The end of The 100 season 4 promised big changes on the horizon. After all, when you turn the setting of your series into a barren, radioactive wasteland, you’re going to have to shuffle things around a bit. And the start of the new season is a little like the show has hit the reset button, as characters who may have grown comfortable in their roles and within the dynamics of several larger groups have all been forced to reconfigure in order to survive. Some, like Bellamy (Bob Morley) and his crew have returned to space, while most of the others have moved underground. Meanwhile, Clarke (Eliza Taylor) has not only managed to survive the nuclear fallout, she’s discovered her own Eden and made a new, potentially more fulfilling life for herself by becoming a surrogate mother to a young girl named Madi (Lola Flanery).
That’s a pretty big shift in the series’ status quo, as the time jump sends everyone forward six years in time, so as to not have to deal with all that pesky radiation and whatnot. But the season premiere doesn’t jump forward right off the bat. Instead, it holds off on seeing what the future brings to better focus on Clarke’s journey after making the ultimate sacrifice at the end of season 4. What should have otherwise been a death sentence for the character turns into an entirely new lease on life, one that only begins after she’s spent some time going through her own personal Mad Max-like scenario.
For the hour to focus almost entirely on Clarke is a smart decision, as the character’s newfound circumstances deliver the most emotional bang for the viewers’ proverbial buck. In the wake of the devastation that’s obliterated almost all life on the planet, Clarke’s journey has the kind of emotional gravity the series needs in order to have the greatest impact while revealing the state of the show’s unique world. In short, it’s not good. Clarke wanders through the wreckage of the Earth for months before discovering an untouched valley, while essentially knocking on death’s door. It’s basically the valley from Z For Zachariah, complete with its own lone survivor. This time, however, its a half-feral girl named Madi.
Madi and Clarke’s introduction goes about as well as any first-time introduction does on The 100, with Clarke falling into a bear trap and Madi attempting to stab her. Not one to let a bad first impression ruin a friendship between who might be the only two living humans on the planet, Clarke tries again, and eventually wins the child over with her artistic skills. From there, the series jumps forward six years. You know this because Clarke has a new haircut and she can spear a fish in a lake while still standing on the shore. The transition is almost exactly the one Robert Zemeckis used to jump five years ahead in Cast Away. This time, though, it’s debatable whether or not Clarke and Madi want to be found.
With a title like ‘Eden,’ it’s pretty clear where the show figures Clarke stands on the matter, and as is usual, The 100 isn’t interested in watching as one of its characters finds peace and happiness. But the season premiere does spend more time than is expected with Clarke in her new role as mother and in the tiny bit of paradise she’s carved out with Madi. All of that builds up to an acute sense of loss when a group aboard a prisoner transport ship shows up out of nowhere, ready to claim Clarke’s Eden for their very own.
The arrival of the transport ship is tantamount to an invasion, and The 100 is keen to treat it as such. Despite the heavy emphasis on Clarke throughout much of the episode, the premiere really is about redefining the status quo. But the relatively small amount of time actually dedicated to the other groups winds up being one of the premiere’s best moves. Up in space, Bellamy has assumed a leadership role with the small group who managed to escape, and though they’ve been working to find a way back down to the planet, it’s really the arrival of the prison ship that becomes their saving grace. It looks very different from the ground, however, as the group, led by Ivana Mlilicevic’s Charmaine Diyoza, has zero qualms with announcing their arrival with a military-style show of force, even if it’s Clarke who draws first blood.
But that’s just The 100 keeping it 100 (sorry). The show excels at being a conflict engine, and although the season 5 premiere may have taken a slight detour and given Clarke a six-year break from familiar external threats, it’s clear how easily the writers’ room slips the characters back into a comfortable rhythm. That rhythm is, of course, all about making things as difficult as possible for the core cast of characters. Keeping them apart for the hour is a smart move, as it seems like it may take at least another episode before Bellamy, Murphy, and the others are back on the planet. That leaves plenty of room for the series to delve into what’s going on in the bunker, as the brief glimpse into that dark and brutal world proved to be a strong tease that was worth the wait.
If anything, the season 5 premiere proved that time jumps can offer more than just intrigue as to what transpired since the characters were last seen. Here is brings the characters into maturity and points them in a new direction, one that’s as uncertain as ever thanks to a massive shakeup in the status quo.
The 100 continues next Tuesday with ‘Red Queen’ @9pm on The CW.
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