these kinds of prejudices aren't motivated by reason, but by anger, and fear of the unfamiliar.
These emotions are exactly what people like Pike prey on, and exactly why Trump might get the Republican nomination. By all reasonable standards, Trump's candidacy should be a very dark joke. When he's not saying absurdly offensive things like "Look at that face!" or "I like people who weren't captured," he is, like Pike, playing on people's deep-seated fear and resentment of the "other." Let's not forget that he described Mexican immigrants as criminals, rapists, and drug dealers ("and some, I assume, are good people"), and after the ISIS Paris attacks, advocated "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."
"Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life. If I win the election for President, we are going to Make America Great Again."
That sounds very much like Pike to me, as does this lovely quote about how he would deal with the ISIS threat:
"I would just bomb those suckers, and that's right, I'd blow up the pipes, I'd blow up the refineries, I'd blow up every single inch, there would be nothing left."
Trump traffics in hatred, he openly advocates fascist policies, and if it sounds like he would support putting Muslims in internment camps, he totally would. And yet, he's handily winning in the race for the Republican nomination right now, which means his voters are not on the fringe. They are mainstream, they're people you know, and many of them are perfectly likable and relatable people, just like Bellamy. We can say the world is turning upside down all we want, but this is a documented part of collective human psychology. All someone like Trump—or Pike—has to do is play on certain primal emotions, and all reason goes straight out the window.