The 100 5x02 "Red Queen" Review
From hints at cannibalism to brutal deaths to new ships becoming canon, “Red Queen”, written by Terri Hughes Burton and directed by PJ Pesce, was a solid hour of television. Many are lauding it as one of the best of the show to date, and while I wouldn’t go so far, I did find myself drawn in far more than I thought I would be. The flashbacks could have been condensed down a fair amount, and I would have liked to see more of how Octavia descended the path into darkness, but I’m sure we’ll see more of that as the season airs. So while this episode wasn’t my favorite, I did enjoy it (as much as this kind of thing can be enjoyed), and had a lot of thoughts on the episode, so let’s dive in!
Just as our first glimpse of Spacekru (well, besides Bellamy pining by the window) was of Echo and Raven sparring, "Red Queen" opens with Octavia sparring with Miller. Oh, and only 46 days since Praimfaya have passed when we first join Bunkerkru, instead of 6 years and 7 days. Eligius won’t know what hit them — there’s not much to keep either Spacekru or Bunkerkru entertained for 6 years besides training.
Related: The 100 5x01 "Eden" Review
Octavia passes judgements on quarrels between the grounder clans, seated with delegates from all 12 clans around a round table, reminiscent of the round table the council used on the Ark. Just as they’re about to move to the next case, Kane hears something — a distant tapping, chipping, scraping. Someone is out there. Of course, we know that it’s Clarke, and that she’s unsuccessful in unearthing the bunker door, which makes the next scene all the more painful. Abby and Kane suit up, Abby knowing in her heart that the person outside must be her daughter; after all, what other nightblood knows where the bunker is?
When they try to open the door, they find a problem that should have been obvious: the buildings around and above the bunker have collapsed, burying the door under thousands of tons of rubble. Clarke can’t get in, and more importantly, they can’t get out. The characters in this show never seem to see these sorts of issues coming, no matter how obvious they may be. Ah well, we know there’s a team of space miners floating around up there somewhere; I’m sure they’ll help.
Those in the bunker have little hope of ever getting out, but the hydroponic farms won’t produce enough for 1200 people for more than 5 years. There will be a mass die-off, first of plants, then of people. Going down to half rations won’t do enough, and will trigger a starvation response. As Abby says, “We’ll survive, we’ll just wish we didn’t.” Later in the episode, Abby describes what will happen to people as they starve to death: their bodies will metabolize their muscles. They’ll lose their hair. Their skin will flake and peel. But Kara is unmoved by this picture, saying that the same thing would have happened to all of them if they hadn’t taken the farm.
Jackson brings Kane and Abby trays heaped with food, saying that Kara has done away with rationing. For a sickening moment I thought he had been in on the plan, but he whispers to the two that he’s been trying to get everyone to fight back, with no luck. Abby doesn’t want him to do anything stupid, but Miller is on the other side of the door, so he’s not just going to let him die.
Since Jaha is an engineer, Octavia needs his help to figure out a way to get the door open (ironic since she dismissed him before by sardonically telling him she’d let him know if she needed an engineer), and while he’s looking over the blueprints, it becomes clear that he was wounded in the scuffle following the coup. Indra and Octavia’s guard have managed to secure the Sky People left outside to keep them safe, but violence is spreading, and something needs to be done — fast. “When hell breaks loose, it breaks loose fast,” Niylah observes, but Gaia retorts, “This isn’t hell, it’s who we are.”
In a move reminiscent of the attack on Mount Weather in Season 2, Jaha figures out a way to short out the electronic locks on the door to the level Skaikru is holed up in. But just when he’s about to do it, he stops. He knows that if he blows the locks, the grounders outside will pour in and execute every single Sky Person, guilty or innocent. Octavia petulantly throws herself to the ground, declaring that they’re all going to die, then, but Jaha tells her to make the grounders listen to her and stand down. Once they have, he’ll open the door.
When Octavia arrives at the door, she finds a throng of grounders trying to beat it down with a battering ram, chanting jus drein jus daun. (I literally started singing “Jus drein, jus daun, don’t look them in the eye…”) She orders them to stand down, saying that the bunker belongs to all of them, including the innocent Sky People inside. The grounders don’t like that idea, and one after another, try to kill her. After their rebellion has faded, she radios Jaha, who opens the door, and the grounders take control of the floor. Kara aims her gun at Kane and Abby, then changes her mind and puts it to her temple. But escape won’t be that easy, as Octavia throws a knife into her hand.
In one of the episodes few sweet moments, Jackson and Miller reunite, and Jackson expresses his regret that he wasn’t able to stop the coup, but Miller tells him, “You’re a healer, not a fighter. That’s why I love you.” It’s clear from Jackson’s reaction that it’s the first time he’s said those words, and the two kiss.
Octavia declares that the instigators of the coup and the blanket thieves will fight for their freedom, as the gladiators of Rome did. Kara grabs the single sword and slaughters the rest, as we transition to the present day, with the rotunda fenced off into a proper gladiatorial arena, the walls draped in red. We saw a glimpse of this at the end of 5x01, but we see it more clearly now. Octavia, forehead painted red, sits on her throne, dispassionate. Kara, now sporting a forehead tattoo, stands by her side, Miller on the other — both members of her guard. Indra stands behind, looking grieved, and we see Ethan, now twelve, cheering the fight, before Gaia admonishes him, because “Wonkru novitiates don’t cheer death.” People drag the bodies from the last fight away, and the next batch of gladiators walk in, Kane among them.
Octavia: From The Girl Under the Floor to the Red Queen
“Dressing me up doesn’t fool anyone. My blood is red and it always will be.” I hated how at the end of last season we saw Octavia wearing Lexa’s cape and headpiece, because she’s not an actual commander. She’s something different. And she actually does command unity, I’ll give her that. After she strips off the cape and headpiece halfway through the episode (relics of an old way of doing things, and nothing more than a costume on her), she’s finally able to unite the people. It looks like the bunker people truly are Wonkru in the present, as horrific and crazy as things may be. While (hopefully) no one agrees with her methods, you can’t argue with Octavia’s results.
At the outset of the episode, we see a version of Octavia that still maintains some of her innocence from seasons past: “[punishment] for stealing blankets?” she asks incredulously, “Give them back.” A simple, straightforward solution to a problem that is likely far more complex than first appears.
It’s clear that Octavia still hasn’t found her footing as a leader (as she tells Jaha, “I’m not a leader, I’m a warrior”) and at the first sign of trouble she struggles with coming up with a solution and turns to Jaha for help. It’s Jaha who gives her the advice she soon learns to live by — to make death the enemy — and, in true Octavia fashion, she manages to beat the grounders into submission with her sword. In the end she kills at least 17 of the rebellious grounders, including the one who stabbed Jaha — she whispers “for Jaha,” which was quite a plot twist — before the rest decide to bow to the bloodsoaked girl. That’s one way to earn respect, and honestly, one of the only ways to win the grounders’ respect.
Knowing that there are too many people in the bunker to survive, Octavia declares that the punishment for both blanket-stealers and Skaikru rebellers alike is death. But this isn’t the Ark, and it isn’t the ground. There is no more “blood must have blood.” (Though arguably she’s perpetuating “blood must have blood,” just through different language.) Instead, they’re going to take a leaf out of the Ancient Romans’ book and have gladiatorial fights. The winner will be allowed to go free.
In present day, the fights, which had originally been a means of meting out punishment, have become a spectacle to enjoy. Just what happened in the intervening six years to turn Osleya into Blodreina?
The book Niylah gives to Octavia near the beginning of the episode is Metamorphoses: The Book of Transformations. Written by Ovid, the poem is comprised of 15 books and over 250 myths, and is a “history” of the world from its creation to the deification of Julius Caesar. Scholar Brooks Otis has divided the work into four sections:
Book I- Book II: The Divine Comedy
Book III- Book VI, 400: The Avenging Gods
Book VI, 401- Book XI: The Pathos of Love
Book XII- Book XV: Rome and the Deified Ruler
"I intend to speak of forms changed into new entities."
Metamorphosis is clearly a theme that relates to Octavia— she reaches the ground a blank slate, ready to find an identity. Heck, we see her chasing butterflies, the universal symbol of metamorphosis. So when she does find an identity in Lincoln, in Trikru, in Osleya, she adopts it wholly. It’s also why I can swallow her magically becoming the best sword fighter ever in a matter of weeks, however unrealistic it may be. The narrative needed her to be a blank slate, a caterpillar ready to burst forth in whatever shape is demanded by her surroundings. So it’s really no surprise that after 6 years of being Blodreina she’s all but lost every vestige of the innocent girl we met all those years ago. Every step down the path into darkness is easier than the one before it, further cementing her identity and position as the Deified Ruler mentioned in Metamorphoses.
I’m fascinated to see whether Octavia will continue down this path after she leaves the bunker; whether the writers will finally pull the trigger on something they’ve been hesitantly teasing for a season and a half, and make her fully a villain. It’s the inevitable conclusion of her story at this point. There are only so many times they can pull her back from the brink and have her go through a halfhearted redemption plot.
Showrunner Jason Rothenberg teased in an interview that Octavia could be viewed as a villain this season, so I’m hopeful. We know there is a scene toward the end of the season which caused many tears on set, and I’m willing to bet it has to do with Octavia’s death, potentially by the hand of her own brother, Bellamy— I can just hear him saying “My sister, my responsibility”— in a situation like Clarke’s killing of Finn. Episode 9 of season 5 is entitled "Sic Semper Tyrannis," which is a Latin phrase meaning “thus always to tyrants,” attributed to Marcus Junius Brutus during the assassination of Julius Caesar, and it feels pretty likely that the episode will center around Octavia and her bloodthirsty, tyrannical ways.
If she doesn’t die then, her death will likely come in the two-part finale, entitled Damocles. Without making this too long, the story of The Sword of Damocles is an allusion to the peril faced by those in positions of power. In fact, in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century books of devices, wood-cut images of the sword of Damocles appear with the phrase “Metus es plenus tyrannis”— “fear is plentiful for tyrants,” as they ever sit under the sword. Will Octavia the tyrant meet the same fate as Julius Caesar, or will the writers find a way to redeem her yet again?
The Cunning Cultivator
Meet newcomer Kara Cooper, played by Kyra Zagorsky, who is in charge of running the hydroponic farms in the bunker, as she was on the Ark. Her father died in the Culling on the Ark, and her husband was left out to die in Praimfaya after the second Culling. And she knows that they’ll have to reduce the population yet again to survive.
Very quickly, Kara makes a splash, enacting a coup that results with most of Skaikru (notably missing: Jaha, Ethan, and Nathan Miller) locked inside the farm and all of the grounders locked out. Skaikru will survive on the resources the farm provides, and the grounders outside will starve.
Despite the obvious parallels between Abby and Kara both making choices that led or will lead to the deaths of their people, Kara feels self-righteous about her own decision, angrily asking Abby if she would have opened the bunker door if Kane hadn’t been one of the people trapped outside. Instead of answering, Abby details what will happen to the 1100 people outside as they starve. The first to die will be the lucky ones, because they won’t have to wrestle with the temptation to eat their friends. Kara is from Farm Station, and Abby knows she must have heard rumors of cannibalism — there was a blight on the crops, we learn, and the starvation culminated in cannibalism, which is why they started floating their dead on the Ark. But as Kara points out, if they continued on as they were, the exact same thing would have happened to all of them.
When the doors to the farm are eventually opened, Kara, along with the others who had helped her, are the first victims of Octavia’s new justice system. Kara manages to win the first reenactment of Roman gladiator battles of old, and when we flash forward to the present, we see her standing by Octavia’s side, now sporting a forehead tattoo and seemingly in full support of the Blodreina.
What happened in the six years to turn Kara, champion of Skaikru, loyal to the woman who made her kill her own and was partially responsible for her father’s death? And what can we expect of this new character in the episodes to come?
Gaia’s change of heart
Octavia is annoyed to see Gaia at the beginning of the episode, implying that they and Indra have argued many times in the 46 days since being locked up together about the legitimacy of Octavia’s command. Gaia firmly believes that only nightbloods should be commanders, and won’t throw her support and the support of her order behind Octavia, which Indra thinks could do a lot to unify the clans. It was easy for the grounders to agree to be Wonkru with Praimfaya bearing down on them, but at the first sign of stress, they’re fracturing back into their clans. She thinks that only true commander, a nightblood, can unite them all. That’s how it has always been and always will be. (At this point I’m thinking, girl, you know it’s been less than 100 years, right?)
But after Octavia gets the door open, Gaia changes her mind. Octavia won the conclave, delivered them from Praimfaya, and saved them from starvation. She’ll be the one to bring them back to the ground. The blood of their enemies is her armor. When Gaia backs Octavia, she does it wholeheartedly, as she believes the spirits of the ancestors have chosen her after all, which makes her support all the more terrifying — will she support every awful thing Octavia has done since because she’s the chosen one? It brings to mind a line from the trailer: “Fanatics make good soldiers.”
Kabby’s fractured relationship
At the beginning of the episode, it’s mentioned that Abby hasn’t spoken to Kane since she woke up from the knockout gas, still angry at him for making the choice of survival for her. Throughout the episode, we delve deep into the relationship between these two leaders, as they spend a majority of their time handcuffed together during Kara’s coup.
I’m a huge Kabby shipper, but Abby does have the right to be angry with Kane. I don’t think his decision to save her was wrong, but I can understand her anger. Kane tries to present it as a logical decision — he would have made the same choice even if he didn’t love her. “Then why were you willing to float me on the Ark?” she asks. He doesn’t have an answer for that.
Later, amidst soft guitar arpeggios (played by a character portrayed by the director of the episode, PJ Pesce), Kane tells Abby that he couldn’t bear to lose her; he thought he could weather any storm as long as he had her by his side. How could she ever think that he would be able to carry her outside and shut the door? When he asks her if she ever regretted opening the door to save him, she breathes out a “No,” and she finally is able to understand why he saved her. I was really glad to see the two at least on their way to reconciliation, if not completely okay, because I’ve always loved the two of them and their relationship, and one of my other favorite relationships, Murphy and Emori, didn’t survive the time jump.
Of course, we don’t know what the state of their relationship is now in the present, 6 years later, but their foundation seems to have been repaired, so I’m sure they’ll be leaning on each other now more than ever, as they face the horrors of the bunker together.
Jaha and The Giving Tree
Jaha has kept his promise to the man who died in Praimfaya, and is taking care of his son, Ethan (who adorably calls Jaha “Uncle Theo”). It’s interesting to see Jaha have another surrogate son — he tried unsuccessfully in Season 2 to make Murphy a stand-in for Wells, but now he seems to be a much better father figure, without the fanaticism that made him ever-so-slightly unhinged before. He reads Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree to Ethan, and when I heard him read the ending, I knew what I’d long suspected was true — he was going to die in this episode. The book was Wells’ favorite book, as if The Giving Tree itself weren’t enough to cry about.
When the grounders burst into the bunks to retaliate for Kara’s actions, one of them stabs Jaha, unbeknownst to us. Before he goes to help Octavia, and ultimately dies, Jaha hands Ethan over to Miller (I was pretty hopeful there for a minute that he and Jackson would adopt him). Ethan doesn’t want to leave Jaha, and their final hug is particularly heart wrenching upon a second viewing, knowing as Jaha does that this is goodbye.
In what has long been suspected by fandom at large to be Jaha’s last appearance in the series, this episode writes a love letter to everything Jaha was and everything he strived to be: a leader willing and ready to do what he must to save his people. Jaha’s interactions with Octavia are especially poignant — there is a lot of bad blood between them, as Octavia still holds him responsible for her mother’s death and her own imprisonment.
“A warrior needs a war, an enemy. On the Ark, we made death the enemy,” he tells her. This brings to mind Clarke’s musing, “What becomes of the Commander of Death when there is no one left to kill?” When Jaha says that Octavia’s mother made herself the enemy when she broke the law, Octavia leaps to her feet and draws her sword — I was sure that would be the end of him, but she shows considerable restraint. She finally comes to understand why the rules on the Ark were so harsh. (But then of course from what we’ve seen of the present, she takes it one step further. And that restraint we saw seems to have been honed and refined to where she’s no longer brashly attacking people who displease her, but is now cold and calculating, not even seeming to take pleasure in the gladiatorial fights.)
He tells Octavia that he can’t blame her for not feeling like she belonged with the Sky People, and apologizes for his part in making her life so difficult. He thanks Kane for convincing him not to fight Octavia for the bunker, and after opening the door Jaha dies doing what he did best: saving his people.
As he lies dying, he’s with the two people who have been on this journey with him since the very beginning. Jaha’s last words are “take me to my wife, take me to Wells,” and Marcus recites the Traveler’s Blessing that carries him home.
"I don't need very much now," said the boy.
"just a quiet place to sit and rest.
I am very tired."
"Well," said the tree, straightening
herself up as much as she could,
"well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting
Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest."
And the boy did.
And the tree was happy.
May we meet again, Thelonious Jaha.
The 100 airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on The CW.