Why I’m Ready for Octavia to Finally be the Villain
The 100 isn’t afraid to place their characters into conflicting situations, forcing them to make difficult choices over and over again. It’s a core theme of the show — good guys, bad guys, and whether they truly exist; whether or not the world is a perpetual grey area with no white or black. Over the course of four seasons and heading into a fifth, we’ve seen everyone climb through the hoops of character development, facing their consequences and making decisions both good and bad. The 100 is a character driven show for sure, with one major exception: Octavia Blake.
Initially showing some potential, Octavia has been on the show since the beginning: we meet her on the dropship and learn soon after that she had been hidden for most of her life, under the floor, kept secret from the entire Ark or else face the consequences of the strict one-child rule. Her character growth had the potential to be fascinating. A girl that had to keep hidden, keep quiet, whose very existence was a crime and who now has to find her place in a world that didn’t accept her from day one: that’s a fantastic premise. Instead, Octavia is a character that refuses to learn and grow, and who faces no consequences from both the narrative and fandom.
In Season 1, it seemed as if the show was going to lean into this “survivor” theme with Octavia. She’s stubborn and rebellious, not willing to take direction from anyone (especially her brother), and resistant to any sort of control. In the sixth episode of Season 1 (“My Sister’s Keeper”), we see Octavia in a flashback to the Ark, when she is forced to hide under the floor during a routine inspection. As she crawls into the constrictive space, we hear her whisper to herself “I am not afraid.” Back to the present, Octavia finds herself restrained in a dark cave, having been taken there by a grounder that we will come to know as Lincoln. Without missing a beat, she frees herself from her restraints and soon finds a small opening in one of the cave walls. She takes a deep breath and crawls through, whispering to herself that same mantra from her childhood: “I am not afraid.” I remember first watching that scene and being excited for the person that Octavia was going to become.
Unfortunately, over the next four seasons, Octavia’s character has become a point of frustration and disappointment. Between abuse, cultural appropriation, and an inability to grow as a person, the audience isn’t given any reason as to why we should be rooting for her. She isn’t given any character growth, but no matter her behavior, she is still framed as a hero. This is the main point of confusion: for a character who exhibits all the makings of a villain, why is the narrative still trying to insist she's a good guy?
It was clear from the start that Octavia is a headstrong character, but as early on as Season 2, this transitioned into abusiveness. In 2x12, we see Octavia confront a broken and desperate Lincoln, who had been kidnapped by the reapers when he voluntarily infiltrated Mount Weather, and as a result became addicted to the reaper drug. Octavia’s solution to Lincoln’s desperation is to hit him and call him a coward, exhibiting abusive behavior instead of offering any tangible help. Lincoln had been drugged and tortured; there was zero reason for Octavia to treat him as she did. Unfortunately, there was also zero consequence for her actions here. This isn't mentioned again, nor is it addressed in any capacity moving forward.
We see this abusive behavior again in the later seasons. In 3x07, Octavia violently attacks Indra, who was already injured and was unable to defend herself. She also uses this opportunity to criticize Indra’s behavior, instructing her on how a proper grounder would act and using her physical advantage to intimidate her. In 3x10, Octavia beats Bellamy to a bloody pulp while he’s chained to the wall of a cave. After this abusive outburst she not only doesn’t apologize, but continues to verbally abuse and mistreat Bellamy until the very end of Season 4. She even tells him in 4x06 that if he wasn’t her brother, he would be dead — implying that he should be grateful she showed restraint enough to not murder him.
It’s also worth mentioning that if we take a look at those that Octavia has abused, there is a troubling pattern — Lincoln, Bellamy, Indra, even Illian — each instance of abuse has only served to move Octavia’s character along, essentially building her characterization on the backs of people of color that she was supposed to care for. This behavior is not acknowledged as the abuse that it is, but rather a quality of a “badass female warrior,” which is troubling, to say the least.
Octavia’s tendency for lecturing grounders about their own culture is also extremely troublesome. Her sudden transformation into a grounder warrior is confusing and offensive. We’re supposed to believe that Octavia, with at the most a few months of training, can best Gaia (who has been training since birth) and Luna, who won her conclave and would have been made Heda instead of Lexa if she hadn’t left to pursue a life of peace.
In 3x01 and 3x02, she even lectures Lincoln about being a proper grounder and forgetting his own culture, making him feel guilty about his new friendship with the Sky People. It doesn’t matter to Octavia that Lincoln has a kill order against him and cannot leave Arkadia, and staying in Arkadia is his best option for survival. Her behavior here also ventures into the area of cultural appropriation: taking on the identity of a grounder and acting as an authority on grounder customs, even if that means criticising members of that very culture. She lectures Lincoln about his own culture — and this is supposed to be acceptable. She is incapable of learning from her mistakes and growing as a character; after Lincoln’s death in Season 3 she goes on to bastardize his memory — proving she either didn’t understand or didn’t care about his beliefs — wearing face paint in the pattern of his tattoo as she murders a number of people in the conclave. Later on in Season 3 she also tells Luna that she should be ashamed of not helping them defeat ALIE, even though doing so would go against everything Luna had worked for, something that Octavia was also unable to understand or appreciate.
Many people say that Octavia’s behavior goes along with the post-apocalyptic nature of the show: people are fighting and dying, even killing each other, so what’s so different about Octavia’s behavior?
First — her abuse of people she is supposed to care about is inexcusable. Lincoln, Indra, and Bellamy had no way to protect themselves, and were completely at the mercy of Octavia, who only knows how to express her anger by taking it out on other vulnerable people.
Second — in a world where violence is obviously common place, that doesn’t mean that there are no consequences for said violence. Clarke, Bellamy, and Monty spend seasons grieving about the genocide at Mount Weather. They’re given whole character arcs over this guilt, while Octavia has yet to experience any guilt at all. In Season 2, Finn is killed for massacring a grounder village, as compared to Octavia playing an “assassin” in Season 4 and not facing the same consequences. In Season 4, we witness Harper push someone out of the way while retreating from the black rain, resulting in his suffering and then death. Harper experiences guilt over this for the next few episodes, despite not knowing this person at all. Octavia isn’t allowed this sort of reflection for even her worst actions.
Besides her obvious problematic behavior, it seems as if the writers are struggling with how they should treat Octavia, where exactly they should put her, and how she fits in.
In 3x11, while a handful of delinquents are guarding Raven/ALIE in the back room of Niylah’s trading post, Raven/ALIE decides to take advantage of her alone time with each of them. This episode serves as a great character examination for the viewers — we see conflicts both old and new addressed, guilt over people they’ve lost and things they’ve done — and no one is exempt. That is, besides Octavia. She is present for this whole episode, but escapes any sort of character analysation that the rest have to deal with. This doesn’t seem like a technical mistake but rather a deliberate choice; it’s not a coincidence that the chance for Octavia’s character to be examined and criticized is completely disregarded. If Octavia is meant to learn from her actions and any possible redemption arc be believable, wouldn’t this have been the perfect chance? This is also the episode in which she criticizes Bellamy, saying he lashes out and people get hurt. Her inability to see that this is exactly what she did the episode before further illustrates her lack of character growth.
In Episode 4x06, after Illain sets off the explosion that destroys Arkadia, Octavia uses her grief as an excuse to drag him outside and attempt to execute him. However, even Octavia’s grief over Arkadia doesn’t make sense — she’s disowned the Sky People for almost two seasons, even actively working against them in Season 3. It seemed like this was a forced breaking point — acting irrationally out of grief and forcing a comparison between herself and Pike, someone she viewed as a monster. This almost-execution reminds her of Lincoln's untimely death, and she retreats into the woods.
Anyone watching expected this to be a turning point. Octavia, disgusted with herself, runs away in shame, realizing what she has become since Lincoln's death. This isn't the outcome we received, however. Later on, Ilian and Octavia cross paths in the woods and take refuge together from the black rain. We still see Octavia overcome with grief — but instead of some desperately needed introspection, she lashes out at Ilian once again, hitting him. The two end up sleeping together (why, writers!?) and when the black rain subsides she follows him to his family farm. She even throws down her sword — does this symbolize finally giving up fighting? Are we about to witness Octavia’s change of heart?
On the contrary; we see Octavia last about a day on the farm with Ilian before she brutally murders a handful of grounders that approach her. Clearly nothing has changed. She tells Illian, “This is who I am.”
Overall, Octavia’s storyline in Season 4 felt oddly insignificant until 4x10 when she enters the conclave to fight for Skaikru. Again, this is also a confusing choice — isn’t she supposed to be a grounder? She technically does win the conclave, using Bellamy’s plan of hiding out and waiting for the others to be killed off until she could challenge those left at the end. However, instead of accepting victory for the Sky People, she declares that everyone will share the bunker — essentially rendering the conclave useless and bringing them back to where they started. Sharing the bunker is impossible, and this only sets everyone back to the beginning. While this is obviously counterproductive, it’s also a confusing direction for her character to go in. We’re now being forced this narrative of Octavia as a hero, of a savior that will bring both grounders and Sky People together for survival. Again, her arc doesn’t make sense: she went from assassin to savior in the span of an episode without any growth, reflection, or remorse. The only option that would have made sense, again, would have been fully embracing Octavia as a villain instead of appearing to head in that direction, only to backtrack immediately.
The major problem with Octavia’s characterization isn’t necessarily with her actions (besides abuse, which is never justified), it’s with the framing of these actions and of her character as a hero. The audience is expected to like Octavia, despite her character being very problematic, showing no growth, and making no sense. The writers don’t see the need to examine her character any further. To add to this, the writers have had countless chances to turn Octavia into a villain rather than force her status as a hero when it makes no sense - but none of these opportunities have been taken advantage of.
On a show like The 100, it can’t be expected that every character improves for the better. Sometimes the appropriate path isn’t about overcoming pain or hardship, but succumbing to it. Octavia is still the same rebellious, violent character she was in Season 1. Sure, if you look at a picture of Octavia in Season 1 versus Season 4, she looks like a whole different person. Putting a sword in the hand of a girl doesn’t automatically make a strong female character. Putting on grounder eyeliner isn’t character growth, and refusing to grow and learn isn’t badass or revolutionary. It’s lazy — and if the writers want Octavia’s story to make sense and not continue in circles, they need to embrace Octavia's inner darkness and let her follow the natural path towards becoming a villain in Season 5.