“I feel like this plot line is really going to pay off.” “Keep going.”
“Does it pick up?” “Keep going.”
Are there any two words as encouraging and as frustrating? Certainly not when it’s in the midst of catching up on a show your friend recommended.
Of course, it depends on how much the person plays their hand. A “I think Sheilah is the killer” met with a “just you wait”—depending on the circumstances—can indicate fairly clearly whether you’re right or wrong.
Even as it gives the indication that you’ve stumbled on the same boat a friend was once in, it can feel dismissive in the way hindsight often is. Just because a plot line pays off doesn’t mean it was done right in the moment. The 100 received a whole lot of discussion and outrage over their decision to kill off Lexa immediately after she finally consummated her relationship with Clarke in just the latest “Kill Your Gays” chapter. Many fans were angry that our goodbye to Lexa was a random mishap, not even intended for Lexa at all. Bringing her back later on to go out in a blaze of glory (sort of) doesn’t negate the initial emotional charge of her initial death, even if it may lessen the sting a bit.
But they are, perhaps, the fine line someone can walk when trying to have a conversation with a friend about a TV show they’re hoping to discuss without spoilers. I tend to be a bit cagier about my spoiler intake, but “keep going” feels like heartening; like you’re pulling at a thread of a future conversation of a theme your friend also noticed. Instead of shutting down conversation you’re just moving it forward, earmarking a thought for the future.
Unto every generation a teen sci-fi/fantasy drama is born. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Smallville. Dark Angel. To be effective these shows have to clearly identify (and sometimes go out of their way) to establish why the teens are the ones bestowed with these powers, this narrative. But rarely is a show as effective as establishing why the story’s narrative falls on a sixteen-year-old as The 100.
The plot comes at you fast: Mankind has been relegated to space decades after a nuclear war left Earth uninhabitable. On the space station all crimes are punishable by death, unless you’re under 18; in that case you’re just put in solitary confinement until you reach adulthood and get your case reviewed. But as “the arc” runs out of life-support, the leaders concoct a risky plan: Send the 100 youth prisoners to Earth to check its habitability. Either they die on radiation impact, or they can send up an all-clear.
When they hit the ground the best laid plans go a bit awry, but anyone who’s familiar with Lord of the Flies knows what can happen when you leave kids in the wilderness to their own devices. For starters, that title number starts gets whittled down pretty fast. During its first season the show negotiates the arc’s survival with the kids’ as the primary drivers of the narrative: What they do, how they survive, and how they build a society are the decisions that impact everything we know in the universe.
As more of the arc population follows, and adults make their way down to Earth, so does the traditional power structure from the arc: There’s an elected chancellor, a council to weigh decisions, etc. But the kids have had a taste of the good life. They know how they would run it if given the chance, and they know the terrain better than anyone who could legally drink. A lesser narrative might shrug that off and return to traditional roles. Not The 100.
The world of The 100 ripples with trauma. The show lives by the mantra that no one is safe, killing swiftly and effectively across the board. Characters don’t have time to fully deal with their trauma, and that means that traditional norms of adulthood and age fall by the wayside. It’s more compelling than your average teen drama, when a sixteen-year-old whines to their mother that they’re 16 and they can handle it, Mom. In this case “handling it” is the difference between a literal life and death, war and peace. And that whiney teen might actually know best, because no one knows anything.
It’s important that The 100 chose to acknowledge this head on. When the adults land on Earth they’re ready for business as usual, and largely operate as such. And for the first handful of episodes on the second season the kids abide, in some way or another, biding their time and taking stock of the new era. But soon their subterfuge and secret missions become more than just the driving force of the show, they become the driving means of diplomacy for all the characters.
By the time Lexa is on the scene, Clarke and her gang of former prisoners are more than just a thorn in the side of the adults in charge or the projection of the teen audience. They’re leaders of the pack. And once the adults realize that, the last semblance of societal norms fall away, and The 100 establishes itself as an effective teen, sci-fi thriller.