Heroes, Villains, and Humans on Season 5 of ‘The 100’
In many ways, Season 5 of The 100 feels like it’s taken a step back.
After the Season 4 finale launched us six years into the future, there was much excitement and speculation about the avenues this opened up for the show moving forward: There were new antagonists, returning from a deep space mining mission; an Earth ravaged by fire and radiation, aside from one small patch of green; and our main characters scattered, orbiting above the planet in what remained of the Ark, surviving above ground in the last remaining valley, or buried underground in a bunker that’s sealed shut by thousands of tons of rubble.
The time jump seemed the perfect place to kick off a new story, one about rebirth and unity instead of one about a tired war and tribalization. And yet, nearing the end of Season 5, we find ourselves in an achingly familiar place: entrenched in a war over a piece of land which has been claimed by two different peoples, and of which the only outcome seems to be total annihilation of one group.
The lesson for the audience, in this case, is the same one the characters have to learn: Expectations exceed reality. It is easier to dream of a better future than actually create it, especially when all forces are pushing against you. (This is especially evident with Bellamy, who finds himself marching to war despite every desperate action he took to stop it.) And the people who you have dreamed up to be heroes are only human after all.
Or worse, they’ve become the villain.
Alone on Earth with only a child for company, Clarke tells her found daughter of the heroic exploits of her friends in space and buried underground. She weaves fairytales out of the trials and tribulations they suffered through over their first months on the ground, and Madi’s introduction to Clarke’s friends is through these stories: she comes to see them as bigger than life. And, as time goes on, so does Clarke.
Bellamy left his sister in charge of 1,200 people and, in their last conversation with each other in Season 4, likened her to Prometheus, the Greek Titan who stole fire from the gods and became a champion of humanity. Bellamy’s faith in his sister is such that he has no doubt she’ll execute her role as leader of the largest remaining chunk of humanity admirably, and over the course of six years his memory of Octavia softens until he remembers her as something different than what she was.
Clarke herself becomes mythicized by the seven people trapped in space, the people she gave her life up to save; none more clearly than with Bellamy who, six years later, is still using Clarke’s last words to him and the memory of her sacrifice to drive his leadership decisions.
Time, separation, and nostalgia has a way of doing this to memories of people and places: the good is magnified and the bad is ignored. And one longs to return to a place or a person that no longer exists — or never did.
This idea is at the heart of all the character arcs in Season 5 of The 100; it drives the conflict and leaves audience members feeling off-balance and unfulfilled as characters struggle to learn each other again, to rewrite who that person had become in their memory with who they are now.
Let’s start with Clarke.
When Bellamy returns to Earth just in time to save her, it’s certainly as heroic as Clarke could have imagined, as he steps into the blinding light of the rover and deftly bargains for her survival and the rescue of their loved ones from the bunker. It’s not until she witnesses his reunion with Echo that Clarke begins to realize that the Bellamy she reunited with is not the same one she left six years ago: he’s developed relationships and histories that she will never be privy to.
(Interestingly, this is paralleled almost exactly with Bellamy’s reunion with his sister, where he descends into the bunker through the blinding sunlight to rescue Octavia and the others from the bunker, and it’s witnessing his reunion with Echo — whom Octavia has every reason to hate — that makes her realize Bellamy has changed.)
But Clarke still trusts him, despite the fact that he’s no longer the “old Bellamy”; she trusts him to take care of Madi and keep her safe despite the fact that he now has another family to take care of. It’s not until he betrays this trust, and actively (in Clarke’s mind) puts Madi in danger that things take a sharp turn for the worse.
Because this isn’t the Bellamy she remembers, this isn’t the Bellamy she spent six years sending radio calls to, this isn’t the Bellamy she told Madi was a hero; this is someone else. Someone unrecognizable.
It’s been over six years since she last felt like she couldn’t trust Bellamy Blake.
Clarke leaves him in Polis because she feels like, despite the planet once again being populated by people she knows, Madi is the only person she actually has. Madi is the only person that matters. Six years ago, Clarke wouldn’t have left Bellamy behind to die — in fact, she often put everything on the line to ensure he would survive — but that’s not the same Bellamy she’s leaving behind now. And she’s not the same Clarke.
It’s this same mindset that leads Clarke to betray Wonkru and Spacekru, team up with the enemy in McCreary, and, on a more personal level, fight with Echo and allow Raven to be imprisoned: everyone she’d once known has changed beyond recognition and Madi is all she has left.
For Spacekru — especially those who don’t reunite with Clarke until several weeks after landing on the ground — Clarke is certainly not the person they remember, the person whose sacrifice hovered over their heads for six years. How could the person who had sacrificed everything to keep them alive be so willing to sacrifice them in turn now?
Bellamy alone has the best understanding of who Clarke is now, because he sees in her fierce protection of Madi a reflection of his own protection of Octavia. Perhaps he even understands why she left him, and forgives her. But that doesn’t change the fact that during their time together in Polis, he and Clarke were unable to reconnect, unable to understand each other the way they once had.
Simple misunderstanding is at the root of most of the problems between Bellamy and Clarke this season. Where Bellamy assumes that Clarke is part of his family unit and that they’re working together as they always have, Clarke feels left out and separately plans her escape with Madi. When Bellamy emphasizes his desire to save his family, Clarke assumes that she and Madi are sacrifices he’d be willing to make to reach that end. And when he goes through with making Madi commander, Clarke is certain that assumption is right, even though Bellamy is just doing everything he can to make peace a reality — and keep Clarke safe.
But while Bellamy may still understand Clarke, he no longer recognizes his sister. The girl he had compared to Prometheus is gone, replaced by a devil dressed in blood — a tyrannical leader who sentences people to death in a fighting pit, who marches ceaselessly towards a war she cannot win, who takes away all of her people’s choices but one: follow her, or die. Bellamy spends much of the season struggling to find the sister he knew beneath the rubble from which the mask of Blodreina is forged, only to eventually come to terms with the fact that that Octavia is gone — dead, in the Red Queen’s own words.
The message The 100 delivers is a consistent one: there are no heroes, there are only flawed and fallible humans doing their best to keep their loved ones safe, sometimes at cost to the world around them. This season, that message is a particularly hard one to learn, as the six year time jump instilled hope in viewers and characters alike that this time around, things would be different; history would not be doomed to repeat; people would be the heroes we had made them out to be.
Madi is the one who verbalizes this disparity, as she consistently has to temper the heroes she’s built up in her mind through Clarke’s stories with the living people she’s introduced to over the course of the season. Being a child, Madi still believes in heroes and good guys, and she still thinks these real people can live up to their mythic potential. The others, more careworn and war-torn, are no longer as optimistic.
The question, heading into tonight’s season finale and looking forward to Season 6, is this: will our characters be able to accept and welcome each other for who they are now, not who they were? Will they be able to let go of old bonds and forge new ones?
Will they be able to, finally, move beyond the ghosts of all that has come before, and instead look ahead to the rebirth of a new world?
The Season 5 Finale of The 100 airs Tuesday, August 7 at 8/7c on The CW.