Are you ready for two-headed deer, acid fog, and good-looking teens?
At first glance, The 100 looks like another run-of-the-mill CW production that’s doomed to the “Top Picks” row on Netflix for fans of badly-acted high school dramas. The trailer cuts it out to be something like the iconic Disney Channel Original Movie Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century mixed with elements of sci-fi flops like FOX’s Terra Nova. But over the past two seasons, the second of which concluded Wednesday night, The 100 has proved to be one of the most revolutionary shows on television when it comes to gender and sexuality.
Here are the crib notes:
It’s set about 100 years into the future. Nuclear warfare has made the Earth uninhabitable, so now humans live on a space station. Break the rules and it’s likely you’ll be “floated” into space due to population control. If you’re a youth, infractions result in jail time until a trial at 18. But leaders of the station decide to send 100 of these young criminals (who have committed crimes as small as stealing supplies to as serious as murder) to the ground as a test of whether or not the planet is habitable again. Turns out it is, but the 100 sent down aren’t alone on Earth. Dun-du-duh.
The 100 stars Eliza Taylor as Clarke, who eventually becomes a leader of the space kids’ camp. She proves her worth to the group by being the voice of reason and caution, and by saving lives cleverly using medical skills taught to her by her mother. Clarke eventually pushes back against the authority of Bellamy (Bob Morley), who initially takes command of the camp. When they realize that there’s an outside threat of Grounders, Bellamy’s automatic response is to fight back. But Clarke uses tactic to strategize how to approach dealing with the Grounder problem.
Clarke isn’t the only female character who flips archetypes on their heads.
The striking Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos) is Bellamy’s younger sister who spent most of her life in hiding on the space station (rules were that families could only have one kid). She eventually becomes a sword-wielding warrior and one of the very few to be accepted by the Grounders once a rocky alliance is made with the tribe. And Raven (Lindsey Morgan) is a skilled mechanic who, on top of fixing radios and spaceships, can mix up explosives. Her intellect harmonizes with her extreme craftsmanship.
Although science fiction often brings in fantastical devices such as space and Armageddon, the genre is also often a vehicle to showcase and critique the very non-fiction of society. The dynamic between Clarke, Octavia and Raven’s better mirrors actual women in our “real world” than many of the stereotypes that more mainstream entertainment often perpetuates about the double-X chromosome.
There’s a list of other badass women on the show, including Clarke’s cunning mother (Paige Turco) and Octavia’s Grounder mentor Indra (Adina Porter). And Season Two introduces the audience to Lexa (Alycia Debnam Carey), the Grounders’ commander. She’s also a skilled warrior and ruthless when it comes to protecting her people. Her favorite motto? “Blood must have blood.” AKA “screw with my people and I’ll mess you up even worse.”
Lexa and Clarke’s connection comes from the fact that they’re in similar positions: young leaders willing to do anything to save their people. So when the two find a common enemy in the captor of people from both the 100’s camp and the Grounders, they come together. At first, Lexa has a superiority complex over Clarke, but she eventually sees the true leader that Clarke can be. The other way around, Clarke is at first skeptical of Lexa’s sometimes heartless tactics, only to realize that feelings may cloud judgment during war.
But perhaps the most groundbreaking moment on the show came a few weeks ago when Lexa and Clarke share a kiss. It’s not in the actual same-sex lip-locking that brings down the walls of hegemony. It’s what Clarke says after the two women pull away.
“I’m sorry, I’m not ready to be with anyone. Not yet.”
Her pulling away doesn’t come from a place of confusion about kissing a girl (Clarke had recently been seeing a guy), but in the sentiment that she is simply not ready. Because guess what—frenzy regarding sexuality is not even on these characters’ minds, when there’s been that whole nuclear apocalypse and everything. The 100’s executive producer affirmed that in a tweet.
The CW has lagged behind other networks like FOX and ABC in embedding LGBT characters into programming. Teddy from 90210 is the only other prominent LGBT character that has been on the network’s shows, and his obscure level of memorability falters compared to the fact that Clarke is this show’s lead. Also important is that her bisexuality doesn’t feel tokenized. The chemistry between Clarke and Lexa is palpable in their scenes together. And Clarke is a nuanced character. None of her traits—whether it’s being a leader or being bisexual—ultimately define her.
Sci-fi television has often been a haven for complicated and multi-faceted women to roam. Joss Whedon’s Firefly introduced us to the spaceship mechanic Kaylee, who in some ways is a predecessor of Raven, and gunslinger Zoe. And there’s no better example of womanhood’s multiplicity than the sisterhood of clones Tatiana Maslany plays on Orphan Black. The 100 gets to join this group of pop culture properties pushing the boundaries of what’s shown on television to paint a better picture of the real world.
The 100 has more going for it than merely being subversive, too. It has echoes of the best qualities of today’s biggest shows, everything from the post-apocalypse survival themes of The Walking Dead to the lying and betrayal seen on How To Get Away With Murder. Action? Check. Gore? Check. Twists and turns? Double check. The male characters are also just as interesting as the girls, and Desmond from Lost and Burke from Grey’s Anatomy play space leaders. (If anything, that will get you to tune in).
Obviously, I really hope the world never ends. But, in many ways, The 100 sure makes the post-apocalypse world look way better than some aspects of reality today.