The 100 S5E11: “The Dark Year” Review

I feel like I should have more to say about this episode, but it felt like–a breather episode’s evil twin, maybe? It’s not as if this was a relaxed good time, but it was an episode that moved a bunch of pieces, but unfortunately a lot of the time it felt to me like they were checking off boxes for the finale.

Part of this might be that, one, I am genuinely exhausted from a very long weekend, and, two, I did partake in the spoilers that came out of SDCC, so there weren’t a ton of surprises for me by this point. Which was nice, given point one, but I was also in a weird place for this episode.

Part of what hurts it is that the big development is in the past; a lot of the episode is built around the revelation of what “The Dark Year” was and how this motivated the characters from the bunker, and I’d been thinking last week how hard it would be to land this late in the season. At this point, “cannibalism” seemed to be on everyone’s short list, so we were just waiting for the box to be checked. But it clearly couldn’t just be cannibalism either; as Abby says, it’s the only solution, and one that people have historically turned to. It had to be extra-traumatic cannibalism.

The scene where Octavia shoots people for not becoming cannibals was genuinely harrowing, and it’s easy to see how this was a major turning point for her. But whenever you hold off on a reveal this long, there’s a lot of pressure on it, so this is some load-bearing backstory.

Mostly, it feels like Octavia is currently a victim of the sunk-cost fallacy, which isn’t a great place to be? “I’ve done so much bad shit for my people that I have to keep digging” is hardly sympathetic character motivation, and having her struggling so much with what was probably a correct (if absolutely and undeniably horrific) choice three years ago only served to highlight how blithely she went all-in on the indefensible choice of burning her alternate solution.

In a way, I feel as if what the show is trying to sell us on (Octavia will do anything she has to for her people) isn’t really what they need to be selling us on right now, because what’s really in question is how and why she became so fixated on Eden as literally the only solution. Obviously the extra-textual reason is that they want a war (and they’re super excited about all the sly biblical winks they can get in about letting the devil into the garden), but the way Octavia has mythologized something she did not know existed until the bunker opened up is–odd, to me. Especially when it’s been less than two weeks since they found out they could get out of the bunker to begin with. This wasn’t some dream they were chasing for six years under ground; a month ago a sustainable farm with flowers would have been a godsend to these people. And she doesn’t have to be right (she clearly isn’t), but I don’t think the flashback landed for me the way it was meant to, and it just made things worse. Not great, Bob.

The bunker stuff works better as motivation for Abby, but that’s a different kind of a struggle. I’ve talked before about how Abby’s storyline hasn’t been landing for me, and this episode, which is ostensibly resolving that, didn’t really help. Her detox is one of those things on The 100 that happens because it’s time for it, and nothing else she’s done this season had any effect on it. Sure, you can say it happened because she overdosed, which happened because of McCreary, and that she wanted to get clean because Clarke was here, but “other people all came together in the right way” is not a character arc. Abby has little more agency in her detox than she has in any other part of her story.

There’s also the Clarke and Abby issue, which I’ll use as a bridge to the Clarke issue. It makes me feel like a monster to say it, but I don’t think the show sells Clarke and Abby very well. Which is a weird criticism, because, honestly, I love my mother, but it’s not like when we’re apart I’m always talking about her, and I don’t call her as often as I maybe should. But we’re also not in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and I’m not supposed to be worrying about her safety, or she mine. Abby and Clarke are one of the many relationships that sort of disappear when they aren’t in a scene together, and while I believe they care about each other, whenever the show acts like they’re any kind of major motivating factor for each other, I kind of want receipts. Especially this season, where Abby went from “my daughter’s alive” to “I’m leaving her” in about thirty seconds without any kind of emotional resonance. I’m not saying they shouldn’t care about each other, but when their caring about each other only exists when they can see each other, I struggle with it being treated like this huge motivating factor for either of them. They’re always glad the other is alive, and then it’s like, cool, I’m going over here, see you at Christmas.

And then there’s Clarke. She doesn’t have a ton to do this episode, but what she does is frustrating. She’s apparently on McCreary’s side, which seems like a terrible plan. I get that she doesn’t think Octavia will let Madi live, but McCreary doesn’t seem like a much better bet, and Wonkru at least has some number of Commander true believers who are on Madi’s side. It doesn’t help that Madi is Clarke’s child, not her equal, which means that she doesn’t really feel the need to explain herself, and her reasoning for everything is “because I said so and it will keep you safe.”

Anyway! The Clarke and Madi stuff this episode is good, which is nice because I know I’m complaining a lot. The detail that Clarke was never the hero of her stories, and that she still doesn’t see herself as the hero, is well done, so well done that I wish it landed with better motivations from her. I get that Clarke is alone and unmoored, but it’s hard to invest in her when it’s unclear how whether she’s doing is even doing Madi any good.

Luckily Madi seems to feel the same way, so I assume she’s peacing out soon. Be free, Madi! Make Clarke figure out something else to do!

In other plotlines, we’re setting up. Spacekru is uniting in spirit if not geography; Echo’s taking command of the rebels? Is that what we’re calling them? Spacekru, Kane, Diyoza, Shaw, and possibly some other people from Eligius? I don’t know. Anyway, Echo’s in charge of them and doing pretty well, except for a brief lapse in judgement where she goes along with a plan of Murphy’s and they nearly get killed. Shaw saves them, Raven is mad at him, Diyoza realizes that McCreary is using her battle plans, which means they know exactly what they’re going to do. Echo gets in touch with Bellamy to fill him in on battle plans, and they come up with a way for Wonkru to defeat their enemies.

Bellamy spends most of this episode being really mad at his sister, which is legit, but I don’t have a lot to say about it. He gets off some good burns and also blows off Miller when Miller tries to reconnect, again, legitimately so. “If you survive the pit we’re bros again, no hard feelings” might be how it works in Wonkru, but Bellamy doesn’t have sufficient trauma to go along with that at this time. What feels like the biggest plot thing is that he gets Octavia to accept a surrender, not murdering everyone. I don’t exactly believe that she’ll keep her word, but it might not matter, because here’s Kane to ruin things!

Honestly, Kane might be the person whose characterization benefits most from the dark year flashbacks, which is, again, only helpful to the extent that Kane needed his motivation clarified, and I was largely down with him already. His decision to side with Diyoza over Octavia already made sense, and I assume he’s still hoping to get rid of Octavia but save most of Wonkru. So he bails on the rebels (seriously, was no one watching him?) and spills the beans to McCreary, so I assume we’ve got a massacre coming up.

Seriously, y’all need to figure out a better way to end a season than mass murder. You’re running out of people to kill.

Stray Observations

  • Passage of time check! We cover Wonkru’s whole five-day march here, with Shaw providing the “it’s been four days” check-in with Raven before they roll out.
  • Speaking of which, Raven and Shaw kiss! I continue to want the show to give us more to latch onto with them, but I have trouble arguing with Shaw’s “Raven Reyes is the most amazing person on Earth” perspective. And Raven hasn’t gotten any in a few seasons, so I’m still rooting for them.
  • Judging from the flashbacks, I assume Abby didn’t tell Kane that forcing him to become a cannibal was her idea, or he wouldn’t still be stealing drugs for her all these years later. Which, damn, Abby, letting a teenage girl take all the blame for that? That’s fucked up.
  • If you’re going to eat human flesh surely you can make it look a little more appealing? Like of all the options, why did you go with FLESH JELLO? Watch a few episodes of Hannibal and try again.
  • I’m not really surprised that the season is ending like this, but it is just–tiring. Please, season six writers, I’m begging of you, learn to write about people coming together to form a society or something, because you have done literally everything you know how to with small groups fighting each other.
  • Just the two-part finale to go! They usually do well with those, so I’m hoping we get the momentum (and everyone’s motivation) back on track. “I guess this is what’s happening now” is a bad place for characters to be in the endgame.
  • Bellamy and Monty were cute at the end, though.