The 100 Watch the Thrones Bob
Cate Cameron/The CW

Do not read on unless you’ve seen “Watch the Thrones,” the fourth episode of season three of “The 100.”

There has been much to like about the third season of “The 100.” As I watched the first four episodes, comparisons to “The Lord of the Rings” saga kept coming to mind. Visually, thematically and on a story level, this is the season in which “The 100” is expanding its universe, depicting a ragged but vibrant city and a whole host of fierce rivalries, showing formidable armies on the march, and depicting brief but nuanced moments of tenderness and connection between conflicted characters under a great deal of pressure.

I’ve seen some mixed opinions on the Murphy-Jaha storyline, but I’ve always enjoyed that odd-couple pairing and I’m willing to see where it goes. As a notable Season 1 Murphy doubter, I continue to be pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy the character at this stage. “The 100” has engineered a generally impressive turnaround, in terms of who John Murphy has come to be — the cynical rebel with a well-disguised heart — and how he is positioned within the show. Being the voice of reason in Jaha-world is a thankless task, but Richard Harmon plays all the levels of that relationship with enjoyably weary bemusement. 

The return of Lexa has only been improved by getting to witness the games being played at her court. Alycia Debnam-Carey has been impressive since day one as the strategically savvy Grounder leader, and watching Lexa handle insurrection, deal with complicated political realities and throw dudes off balconies has been a treat. And it goes without saying that the more Clarke (Eliza Taylor) gets involved in Grounder politics, and the more that muddies up the personal and political sides of her life, the more I’m enjoying her sojourn in Lexa’s city. Throw in fine guest work from Zach McGowan as Roan and terrific action sequences like the hand-to-hand combat between Lexa and Roan (to name just one moment that entertainingly recalled “Spartacus”), and you’ve got quite the promising mix for the middle of the season. Visually and thematically, everything’s been kicked up a few notches. Even the costumes have been terrific. How about the fantastic Ice Nation get-ups? And then there’s Clarke’s incredible outfit when she appeared as a Grounder aristocrat, an image that is likely to keep Tumblr busy for a few months, at least. 

Except… For me, the story line involving Pike and Bellamy is a disaster.

And as I said in this podcast on episodes one through four, and wrote in this season three review, it’s not a problem that can be neatly excised and ignored as the show trundles on. Since season one, I’ve recommended this scrappy drama in part because it has usually laid out difficult choices with clarity and verve. When it’s working, “The 100” helps viewers understand why its characters make decisions that are sometimes quite gruesome and ruthless. Not so with what transpires with Bellamy and Pike.

That Pike is a one-dimensional and tiresome character is certainly annoying (and I have no problem with how Michael Beach plays the character — he’s a fine actor. My issues are with the conception of the character as laid out by showrunner and executive producer Jason Rothenberg). But the problem with this aspect of the show becomes much more acute when considering Bellamy, one of “The 100’s” core characters. What’s done to him in episode four is poorly handled, to the point that I’m on the fence as to whether the character can ever be rescued from the mess the show made of his arc.

The scene in which Bellamy chooses to ally himself with Pike’s faction is my least favorite scene in the history of “The 100.” Not because I think Bellamy would never do something difficult or morally repugnant. He’s been capable of those kinds of actions in the past, but when moments like this work on “The 100,” those choices have sprung from strong character foundations and have added to the shadings of that individual’s personality going forward. The CW drama didn’t give Bellamy much to do in the second half of season two, which is fine (other story lines that took priority were often thrilling and well-handled). But if this is the way “The 100” wanted to return Bellamy to prominence, all I can say is, oy vey. It just doesn’t work. 

In my view, “The 100” rushed through every single element that was supposed to get me to understand his decision to join Pike’s faction. We barely met his forgettable girlfriend, who ended up being an unfortunate instance of “fridging” in a show that has generally avoided such regrettable tropes. On top of that, Bellamy has known Pike for what feels like 10 minutes. The omission of an understandable set of motivations for a key character meant the moment was not just a dramatic misfire, but quite worrying.

If “The 100” is not a show that supplies well-constructed reasons when its characters to take reprehensible or questionable actions, then what is it? Is it just a well-directed show about survival? I suppose that would be all right, but in this era of peak TV, there are a number of shows that explore somewhat similar themes. This show is different because the most memorable adventures, actions, battles and scenes are driven, on some level, by character-based decisions that have highly resonant moral and emotional implications. We understand why decisions are fraught, and why the consequences of those decisions play out the way we do — and we’re emotionally involved because the flawed people on the screen don’t seem all that different from us. 

Clarke murdering Finn may have been the show’s high point when it comes to this kind of morally challenging moment: It was a terrible act, and I understood why many were furious with her over what she did. And yet I wept for her in that moment, because I knew what doing that cost her. That’s the kind of moment that made me recommend “The 100.”

But Bellamy choosing to back Pike is, in my view, the show’s low point, and I am worried about where those characters go from here, and whether it’s even possible to make that story line less excruciating, let alone redeemable. As I wrote at the start of the season, at times, “The 100” just gets ahead of itself and doesn’t give character trajectories and decisions enough convincing weight and believable momentum. I’m deeply concerned about the Pike/Bellamy storyline, but I’ll keep watching and hoping to be less disappointed than I was in Thursday’s events in Arkadia.

And now, without further ado, here is Part Two of my interview with showrunner Jason Rothenberg. (Here’s Part 1 of the interview, which has been edited and condensed.)

The show has spent two seasons showing viewers that there are different varieties of Grounders, good and bad, and there are alliances and conflicts and all kinds of interactions with Grounders. Sometimes those alliances work, and sometimes they don’t. And then Pike just comes in as the guy who is anti-Grounder in every scene, for rigid reasons, and that’s the only position he ever takes. The character just doesn’t work for me. He’s too one-note.

Here’s what mattered to me about that character. The backstory that he experienced, and that the Farm Station arrivals experienced, made what the 100 [ark survivors] experienced with the Grounders look like Disneyland. They had a much harder three or four months on the ground than even the 100 had in season one. That informed their world view, I think, in a way that justifies somebody like Pike being anti-Grounder and not seeing the differences between the clans and not recognizing [complicated relationships among clans]. Ice Nation is aggressively violent and war has cut his population of people down from 180 to 60 in three months. He’s just been losing people. To me, that made sense. A guy comes out of that crucible and he’s just there to survive today.

I guess there’s an intellectual logic to that description, but these are all things that happened off-screen. It’s hard to care, because I have not seen any of that.

You haven’t seen his experience.

Right. I can sit here and say that Clarke has killed hundreds of people and that she’s a mass murderer. But the reason I feel for her when she tells her mother “I tried” — the reason I have a lot of conflicting emotions in that moment is because I saw how hard it was for her to do all those things in Season 2.

Of course, yeah.

What she went through — those things are not abstractions to me. I understand what Pike went through but, on some level, just being told all this in exposition — it turns all of that into a thought experiment. It has no real impact on me.

That’s fair, for sure. [Farm Station survivors] were living their own story when we didn’t even know they were on the ground for the last season, really. What I was trying to create with Pike was — I’m not going to use the political figures that [we know in real life] by name in terms of the type of story we’re telling with when Mount Weather [is destroyed]. When it blows up in episode three, when Ice Nation destroys Mount Weather, that’s sort of a catalyzing event. That’s a definitive, culturally politically shifting event.

It’s their 9/11, and if you remember here after 9/11, that’s what happened. Suddenly intelligent people lost their minds. Suddenly every Muslim was the enemy. I’ve been told not to talk about it in these terms, by the way. But that was something that I found fascinating and an interesting subject matter for science fiction to get into, in a way that you can in science fiction without being too preachy.

So you see somebody like Bellamy make the decisions that he’s making informed by that event. By the way, as is usual for the show, I’m not trying to say he’s making the wrong choice. I’m just trying to say, this is his choice. It’s informed by this event.

But this was what we were going for. We were going for this 9/11 event that was going to have all of this anti-Grounder sentiment rise up in Arkadia, much the way that in this country, after 9/11, there was all this anti-Islam sentiment. People who love this country as much as anybody were suddenly being turned terrorists in the minds of [some] people. And that’s what happens in the show.

Lincoln, I don’t think it’s too far past [episode] four but Lincoln, this has come to matter to him. And he’s one of [the Grounders,] and then this thing happens and there are those in that world now that look at him as the enemy. That’s going to be really, really hard for him.

I love Pike. I love Michael Beach. I totally accept that criticism.

Well, it’s coming from a place of having seen how the show operated in the past — the Pike and Bellamy storyline wasn’t like that. To me, there’s an issue of drastic compression in that storyline. We didn’t see the election. And it’s not like that had to be shown, but we barely saw anyone react to Pike arriving. We saw some anti-Grounder sentiment, but only in bits and pieces. The four Season 3 episodes the network sent to the media — I watched every episode twice before we talked, just so I could really understand all the moving pieces. But for me, that timeline of Pike and Bellamy was just very, very fast. The election was so quick I didn’t even know that those in Arkadia even necessarily even knew who Pike was or that he had turned up.

We could have done a whole election episode. We talked about it, but we figured — I don’t know, I didn’t want to write that. I wanted it to happen off-camera. I loved the ending of episode four in terms the tectonic shift in the internal politics at Arkadia. I guess that’s been both our strength and weakness from the beginning — how quickly we burn through story and how fast this thing is skipping along. And you can’t show everything, and that was just something that, for better or worse, [we didn’t show]. I guess we’re trying to get to some stuff that [will make you say,] “I would much rather have had that than an election episode.” Maybe.

Aside from issues with Pike as a character, I have real trouble with the decision Bellamy made. It just seemed out of character. I understand that he felt culpability for Mount Weather, and for his girlfriend. But he’s always struck me as a pragmatic guy.

If you think about what Bellamy has experienced, even as recently as season two, when we were [delving into] the complexities of the Grounders… Lexa left him to die in Mount Weather. His frame of reference and his experiences with the Grounders has been nothing but negative. He hasn’t had any good experiences with the Grounders.

In the moment that he makes the choice to stay with Pike, he is one of those people that have that [change of heart]… I knew liberals after 9/11 that became conservatives overnight, and it didn’t make any sense to me and I didn’t agree with them. But it was a phenomenon that I found fascinating, and in a small way, I’m trying to do that with Bellamy. I feel like we try to do this [construction of difficult choices,] whether we are successful or not. I like everything to be sort of 49 [percent] versus 51 [percent]. I don’t like it to be easy. I don’t like anybody to be obviously in the right.

We had many long debates in the writers room about people who agreed with the Pike position and the Bellamy position. [Some said,] “They are going to kill us. Eventually the Grounders will turn on us again. As soon as it’s in their best interest to cut us loose and let us die, they’re going to do it. So we have to do what’s right for our people.”

My counter to that, if I was in that room, would be, that’s playing a losing game, because they outnumber you by a lot. The 12 clans could crush you like a bug if they wanted to.

Right.

So some strategic alliances are going to be necessary, just for survival.

Right. What you’re saying makes total sense.

At some point, it’s just a numbers game and you cannot win that game.

Right. Or you can fight until the other side feels like they’ve lost too much to take out this little group of people, and then you’ve won your independence. That’s sort of what Pike’s position is. It’s like, “They’re not going to make peace with us. They’re eventually going to take our land and our stuff.” That’s his philosophy. They’re going to take what they want eventually, and the only way to prevent that is to be strong.

That’s undeniably a huge political mindset. We have two political parties in our country. Obviously one of them believes that for the most part. And the other one is more about, “We have to be citizens of the world and we have to be good stewards of the earth.” Both positions have some merit. I was trying to represent both.

But when Bellamy makes that decision when he’s sitting there in that café talking to Pike — what Pike is advocating is a treason that will result in the mass murder of Indra’s army.

Right.

On this show, when people have done terrible things, it’s typically in response to an immediate danger. There is an immediate need to take action. But Indra’s forces are not beating down the gate and murdering people in Arkadia.

Right. They don’t know if they’re going to tomorrow. They don’t know, and Pike does not believe, that the Grounder army that’s parked outside their door is going to be a good thing. [*Part of this answer is redacted to avoid a potential spoiler, see the end of this post for the complete answer.] What he does in the next episode — it gets more complicated as the story goes on.

Pike is obviously at one end of the spectrum in terms of his view of Grounders right now. Does that become a more mixed position, or does he have cause to reexamine where he’s coming from?

He does eventually. I don’t know that we’re going to get all the way there this season or not. We’re putting him in a situation where he could have that awakening. And the story for me is not about Pike as much as it is about Bellamy. It was about creating an environment, a set of circumstances that would push him into that place.

He is the one who will ultimately come to realize… In the trailer that we released, he says, “What do you do when you realize that you’re not the good guy?” And Clarke says, “Maybe there are no good guys,” echoing her mother from season one. To me, that was more important — that he comes under the influence of Pike, this really powerful, strong leader, and Bellamy makes some choices that I think he comes to or should come to regret. That was a fascinating challenge, to try to tackle that character. Bellamy is just the hardest character to write, always.

Why?

Because he’s so layered and there’s so many different things happening emotionally all the time. And Bob [Morley] is so good, so I feel challenged to be able to give him little moments to play and big moments to play. I just feel that, for some reason, he’s always the guy who, at the end of the process, I’m like, “Did we get it? Did we get it?” My wife, who sits with me and really beats the crap out of the scripts with me, we push and push until we find the exact right [approach]. He’s always the guy that we’re at the end, still trying to make [the writing] perfect.

*Full text of redacted answer:

On this show, when people have done terrible things, it’s typically in response to an immediate danger. There is an immediate need to take action. But Indra’s forces are not beating down the gate and murdering people in Arkadia.

Right. They don’t believe that though. They don’t know if they’re going to tomorrow. They don’t know, and Pike does not believe, that the grounder army that’s parked outside their door is going to be a good thing. I don’t want to spoil too much, but a few episodes later events unfold where had he not done that and that army was still there, they’d be f——d.

Ryan McGee and I discussed the first four episodes of season three of “The 100” on the most recent installment of the Talking TV podcast, which is here and on iTunes

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