Full spoilers on The 100 continue below.
The 100’s Season Four isn’t about the Praimfaya. The impending nuclear apocalypse is however the catalyst for what the 100 does best which is to examine the damned if you do, damned if you don’t moral decision making in a survival thriller dystopian context. The keyword is survival. A model for survival is tribalism which fosters group identity, social bonds, and passing on related genes. When competing tribes and nations attempt to coexist the answer to ‘what is moral’ becomes a serious source of conflict. Season Four posits that Trikru, Skaikru, Azegeda and the other clans’ tribalism may be the very thing that puts the future of humanity in danger unless they can come together.
Forged through the fire, The 100 is about adolescent delinquents born in space who come out the other side made stronger by their experiences surviving on earth. Their transformation from “Sky People” to “We are Grounders” is that of a tribe’s evolving identity. Part of their survival owes to breaking down the group identity between the tribes. It’s essential to go from an ‘us vs them’ mentality to ‘we are all in this together’ when the world is about to be burnt to a crisp. This idea is shown after Octavia wins the conclave and can no longer identify with one particular tribe, instead sees humanity as a whole.
The Praimfaya is a doomsday countdown clock which pushes forward the major story lines. It’s a plot device that is tangible and grounded in a lived-in, dystopian world. In comparison, the innovative City of Light story line in season 3 may have been a bit elusive for some viewers after the defined tone and direction set up in the first two seasons. The cyclical nature of Season 4 calls back many previous events which helps The 100 form a good sense of cohesion. To keep the moralizing from becoming too repetitive, the characters often take or are forced to seriously consider the flip side to similar decisions previously made.
As a leader, Clarke is constantly faced with the decision on who gets to live and die. These decisions cannot be easily dismissed as right or wrong. Whether it’s to sacrifice the few for the many or deciding if disclosing the truth may do more harm than good, the struggle to do the right thing comes across as real. This season Clarke wrestled with these decisions from a different perspective. Perhaps this make her less of the Clarke that we knew yet more of the Clarke of today with the weight of her previous decisions on her shoulders. Ultimately, Clarke didn’t go to the dark side so to speak and exploring this aspect of her was handled more skillfully than what Bellamy went through last season.
Bellamy’s strength this season is that he doesn’t have an internal conflict about any of his positions. In his gut, he instinctively knows what needs to be done. Bellamy’s beliefs are in line with his actions which is an admirable quality that comes across strongly. Octavia doesn’t need Bellamy’s protection. But she’s relearned to trust in Bellamy again when it becomes clear everything he does comes from putting her best interest first. It also leaves Octavia in a good psychological head space after processing her grief and finding a place in her heart to forgive.
The other lesson learned is that you can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. And even if they do want to be saved, proceed with caution. Like what happens to drowning victims, in their panic they might pull down the lifeguard who’s trying to save them. Monty is in this predicament as the lifeguard. He almost gets sucked down into Jasper’s vortex. After all of the trauma endured, Jasper’s long goodbye came as a fitting end for someone who lost his will to survive on a survival thriller show.
Former US President Ronald Reagan believed “how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.” Humans of different cultures and races would seek to find a common bond and unite against the aliens. The aliens would be “the other”: an out-group of unknown motivation. These aliens could be feared as potential competition for earth’s resources and pose a significant risk to human way of life and the survival of the species. The original 100 can be viewed as “the other” from a Grounder’s perspective when the drop ship lands on Earth in the pilot episode. This idea comes full circle when the prisoner transport space ship arrives.
Perhaps it’s fitting that the Praimfaya’s wave of death and destruction wasn’t a focal point of the finale since the season wasn’t really about that. Despite all the conflict and differences between the tribes, the big picture is how they had to come together. The world literally got a whole lot smaller for those survivors in the bunker. Each tribe, their values and beliefs, will be challenged, reformed or destroyed. In the real world, the issue of multiculturalism is working itself across the globe. History tells a cyclical story of civilizations rising and their downfall. Like a phoenix rising from the post-nuclear ashes, what emerges from that bunker will be very different that what it started out as.