The 100 5x09 “Sic Semper Tyrannis” Review
Sic semper tyrannis. “Thus always to tyrants.” Shouted by John Wilkes Booth before assassinating Abraham Lincoln, this Latin phrase has been used throughout history as an epithet or rallying cry against abuse of power. Although there is no death to a tyrant in this episode — only a tyrant lying as if dead — there are two uprisings, two attempts to usurp the current leader, and more betrayals than one can count.
There’s also a fair share of tragedy.
“Sic Semper Tyrannis”, written by Miranda Kwok and directed by Ian Samoil, is a fast-paced rollercoaster ride that leaves one with the feeling of emotional whiplash, as alliances and relationships shifted on a dime. The one major fault of this episode is that such turns in the plot aren’t given the necessary time to breathe, so that viewers can barely comprehend one event before it’s swept away in the tide of another.
Upon thought and rewatch, the decisions in this episode become easier to swallow and understand. Like all good episodes of this show, analyzing this one requires looking at the conflict through multiple perspectives, only to realize that no one is truly right or wrong.
Bellamy Blake and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Let’s take a second to step into Bellamy Blake’s shoes for a moment, shall we? At the top of the episode, he’s just finished putting his sister into a coma (one he’s not 100% positive she’ll wake up from), all with the intention of saving Clarke’s life and stopping a war. If he doesn’t succeed in that, then everything he did would have been for nothing.
And unfortunately for Bellamy, his plan goes awry right from the start. He’s unaware that Octavia’s — and thus Wonkru’s — faith in Indra has been eroding for sometime now, so when Indra attempts to take command of Wonkru and negotiate for surrender, she’s instantly rebuffed (by none other than Miller, once one of Bellamy’s closest friends). It becomes clear that Octavia’s hold over Wonkru is strong enough that even in her absence, even facing the prospect of her death, they will still carry out her orders.
Which means war is still inevitable, Clarke may still die, and Bellamy is burdened with the guilt of betraying his sister for no reason at all.
Madi, the last living natural-born nightblood, provides what he, and Indra, see as the last viable option: if they make her commander, those in the bunker still of the faith will follow her. Madi will be able to stop the war, Madi will be able to save Clarke, Madi will be able to bring peace.
It’s worth noting that all of Bellamy’s plans are short term in nature. All of his sights are set on meeting Diyoza’s terms of surrender and getting everyone safely and peacefully to the valley. Perhaps too much so; his assurance that once Octavia wakes up and sees what peace looks like, she’ll surrender is almost absurdly hopeful.
And Bellamy, at least, has no intention of forcing the Flame onto Madi. Gaia, as Flamekeeper, would never allow an unwilling novitiate to become commander, and she and Bellamy explain what is at stake and why a true commander is necessary.
“This is how we stop the war. This is how we save that valley, your home, and my friends. This is how we save Clarke.”
It can be debated how much a twelve- or thirteen-year-old can be entrusted with a decision of this magnitude. Given that Madi believes that this is the only way they can save Clarke, it’s obvious what decision Madi will arrive at, as we’ve already seen that she’s quite as desperate to keep Clarke safe as Clarke is to keep her safe.
Nor do I think Bellamy was attempting to manipulate Madi by mentioning Clarke. He too believes that this is their only possible course of action, and he would rather Clarke be alive and forever angry at him than dead.
And what other option is there? Wonkru’s reaction to Octavia’s illness proves that they will follow her orders even in the event of her death. If he did as Clarke wanted and had the three of them (five, if Monty and Harper were willing to leave) return to Eden on their own, it would do nothing to stop the war and only delay the inevitable when Octavia wakes up.
Bellamy has absolutely no intention of actually letting any harm come to Madi. He allowed her to make her own choice, and wouldn’t have even presented her with the option if there was any other recourse that he could see. And I believe that he only means for Madi to be a temporary commander, long enough to establish peace — since he also thinks that Octavia will be accepting of the peace once she wakes up, and he knows that the Flame can be removed from a commander’s head, because he’s seen it removed from Clarke’s head.
But even as Madi agrees to this plan, something else goes wrong: thanks to Jackson’s dialysis treatment, Octavia wakes up on her own well ahead of schedule. Even that might not have spelled the end, as Indra killed one of the guards and knocked out Jackson to ensure no one else knew Octavia had awoken; but if there’s one other person as desperate not to see Madi ascend as Octavia, it’s Clarke.
It’s Clarke who, once released from her chains by Niylah, makes a brief alliance with Octavia to stop the ascension. But they arrive on the scene after Madi has already accepted the Flame, and here yet another thing goes wrong: Madi is left unconscious after the ceremony.
If Madi had only woken up immediately (as Clarke had, the one previous time Bellamy had seen this happen), perhaps she could have used the spirits of the commanders to get Wonkru onto her side. Instead, she and Clarke are taken out to the rover, where they are to be executed; and Bellamy, Gaia, and Indra are arrested for treason.
In the course of a day — a really, really bad day — Bellamy has had all his previous efforts erased. He poisoned his sister and, far from waking up in the valley and believing in peace, Octavia has sentenced him for treason; after everything he did last episode to ensure Clarke wouldn’t be executed, Clarke now hates him and has left him behind to die; and his hope of negotiating peace with Diyoza is as far away as ever, meaning that all his friends and the remainder of the liveable world are still in danger.
Clarke “All Heart” Griffin
There were parallels abound in this episode, and each one served a very specific purpose. In Bellamy and Clarke’s conversation at the top of the episode, there’s the refrain of ‘together’ — first used when they slayed a mountain, next used when they drank a potentially deadly poison, here used to dream of walking side by side into peace.
Clarke and Bellamy’s relationship this season has been heartbreaking, made even more so by the events of this episode. It’s clear they’re on slightly discordant paths, a little out of sync with each other despite having the same goal in mind: to keep the people they love safe and stop a war. Yet there are moments like this one where they both remember the depth of the bond they once had and strive to recover it, despite the chasm that six years has left between them.
The echoes of their “together” has barely faded from the room before the realization of it becomes impossible, and their bond is shattered in a way it never had been before.
Bellamy’s confrontation with Clarke about making Madi commander parallels a scene from Season 3, one which Bellamy references explicitly: Clarke had been willing to force the flame upon Luna to save the world from ALIE and, failing that, she had been willing to force the flame upon any nightblood child they could find. The difference here is that the nightblood child is her child, which calls to mind Bellamy’s confession from the previous episode: if Blodreina had been anyone but Octavia, he wouldn’t have hesitated to take her out. (Love does have a habit of overriding logic.)
The framing of this scene is viscerally reminiscent of a scene in Season 4, but with the roles flipped: then, Clarke had seen Bellamy locked up and chained to prevent him from opening the bunker door to let his sister in, and she had ignored all his screams and pleas to let him go. Then, Miller had told her that Bellamy would never forgive her for leaving his sister to die; now, Madi tells Bellamy that Clarke will never forgive him for letting Madi become commander.
The main difference between these two scenes is that had Bellamy never escaped and opened the bunker door, Octavia certainly would have died in Praimfaya, whereas Bellamy certainly has no intention of letting Madi die by becoming commander; in fact, he promised that she would be protected. But that’s not how Clarke sees it at all: she sees only the person she loves most in the world being put into unnecessary danger that could result in her death; she only sees Bellamy breaking his promise to keep Madi safe, and believes this new version of Bellamy is unrecognizable to her after all.
(Remember, Clarke also loved the previous commander; she saw firsthand in a way that Bellamy didn’t the dangers that position put her in, including a failed assassination attempt and then watching her die by her mentor’s hand.)
Madi’s ascension scene parallels Clarke’s own aborted ascension in Season 4, with several key differences: as a natural-born nightbood, Madi is accepting her birthright in accepting the Flame, while Clarke meant to bastardize a religion she didn’t believe in; and Clarke and Octavia, bursting in as Roan had to stop it, arrive too late on the scene.
Bellamy makes yet another callback to Season 3 in this scene, when he witnessed Clarke take the Flame in the Season 3 finale. Then, he remembers Clarke had immediately woken up, whereas now Madi lies unconscious. Bellamy’s repeated references to the past serve two purposes. First, to show that he’s using his previous experience in a similar situation to guide him here (much as he did with the algae), with the assumption that things will turn out as they did then: Madi will take the Flame, utilize it to their advantage, and then have it safely removed. (Bellamy doesn’t know much of the religion or trauma behind the Flame; he knows it only as a tool that can be used to their advantage.)
Second, to show he’s behaving in the way old Clarke would have. Never has the head/heart switch between Bellamy and Clarke been more evident than in this episode. After poisoning his sister, Bellamy locks his heart away and uses his head to come up with an alternative method to bring their plan to fruition. Meanwhile, Clarke is utterly consumed by her love and fear for Madi, as well as the heartache that comes with what she sees as betrayal at the hands of her best friend.
(When Clarke slaps Bellamy for what he did to Madi, I was reminded of another earlier scene, in tone if not in actuality: back in Season 1, when Clarke sent Octavia out of the camp to ask Lincoln about a cure for the illness without telling Bellamy, and Bellamy, upon finding out, angrily telling Clarke, “If anything happens to her, you and me are gonna have problems.” Of course, nothing did happen to Octavia, but the energy of that confrontation was the same.)
All these parallels exist to show that Bellamy and Clarke have switched roles, which in its own way speaks to the sort of balance between them: when they were alone and things were peaceful, they both found that balance within themselves, but now with war once again threatening, they’ve become too much what the other was and they no longer fit together the way they used to. With tragic consequences.
There are several marked differences in Bellamy’s actions this episode and Clarke’s actions in seasons pass, which bear keeping in mind: while Clarke had no qualms about leaving Octavia to die (not just once, but multiple times), Bellamy has no intention of letting harm come to Madi; it was Madi’s choice and right to accept the Flame, whereas Clarke wrongfully claimed it for herself; and where Bellamy had always, always found it in his heart to forgive Clarke in years past, Clarke is unable to do the same and abandons him in Polis to fight for his life in Octavia’s gladiator ring.
This is the one parallel (if it can be called that) that hurts the most: when Clarke was chained up and set for execution the previous episode, Bellamy poisoned his sister to save her life, the life of a traitor who he loved. Now, with Bellamy in the same situation, Clarke chooses to run, leaving him to a fate that she seems to think he deserves.
I will say this for Clarke, though: when she walked into the room where the ascension was taking place and saw Madi’s unconscious body and Bellamy standing over it, she must have felt all her very worst fears come true. If the ascension ceremony hadn’t killed Madi, surely one of the grounders in that room would, and so her first priority became getting Madi out alive, Bellamy be damned.
Hopefully, out of danger and seeing that Madi is doing fine after the ascension ceremony, Clarke will feel remorse for what she did and take steps to get Bellamy out of Polis alive. Until then, though, I can’t quite find it in my heart to forgive her.
There is one final parallel that should be talked about: Clarke standing in front of Madi and shooting someone in the head who had been a danger to her, but wasn’t at present. This scene almost perfectly mimics the scene from the Season 5 premiere, when Clarke is willing to take no chances to ensure Madi’s safety. Then, killing the member of Eligius alerted the rest of the crew to their existence; here, she kills someone who would have followed and obeyed Madi as commander, thus losing them a potential ally.
“Why did you do that?”
“You know why.”
There are no good guys.
Le Morte d’Octavia
If there’s anything Octavia’s good at, it’s escaping from near death situations relatively unharmed (sometimes to the point of disbelief). And on each occasion, this “death” results in a rebirth of sorts, a transformation of character.
When she fell down a hillside and cracked her head open on a rock, that was the beginning of Octavia’s transformation into a warrior.
When she was stabbed in the side and fell off a cliff into shallow, rushing water (...I still can’t do the mental gymnastics needed to rationalize that one) she realized that “the darkness is all we have left”, as she rebuffed Bellamy once again and attempted to execute Ilian in the same way Lincoln was executed.
She was reborn in the blood of her enemies — Wonkru’s enemies — to become the iteration of Octavia we are familiar with now.
So after waking up from this almost-death — one bestowed upon her by her brother and her surrogate mother, the two people she loves most in the world — what kind of transformation will we see from Octavia next? Will she withdraw even further into the Blodreina persona or will she begin to come back to herself?
At the moment, I’m willing to bet the former. Being betrayed by those she loves, those she has made allowances for up to this point despite her “You are Wonkru or you are the enemy of Wonkru” hardline, is exactly why Octavia believes “love is weakness” and is going to do nothing to dissuade her from that idea.
Sentencing her brother, surrogate mother, and advisor to a fight to the death in which two of them must die doesn’t seem like something Octavia will ever be able to come back from, even if their actions were so traitorous that she had no other choice under the laws she created. The tears in her eyes as she declared her verdict suggest that there is still some of the old Octavia buried beneath the Blodreina mask, but is there enough there that it can even be recovered?
“Surrender. So you’re not just a traitor, you’re a coward. I’m ashamed of you.” This line shows more than any other how far into darkness Octavia has descended, and how drunk on power she’s become. She considers surrendering an appalling weakness; she would rather see herself maintain her crown than see all of her people safe and alive to the last habitable piece of land on Earth.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been far more invested in Octavia this season than I ever thought I would be. Every time Octavia goes through a rebirth, she emerges even darker than she was before, sinking more comfortably into the darkness that has always been present within her. A reversal of the butterflies she played with so reverently in Season 1. It’s refreshing to see the show commit to this aspect of Octavia, after several seasons of brushing it to the side in favour of her more heroic endeavors.
I’m not entirely opposed to the idea of them redeeming Octavia and I think it’s likely that they will, I only hope that they do so in a way that is satisfactory for her seasons-long arc that has led her to becoming the merciless leader she is now.
Let Him Cast the First Stone
The theme of betrayals and misunderstandings carries over into the Shallow Valley plotline, where Murphy, Raven, Emori, and Echo contrive to start a civil war between McCreary’s and Diyoza’s factions in order to create a distraction by which they might escape (taking Shaw with them, whom Raven has convinced Echo to let live). Unfortunately, it’s not until Kane arrives and informs them of Bellamy and Clarke’s negotiations for a surrender that they realize they provoked the wrong side.
From their perspective, Diyoza is the one enabling Abby’s addiction, she’s the reason they’re all in shock collars, and she’s the one who authorized Shaw’s punishment by beating. Despite Shaw telling Raven last episode that “Diyoza’s not as bad as you think,” Raven — and by extension, her friends — are firmly convinced that Diyoza is the one they need to take out.
Which is really too bad, given that Diyoza is also the one planning a new settlement with Kane, seeing about getting her people cured of their lung disease, and arranging a truce with Wonkru via Clarke and Bellamy. (Why hadn’t Kane thought of keeping Raven, at the very least, in the loop?)
Although Diyoza and most of her people make it out alive, McCreary ends up with possession of Abby, the greatest asset in that personal war. (Apparently, if you want to survive the apocalypse, you should become a doctor.) And McCreary makes clear his intentions to slaughter all of Wonkru once he’s taken care of Diyoza, making the peace Bellamy is striving so hard towards seeming more and more out of reach.
It’s not only within Wonkru, Eligius, and between Clarke and Bellamy that fractures are emerging, though: the four members of Spacekru currently in Shallow Valley are also showing cracks. Most noticeably between Echo and Raven, who have already disagreed previously over both betraying Shaw and killing him, and disagree over killing him once more here. (I’m fully on Raven’s side in this, by the way; a person is always more valuable alive than dead and Echo’s only plan of killing Shaw seems extremely short-sighted and is becoming tiresome.)
Although the four of them ultimately work together in helping incite rebellion and escape, Echo is clearly still unhappy that they decided to let Shaw live. It seems likely that this will continue to be a point of grievance between her and Raven going forward. With Murphy and Emori constantly at loggerheads, Monty and Harper stepping out of the group to live their life of peace on an algae farm, and Bellamy fighting for his life in the arena, the family from space doesn’t seem as united as they once were.
I just know Vinson’s serial-killing, hand-and-foot-trophy keeping ways are going to stir up trouble at some point here, but at the moment I’m kind of fond of him.
Murphy saying “Diyoza’s choosing who lives and who dies” brings back when Clarke said “We don’t decide who lives and who dies, not down here!” back in Season 1. Funnily enough, the person she was talking about in that instance was Murphy.
I love that Murphy more or less just...being Murphy is enough to start a civil war.
Didn’t find room to fit this in to the main part of my review, but the relationship budding between Raven and Shaw is warm enough to melt even the coldest of hearts (somehow, despite her threats to kill him). “That means you’ll never be safe. I don’t know why I care about that, but I do.”
The odds of Shaw surviving the season (although Raven deserves a love interest who doesn’t die!!!) are too low for my comfort, and I’ll let Michael Scott tell you how the thought of him dying makes me feel:
- “This is my masterpiece.” What a LINE from Murphy, even if I’m aggravated that he ruined the peace in the first place.
It’s almost disturbing how desperate Echo is to murder Shaw. Can she not think of any other plans?
Have you ever seen anything so badass as a five-month-pregnant Diyoza kicking ass and then casually announcing to McCreary that she’s pregnant with his daughter? With every episode that passes, I love her more.
The 100 airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.