The 100 has returned with a vengeance. Picking up three months after the events inside Mount Weather, the delinquents and Arkers were enjoying a tenuous peace with the Grounders. But peace cannot last in a world like this, where Clarke Griffin has been hailed as the Wanheda, the Commander of Death, and the Grounder-hating Pike is elected to be the new Chancellor of Arkadia.
Polaris Station—97 years ago
On an isolated space station named Polaris, Becca and a fellow scientist are working on ALIE 2.0 when they receive word that the original ALIE on Earth has infiltrated the computer systems. (Imagine the premise of Terminator, with the small exception that ALIE blows up the world instead of taking over humanity.) The Commander of Polaris, Cole, tells them that China has launched its nuclear weapons and that the United States is retaliating. The trio watch in horror as the Earth is overwhelmed with radiation.
Two years later, Becca is still working on ALIE 2.0, this time injecting herself with a black fluid that appears to somewhat alter her DNA. She is interrupted by Cole, who was just told by Becca’s assistant that it was her program that ended the human race on Earth. Cole commands her to get rid of her current project before they join the Ark. Becca refuses, trying to convince Cole that her new artificial intelligence will succeed where the first failed; this one has been designed to understand humanity, and she believes that it will to want to fix their problems because it will have the same problems, wants, and needs. Undeterred, Cole warns her that they will not join with the Arc until the AI is floated, despite the fact that the Ark is insisting that the Polaris crew begin docking procedures under pain of death. Instead of complying, Becca locks the two out of her lab and prepares to launch back to Earth in a pod. Just after her departure, the Ark blows Polaris to pieces as a warning sign to the other stations who may not want to join them.
Becca lands on a devastated Earth, wearing the Commander’s space suit. The suit is breached, but she is able to take off her helmet without consequences, implying that the black fluid made her immune to the effects of radiation. She is approached by humans in hazmat suits, and she calls out that she’s there to help them. On the back of her neck, we see a long vertical cut, recently made and crudely stitched.
Lexa and her young Nightblood pupils are celebrating Ascension Day when they are interrupted by a man named Semet. He has Octavia in tow, and explains that Skaikru attacked his village and she is his prisoner of war. He begs his Heda to eliminate Skaikru, and Titus seems to agree. As Lexa’s advisor, he wants her to kill the thirteenth clan as a show of strength to the coalition. Clarke, on the other hand, wants Arkadia to overthrow Pike and rejoin the coalition when they’re ready. Lexa decides to send her army to Arkadia with the intention to blockade their movements in the hopes that they can rebel against Pike from within. Octavia is freed, but must return to Arkadia before the blockade goes into effect or there will be a kill order on her. She convinces Clarke to accompany her, but Clarke decides she needs to bid farewell to Lexa first.
What begins as a goodbye quickly turns into sex. During their post-coital pillow talk, Clarke learns that when Lexa ascended to her position only seven Nightbloods died, even though there were nine in her conclave. Lexa refuses to say what happened to the eighth person, but the two part on good terms. Very good terms. Clarke is about to gather her things to go meet Octavia when she finds Murphy, tied to a chair. Titus tries to kill her with a gun, but in his inexperience accidentally misfires and hits Lexa in the stomach. Clarke tries to save her, but Lexa doesn’t seem to want saving; she simply tells Titus to do his duty, but only after making him swear that he will never attempt to harm Clarke again. Titus agrees, and prepares to retrieve the soul of the Commander from Lexa’s body. Clarke is understandably upset, but Lexa tries to comfort her by saying that her soul will go into another warrior, and that there will still be a Heda. Seconds after Lexa passes, Titus goes into action despite Clarke and Murphy’s protests. He turns Lexa’s body over, revealing a thin scar on the back of her neck. He slices into it, and retrieves a piece of artificial intelligence.
That’s right, it’s ALIE 2.0.
A Short Lesson in Archetypes, Tropes, and What Not To Do
While I loved the majority of the episode, we need to talk about that scene. The one that currently has Twitter aflutter. I, too, was disappointed in Lexa’s death, but not because I ship Clexa. It isn’t necessarily that a character met her end…it’s the way in which it happened. Boys and girls, let’s have a quick session on archetypes and tropes, shall we? While archetypes are vital to storytelling, tropes give way to tired cliches and stereotypes. The 100 fell into this trap with “Thirteen.”
What is an archetype, you may ask?
the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies : prototype; also : a perfect example
an inherited idea or mode of thought in the psychology of C. G. Jung that is derived from the experience of the race and is present in the unconscious of the individual
On the other hand, this is the definition of a trope:
a word or expression used in a figurative sense : figure of speech; a common or overused theme or device : cliché <the usual horror movie tropes>
Archetypes help us connect with stories, whereas tropes can drag a story down. Don’t get me wrong: I love a good trope on occasion. When it comes to fanfiction, I’m a sucker for things like the soulmate trope or “I can suddenly see in color because I met my true love!” trope. But when it comes to progressive television, tropes run the risk of becoming nothing more than tired plot devices. That isn’t to say that The 100 has never used tropes before, and won’t ever use them again. However, the show has proven several times over that it takes surprising risks. It has written moral ambiguity for pretty much every single character, creating an environment in which we never know what to expect. Thanks to our innate understanding of archetypes, departures from said archetypes make for unanticipated storytelling that is still true to the human experience. But I had three main trope-related issues with “Thirteen” that sadly detracted from an episode that was full of mythology and vital connections for further plot lines.
1.) First things first; killing the current love interest of a main character right after they’ve finally gotten together and/or have experienced a moment of happiness or reunion? That’s not only a low blow, but a common one. Titanic, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Doctor Who are just a few examples. It’s designed to work as a tear-jerker for the audience, and to be motivation for the main character to either persevere, seek revenge, etc. Dear writers of The 100…couldn’t you be more original?
Also, it goes without saying that killing off one-half of an under-represented couple is an example of the well-recognized “Bury Your Gays” problem. It’s wonderful that Clarke is canonly bisexual. But why do gay people always die? (I’m looking at you, Supernatural.) The headlines and recaps are all billing this as a shocker, but really…is it that shocking? It may have been intended to come across that way, but to many it’s just old news. Although we still have LGBTQA representation on The 100, it’s gotten to the point where we just sort of expect those characters to meet grisly ends.
— Exorcising Emily (@exorcisingemily) March 4, 2016
Many have already written about why so many fans are upset, and more eloquently than I ever could. Still don’t understand? I believe this sums it up nicely:
Now, this might seem excessive to many, to have such an adverse reaction to the death of a fictional character, but there a few things to keep in mind. First, mental illness, particularly anxiety, depression, substance abuse disorders, and suicide are higher among queer people than among heterosexuals, with these higher rates correlated with discrimination. Second, these fans often follow their shows with a passion rarely seen outside of the most dedicated of sports fans, but instead of wearing body paint to a match in frigid temperatures, they are writing, drawing, and dressing in costume.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, one must put themselves into their shoes. Imagine, if you will, a world where people like you are less than 4% of the characters on screen. Now take those characters and imagine half of them are villains. Of those that are left, half are killed. Another large percentage are left heart-broken or damaged. In an article from three years ago, the Guardian made a claim that only four LGBT characters have had happy endings in the last 19 years worth of movies. People like you never get a happy ending. Repeat this message year after year and you might start to understand how this could affect the LGBT community.
2.) The Lost Lenore is a common trope named after a piece by Edgar Allan Poe. A “Lost Lenore” is essentially a dead love interest that impacts the remainder of the story. Lexa = Clarke’s Lost Lenore. And I don’t mean a la Finn, where she is haunted by his death. Lexa’s departure isn’t only significant because she loved Clarke—it will continue to be part of the story because as we now know, Lexa isn’t simply Lexa. Lexa was connected to ALIE 2.0, which is about to choose a new Commander. Whoever this new Heda is, part of him or her will be reminiscent of Lexa in some way or other. This is straight up Lost Lenore; “Sometimes living characters encounter another living character who for whatever reason strongly reminds them of the Lost Lenore. This new character could be a relative, reincarnation, or even just an uncanny doppelganger.” We also know from set photos that Lexa will see Clarke, however briefly, in the City of Light later on in the season: “Occasionally, due usually to a dramatic twist Lenore turns out not to be dead after all, or dead for reasons by means other than previously believed.”
It’s bad enough that Clarke is haunted by Finn’s death at her own hands…and now she’s likely to be haunted by Lexa, too. After such a tender love scene, this trope feels cheap to me, like something out of a romance novel.
3.) It has been said by many who are in defense of Lexa’s death that the actress had to leave due to obligations on the set of Fear the Walking Dead. Be that as it may, we are still left with the Suspiciously Similar Substitute trope. This happens in television all the time; an actor decides to leave, and they are simply replaced with another actor (Fresh Prince, anyone?), or a strangely similar character takes their place. Are we going to get a Heda who is exactly like Lexa? How much does ALIE 2.0 influence the Commander? While replacing Lexa with another Heda who is sort-of-Lexa might seem like an innovative way to get around the actress’s departure, the idea just makes me roll my eyes. There are a million other ways to show the inclusion of artificial intelligence in Grounder society. There are a million other ways to write off characters without giving them happiness only to snatch it away. And to me, this method isn’t novel at all.
Here’s to hoping that the remainder of the season does not bend under the ease and familiarity of tropes such as these. Though I’m optimistic that this episode was a fluke in the difficult art of storytelling, it doesn’t make Lexa’s unnecessary death sting any less.
Touch Miller, and we’re through.
Let me know your thoughts on Twitter @ImpalaMutineers.
May we meet again,
The Collected Mutineer
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