Hello friends, are you ready to rumble? You better be, because we’re picking up where we left off, but not when we left off. It’s time for Octavia Blake’s Subterranean Murder Kingdom: Origins.
Which is, I’ll admit, a name I came up with before I saw the episode, and I feel a little bad about it now. Several critics I trust who had seen the first four screener episodes cited this episode as a highlight, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Being in a fandom puts you in a weird place with new episodes, because you end up doing a lot of reading and a lot of speculation, and you’re in group chats discussing where things might be going, so you have lots of thoughts but also no real certainty.
(At least, if you’re in a fandom like I am. If not, disregard; not everyone fandoms like I fandom.)
But I keep up with and attend cons and follow various cast members on social media, so I knew that while most everyone thought Octavia had a super cool arc this season, Marie Avgeropoulos, who plays Octavia and whose name I genuinely hope to never have to spell again, was nervous about the amount of hate she might get on twitter. Which, if I was an actor on The CW, I would live in constant fear of how much hate I’d get on twitter, so fair enough.
Regardless, I was very curious to see what would develop for Octavia under the ground, and I came away once again impressed by the show’s smooth confidence this season. They’re batting two for two.
So here is the bunker forty-six days after Praimfaya (another thing I try not to spell), four days after Clarke dug herself out of the lab. Octavia doesn’t want to lead, she just wants to fight Miller all the time, but fun fighting, not murder fighting. Miller is apparently doing pretty well—he’s got a new boyfriend (RIP Bryan, who was written off the show so awkwardly I wasn’t entirely sure he was gone for a couple episodes) and has apparently gotten over the death of his dad (serious RIP here, I loved Papa Miller)—and Niylah has become that lady who works on the Hogwarts Express and sells sweets (which is a reference I stole from either my fiancée or from twitter via my fiancée, credit where credit is due). Other people aren’t doing so well, though.
One of the things I was worried about with the timeskip was ignoring the fallout of the end of season five, in particular Kane’s final act of taking Abby into the bunker against her wishes. Rest assured that within minutes I was on the internet registering my disgust about how annoying it was as a character beat. We’d pick up six years later and it would just be gone. But I done goofed this one.
Abby’s another character who’s been getting a lot of “her arc is amazing,” specifically from people in the know who talk to my friend Claire, the world’s foremost Kane/Abby shipper, and even if this episode mostly felt like set up for that, it was solid setup. A month and half in, she’s still mad at Kane, seems to be developing some pill issues, and is willing to go really in-depth about how bad starving to death is, which Paige Turco knocked out of the park. Kane gets less, mostly being in apology/I-still-love-you mode, but as it turns out he’s biding his time.
Anyway, back to the plot. Indra is telling Octavia to lead, Octavia’s being a petulant seventeen-year-old and wondering why she has to mediate blanket disputes, and then, suddenly, someone is tapping, tapping at her chamber door.
Again, this is a solid episode, but how weird and ridiculous it is that everyone can apparently hear Clarke up there? Surely that must have made the death wave really loud and unpleasant. Anyway, Clarke’s attempts to get in alerts everyone in the bunker that, one, someone is alive out there and, two, they are buried and can’t get out. Which means there are too many people to survive past five years and now is absolutely the time for them to crack each other’s heads open and feast on the goo inside.
(Seriously, this whole episode seems to take place over one to two days, and I know getting very hungry doesn’t take very long, but I wish the show was better about just letting things escalate over maybe like a week for once.)
So a new character (Kara Cooper, agriculture specialist) stages a coup, seizing the farm area with whichever members of Skaikru happen to be inside at the time. This includes known troublemakers Kane and Abby, who get handcuffed to a water pump, Jackson, separated from his new squeeze, and probably some other people? Mostly redshirts, honestly. Octavia is outside with her main advisers, Indra, Gaia, and Jaha, her main battle bro, Miller, and her main girl-I-want-her-to-date, Niylah. Hey, she did give her a classical poetry book; that is the canonically established way to woo a Blake.
The actual conflict/resolution here is fine and solid, but the character work on Octavia is what feels like it really matters. It’s not exactly a surprise that the bunker would dissolve into fighting, not only because this is The 100 and “something dissolves into fighting” is the free square on the bingo card, but also because it’s 1200 people from twelve distinct groups who are being led by Octavia simply because she won a big fight. What we needed from this episode was Octavia becoming the woman in the throne, and what I didn’t want was for the explanation to be that Octavia solves all conflicts with fighting. Between her initial reluctance to lead, the problem of having too many people in the bunker, and her conversations with her various advisers, I’d say I got what I wanted.
I like all of the character work in this episode, but the conversation where Jaha teaches Octavia to lead as he bleeds out merits special mention, not only as a good scene in its own right, but as one of the best Jaha scenes in a long time, possibly ever. Octavia is a warrior without a war, and telling her to make her enemy death is both chilling and weirdly lovely. Obviously, it leads to her killing a bunch of people to assert her dominance, which may or may not have been what he was hoping for, but he probably should have seen it coming regardless. The fight scene is tense and beautifully shot–the direction for this season has been notably great so far–and I was only a little bothered that no one tried to go at Octavia while she was dramatically yelling. Come on, guys, just stab her in the back. It’s not rocket science.
Also, shout out to Octavia throwing that knife into Cooper’s hand as she tries to shoot herself. Hot damn.
I was reading this back and realized I hadn’t actually touched on Jaha’s death, so, yeah, Jaha dies. And it’s a good death! I just don’t have a ton to say about it. I haven’t always felt it was worth sending him to the ground via hallucination baby instead of just letting him die at the end of the first season, but he goes out on a lovely note, thinking of his wife and son.
With that out of the way, Octavia the conspirators participate in Roman-inspired gladiatorial combat, because every time Bellamy tries to tell a child in his care a story he thinks is fun and instructive, all they get out of it is “I should probably use this to murder people” (RIP Charlotte from season one, the original murder child). Cooper is the winner of the inaugural fight club, so she’s sticking around, and that’s our cue to skip to the present, six years later. Gaia is the head of the new Octavia religion, Jaha’s former ward Ethan is eleven and will clearly be going on murder play dates with Madi, Miller and Cooper seem to be Octavia’s lieutenants, and Marcus Kane has just entered the Thelonious Jaha Memorial Battle Arena.
And that’s what you missed on Glee!
- There was a lot of speculation in the fandom about cannibalism in the bunker, and while the episode alluded to that as a worst-case scenario, they didn’t go there. That being said, I’m very curious what they are doing with the bodies. They can’t just throw them into space like they did on the Ark, and if they’re regularly having last-man-standing death matches, they definitely have a lot of corpses to deal with.
- I really appreciated the throwaway lines giving us background on the Ark. I always thought the “crimes under eighteen go to the box and over eighteen get floated” was a poorly thought out system that the writers picked because it sounded cool, and while I still think that, Abby’s “Why Do you think we started floating people?” and Jaha’s coldly practical “Your mother stole life” both did a lot to make that feel like something that human beings put into place for a reason. It’s one of the first retcons the show has done that really works for me.
- This might be purely law of conservation of characters, but despite Octavia’s “you are Wonkru or you are the enemy of Wonkru” mantra, her inner circle is entirely Skaikru and Trikru. I’d be fine if this didn’t turn into a thing–I’ve never felt like the show has a great handle on intra-grounder conflicts and I’d be happy to see the end of them–but I’m curious to see if it will.
- Wells always feels like a death from before the show realized its characters should be mourning their dead, so I’m always happy when we get a reference.
- As we bid farewell to Isaiah Washington (barring any future flashbacks), I’ll share my favorite anecdote about him, from Richard Harmon, who plays Murphy. They got tight filming Murphy and Jaha’s City-of-Light roadtrip in season two, so apparently Washington now just calls Harmon regularly in the middle of the night and leaves him rambling, half-hour voicemail messages. Granted, this was a story from late 2015, so it might not be true anymore, but I want to believe.