The CW’s The 100, a show about hot teens in dystopia, has somehow become one of the most relevant shows on television. Currently airing a superb 4th season, it’s path to this point is almost unprecedented. The show starts off like The Hunger Games had just come out and done really well so everyone in the boardroom was sitting around going like “Okay guys, what do we got?” and all the CW had was The 100. The show kicks off a century after nuclear warfare has decimated the planet, and humanity’s remaining survivors have lived in orbit on a large space station. But now, even their station can’t support life for much longer. The governing body sends 100 hot teens who have been imprisoned for various crimes down to Earth to test the viability of returning to the ground. But when they get there, they find themselves at conflict with tribes of humans that have survived on Earth.
But even by the halfway point of the first season, it evolves quickly into something greater. The show, continually in each season, turns into a meditation on diplomacy and altruism in the face of human error. It’s what makes a lot of good sci fi work, it’s using the genre to deal with human problems. It’s gone from a knockoff of a popular wave of genre to one of the most complex and daring shows on television right now. Even though it dabbled in hashtag problematic territory with how it handled deaths of minority and LGBT characters last season, it managed to move past the outrage brigade and deliver compelling television.
The show is one of the best about not wasting characters and developing even the most one-sided into nuanced humans. The arcs of characters like Marcus Kane and Thelonious Jaha have seen tremendous transformation, finding new depth in characters originally rooted in a binary sense of good and bad. Side characters from season 3 like Roan and Luna have evolved into key characters this season. Even the worst of the worst villains have their reasons for doing what they do, and the showrunners/actors allow you to empathize each side. Take season 3’s Pike for example, the type of character that was basically Trump, rising to power of his clan through nationalist rhetoric. But even with Pike, you understood how he got to that point. Even when he was committing atrocities and rooting himself in unrest, you understood why he was doing it.
The show has worked its character into impossible situations and forced them to live with it, which doesn’t happen that often on television. I don’t want to spoil what happens in season 2, but the climax of it comes down to a character having to decide if they want to commit genocide to save their own people. I kept waiting for some sort of deus ex machina moment to save everyone and provide a happy ending, but it never came. Few shows have gone to such difficult places.
This season, in an intriguing turn, the main villain isn’t any one person or group, but nature itself. All the nuclear reactors that didn’t meltdown during the atomic bomb armageddon are now currently melting down, and will render the earth uninhabitable with radiation in under 6 months. One of the obstacles that the hot teens have had to overcome this season is convincing the clan leadership, who doesn’t believe in science, that they need to trust in science in order to save the human race. Say, why does that sound familiar?
I don’t know what this says about me, but I really respond to a specific subgenre of storytelling about characters trying to find reasons to keep living in a world that had been made unwhole – Children of Men, The Last of Us, The Leftovers. The 100 joins the rank of those works, because it knows how to mix unbearably dour circumstances with the audacity of hope. I’ve watched Children of Men multiple times since Trump’s election, because it seems to be one of the only works of art that understands where we are right now. The 100 seems to understand where we are right now as well. It uses despair to create an ultimately human, empathetic work. The central conflicts, while taking place in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, are rooted in empathy and bias. The whole show is essentially about trying to get along and achieve peace in a world that continually denies it. Each week, The 100 seems to point out new corollaries between itself and our reality. At a certain point, something terrifying dawns on you – The 100 isn’t about our fictional future, it’s about our immediate, horrifying present.