The 100 has long been praised (at least by me) for its prioritization of character over plot points. Though the post-apocalyptic science fiction drama churns through plot faster than you can say “But you can’t kill that character!”, it rarely does so at the expense of organic character development and well-developed motivation. For many viewers, that statement does not extend to the current Season 3 character arc of Bellamy Blake (Bob Morley). Is there any hope for this much beloved character’s salvation?
For those who aren’t up to date on one of the best shows on television, Bellamy has thrown his considerable political weight behind Commander Pike and the faction of Arkadia who believe that all Grounders are a threat that can neither be mediated nor tolerated. Thus far, he has gone on two raids designed to exterminate Grounder enclaves — one of which was a Grounder force there to help protect Arkadia from an Ice Nation attack, and one of which was a Grounder village with no (previous) desire to attack Arkadia. They posed no immediate threat to Arkadia. In the case of the Grounder army, it was the exact opposite, actually. They were there to protect Arkadia and, as best represented by Indra, had come to have a tenuous — even fond — alliance with many of the leaders of Arkadia.
Bellamy — who had previously been friends with Lincoln, respectful of Indra, and generally considered (at least post-Season 1) in making decisions that would positively affect Sky People/Grounder relations — has thrown away all of that in favor of vengeance and a simplistic, short-sighted plan to ensure Arkadia’s safety. It’s not only frustrating to watch, but it feels totally at odds with what we have seen from his character before.
More than any moral objections to Pike’s agenda (although I think he would have those, too), I think Bellamy would have strategic ones. Bellamy has proven himself to be a smart commander on many occasions. And, as Kane, Abby, and Octavia have all pointed out: The Grounders will eventually retaliate if the Sky People continue to attack villages. It’s just a matter of time. Bellamy has been on the ground long enough to know that, and that even without guns, The Grounders pose a threat. They are not to be underestimated. Even if they didn’t win in a battle against Arkadia, there would be casualties on both sides. Bellamy’s apparent ignorance of this point is not just an affront to his morality, but an affront to his intelligence.
The 100 walks a fine, fascinating line when it comes to explorations of moral relativism and what we are capable of as human beings. Previously, when we have seen main characters making tragic decisions, it is in the context of what must be done to protect one’s people. This is The 100’s bread-and-butter: convincing viewers that, if you were in the same seemingly impossible position, you might choose to pull that lever and kill a whole mountain filled with men, women, and children, too. There is a lot of blurry greyness when it comes to this desperation, saving loved ones, and the fight for survival. Unfortunately, Bellamy’s current actions don’t fall in that vast wasteland of moral ambiguity that The 100 usually so effortlessly inhabits. In falls in the stark, bright clarity of black-and-white morality usually reserved for lesser shows. Bellamy Blake is wrong. He’s actions are not understandable. They are not even a little bit justifiable.
I can see the narrative logic behind putting one of the show’s main characters on the side of the anti-Grounder rebellion (or, now, Arkadia government). It gives the viewers an emotional investment in its goals that we wouldn’t have if it were just Pike or Monty’s mom causing chaos. I even think that the show could have made the argument that Bellamy might make that decision — after all, if this show has proven anything, it’s that war, violence, desperation, loss, trauma, and grief have the power to irrevocably change us. However, like Season 2’s decision to have Finn turn from a peace-loving, empathetic hippy, to a trigger-happy Grounder killer, Bellamy’s turn from considered, moral leader who relies on the confidence of a few trusted allies to a rash, narrow-minded character who throws in with Pike’s crusade against the Grounders feels rushed and underdeveloped.
It doesn’t help that much of Bellamy’s sudden character course change is ascribed to the death of his girlfriend (and the others) in the Ice Nation’s attack on Mount Weather. Unfortunately, we never really got to know Bellamy’s girlfriend — so much so that, for the life of me, I can’t remember her name. She seemed nice enough, but this was that rare example of The 100 telling and not showing — or, perhaps more accurately, telling and not feeling. The same critique can be applied to the tales of Farm Station’s early months on the ground. If The 100 was going to take us down this path, then I would have preferred some flashbacks to what Pike, Monty’s parents, Miller’s boyfriend, and the other citizens of Farm Station went through. Telling the tale is just not cutting it. Not when it is meant to justify mass murder.
This feels like the beginning of a rushed redemption arc. If The 100 didn’t intend on redeeming — or at least trying to redeem — Bellamy’s character, they would have shown him killing the Grounders. They would have shown him begging for Indra’s life. (Frankly, if they were going to go here with Bellamy’s character, we at least deserve that.)
Despite my frustrations, I am willing to see where this character goes next. Yet where can that reasonably be? Because Bellamy’s frustrating decision happened relatively early in the season, there is seemingly only one place for this character to go: he has to eventually see the error of his ways. Although, I’ve learned not to use the same trope-inspired set of expectations when anticipating what’s next on The 100. If this show has taught us anything, it’s to expect the inconceivable.
Still, part of the intense reaction to Bellamy’s current character arc stems from the fact that The 100 so rarely makes character missteps. We have come to expect so much from this show, and that’s not a bad thing. And, at a certain point, it’s better to let go of frustrations over a storyline’s flawed conception and let the larger narrative us all along for a ride.
For example, while I still don’t think The 100 effectively sold the idea that Finn lost it so quickly and completely in Season 2, it led to one of the greatest moments of The 100’s history when Clarke made that (totally believable) decision to kill him. And though I don’t believe Bellamy’s choice of allegiance, I loved the Bellarke scene that saw Bellamy finally getting a chance to express to Clarke his anger over her decision to let Tondc burn, and her abandonment of him following Mount Weather.
If you’re wondering what organic character development for Bellamy Blake feels like, it’s him yelling, teary-eyed at Clarke: “You left me. You left everyone. Enough, Clarke. You are not in charge here, and that’s a good thing because people die when you’re in charge. You were willing to let a bomb drop on my sister. Then you made a deal with Lexa who left us in Mount Weather to die and forced us to kill everyone who helped us. People who trusted me.” This reaction from Bellamy feels real, and it sucks that it is somewhat undercut by Bellamy’s larger, less-true-to-character position in this scene.
It’s also a testament to how well this character has been developed previously that, even after everything Bellamy has done in recent episodes, viewers are still willing to entertain the idea of his redemption. And, despite everything, I think The 100 still has the opportunity to tell a powerful story with Bellamy’s current character arc. It’s just going to take some more fleshing out of his character motivation, heaps of teary-eyed appeasement, and viewers all ingesting one of Jaha’s happy pills (there aren’t any known side effects, right?) to forget that this beginning part of the Bellamy Is The Worst story arc ever happened.
The 100 airs Thursday nights on the CW.