In The CW’s new series “The 100,” a group of juvenile prisoners are secretly exiled from a dying Ark – 12 linked space stations housing the survivors of nuclear holocaust – and onto Earth’s surface to test if our planet is habitable again. Though I’m not in the typical demographic for this show, I’ve always enjoyed post-apocalyptic stories of ordinary people fighting to come out ahead against a fierce environment and the conflicts that arise within themselves and between others.
As a writer I appreciate how the show has created strong characters, dividing them into opposing factions, all fighting multiple enemies from within and without. Some are likeable, some not. True to the show’s tagline – Survival isn’t who you are. It’s who you become. – we see characters changing after only a few episodes. Gray areas are beginning to smudge the lines between good and bad, right and wrong.
Also as a writer, I’m aware of the need for throwing in complications, adding hooks and cliffhangers, planting clues, using backstory. These are elements writers use to tell a story and keep a reader or viewer engaged. But the best stories are those told as if they’re telling themselves, not as if someone else is telling them. In other words, we should not see the puppet master manipulate the strings.
Episode three “Earth Kills” took me by surprise (perhaps if I’d noticed the title ahead of time I could have prepared myself). But I wasn’t bothered by the act of the mercy killing and murder included in the episode. I see plenty of blood and guts while cringing my way through “The Walking Dead.” I suppose if someone I knew had suffered for hours under the onslaught of acid rain and then begged to be killed, I might comply. No, my problem came later when 13-year-old Charlotte murders Wells, an important character who had just been redeemed in viewers’ eyes and proved himself to be the best kind of friend.
I can overlook teenagers who race through a forest without showing signs of fatigue even though they had lived their lives confined in a space station (must have been those strong, energetic teen bodies). And let it slide when a river monster lets a character go free when the creature should have torn the girl to pieces (it got confused or she tasted bad). Or accept that a fatal spear wound to the chest could be healed by unusual herbs (irradiated herbs after all). But…in Charlotte’s case, not enough time was devoted to showing her fall into a mental abyss. Even though we see her suffer from nightmares of her parents’ death, sleep deprivation, hunger, and isolation, it still wasn’t enough to justify her actions in the final scene. It might have worked for me if the writers had given it one more episode to show her dealing with these issues, as well as her declining mental state. As it is, Charlotte witnesses a mercy killing and learns the mantra “kill your demons” – and then proceeds to murder Wells because his father killed her parents. I was stunned. I did not see it coming.
What science fiction does best is apply the “what ifs” to a storyline to help us consider what it is to be human through the lives of characters thrown into every sort of situation. These kinds of stories unfold naturally from scene to scene, each one building on the other. With this episode of “The 100” I saw writers tossing plot lines around trying to complicate and maneuver for shock value and to make viewers believe that not even their favorite character is safe. I saw, too clearly, the puppet strings.
Now I have to decide if I’ll continue to watch the rest of the series.
Final note: I am disappointed that Wells is gone, but maybe he could pull a Spock thing and come back to life – but not actually as Spock because that would just be silly, but maybe those healing herbs could seep into Wells body and reanimate him, like, maybe…a zombie, but not actually a zombie because that would just be silly, too, but maybe Wells could just wake up surrounded by glowing butterflies, because the butterflies have healing powers, too, and it was, after all, just a dream….