“Salvation comes from faith and good works—what you do, not what you say. And you haven’t done anything yet.” — Murphy (Richard Harmon), “Sanctum” (Episode 6.01)
For me, it was the damn Trigedasleng.
Introduced in Season Two as the pidgin-like post-English language spoken by the Grounders, the warrior-like survivors of the (first) nuclear apocalypse that rendered Earth generally uninhabitable and stranded the families of 100 hot CW teens up in space for nearly a century, Trigedasleng was the absurd bit of worldbuilding that ultimately broke me. Three generations is not enough time for a perfectly good system of communication in a monolinguistic culture to morph into something so new as to be unintelligible to speakers of modern English, no matter how much fun it was for the writers to use their professionally invented language to juxtapose humanity at its most feral with the supposedly unassailable instutitons of our own era. (The 100 takes place in the forests of the mid-Atlantic seaboard; one way it uses Trigedasleng to “surprise” viewers is by revealing that the Grounder village of Tondc, pronounced tond-see, is set up near the overgrown ruins of the Lincoln Memorial. Get it???)
While the The 100’s first (then second, then third) post-apocalyptic nightmarelands feature hundreds of poorly thought-out details outlandish enough for even the gamest viewer to throw in the towel—see, most notably, the bury your gays Clexa disaster of 2016—Trigadasleng is such an elegant encapsulation of the series’ signature mix of overwhelming ambition and underwhelming logic that it has become the thing I want to rant about most whenever The 100 comes up. (None of the other groups of survivors developed new languages! And it isn’t even like the Grounders forgot English—Grounder warriors are fluent in both Trigedasleng and modern English! Both! WHY?) When you’re telling any story, you have to make decisions; when your story is set to the fever pitch of The 100, the likelihood that many of those decisions will be made in an overexcited haste is high.
Which is why I shocked myself by jumping back into The 100’s world for its sixth season. Any other year, such a proposition would have been laughable—despite the fact that the logic of few its dramatic entanglements fully tracks, The 100 is a very dense TV series, with many characters, all of whom have shifting allegiances and all of whom are always keyed up to 11—but with a third nuclear apocalypse wiping out the last pocket of habitable land on Earth at the end of Season Five and putting a conclusive cap on what many fans were surprised to see labeled “Book One,” Season Six is exactly the right time to for anyone with even a hint of The 100 nostalgia to return to the fold. They’re jumping 125 years into the future! They’re landing on an alien planet, a whole new world for their petty human failings to destroy! If ever there was a time to hope that The 100 might have learned from its overambitious storytelling missteps, it’s now.
And so it was with that hope in mind that I turned on the two Season Six episodes provided by The CW. “I’d love to test the implication that ‘Book Two’ could function as a second pilot,” I told my editor. “How easy will it be, really, for a lapsed viewer like me to make her way back in?” “100% on board!” he replied. “I’ve never seen even a minute, but it’s been described to me and sounds kind of wild and fun.”
Well, friends, I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is—sorry, Matt—wild though The 100 may perennially be, there’s no good way for anyone who’s never seen a minute of the series to jump in with the Season Six premiere and hope to make sense of even a fraction of the personal allegiances/vendettas tangling the series’ dozen or so leads up in knots.
The good news, though, is that if you’re a lapsed viewer of The 100 thinking about diving back in, as long as you have a basic grasp on who Clarke (Eliza Taylor), Bellamy (Bob Morley), Murphy (Richard Harmon), Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos), Abby (Paige Turco), Raven (Lindsey Morgan), and Monty (Christopher Larkin) are, and what relationships they have generally had with one another, then you do not have to watch every episode between whenever you left off and now to get a hang of what their deal is on Planet Alpha. You could, even expect to keep up reasonably well going into “Sanctum” absolutely cold, as much of it is drawing obvious parallels to the 100’s first touchdown on post-apocalypse Earth in the pilot episode—down, even, to Murphy diving into an alien body of water without testing it first, and the local wildlife rising up to attack.
That said, despite landing on a new world, in a new time, the characters fighting to survive in “Sanctum” are the same people who ruined each other’s lives for five seasons, and if being trapped together in a new place does anything, it’s to heighten those tensions. This means that more than half of their jibing dialogue is heavy with inferences to complex dramas impossible to make full sense of without either watching the seasons you’ve missed, or taking some deep pulls from the fandom wikia.
So, here is a bit of service journalism: Cue up Season Five’s thirteenth episode, “Damocles, Pt. 2,” to 21:00. This will drop you into the story at the very moment the last survivors of Earth are racing to board the transport ship that will get them to a mining ship called Eligius IV that’s fitted out with the cryopods they’ll need to survive the long wait for Earth to recover from the last round of nuclear fallout. Having just come out of a losing battle in Earth’s last habitable valley, the principle characters use the rest of the episode to take stock of their relationships, regroup, and transition from the Earth story of “Book One” to the Planet Alpha story of “Book Two.” Starting there won’t answer all your questions—doing a bit of reading about who Madi is will be critical to make sense of anything going forward, I think—but it will make the experience of watching “Sanctum” much easier.
And if you’re interested in giving The 100 a second chance, I think watching “Sanctum”—and next week’s “Red Sky Rising”—is something you should try! While these two episodes do more to put a tenuous bow on the emotional dramas among a new configuration of principals than to lay out much about the unsettling history of Planet Alpha’s Eligius Mining settlement, Clarke, Bellamy and Murphy all take pains to establish their desire to want to break out of their toxic patterns and just be the good guys for once. And with the series already renewed through Season Seven, the promise of this new narrative direction certainly has a fair chance to take hold.
And, I mean, the writers are already finding ways to improve on the details they use to build their world now than they did in “Book One”: After 236 years fighting for survival on a literally alien planet, the inhabitants of Planet Alpha? They still speak English.
“Book Two”/Season Six of The 100 premieres Tuesday, April 30 at 9 p.m. on The CW.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.