Thelonious Jaha: The Leader and The Giver
I, like many, had an inkling of an idea that Thelonious Jaha was likely going to die in Season 5 of The 100, thanks to some not very vague tweets from his actor, Isaiah Washington, during the beginning stages of filming, but I still wasn’t prepared to lose him tonight. Jaha has been a very polarizing character for the past five seasons; most people seem to avidly hate him, but I’ve always been a fan and this episode, his final, cemented all the reasons why.
One of the things that I’ve always loved about Jaha is that he is the original example of “For My People.” So many people credit Clarke with this ideology, but she’s learned it from someone and, like it or not, it was probably Jaha. We’ve seen him do everything he possibly could in each season to ensure the continued survival of his people. In Season 1, he sacrifices himself to make sure that at least some of the human race makes it back down to the ground. In Season 2, he struggles to convince them that leaving Camp Jaha is the right decision and when that fails, journeys to the “City of Light” without them in an attempt to prove that there is a haven somewhere. In Season 3, he gives himself over to ALIE knowing the truth of the coming nuclear apocalypse and wanting to bring at least some semblance of his people with him to the City of Light. In Season 4, it’s his investigation of a seemingly innocuous saying of Niylah’s that leads to the discovery of the bunker, and it’s his idea to take the bunker for the Arkadians.
It’s fitting that Jaha’s last actions in Season 5 are once again, about saving his people. It’s even more fitting that he dies doing it. In fact, it’s an astonishing parallel to Season 1’s “Hail Jaha.” Season 1 saw Jaha sneaking off to detach the stations manually, knowing that this could lead to his death, and hiding his plan from everyone around him. His sacrifice ensures the continued survival of the remaining Arkadians, but places Jaha in peril in the Season 2 opener, where he hallucinates a baby (who turns out to be a stand in for Wells) and expresses a desire to be with his dead son. Jaha’s story ends much as it began: hiding his wounds from others, finding a way to save his people, and then, finally, getting a chance to be with his wife and son. In fact, much of Jaha’s death was a reversal of his first appearance in Season 1: a wound to the gut, Abby there but unable to save him this time, Kane also there but, instead of trying to float Abby, trying to help her save their friend.
I was also struck by the fact that “The Giving Tree” was Wells’ favorite book and, having read that book with my own son a time or two, you can clearly see the morals of the story reflected in both Wells and his father over their tenure on the show. The titular tree meets a boy, and as the boy grows, she sacrifices more and more of herself to ensure his happiness (first her apples, then her branches, and finally her trunk), and giving to sustain this boy (the apples gave him food and later money, the branches helped him build a house, the trunk helped him build a boat) made the tree happy, even if the boy didn’t appreciate her kindness. Towards the end of the book, when she is just a stump, the tree is no longer happy. She does not feel as if she can be of use, but even in the end, when the boy is old and frail and just wants a place to rest, she can provide that for him, and she is happy again.
So much of the story reflects who Jaha (and who his son) was. To save his people, he sacrificed his son, his health, his mind, and finally his life. Through it all, he is confronted by people who don’t believe that his actions were all that heroic. It’s hard to recognize a hero in a character like Jaha, who goes so far into that murky gray area to save his people that his actions almost put him in line with the villains of each season; but every floating, every sacrifice weighs heavy on Jaha. He never really lays down the burden of leadership, not until those final moments, when he whispers, “Take me to Wells” and breathes a final sigh of relief as he goes on his final journey to the ground.
That end was as noble as the character has always been, and I’m glad that he died in the presence of his friends, his last word his son’s name. I haven’t yet processed the fact that Jaha has now been dead for six years, but I know that his legacy will live on in the characters he’s influenced. His drive to save his people will be mirrored in Clarke. His heart will be found in Bellamy’s leadership. His strength in Octavia’s. Although his physical presence has been lost his impact never will be, and for that I am extremely grateful. I don’t know if I believe that it was truly Jaha’s time to go, but I’m glad that he went the way he did.
In memoriam, let’s look back on some of Jaha’s best moments:
1x13 “We Are Grounders Part II” — This episode is the moment I became a Thelonious Jaha fan forever. Not only did he follow the age-old adage of going down with his ship, but he did so at the cost of never being able to see his son’s final resting place. One of the earmarks of true leadership (in my opinion) is the ability to sacrifice one’s own wants, needs, desires, and yes, even safety, to ensure that the people you care for survive. What makes this moment even more heartrending are the moments when Jaha asks Abby to describe Earth to him. He closes his eyes blissfully and you can imagine that, at least in this moment, he knows that all of the sacrifice, hard decisions and loss on the Ark were worth it.
4x04 “A Lie Guarded” — Jaha’s primary focus has always, and continues to be, the safety of his people. We see him here even more determined than ever to save the last bit of humanity left and helping Clarke with her mission to do the same. When Clarke’s list is discovered, Jaha is the one who helps her figure out how to recover from the blowback, reminding her that what you mean isn’t always what people hear. That the best way to get people to work together, to survive, is to give them a reason to do so.
2x07 “Long into an Abyss” — When Jaha tried so valiantly to convince his people that moving from Camp Jaha was the only logical option. I still don’t understand why his reasoning was deemed unsound. By all accounts there was nothing left for them in Camp Jaha, they didn’t need to stay there to save those trapped in Mt. Weather, and moving from Camp Jaha might have saved them from several rather painful consequences in later seasons.
4x11 “The Other Side” — Jaha’s plan to seal the bunker — trapping all grounders (and Kane and Octavia) on the other side, while ruthless, was inspired. The conclave was never a truly viable option. Without Arkadian knowledge, the Grounders would never have been able to survive in the bunker (most of them don’t read or speak English, and none of them have a working understanding of technology). The bunker should have belonged to the Arkadians by right of their having discovered it but, as we saw in Season 3, the grounders don’t necessarily believe in the spoils going to the victor (remind me again why the Arkadians couldn’t live in/pillage Mt. Weather as they wanted considering Arkadians won the day?). Jaha was clearly unwilling to have a repeat of Mt. Weather and made a huge tactical play that would have ensured that their people could survive (and prevented the issues that arose later), if only a certain someone hadn’t needed to open the door.
1x05 “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” — I cannot emphasize enough that Jaha’s best characteristic is his nobility. His determination to succeed, that theirs would be the transitional generation, ensured that the Arkadians found their way back to Earth. In this episode, Jaha implements The Culling, and as always, volunteers to sacrifice himself as well. Although ultimately, The Culling was unnecessary, Jaha’s resolve and strong sense of purpose showed him to be one of the best leaders this show has ever had.
I’m going to close this article out with a few of my favorite Jaha quotes. Thanks for all you did Thelonious, may we meet again!
Jaha Quotes to Live By:
“Godspeed, my friends. Godspeed.” (1x13 "We are Grounders, Part II")
“Good can come out of even the darkest acts, John.” (2x10 "Survival of the Fittest")
“We make the best decisions that we can with the information that we have, then hope that there’s a forgiving God.” (4x02 "Heavy Lies the Crown")
“It won’t be easy. There will be plenty of hard work to go around. But together, we have struggled. And together, we will rise.” (4x09 "DNR").