[This is a review of The 100 season 4 premiere. There will be SPOILERS]
The characters on The 100 have always had to contend with one apocalypse or another. When the series kicked off, the show followed a group of 100 teenaged criminals who were sent to Earth from the space station they had lived on their whole lives -- where they believed lived the last remaining humans following a nuclear apocalypse on the planet. But in the ensuing seasons, the 100 and their leader Clarke Griffin (Eliza Taylor) have had to contend with Grounders, the collective at Mount Weather, the crash landing of the Ark space station, and an artificial intelligence called ALIE.
Through it all, Clarke -- with help from friends like Bellamy Blake (Bob Morley) and Raven Reyes (Lindsey Morgan) - has tried to make the right decisions in order to keep her people alive. In the season 3 finale of The 100, Clarke's decision included destroying ALIE, along with the hope of the Grounders and the Sky People under the A.I.'s control from living in the utopic -- but not real -- City of Light. However, ALIE predicted a new apocalypse that will plague the Earth, spelling death for Clarke and everyone else.
Now, in the season 4 premiere of The 100, 'Echoes' -- written by showrunner Jason Rothenberg and directed by Dean White -- Clarke must attempt to help her people move forward in the wake of ALIE's destruction and with the prophecy of another apocalypse hanging over their heads. But, considering all the bad blood between characters at the end of season 3, particularly Bellamy and his sister Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos), the task may prove even harder than it appears.
In its first three seasons, The 100 regularly excelled at taking a bad situation and making it worse - often subverting expectations of teen-geared dramas for the series' tendency toward the harder path, necessitating and mirroring Clarke's own decisions. However, where The 100 has most often faltered is in execution. In season 3 alone this was evidenced by three separate character arcs: Bellamy, Lincoln (Ricky Whittle), and Lexa (Alycia Debnam Carey). In the case of both Lincoln and Lexa, the characters were given storylines that ultimately lead to their deaths - in large part due to the actors receiving work elsewhere that conflicted with The 100. While it seemed the writers attempted to give both characters a worthy enough sendoff, neither death was earned by their respective storylines.
Bellamy, meanwhile, was given a girlfriend in the season 3 premiere (which picked up a few months after season 2 ended) only to watch her die and turn against his friends as a result. The arc was rushed and not particularly well executed. And, by the end of season 3, Bellamy had seemingly earned back his place among his people. Or, at least, the fight against ALIE meant his friends couldn't forsake a willing ally whose mind wasn't under the A.I.'s control.
Now, in the season 4 premiere, The 100 does a lot of work to set up a new world order of sorts after the fallout from season 3. Prior to her death, Lexa served as Commander of the Grounder coalition -- which included 12 Grounder clans and the recently added 13th made up of the Sky People -- and her demise left a power vacuum. The role of the Commander was also tied to ALIE and Clarke needed to kill the new Commander in order to destroy the ALIE program. With no Commander, the Grounder capital of Polis is in chaos when season 4 begins, and the Ice Nation Grounder clan lays claim to it -- Echo (Tasya Teles) in the stead of King Rowan (Zach McGowan), who is badly injured.
The complex political situation Clarke finds herself in during 'Echoes' is largely a continuation of season 3. There was much debate before and after Lexa's death about whether the Sky People should be allowed in the coalition, and the Commander to take Lexa's place - Ontari, who murdered the other would-be commanders in order to take the position for herself - refused to honor their inclusion. However, though it seemed Clarke and her friends have gotten themselves into an impossible situation, she manages to figure a way out by saving Rowan's life and convincing him to honor their alliance (made during season 3). It's a somewhat simple solution to the convoluted problem of the Grouders' political climate, and one that likely won't last for long.
Perhaps the more intriguing elements of the season 4 premiere are those involving the next apocalypse. As ALIE foretold, the world would be decimated by nuclear meltdown in six months time and, though Clarke may have been holding out hope the A.I. was wrong, Raven is able to double check the data and finds the same results. Further proving the radiation from the world's nuclear plants will kill everyone, 'Echoes' ends with a surviving Grounder in Egypt reaching the top of a sand dune and being burned alive by the radiation storm on the other side.
However, this is a truly catastrophic problem - in the most literal sense of the term - and unlike anything Clarke, her people, or the Grounders have faced before. As Rowan tries to argue, if Grounders survived the last apocalypse, they can survive this one. But, that final scene proves they can't. Of course, there seem to be a few obvious ways the people of Earth could survive: Build another space station or return to Mount Weather. Both were how humans survived the last apocalypse, and it's likely The 100 will explore why these may or may not be viable options in the coming episodes.
But, no matter how season 4 unfolds, it's clear The 100 has chosen the hardest path yet again - by pitting its characters against their most formidable problem yet, one with no solution in sight. The question of season 4 doesn't seem to be how will Clarke save her people this time, but whether Clarke will be able to save them at all. Of course, the latter has seemed to be the question before and Clarke almost always managed a way, even if her way was despicable - she didn't earn the title of Wanheda (commander of death) for nothing.
Still, given The 100's track record with execution, especially in season 3, it remains to be seen how season 4 will be resolved. The heart and soul of the show has always been the struggle between doing what's right and surviving, which, more of often than not, don't go hand in hand. This theme has most often been epitomized in the amount of blood and destruction Clarke has racked up. But, with so much dirt on her hands, is there really a darker place to which she can go? The apocalypse of season 4 seems poised to answer just that question.
The 100 continues with 'Heavy Lies the Crown' next Wednesday February 8 at 9pm on The CW.