Television series depicting supernatural and fantasy worlds are nearing their saturation point in the current landscape, but genre television still has plenty of room in the often mocked, often misunderstood realm of science-fiction. Lost is one of the only series in the last decade to exist in the realm of science-fiction and gain a truly massive following that included even the regular television viewer. Series like Battlestar Galactica were popular, especially among critics, but the general population still sees outer-space as the home of the nerds. They ignored the series because they didn't see it as a well-written allegory for a post 9/11 world, but as just another weird sci-fi show that probably only attracted overweight losers who lived in their parents' basements.
But science-fiction is about more than the extraterrestrials lifeforms or artificial intelligence that most associate with the term. The genre can encompass futuristic settings and technology, time-travel, space-travel, parallel universes; the world of science-fiction is truly limitless, which is entirely the point. Outside of BBC America's clone-centric Orphan Black, it's been awhile since a series in this particular genre has found a home on popular television, but The CW's The 100 makes a very strong case to change that.
Right now, I know you're scoffing because I just said The CW has a really good television series, but it's true. The 100, which is pronounced "The Hundred," is a truly exciting science-fiction series set 97 years after a nuclear apocalypse wiped out the entire population of Earth. The pilot gets most of the clunky exposition out of the way early on with a voiceover by the main character, Eliza Taylor's Clarke Griffin, which allows it to jump right into the action and the drama, but the short version is that the 400 people aboard the 12 space-stations in orbit during the attack were the lone survivors of the human race. Now, three generations later, the Ark—a giant space-station assembled by combining the original 12— is dying. Despite a very strict form of population control that limited couples to having only one child, and using capital punishment for even the smallest of crimes, there are 4,000 people aboard the ship. Save for the people in charge of the Ark's government structure, and Clarke, the daughter of the now-deceased engineer who discovered the flaw, no one else knows the truth about the Ark.
In order to save the human race, 100 juvenile delinquents (anyone over the age of 18 who commits a crime is immediately floated," or sent out the airlock, which is what happened to Clarke's father because he wanted to tell everyone the truth about the Ark) are sent to Earth's surface to determine whether or not it's inhabitable once again. They were chosen because their crimes made them expendable, and even if they didn't survive the journey to the surface, their departure from the Ark at least bought the rest of the population another month of life. This is the harsh reality of The 100.
The pilot truly begins once the 98 passengers—two of the teens died upon landing because they weren't strapped in to their seats (CLICK IT OR DIE, GUYS)—arrive on Earth and begin exploring the radiation-soaked forest in which they've landed, which, because of a malfunction with the ship's parachutes, is about 20 miles from the military base that was their drop site. The ship's computer was fried during their descent to Earth which means the only thing connecting the children on the ground to the adults in orbit are the wristbands reporting their vital signs.
Almost immediately a conflict arises from the two different mentalities among the survivors. There are those who want to complete their mission, save the human race, and see their families again, and then there are those who want their freedom from the harsh reality of their former lives. Clarke's natural leadership instincts kick in as she leads a small group of teens to Mt. Weather, the military base supposedly stocked with supplies, while Bellamy, a janitor who would like to ensure the rest of the humans don't follow them to Earth because he wants his freedom, leads the other, larger group. There's also the little instance of him having shot the Chancellor in order to gain access to the ship headed for the surface. Whoops. The fraying of the group is still in the early stages in the pilot, but the growing tensions between the two will continue to build, inevitably leading to a greater discussion of the self versus the group, individual freedom versus structure. Will the teens surrender to their more basic animal instincts and allow chaos to reign or will order prevail? It's very Lord of the Flies, and it works quite well.
The pilot proves The 100 is not your average CW series, although it is in fact aimed at a younger demographic. A few adults, including Isaiah Washington's Chancellor (and the father of one of the Hundred), his second-in-command Kane (Henry Ian Cusick), who believes in a more strict no tolerance policy, and Clarke's mother Abby (Paige Turco), the Ark's chief medical officer, all play important parts as the situation on the Ark begins to deteriorate and ideologies clash, but the series is definitely focused on the teens and the action on the ground. That being said, it's a testament to the series that it's not afraid to show the brutal, realistic side of this world. It's dangerous and children die. After Octavia escapes the weird river monster with barely a flesh wound, it wrongly appears that maybe the series isn't willing to go to the depths of such a grim reality that would normally exist in this situation. But then Jasper is speared through the chest at the end of the pilot and it's obvious the show isn't your average teen drama in which everyone is guaranteed survival simply because they're playing for the right team. The children aren't alone on Earth, which only heightens the danger and elevates this drama from most of The CW's lineup.
Some of the best moments of the pilot are the small moments in which viewers are reminded that these teenagers have never experienced life without the hum of machines. They've never breathed fresh air, felt the wind on their faces, or experienced the warmth of sunshine on their skin. Everything we take for granted, these children are experiencing for the very first time. Their excitement at having seen a deer is marred once the deer turns its head and they see it's deformed and has two faces as a result of radiation. It serves as a harsh reminder that they might not be so lucky having reached the surface. When Jasper gets shish-kebabbed through the chest, it's another item to add to the growing list of reasons why this world is more dangerous than anything they've experienced thus far.
It's been a long time since a real science-fiction series has been worth watching, and yes, there's a bit of exposition in the pilot, but it's necessary for viewers to understand the bleak reality of the world in which these teenagers grew up. The pilot hints at future relationships as Finn teases Clarke or Jasper attempts to woo Octavia by acting the hero, but whereas some series, like say Star-Crossed, would make these romantic pairings a major plot point, The 100 uses them to enhance the story rather than be its driving force. And it makes sense given the stakes at hand. It isn't wrong for series to explore these natural human relationships, but if the teenagers landed and love-triangles and googly eyes immediately appeared, one would have to wonder what Stephenie Meyer novel it was born from. I haven't read Kass Morgan's series on which The 100 is based, but if the source material is as highly engaging and exciting as the series, I might have to start.
Current Population of The Hundred: 98
– My biggest complaint about the pilot, having watched it a few times now, is the use of contemporary music rather than a score. The songs can be distracting and often result in removing the viewer from the episode. If there's one obvious example that this is a show on The CW, it's definitely the music choices. They'd have been better off going a strict instrumental route rather than say, using Imagine Dragons even if the song is called "Radioactive." And a side note: how many different shows on The CW has that song appeared in now? I'm pretty positive it's been in The Originals, too.
– What's up Kane's butt, man? It he power hungry? Just a dick? You have to love him though, because otherwise lines like, "If we're going to kill hundreds of innocent people, we're going to do it by the book," won't work. I'm very interested in seeing a splitting of ideologies on the Ark mirroring those happening on the ground. Also, I like me a good mutiny storyline!
– As a big Battlestar Galactica fan, I might have gotten a little too over-excited at seeing Alessandro Juliani back in action in whatever the command center is for The 100. Gaeta lives! And every mention of floating made me picture Laura Roslin giving orders to send someone out the airlock.
– The subplot involving Wells, the son of the Chancellor, is interesting, because he only got himself arrested to go to the surface with Clarke, who was only arrested as punishment for her father's "crime" of wanting to tell the truth about the fact that the Ark is dying. Naturally, Wells believes in order and following orders, and the scene in which his wristband was forcefully removed was actually quite upsetting for me knowing that his father would think he died.
– Who put a spear through Jasper's chest? Is he dead?
– I like Clarke acting as if she understands how far 20 miles actually is, given that she's lived on a space-station her entire life. Also, they got there pretty fast for having no provisions. Just saying.
– Octavia was arrested simply because her mother had the audacity to have two children. She spent most of her life hidden from everyone, and once her existence was uncovered, her mother was executed and she was arrested. Octavia and Bellamy are the sole siblings in existence.
What'd you think of The 100's series premiere? Will you be back for Episode 2?
AIRED ON 5/19/2016
Season 3 : Episode 16