Why The 100 Is the Bravest Show in Genre Right Now

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Why <i>The 100</i> Is the Bravest Show in Genre Right Now

At this point, it feels vaguely impossible to sum up the CW drama The 100 in any sort of succinct way that might make sense to someone who’s never seen it before. But that’s precisely the reason the show is so great: It’s so often hard to quantify, and in the best possible way.

It’s difficult to think of anything on television right now that has reinvented itself as completely and successfully as The 100 has. And not just the once, either. The show has constantly reframed its narrative in virtually every season, playing out humanity’s fight for survival against many different—and increasingly dark—backdrops.

Though the series began as a typical Lord of the Flies-style dystopia in space, it almost immediately started wrestling with bigger, bolder issues like xenophobia, survivor’s guilt, religious fanaticism and colonialism. Its characters, led by a group of teens sent down to re-colonize a possibly radioactive Earth, are all equally complicated and compelling, often forced to make seemingly impossible moral choices on what feels like a daily basis. And its stories are consistently willing to push boundaries on what teen-focused science fiction can be and do, fearlessly exploring every type of genre narrative, from horror stories to political dramas to Hunger Games-esque survival competitions and religious cults.

In subsequent seasons, we find the titular 100—a name that has ultimately become a bit of a misnomer, given that most of the original group has been dead for several seasons—fighting for their lives, friends, and future in a variety of increasingly dark settings. From a mountain stronghold full of human experiments to the capital of a coalition of survivalist clans and an underground bunker where residents are forced into cannibalism, Clarke Griffin and her friends must repeatedly question our basic ideas of humanity, empathy and the lines between right and wrong.

They’ve fought Grounders, Mountain Men, several hundred criminals bused in on an intergalactic transport ship, a sentient AI system and one another. They’ve been to space and back again. People, including most of those that are supposed to be our heroes, have betrayed and lied to those they once promised to love and protect. Main, major characters died. Relationships fell apart. Nothing and no one is safe in this universe, and the show’s breakneck pacing guarantees that all we can do as viewers is try and hang on for the ride.

Season Six just pulled off what is possibly the biggest reset of all, sending its characters 125 years in the future and banishing them from Earth forever after a (third) nuclear apocalypse renders the planet completely uninhabitable. After an extended period in cryosleep, Skaikru and friends ultimately find themselves on a distant, environmentally hostile planet, ruled by a class of immortal body snatchers who’ve convinced their people that they are gods.

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe this show is real.

In a city called Sanctum, the survivors of Earth are forced to confront complex moral issues involving sacrifice, forgiveness and atonement for the (many) terrible things they’ve done to get to this point. These sorts of weighty themes clearly aren’t unusual for this show, but Season Six is the first time that The 100 has really asked its characters to not only reckon with past actions, but to come up with a way to truly change their toxic, damaging and occasionally world-ending behavior.

(After all, the joke that Clarke has caused multiple genocides only works because it’s mostly true.)

The story of Season Six, therefore, has been one of evolution and consequences of all kinds. That each big moment—whether it’s a death, a betrayal or a confession—lands so heavily is a testament to the show’s gusty storytelling over the past few years, as well as its dedication to presenting these characters honestly, as fully rounded human beings. Clarke must really work to regain the trust of the people she once led and then sold out. It takes time for Bellamy to forgive his sister for her reign as Bloodreina in the fallout bunker, and Octavia spends the better part of the season working through her feelings about her many, bloodsoaked poor decisions there. Kane’s decision to float himself is directly related to his choices during the dark years on Earth, and Abby’s guilt about everything she was a part of is why she desperately tries to bring him back as a Prime.

There is no character on The 100 who doesn’t carry scars from the people they used to be, and there are some wounds that never fully heal, despite their best intentions. That the show refuses to shy away from this fact is part of the reason it packs such an emotional punch.

But Season Six does allow that change is possible. That despite their failings, these people can learn from their mistakes. They can choose different paths. They can, as Monty urged them in his farewell message, “do better” this time around. They can become the good guys they haven’t always been. Maybe.

In the season finale, “The Blood of Sanctum,” Wonkru does try to do better, to save people, to act with the interest of those other than just themselves in mind. Unfortunately, their presence still results in the massacre a bunch of villagers and the total destruction of Sanctum’s way of life, but, hey, baby steps. In the aftermath, Clarke and Bellamy ask whether their efforts—and sacrifices—were worth it, if this is still where they end up. But maybe the fact that they’re asking these questions at last means that it is.

The finale also introduces what is likely The 100’s last great twist—time travel. At this point, it’s kind of surprising that this show hasn’t gone to this particular well prior to what will be its final season, as it’s tackled or upended virtually every other major science fiction trend and trope during its run. Whether the revelation that the mysterious anomaly that has lurked on the fringes of the story this season is some sort of doorway to the future or tunnel to the past is unclear. The presence of Diyoza’s fully-grown daughter Hope—who wasn’t born yet the last time we saw her mother—indicates that pockets of alternate time can and do exist elsewhere within The 100’s universe. Even Octavia’s disappearance doesn’t feel so much like a death as it does a relocation.

As the show heads into its final sixteen episodes, it’s natural that The 100 will likely want to reflect on its legacy and how far the story has come since its first installment. And the existence of time travel provides the perfect opportunity to take new kinds of risks, revisit old stories, and even possibly recontextualize previous decisions along the way. Plus, it also means that literally anything can happen, from rewriting the past to showing us not just the future of the characters we know and love, but the entirety of humanity itself. And whatever that ends up looking like, we already know one thing: It won’t be anything like what we expect. Because The 100 has been many things over the years, but predictable has never been one of them.

Lacy Baugher is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.