Nuclear war, battles over how to start civilisation anew, political intrigue – this is hardly the stuff that occupies teen dramas usually seen on The CW, home to shows including Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries.
Never fear though, The 100 (pronounced The Hundred) has all of the serious stuff in it, but is also accompanied by The CW’s usual hallmark of beautiful cast members and romantic entanglements.
The 100 is based on Kass Morgan’s novel of the same name, although it uses the source material very lightly. In the programme, shown on E4 here, 97 years have passed since a nuclear war wiped out much of the population of earth. Some of the human race survived, aboard spaceships which are now running out of oxygen. In a bid to ensure humans have a future, 100 juvenile prisoners are sent to earth to see if it is habitable again.
The action of The 100 starts straight away, with viewers meeting Clarke (Eliza Taylor) as she carves a picture in her prison cell. There’s a clumsy voiceover from Clarke, where she spends two minutes telling viewers what has happened – at least we get the exposition out the way early. When two guards come to take her away, she protests Katniss Everdeen-style before her mum appears, telling her she’ll be heading to earth and that she’ll be fine. Blonde, beautiful, clearly clever, it’s obvious from the off that Clarke will be one of the show’s heroes. She’s our Serena Van Der Woodsen, just in space (or not).
And then Clarke, and a bunch of other misfits are aboard the space ship and hurtling towards earth, which is where we meet Wells and Finn. Wells knows Clarke, but she pretty much hates him for some reason we don’t know yet (Clarke hasn’t told us about this yet in voiceover). And then, on a screen, appears the leader of the space colony, Chancellor Jaha, (Isiah Washington), who tells The 100 that they’re expendable and that’s why they’re being sent to earth – it doesn’t matter if they die because of nuclear poisoning. Way to get a bunch of criminal kids on your side, Jaha. Oh, and he’s Wells’ dad, which is going to come back to bite Wells on the arse.
If we know Clarke is a leader, we know that Finn, who meet aboard the ship to earth, is the joker of the pack, at least from his initial scenes. His reckless antics result in the death of the first members of The 100, who copy his “cool” deed of floating aboard the spaceship. Floppy haired and cute he may be, but from his initial appearance, I’m not loving Finn. Unfortunately, his banter with Clarke seems to be setting the two up for some sort of romantic encounter down the road.
Predictably (and, it has to be said, there’s a fair amount that’s predictable about The 100‘s first episode), the progress of The 100 to earth goes wrong, with the ship crashing in the middle of the jungle, far away from the place (Mount Weather) it was meant to land. As the ship crashes to earth, Wells decides it’s the perfect time to tell Clarke he’s sorry for getting her father arrested. Really, Wells? I know there’s a lot of setting up to be done, but add Wells’ confession to Clarke to the clumsy list.
And then, hello, here comes our brooding, troubled hero Bellamy – I can tell he’s brooding and troubled because he doesn’t smile at all and because he’s handsome and willing to head outside straight way in spite of the fact that the air might be toxic, and I can tell he’s our hero because he snuck onto the ship to protect his younger sister Octavia (aww, and double aww when the two reunite) and because he’s handsome. Octavia, by the way, has a huge chip on her shoulder, not sure I like her.
And then the doors of the space ship open, and goodness, earth is kind of beautiful. There’s cheesy sunlight shots, and lots and lots of greenery, accompanied by some swelling music. We enjoy it for a few minutes, and then all the kids get out and chaos ensues – started by Octavia’s triumphant shout of “we’re back, bitches”. What do you expect will happen when a bunch of teenagers, previously imprisoned, get to run riot on an unpopulated land after being told they’re expendable? Even Bellamy and Clarke manage a smile.
But Clarke soon stops smiling, determined to get to Mount Weather. And when Wells is faced with hostile members of The 100, you know it’s only a matter of time before things go from bad to worse. That kid with the sharp cheekbones is mean-looking, I can just tell he’s going to be trouble, and Octavia is determined to be obstructive. Clarke’s first attempt at a crowd-rousing speech doesn’t go too well, resulting in Wells getting beaten up.
Octavia tells Bellamy she needs to be free (sounding like a whiny teenager), and Bellamy in turn tells her he did something bad. Will that come back to haunt him later? I’m an (unofficial) expert in shows on The CW, and I say yes.
Clarke, Finn, Octavia and two other kids – Jasper and Monty – head off to Mount Weather, leaving Wells behind. I’ve got to say, I’m not sure leaving Wells with 90-odd people who hate him because of who his father is is a great idea. Still, they leave, with Octavia and Clarke immediately clashing over Finn (I knew he’d be a love interest), before the group engages in a bit of comedy. Despite not being set in high school, there’s an awful lot of Beverley Hills 90210-type flirting, drama and comic relief going round.
At the ship Wells is confronted again by a few of the kids who hate him, but stands up for himself. I’m not sure what to think about Wells. He’s kind of bland, despite the fact that he apparently came to earth so he could apologise to Clarke, which ordinarily would be heroic. Still, he’s not the one causing trouble, that’s Bellamy, who incites the group to take off their bracelets because it will mean “liberating” themselves. I’m still pretty sure that Bellamy’s our hero, but right now he’s acting a little mean. And it only gets worse when night falls and everyone goes slightly freedom-happy. An inspirational speech by Wells doesn’t calm them down (the “good” characters need to work on this aspect), but Bellamy’s rousing speech (amounting do “let’s do whatever the hell we want”) does find favour with The 100.
Back with the Mount Weather hunters, Clarke continues to be a ray of sunshine, telling the others that the Ark is dying. Maybe the payoff is worth it, since it leads to a little bonding moment between Finn and Clarke (told you!), which is soon shattered by Octavia stripping off and jumping into a river. In poisoned earth moments, adding to the two-headed deer we’ve already seen, Octavia’s impromptu swim leads to her getting pursued in a river by a massive eel type thing, but she’s rescued and the group bed down in the forest for the night. That gives Finn and Clarke another bonding opportunity, as they connect over glow-in-the-dark animals.
The next day, Clarke and co find a way to swing across the river with the killer eel in it, and nerdy Jasper goes first, and makes it! In a moment of triumph, he pumps his arms in the air. And then gets shot in the chest with a spear. Woah.
On the Ark
Interspersed with The 100’s descent to earth are scenes on board the Ark, which show the population noticing something is wrong, and the rulers trying to keep from them that The 100 have gone to earth. There’s a mean guy, Kane, played by Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond from Lost!), who is constantly clashing with Clarke’s mum Abby. And there’s lots of cool tech aboard, which helps the Ark monitor The 100, something The 100 aren’t too keen on, with one of their first acts of rebellion being to rip off their monitoring bracelets.
And oh, look, Jaha was shot on the Ark before the ship carrying The 100 left for earth, and guess what? Bellamy did it. I’ve got to say, while the latter was predictable, that The 100 told us so quickly about Bellamy’s crime is interesting, and shows that maybe this programme is more than it appears to be on the surface, which is a good sign. Sure enough, the shooting of Jaha leads us to the revelation that Kane is planning a takeover of sorts, and is keen to give the order for parts of the Ark’s population to have their oxygen cut off. Is there a coup ahead?
To add to Abby’s worries about kids on earth, including her daughter, dying, she’s then sent to prison by Kane for using too much blood to try and save Jaha, and since every crime is punishable by death, she’s going to get “floated”. But don’t worry, Jaha manages to get up in time, and saves Abby just before she’s dropped into space. That outcome was a little, alright, a lot, predictable.
Solid ground or space debris?
The first episode of The 100 is filled with stereotypes (the serious heroine, the joker, the brooding hero, the privileged but honourable son, the Asian geek) and tropes The CW loves (if that’s not a love triangle brewing between Finn, Clarke and Bellamy – forget Wells, too boring – I need to go back to school), but it’s brave and ground-breaking in other ways. Its scene with Jasper getting attacked is its Ned Stark moment – a bit of action you didn’t see coming, having been lulled into a false sense of security by what came beforehand, and Bellamy, who seems to be set up as the leader of The 100 and as the show’s hero, is acting more like a villain right now. If The 100 goes on to tackle issues such as justice ad punishment properly (which I felt Morgan’s book didn’t do), and if its characters continue to be complex, it’ll be a beautiful piece of programming.