There comes a moment in ‘Join or Die’ when I understood the writers of The 100 are constantly swimming against the current when trying to propel its story and characters forward. In this episode, we’re treated to a flashback where a portion of our initial hundred are being given a lesson in Earth Survival by Pike just before they’re shipped to Earth to fend for themselves. In execution, it’s a ham-fisted course-correction where we receive vital information about a season and a half too late with information that’s all-too-convenient given our characters’ current circumstances. On the page, it feels like a necessary course-correction in order to get the audience back on the side of these people, yet still not giving us an easy way out. For the wayward direction of most of season three, ‘Join or Die’ is a welcome attempt at trying to guide this crash landing.
I think it’s been painfully obvious for a while that Pike as an antagonist would eventually take a backseat to the awful City of Light. The manner of that shift is clunky but is also interesting in that it sees all of the people on the ground, Skaikru and Grounder alike, being united against something that is trying to ruin them all. The inclusion of Pike’s minor history in having taught these kids how to survive on earth is most definitely shoe-horned into the plot but feels like an earnest attempt at reconciling these two factions. And it could not have worked if Pike had been treated as a total innocent in this flashback either.
In these scenes, we get to see Pike afraid at what might befall the kids sitting in front of him but also flipping on a dime when a rogue Murphy gives him lip about survival and his disregard for all things establishment and common sense. Pike ends up kicking the ever-loving shit out of Murphy to prove his point that not everyone will survive the surface because bad things will happen. In what could have been a treacly scene, turns into something that reaffirms what we know about both these characters while providing new depth to them. It isn’t well placed but it is good writing.
The placement sucks because it comes just as Pike meets Murphy for the first time on the surface. Pike has just been chained with the rest of the non-conformists in Polis (seriously though, why don’t they just kill anyone they don’t actually need. A.L.I.E. makes it known who’s important to her and she could definitely do without a horde of potential people uprising by holding them in a cell.) and sees Murphy also chained on the floor. We aren’t given any importance to this meeting before this episode and are expected to give a damn why these two are now together. This moment ends up mostly working because of the excellent writing in the flashback and because we understand Murphy’s character deeply at this point. When he “saves” Pike from being killed by Indra, it makes logical sense as well as having the caveat that Murphy has now just washed his hands of this man who would have killed him in a heartbeat not so long ago.
Speaking of Indra, I miss Idina Porter on this show. Whenever she and Henry Ian Cusick show up, The 100 instantly raises transcends a few classes.
Speaking of Henry Ian Cusick, I think his eventual crucifixion might be the most intense scene we’ve seen in The 100. Up until this moment, which happens about halfway through, I was completely underwhelmed by the episode. Kane’s torture comes as the result of him not willing to succumb to Abbey’s advances as A.L.I.E. controls her to collect information. This coupled with the cold nature which they treat each other in the flashback epitomize the tough love that has grown between the two characters. When Kane has to choose between taking the pill and letting Abbey be killed, it is truly a moment when we don’t know what he will choose. Cusick’s work is so strong that we want him to be a true believer but also don’t want him to give up on Abbey.
Elsewhere, Clarke, Bellamy, Octavia and Jasper try to follow Lincoln’s cryptic yet conveniently clear notes on how to find Luna, the last Nightblood able to become the rightful Heda and destroy A.L.I.E. 2.0. It’s strange to see Clarke take such a backseat this season as she finally comes to a point when she should be at her strongest. She’s free of almost every political tie yet just walks around, reacting to every event instead of attempting to take charge. This group, containing essentially every character we care most for, is handed the short stick in the episode and is beholden to the most plot. The reveal of Luna’s posse is cool with their water-inspired gear and weaponry but the treatment of these people is rushed to say the least.
When Clarke and Co. willingly take a sleeping potion (Jaspers’ reaction to Clarke’s passing-out after he drinks the swill is priceless) and end up in a secluded room, we finally meet the enigma that is Luna, complete with frizzily perfect hair and come-get-me good looks. The most baffling move of the episode happens when Clarke immediately propositions Luna with the AI that would give her control of A.L.I.E. 2.0 and ascend her to the throne of the Grounders. Why would Clarke ever do this without some sort of explanation? Luna couldn’t possibly understand any of Clarke’s reasoning here. Let me put it this way: want to try to propose to someone on the first date? If you answer yes, you’re an insane person. Clarke is an insane person here.
Nonetheless, we’re shown that Clarke and Co. are way off the grid on an abandoned oil rig somewhere in the ocean.
So, ‘Join or Die’ proved to be a wayward step in the right direction. It’s an episode that had its heart in the right place, even if it didn’t follow-through in all of the execution.
Three episodes left. Let’s hope this season can be salvaged.
P.S. A full point is subtracted for the use of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive”. I get the full circle thing. Still, we don’t need a reminder of the dark days of The 100‘s pilot.
“Everything I learned, I learned on the ground.” – Murphy
Check out my reviews of previous episodes of ‘The 100’ here: