The 100 5x05 “Shifting Sands” Review
“Shifting sands” is a phrase used to emphasize the frequently changing nature of something that makes it difficult to understand or contend with. Although this episode features literal shifting sand in the form of sandstorms that happen to be full of shards of glass (nice!), it’s also full of metaphorical shifting sands in terms of characters and relationships.
Octavia, with her mercurial nature, is the first one to come to mind: her shift from how happy she is Bellamy is alive to how she’ll kill him if he disagrees with Wonkru again is enough to make anyone’s head spin.
But there is also Diyoza, who makes Kane her prisoner and later sits down to parlay with him over a bottle of tequila; there’s Shaw, who is clearly torn when it comes to following Diyoza and whose true allegiance is difficult to discern; and there’s Emori, who, despite being angry and hurtful towards Murphy since their breakup still chooses to stay behind with him.
And of course, there’s the final shot of the episode: as a reunited Bellamy and Echo kiss, the camera changes focus to first a confused Clarke and then a murderous Octavia, suggesting that the sands of the relationships for all involved (Bellamy and Echo, Clarke and Bellamy, Bellamy and Octavia) have only just started shifting.
There’s a lot to unpack in this episode, so let’s dive in:
The Cult of the Red Queen: “All of Me for All of Us”
By opening “Pandora’s Box,” Bellamy let evil spill into the world...in the form of a gladiatorial cult led by his own sister. In “Red Queen,” we saw the origins of how Blodreina came to be and in “Pandora’s Box” we were given a taste of what those in the bunker had become after six years; in “Shifting Sands,” we see the entirety of what Wonkru has become, and it is terrifying.
As a leader, Octavia is impulsive, angry, single-minded, and irrational. She wants the valley for her people, so she’ll do what she must in order to get it. She’ll fight the wind if she has to. (Octavia, please.) She’ll take a dangerous route in getting there, if it means getting there sooner. And when her brother faces half a dozen guns for daring to disagree with her, it takes her a moment too long to ask her people to stand down.
In an episode that also features parasitical sand worms crawling under the skin, the truly disturbing part of this episode is the red-blooded, red-eyed queen and those who follow her. Oftentimes, we see the insanity of the cult through the eyes of Bellamy and Clarke, who more than once exchange an uneasy look after Octavia says or does something particularly foolhardy; of course, for Bellamy that confusion is also layered with worry for the person his sister has become.
“Love is weakness,” Octavia intones, echoing Clarke, Lexa, and Titus before her. We know what became of Clarke when she attempted to believe in the “love is weakness” ideology in Seasons 2 and 3; it took her down her darkest path as a leader, although that journey now seems tame compared to what’s become of Octavia. Although “love is weakness” has been refuted many times by the show (and by Indra in this episode, who asks if her loving Octavia makes her weak), it’s clear that Octavia has fully bought into it: after all, if you don’t love anyone, then no one can hurt you.
This episode makes it clear that the person Octavia became in the bunker is closer to a villain than a hero; the moment at the end, where she threatens Bellamy (indisputably one of the story’s heroes) if he should ever speak out against Wonkru again encompasses that perfectly. “If you ever speak out against Wonkru again, you are an enemy of Wonkru, and you are my enemy.”
The question is, what becomes of Octavia after this? The shot of Diyoza ripping Octavia’s portrait in half — and then the scene transition of the torn portrait to Octavia sitting by the fire — could be seen as foreshadowing for Octavia’s eventual death, and those who follow “love is weakness” usually end up dead. Can she be redeemed before she’s killed by her own hubris? Will she ever deserve to be redeemed?
It’s not just Octavia who underwent metamorphosis while inside the bunker; nearly as unsettling are the changes that have overcome Nathan Miller, previously Bellamy’s lieutenant and one of his closest friends. The beginning of the episode reveals that Miller is still in a relationship with Jackson, but he hardly looks at Clarke, won’t even talk to her; now he follows Octavia near-blindly, calling her Blodreina instead of her actual name. Kara Cooper, too, is now devoted to Octavia and Indra, although she of everyone seems most uncomfortable with Octavia’s ways and the most willing to speak against her, still leads the rest of Wonkru into the sandstorm, keeping Octavia protected in the middle. (And receives shards of glass in her lungs for her effort.)
“If you speak out against Wonkru, you are the enemy of Wonkru. And you are my enemy.” How many of these people, in the early days, dared to speak out against Octavia’s reign before being beaten down? How long can one internalize one’s thoughts against something before those thoughts simply go away? Before you begin believing what you’re told to believe, because there is no other choice?
Here we see hints of the beginning of Wonkru, how they became the single-minded cult they are today, and I’m worried about what that means for Bellamy, who has to reconcile his desire to protect his sister with the person she’s become.
Snakes Outside the Garden of Eden
Since the trailer for Season 5 was released in March, there was one question everybody was asking: what the hell is that Alien-looking thing crawling around inside someone’s stomach? This episode provided the answer and it was, unfortunately, not aliens: rather, out in the desolate, nightmarish wasteland that most of Earth has become, a parasitical sandworm evolved after the fires of Praimfaya and now has burrowed into the skin of one of the Wonkru scouts.
Inside the stomach of the scout, the worm multiplies, before bursting out in a scene straight out of a horror movie. The tent is set on fire to destroy the creature, but not before one of its offshoots burrows its way into Octavia’s arm. A snake inside the snake, if you will; when Clarke warns Octavia that the venom is still inside of her, I got the feeling that she wasn’t just talking about the venom from the worm.
Clarke kept the parasite she pulled out of Octavia’s arm for further observation, and I hope that these new creatures serve further plot purpose other than being the other side of the “rock and a hard place” Wonkru find themselves between (sandstorms full of glass, parasitical sand snakes, and a missile heading their way — what else could they possibly ask for?).
But it also leads me to wonder what other strange creatures may have been birthed in the desolate wasteland that covers most of Earth’s surface. I’m still hoping that the true conflict this season isn’t a war over Eden, but rather banding together — all these groups who are loyal only to their own — to face a different sort of enemy.
And the Snakes Within
Man, every single week I just become more and more intrigued by Charmaine Diyoza; without a doubt, she’s the most finely crafted “villain” this show has had (I hesitate to use the term villain because I feel that she, at least, isn’t), and Ivana Milicevic plays her to perfection. Diyoza keeps the unruly mass murderers under her command tightly controlled; she’s observant, highly intelligent, and knows where her strengths lie and when she no longer has the upper hand.
After launching a missile that destroys one of the Wonkru tents and everyone inside, Diyoza invites Kane to parlay over a bottle of tequila. This scene is truly at odds with everything else in the episode, as Diyoza stands in a clearing, surrounded by flowers, and peacefully breathes in the air. With her hair down, her uniform off, she looks almost like a different person entirely, and it’s credit to Milicevic’s acting that she isn’t: Diyoza’s hard core, her laser focus, remains unchanged.
Everything we learn about Diyoza’s rich backstory (this episode, it’s that her father was killed by a SEAL team — her own team — that was coming to capture her, and that she slit her own throat because she thought that fate would be better) feeds into this...impressive leader she’s become.
“Impressive” is the word that comes to mind because she doesn’t scare me (perhaps she should); rather, I appreciate her ability to wrangle a group of prisoners into obedience, how she never once doubts her own authority, how she can read and understand people based on a single interaction, and how she files away every piece of information she learns for possible use at a later date.
I think she’s the most capable antagonist Bellamy and Clarke have ever gone up against, and I think if they go up against her, they will likely lose; I’m hoping that another sort of alliance can be struck because on top of everything else Diyoza is, I think she might also be reasonable. (And I think the true enemy this season might not be those currently in the garden of Eden, but those who are resolutely marching towards it.)
We meet a new snake in the garden this week: Vinson, a thoroughly unsettling character with a calm, measured voice, small glasses, a meek demeanor, and who’s wearing a shock collar. Vinson is self-described as a “generally pleasant person” with a demon inside that causes him to give in to his more primal urges; “if the demon comes out,” Vinson calmly tells Kane, “you pull that trigger.”
This is yet another new type of villain that the show hasn’t done before: unlike McCreary, who clearly takes joy in torture, Vinson is not in control of himself when he acts similarly and everything about the way he presents himself is intriguing, if terrifying.
Vinson also introduces us to the reason Diyoza was so desperate to find a doctor: many of the miners have a disease in their lungs, caused by the material they were mining, and Diyoza needs Abby to find a cure. Abby’s proficiency as a doctor is being tested, and if she’s unable to find a way to cure the affected miners, then she’ll be killed.
And then there’s Shaw, who perhaps isn’t a snake at all; there’s little doubt that his loyalties are divided, especially when he confirms that he was the one who blocked the missile codes. But Shaw ends up in a bind, because Diyoza and McCreary both assume that Raven was the one who changed the codes, and torture her and Murphy for the answers. Shaw is willing to participate in some level of torture in order to keep his cover, but he also can’t let Raven or Murphy die for something he did.
Shaw resides in the area of grey morality that reminds me of Bellamy in Season 1, especially when Bellamy participated in torturing Lincoln in order to save Finn’s life. Although Shaw agrees to Raven’s plan of letting Murphy go, but he knows that Murphy has a tracker in his collar and will lead him to the others who have been hiding in the woods.
Which side is Shaw on? Does he even know himself? We know from the captain’s log that he aided Diyoza in her coup, but regretted it after she killed his crewmates. I think Shaw’s heart may lead him to side with our heroes, but his sense of self-preservation will make him want to stay in Diyoza’s good books. It’s a tough line to walk, as we see in this episode, and I’m very interested in seeing how long he manages to maintain that balance before ultimately tipping over to one side or the other.
The Heart and the Head
Six years ago, with ninety minutes until the end of the world, Clarke and Bellamy vocalized what has long been a favourite metaphor of showrunner Jason Rothenberg: they are the heart and the head, and without one, the other can’t survive.
But they had to survive without each other and, for Bellamy at least, that meant taking Clarke’s last words to him into his heart and doing his best to live by them every day. She saved him. She saved them all.
Since their emotional reunion at the beginning of last episode these two haven’t had much time to talk, and when they finally do, you can see that they’re both struggling to put words to how they’re feeling, now that they’re finally together and processing what the other went through in their six years apart.
Sitting together by a fire (and away from the rest of Wonkru, who they aren’t quite a part of despite ostensibly being on the same side), Bellamy tells Clarke how difficult it must have been for her to survive on her own. “I wasn’t alone,” she says, meaning Madi but also, I think, referring to how she talked to him every day for six years, which, as she mentioned in the Season 4 finale, was one of the things that kept her sane. But Clarke doesn’t seem entirely open to talking about her years spent alone on the planet, and leaves the conversation before it can go any further.
Later, it’s Clarke’s turn to tell Bellamy how proud she is of what he’s become: “Octavia’s not the only one who’s changed, you know. You could’ve killed those prisoners in cryo, but you didn’t. Diyoza would’ve killed me if not for you. Madi would be alone. You got that bunker open. [...] I’m serious, Bellamy. The heart and the head.”
“The heart and the head,” Bellamy repeats back to her, and oh man, do those five words mean so much.
For Clarke, this is her way of telling him that he’s become everything she knew he was capable of, everything she wanted him to be when she first gave him that speech because she thought she might die. For Bellamy, saying it back was his way of telling her just how seriously he took the words she left him with, how he’s done his best to live by them every day.
And for both of them, it’s their way of saying that they remember everything that happened between them in those moments before Praimfaya tore them apart; every single word. We already knew that Bellamy was doing his best to live by Clarke’s words, but now we have evidence that Clarke also remembered them, that she thought of Bellamy in space and believed that he was doing what he needed to to keep them all alive.
Clarke is no longer just the head, and Bellamy is no longer just the heart; they can survive without each other, if they have to. (But will they want to?) “The heart and the head.” This feels like this season’s iteration of the “together” motif that’s tied Bellamy and Clarke together since Season 2, and I’m super into it.
These two still have some ways to go in determining the nature of their relationship after six years apart — their ability to make decisions together appears untouched but they’re not quite in sync when it comes to personal matters — and Clarke’s realization at the end of the episode that Bellamy’s in a relationship with Echo (really? He didn’t find any time during their days-long hike to bring that up?) will surely only serve to complicate matters further.
Whatever lies ahead for these two, I’m confident they’ll find their way back to each other and realize just how much they need each other — no longer because she’s the head to his heart and vice versa, but for another reason entirely.
“All of me for all of us. It’s kind of beautiful.” It’s interesting to me that Clarke — who spent six years alone except for the company of a child — would latch onto this phrase, despite its clearly cultist undertones. Having spent so much time alone, there’s no doubt Clarke craves — and also fears — that level of human interaction, devotion, and unity.
“You’re a determined traitor, I’ll give you that.” Why is Marcus so desperate to give up Octavia? Is he that disgusted with everything that happened in the bunker that he doesn’t care if they’re all killed by Diyoza’s crew? Or is he just reverting back to his old methods of peacekeeping and avoiding violence at all costs (which never worked out for him)?
“Who’s the hobbit?” I’m immediately 100% invested in the relationship between Madi and Murphy.
“Was I the dashing hero who got the girl?” “Or the selfish fool who lost her?” I love this exchange, and I love the care and nuance they’re giving to the relationship between Emori and Murphy — despite the breakup, which they’re both still deeply hurt by, it’s evident that they still care for each other. I really feel like these two will find their way back to each other.
Ivana Milicevic was pregnant during the filming of this season and while I initially assumed they would work around that in the show, in this episode it seemed as if maybe they wouldn’t — you can clearly see a bit of a baby bump when she sits down with Kane. If they do choose to make the pregnancy part of the plot, I’m fascinated by the possibilities — after all, one of the themes of this season is the bond between family, and what better reason for Diyoza to fight for the valley than because she needs a place for her child to grow up safe?
I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciate the time this season is giving to character moments, in the midst of wild plot. It was great to see Bellamy and Clarke get the chance to talk to each other after they didn’t last episode, but also small moments: Emori staying behind for Murphy, Madi racing across the desert to throw herself into Clarke’s arms, Monty raising a hand in confused greeting to Octavia. The characters and their relationships are truly what drive this story, and it feels like this season they’ve finally struck the perfect balance between those coveted character moments and the fast-paced plot.
The 100 airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on The CW.