While it does show signs of structural strain, The 100′s latest season reveals that there’s still plenty of gas left in the tank, thanks primarily to the richness and depth of its characters and their storied collective history. Sooner or later there will come a time when I’ll grow weary of worrying about these people, when their life-and-death struggles will beg for a permanent, satisfying resolution. But I’m not quite there yet.
In the wake of the epic war stories of seasons two and three — including a splendidly creepy, cyberpunk Invasion of the Body Snatchers riff to cap off the third year — The 100 presents a new and different Big Bad in season four: the Earth itself. Turns out the planet’s nuclear reactors are all melting down simultaneously, threatening to culminate in a radiation “death wave” and second nuclear winter that is sure to wipe out humanity. News of this development first serves as a clarion call for the many warring clans, to come together and brainstorm a survival strategy…but alas, factions will be factions. As Clarke (Eliza Taylor), Bellamy (Bob Morley), and the rest pursue desperate attempts to save the human race, tensions continue to rise when it becomes clear that none of the limited options for surviving Armaggeddon 2.0 will save everybody. The cold calculations of post-apocalyptic survival politics are about to be crunched yet again.
The science of The 100 gets even wobblier than usual in season four, as the slow apocalypse of worldwide nuclear meltdown has both inconsistent effects (sometimes lethal, sometimes not, depending on the value of the character) and unbelievably quantifiable ones (the “death wave” has a ticking clock more accurate than a Rolex). These glaring issues would have been problematic in season one, but by now The 100 is leaning so hard into allegory, they rolled right off my back. The early episodes, in fact, felt like heavy metaphor for humanity’s foolish inability to rally together in the face of a global threat to the environment — which ought to resonate with anyone paying attention to the daily news. Sometimes you want to slap these people for continuing to bicker and battle and pick sides when the entire world is collapsing around them — and surely that’s the point.
Yet season four still works, especially emotionally. It may mark the season when my usual fixation on big-picture worldbuilding was superceded by my investment in the characters. This is a show that still shoots for the moon on major drama, but this far along, it really doesn’t need to go that far to score an emotional gut-punch. Enough important, likeable figures are still alive that the jeopardy still inspires edge-of-the-seat urgency. Yes, the traditional leaders — Clarke, Bellamy, Jaha (Isaiah Washington), Kane (Henry Ian Cusick), and Abby (Paige Turco) — wrestle with horrible ethical conundrums, but now they’re also coping with the aftermath of previous decisions, leaving them to either struggle onward toward redemption, or further descend to the edge of sociopathy. But the personal stories running alongside these familiar dilemmas have gathered new weight: the awesome personal ascensions of Octavia (Marie Avgeropolous) and Raven (Lindsey Morgan), the deep friendship between Monty (Christopher Larkin) and Jasper (Devon Bostick), the gradual willingness of Murphy (Richard Harmon) to care about someone other than himself. The show hasn’t run out of emotional heartstrings to tug, and as long as the characters have credible threats to confront, there’s no reason not to keep tugging them.
Although the show has remained surprisingly consistent since season two’s creative peak, I do think it might be time to start plotting a compelling exit strategy. It’s renewed for season five, and my gut says this maybe should be the last before the welcome is overstayed. But aside from this concern and aforementioned flaws, The 100 remains, at its emotional core, an uncommonly strong show this late in the game, and I’m still anxious to see where it leads.