The Ethics of Survival: A Case for CW’s The 100

Television | Opinion

Written by: Benjamin Ferrarini

The CW channel has had a long running reputation going back to when they were still the WB.  Then and now the channel was synonymous with teen melodrama and love triangles.  Though today its shows are made up of vampires and super heroes it’s past reputation has continued to plague it.  I believe it is this perception that has caused viewers to discount one of its best shows “The 100” which has more in common with “Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones” then “The Flash” or “Vampire Diaries”.  If you are not familiar with the show “The 100” is set in a post apocalyptic future where nuclear war laid waist to the Earth.  Supposedly the only survivors were the citizens who inhabited a number of space stations in orbit.  The disparate stations eventually joined together creating one large structure they dubbed “the Ark”.  Because of limited resources every crime on the Ark is a capital crime carrying the penalty of death by spacing.  Unless you are under the age of 18.  Minors are incarcerated for varying lengths depending on the severity of their crimes.  When the show begins it’s been nearly a century since the nuclear apocalypse and the Ark is dying.  Needing to buy time the ruling council decides to send 100 of the incarcerated minors down to Earth to determine if it’s become viable for human life again.  The show focuses on a few of these characters who’s crimes range from drugs, to theft, to violent assault.  Very quickly though the youths are confronted with the fact that they are not in fact the only humans on earth.  Survivors of the nuclear fallout have formed militant clans that are fiercely territorial.  Seeing the new comers as intruders the “100” are thrust into a fight for survival against a foe they are not equipped to face.   Meanwhile the show also follows the adults on the Ark as they seek a way to prevent the utter failure of the station’s life support.  Two groups both fighting for survival.

To be sure the first season of “The 100” is the most CW-ish with more then its fair share of teen drama and even a love triangle thrown in for no apparent reason.  However, over the proceeding 3 seasons “The 100” grew from these roots adding a depth and complexity to its world and characters.  Some of the core cast have undergone radical, but believable shifts, maturing to levels that were unforeseeable in the first few episodes.  The best example of this is Marie Avgeropoulos’s Octavia Blake.  Octavia starts out an angry angsty teen trying too hard to prove herself to her peers.  However, Octavia has grown into a strong and independent warrior more intent on her code of honor then what anyone may think of her.  This progression of character is one of the things that sets “The 100” apart.  In later seasons as the writers grew the characters and expanded the world a lot of the teen drama tropes fell away.

However, the chief thing that makes “The 100” tick is its central theme of survival.  The show continually puts its characters in no win situations where survival is questionable.   “The 100” is the equal of shows like Walking Dead as far as it’s bleak tone and its capacity to kill off likable main characters.  Watching how the Characters react when put in desperate situations, dealing with the aftermath and who manages to survive is the engine that drives the show.  Each crisis grows over the last pushing the cast further, leaving their mark on the survivors. Many of the situations they face and decisions leave lasting consequences.  For instance in season one Raven, played by Lindsay Morgen, is shot while trying to thwart a plot by one of the seasons antagonists.  Her wound sticks with her through the rest of the season an into season 2 affecting her ability to function in the group.  Then in season 3 the continued fallout from that one gunshot plays a deciding motivation in a major decision Raven makes.  This is something the show is particularly good at, stringing together events building larger and more complex stories.

These things may make “The 100” special but it isn’t even its most compelling aspect.  What makes this show truly compelling is the commentary on what I’ll call the ethics of survival.  What is survival worth?  What would you be willing to do to save the people you care about?  What would you be willing to sacrifice?  These questions permeate this show as it asks them again and again at different times in different scenarios.  The bulk of the choices reflecting these questions fall on the central character: Clark.  She is arguably the most important character who has made the bulk of heavy decisions.  At times Clark has wondered if she is doing the right thing, if there even is a “right” thing or if there are no “good guys”.  Clark never comes to an answer nor the the show itself.  Like “Walking Dead” or even “Game of Thrones”  The writers seem to want you to make the judgement; asking the question what would you do?  If this kind of unqualified moral ambiguity bothers you, then you likely won’t enjoy this show.

Of course “The 100” isn’t, by any means, a perfect show.  It’s pacing can be uneven, at times, moving too fast for its own good.  Some times it works but more often than not   rushing plot elements skips over an appropriate level of motivation.  This results in characters behaving in ways that don’t quite feel right, it is also guilty of using character deaths for little more for shock value.  The third season was especially guilty of these flaws making it the weakest season thus far.  But, these problems are intermittent speed bumps that slow but doesn’t stop the compelling nature of the show.


Grim, complex, and emotionally punishing “The 100” is one of the best shows on television.  If you’re already familiar with the show let me know what you think in the comments.  If I’ve encouraged you to give it a try the whole run of “The 100” including the most recent season 4 is currently available on Netflix.  You can also check out this four season recap here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s