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The 100 5x11 "The Dark Year" Review

The 100 5x11 "The Dark Year" Review

Episode 11 picks up where Episode 10 left off, shortly after Clarke’s found her mother unconscious from an overdose. With Madi’s help, she pumps Abby’s stomach and gets her conscious again, but Abby is ashamed of her state, much as she was after coming out of the City of Light in Season 3. At Abby’s recommendation, Clarke ties Abby down and administers an opioid blocker to put her into detox quickly. As Abby fades in and out of consciousness, we see her flash back to two years after Praimfaya, the beginning of the ominously-named Dark Year.

Everything in the flashbacks is filmed with a shorter focal length than normal, with lots of camera tilts, giving everything an unsteady, upsetting feeling. A fungus has destroyed the soybean crop, meaning they have no source of protein. Cooper was able to salvage some seeds, but it’ll take a year before they can eat from them again. And if they don’t get 10% of their calories from protein, Abby says, they’ll starve.

Abby immediately knows that they need to eat the executed criminals, suggesting it so quickly that it seems she must have thought ahead to this possibility. It’s ironic that Abby used the horror of cannibalism to convince the Sky People to let the grounders back into the main part of the bunker during "Red Queen" (remember, she painted a pretty horrific picture for Cooper about how as the people starved, they’d turn to cannibalism) only to have to encourage cannibalism less than two years later.

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A group of people sit in the bunker, palm-sized cubes of a red, gelatinous substance before them on each of their lunch trays. Octavia takes the first bite, encouraging the rest to do the same, but Kane stands up and tells them that it’s their choice. Several people get up and leave along with Kane. But Abby later tells Octavia that she can’t allow them to abstain from eating; if they do, they’ll starve to death, but their muscles will atrophy and there won’t be enough meat on them to eat. She doesn’t even want Octavia to make an exception for Kane, because she knows that he’s the key.

At the next meal, Octavia confronts those who refuse to eat, ultimately shooting and killing several, before Kane breaks and takes a bite, which leads the rest of the people to. Octavia and Abby knew that Kane wouldn’t break if Octavia threatened to kill him, but he would do it to save other people’s lives.

As Abby detoxes, she becomes cruel, struggling against the restraints that she had Clarke put on her. Much like when Raven was possessed by ALIE, Abby tears into Clarke for being the one who decides who lives and who dies and tries to convince Madi to stop Clarke from continuing the detox. Once she gets through the worst of it, and out of her Dark Year flashbacks, however, Abby confides in her daughter what she had been responsible for and why she became addicted to the pain medication.

The detox works, and Abby is able to resume her work curing the miners. Madi is less than thrilled that they’re helping McCreary, and tries to sneak up and stab him while he’s on the examination table. Clarke sees the knife and heads her off, but Madi can’t understand why Clarke is siding with McCreary over Octavia. “She bore it so they didn’t have to,” she says, echoing Dante Wallace’s and Clarke’s words from the past. We never saw Clarke say the phrase to Lexa, so the few hours the Flame was in Clarke’s head must have been enough for it to record her memories as well as those of the past commanders. But Octavia didn’t bear anything for her people; clearly Wonkru is still traumatized. “We’re on the wrong side of this war,” Madi claims, but Clarke says, “But you get to live.” Madi echoes Abby’s words, asking how they can live with themselves.

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Most of Spacekru, Kane, and Zeke are all hiding out in a cave with Diyoza and her people. As they try to set up a radio so they can contact Bellamy, they realize that McCreary’s men are mobilizing at the entry points to the valley, which means Wonkru must be marching. Echo manages to get in touch with Bellamy, both of them speaking Trig in case McCreary’s men intercept it. Bellamy points out that if Clarke is with McCreary, she could translate, and Echo says that she’ll “deal with Clarke later.”

(Girl, if Bellamy was willing to poison his own sister to keep her safe, I highly doubt he’s gonna let you “deal” with her. But at Conageddon, Tasya Teles teased that there would be a big action sequence between Clarke and Echo.) Echo takes charge and leads Raven, Murphy, and Emori out to scout for ways for the Wonkru army to get into the valley and defeat McCreary. Kane wants to come, but Echo refuses, saying he has to earn her trust. (Funny, since she hasn’t really earned anyone else’s.)

As the four Spacekru members crouch in the snow at the top of a pass, watching Eligius building gunner positions, Murphy spots a box of guns and ammunition. “They can’t shoot us with what they don’t have,” he points out, so they creep over to steal them. But they get caught and surrounded. Just as they think they’re about to die, Zeke bursts out of the underbrush and offers a trade: himself for their lives. The Eligius men decide to take him and still kill the others, but as they grab Zeke, he surprises them with his hand-to-hand fighting skills and kills them all. He tries to talk to Raven, but she’s furious and storms off.

It’s possible that him offering to surrender himself reminded her of Finn’s surrendering to the grounders and subsequent death, and Raven avoids Zeke because she’s realizing her feelings for him. After they report their findings to Diyoza, she realizes she dropped her notebook when they were fleeing — a notebook that had plans for every possibility she could think of. And we all know how brilliant she is. She does manage to think of one plan, but we don’t get to hear it yet…

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When Octavia’s army first starts their march, Bellamy and Indra warn her that she’s leading them into a trap, because McCreary knows they’re coming, but she doesn’t care. When they later get the plan from Echo, Octavia seems grateful to Echo for once, and tries to reconnect with her brother (who has just ignored a proffered hand from Miller). Bellamy tells Octavia that his terms for helping her are that they accept Eligius’ surrender; no executions, no fighting pits, and that they live in peace.

Octavia agrees, upset that he doesn’t think that’s what she wants, and says that they’re back to how they’re meant to be: fighting side by side. But Bellamy has had enough and tells her, “I’m not fighting for you. I’m fighting to get back to my family.” He leaves as tears rise in Octavia’s eyes, and she angrily tells Indra that once they’re in the valley, everything they’ve had to do will be worth it. “I hope you’re right,” Indra responds.

Four days later, the night before the war, Diyoza’s people and Spacekru are all in their position in the woods, ready to put their plan in motion in just a few short hours. Zeke approaches Raven, asking why she’s mad at him for saving her life. She continues to ignore him, so he starts to walk away, only to be stopped by Raven grabbing his jacket and pulling him in for a kiss. “I’m not mad at you for saving my life, I’m mad at you for making me care about yours.”

They kiss again, and we see Echo watching in the background. Emori sits down next to her and slings an arm around her shoulders, assuring her that she and Bellamy will be together soon. But this doesn’t seem to make Echo feel any better; is she realizing that everything did change on the ground, despite Bellamy’s assurances otherwise? She goes over the plan one last time, and the shot of her map transitions into the map Bellamy is using to go over the plan with Octavia and her generals.

The night before the war, Bellamy sits alone by a fire, his hand on Echo’s sword sheath. He’s lost Octavia, he’s lost Clarke; Echo and Spacekru are all he has. Monty joins him, and they discuss the future. Once the war is won, Spacekru will take 80 acres separate from the others. “Grow something other than algae,” he teases Monty.

But of course, things aren’t going to go as planned. The last few episodes have set up a very similar plot to Mount Weather in Season 2, and right on schedule comes the betrayal. Kane and Diyoza come to McCreary to doublecross Octavia; Kane would rather have the monster win the valley than the devil.

Abby’s Addiction

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Let me start this section by saying that I’ve been kind of uncomfortable with Abby’s storyline ever since her addiction was introduced. With this being my last episode to review and it being nearly the end of the season, I decided it was time to address it. My heart sank a little when we saw her take pain medication on-screen in 5x02, “Red Queen,” because more often than not, onscreen pain medication use leads to an addiction storyline. And in my opinion, these storylines contribute to the stigma surrounding pain medication, specifically opioids.

In this episode Diyoza says, “Opiates are a bitch. Back in the service, I lost more men to pills than war.” (Let me just say that when you’re in the kind of pain that tylenol and mindfulness won’t do a thing for, opioids are definitely not “a bitch.”) Yes, of course opioid addiction is a very real and serious thing that many people deal with. But as someone with chronic pain who has a prescription for codeine (an opioid) for as-needed pain relief, I know that the panic around the opioid epidemic has made it exponentially more difficult for people with chronic pain to get the pain relief they need.

Statistically, addiction is far more likely to happen with patients with acute (temporary) pain who get over-prescribed opioid pain medications than it is with chronic pain patients, which is one thing The 100 got right with Abby’s storyline. She did have some longer-term pain from being removed from the City of Light, as Raven did, and she started taking the pain meds then. But after she fixed the source of the headaches, she continued taking them. If they had done this with Raven (who still has chronic pain), I’d have been very upset.

But why does this matter, Michaela, you ask, it’s just a TV show. Well, let me talk about something happening in the US right now. Currently before Oregon Medicaid is a plan to force a taper to 0 mg of all opioid-receiving pain patients. If this plan goes through, every person with chronic pain in the state of Oregon will no longer have access to much-needed pain relief, with the replacement treatments being cognitive behavior therapy, acupuncture, mindfulness, pain acceptance, and treatment with non-opioid medications, such as Tylenol.

Now, if these things work for you, great! But opioids are generally only prescribed to chronic pain patients after exhausting many other possibilities. My old primary care physician refused to prescribe me a low dose of codeine (the most mild of the opioid pain medications) for times when my pain was high enough that I couldn’t stand it — and I (and most chronic pain patients) have a pretty high pain tolerance — even when no other options would help.

I’ll stop before I get on too much of a soapbox here, but basically: television has an impact on society, as I’m sure everyone in this fandom knows. And when every character who ever uses pain medication long-term on television is an addict (another notable example is Dr. House from House, MD), the general public, who don’t know any people with chronic pain, are going to associate long-term pain medication use with addiction, which only hurts pain patients further. While Paige Turco is absolutely doing an incredible acting job as Abby, I’m disappointed in The 100 for perpetuating this.

Something that could have made this storyline work is showing Abby’s point of view on it, but instead we only see her addiction through the eyes of other characters and how it affects them; Kane, Diyoza, and Raven, for example. This storyline feels like something pulled from a different show and not successfully woven in with this narrative, unlike the other addiction storylines we’ve seen (Jasper’s alcoholism and wanting to stay in the City of Light, and to an extent, Raven’s City of Light story). Because it’s not successfully done, Abby’s storyline only takes time away from other plots that are more central to the story.

There Are No Good Guys

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Octavia continues to cry out “CHOOSE,” but consistently takes away her people’s choice. She asks for her advisors to give her another choice, but when there is one clearly available, she refuses to take it. As Clarke pointed out in Season 4, “only choice” is an oxymoron.

While it’s true that there wasn’t really another choice during the Dark Year when they needed a source of protein, she has certainly had other options since then, most notably that Wonkru could have survived in Polis once Monty got the hydrofarm running, with the long-term plan of using his algae to make the soil fertile again. But rather than giving her people the option to stay there and live in peace, or to surrender to Diyoza and live in the valley in peace, Octavia burned down the hydrofarm to force the war she’s been hankering for.

Octavia keeps thinking about the next thing; “Once we get in the bunker, things will be better.” “Once I unite the clans, things will be better.” “Once we get through the Dark Year, things will be better.” “Once we get out of the bunker, things will be better.” “Once we get to the valley, things will be better.” It’s never-ceasing, and things never are better. If Wonkru wins the battle for the valley, there will just be another thing, and Octavia will continue doing more and more horrible things.

As Clarke said in the season premiere, “what happens to the Commander of Death when there is no one left to kill?” Clarke was able to wash away the pain of the past and start fresh (as much as one can after going through what she has), but I don’t see any realistic way that Octavia will be able to — all the huge moments that could have snapped her out of her tyrannical state have had no effect on her, and she has just dug herself further into the darkness.

Abby is doing this to an extent, too — in the promo for 5x12, “Damocles Pt 1,” we see her repeat, “First we survive, then we find our humanity again.” But what happens if you’ve gone too far? What a contrast it is from Season 1 when Marcus told her, “I choose at every turn and at every cost to make sure that the human race stays alive,” and Abby responded, “That’s the difference between us, Kane. I make sure we deserve to stay alive.”

That’s still the difference between them, though their roles have switched. Marcus knows that there are some lines you can’t uncross, and would rather die than lose his humanity and compromise his morals. But Abby wants to survive at any cost, and even encourages Octavia to do something unthinkable — execute those who won’t become cannibals — to keep Wonkru alive.

The show’s insistence that “there are no good guys” also conversely implies that there are no bad guys, which isn’t the case. Moral greyness has always been a The 100 specialty, but this season they’re trying to make it all equally grey, when in fact some things are still black and white. There are good people, and there are bad people, and there are people in between — none of them is innocent, to quote Maya Vie, and none of them is 100% evil. They all do have their reasons for what they’ve done, and while we’ve seen two flashbacks of how Octavia became Blodreina, this in no way excuses what she — or any of the characters — has done. As Jake Peralta would say, “Cool motive, still murder.”

Looks Like Meat’s Back on the Menu, Boys

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A big question raised by "The Dark Year" is whether cannibalism is ever morally acceptable. For me, the answer is “possibly.” While I would never be okay with killing people just to eat them, if the people were already dead (from a non-transferrable cause) and I were starving, I would probably be okay with it — I’ve never attached all that much significance to a body once it’s dead.

But what Octavia did (at Abby’s advice) — killing anyone who refused to eat the human flesh before them — was objectively morally wrong, no matter how much the show tries to push the “there are no good/bad guys” theme. And forcing a fight to the death as punishment for crimes, and then EATING THE LOSERS is just awful. I mean, as harsh as the Ark was, they executed people humanely. I feel like there must have been better options for entertainment than actual gladiator fights — too bad they killed the guy with the guitar in the "Red Queen" flashback.

Before Season 5 premiered, the cast teased that there was a scene that made everyone on set sick, and I’m guessing that was the cannibalism flashback. Those weird jello cubes looked pretty gross, and with the association of them as human flesh… well, you can imagine. Also, what was with the perfect tuna-sashimi-looking cubes?! Like, if you have to eat people, at least try to make it not-gross. Cut it up and put it in the soup; make tacos out of it; ANYTHING but just a hunk of raw-looking grossness.

Human flesh would not be safe to eat raw, so they must have treated it in some way; my roommate suggested that it looks like it may have been ground it up and made it into a spam-like food. Mechanically-separated people, if you will. Yummy. “I’ll have a Big Gulp of highly-filtered urine and some Bunker Nuggets!” “Would you like Palm Frites or Ta-toe Tots with that? Any Man-na Cotta for dessert?” (You have my roommate to blame for that one.)

It’s possible that they intentionally dwelt on the meat as being human to keep from normalizing it, in contrast to Mount Weather hiding the grounders from sight and sanitizing the whole process, dissociating from what they were actually doing. After so long of using grounders to filter their blood, the residents of Mount Weather were mostly okay with it, whereas the people in the bunker are still horrified and traumatized five years later from the cannibalism.

And it’s a good thing that they didn’t normalize it — many fans think they might still be supplementing their rations with human flesh, but I don’t think they are, because it was always a necessary-but-horrific thing. And in Mount Weather, they allowed people with moral objections to abstain from the blood transfusions, but that came back to bite them because those same people helped the delinquents overthrow the mountain. I wonder if Abby had this in mind when she encouraged Octavia to enforce the cannibalism, breaking the people’s spirits and forcing unity.

An Echo in Space

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Before Season 5 premiered, we were told many times by actors, writers, and other crew on The 100 that Echo would be much changed from where she was before the time jump, and that she would be an integral part of the self-titled Spacekru who we would love. But honestly, nearly every time Echo is on screen I find myself rolling my eyes.

The rest of Spacekru keep talking about how she proved herself during the six years they were in space, but really, those six years were more like stasis. There were no enemies to fight, no options for betrayal. They simply lived. But now that they’re back on the ground, with outside forces exerting pressure on their little family, Echo has been slipping back into her old ways, betraying Raven’s trust in Shaw, threatening to kill him despite Raven’s pleas, saying she’ll “deal with Clarke,” and all-around just...not being very likeable.

It’s no secret that I ship Bellarke, but my dislike of Echo barely even has anything to do with her relationship with Bellamy. Back at the end of Season 2, when she was introduced, I was intrigued and actually thought a relationship between her and Bellamy could be interesting. Her character has had so much potential, but keeps falling flat. Imagine if she had decided to stay behind when Lexa ordered the retreat from Mount Weather, because she believed that it was wrong, like Lincoln did.

I mean, if we even had a single flashback of her so-called “proving” herself in space, I could swallow it. When she decided to “defect” to Eligius and spy, and hid the flash drive in the other woman’s bullet wound, I was excited to see her actually be the spy she’s been described as, but again, she betrayed the one friend they had as well as Raven’s trust (side note: it’s been said multiple times that Echo and Raven are close, but I’ve seen no evidence of that). Echo continues to be just that; an echo, continuing old habits and rarely showing any dimension.

Zaven

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The best moment of the episode was undoubtedly when Raven pulled Zeke (still not calling him Miles) over to herself for a kiss, after avoiding him for four days. She’d realized when he put his life in danger to save hers that she cared for him, and finally acted on her feelings. Many fans of Raven’s had been shipping the two ever since Jordan Bolger’s character was announced for Season 5 and described as “a self-professed adrenaline junkie brimming with brains, wit and bravado.”

It’s been nearly three seasons since Raven has had a love interest, and has had to go through some incredibly difficult things by herself. Of course, romantic love isn’t all that matters, but the girl deserves to kiss a cute boy every now and then. I’m going to be pretty upset if Zeke doesn’t survive the season, after everything they’ve put Raven through. He and Diyoza have been such a wonderful addition to the cast, especially as characters from closer to the present, and I sincerely hope to see both of them (and Diyoza’s baby) in Season 6!

Honorable mentions:

  • I loved the guy who said “Brother, it took me 10 minutes to find rewind.” MAKE HIM A MAIN IN SEASON 6.

  • More cannibal puns we didn’t have room for: Cadaviar, Spicy Vinda-Who?, Blood Sausage, Gingerbread Men, Steamed Muscles, Split We Soup, Toe-Furky, Manwich, Dead Velvet Cupcakes, Serf and Turf, Man-icotti, Chili Con Carnage

  • I’ve been excited to get a good look at Bellamy’s new outfit for quite a while, partly because I’m an artist and partly because he looks darn good in that armor.

  • I’m SO HERE for Bellamy deciding he’s had enough of Octavia’s treatment of him.

  • When Echo told Shaw “You can stay,” I actually laughed out loud. She’s not really in charge of that, and he and Raven have been pretty allied for a while now.

The 100 airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.

Michaela’s episode rating: 🐝🐝🐝

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