The 100 returns for its fifth season like a bullet out of a gun; a lean, mean vehicle of propulsive action and rich character drama that shreds through the status quo. Rolling off the shocking Season 4 cliffhanger, which fast-forwarded the story six years down the line, we find ourselves in a new world.
Clarke (Eliza Taylor) survived Praimfaya, leaving her to Omega Man her way around the remains of the second apocalypse until she meets Madi (Lola Flanery), the mysterious young night blood she’s taken under her wing. The game has changed. With just the two of them in all the world (at least from what we know), living in the only green valley on Earth, Madi is her family now and Clarke’s old family seems lost, though she hasn’t given up hope. With a year passed since it was safe for life on earth, Octavia and Co. remain in the bunker and Bellamy and Co. remain on the arc, leaving Clarke to wonder why.
The first two episodes of Season 5 catch us up on the why, the when and and the how, filling us in on all the need-to-know details about what happened in the bunker and on the Arc, and aquatinting us with new, unexpected rivalries and alliances in the aftermath. Six years is a long time, after all. Be it in the sky or underground, the Blake siblings have assumed their roles as leaders, and as always, their methods are at odds. Bellamy has become level-headed on the Arc, where the small group of survivors more or less work in harmony to stay alive, trading duties and instituting small rules to keep morale up. Meanwhile, Octavia remains ever the true warrior, forging Wonkru in blood and leading her people to survival blade-first.
What is clear in all of these scenarios — on the ground with Clarke, in the air with Bellamy and in the bunker with Octavia — is that The 100 has found its way back to the spark of inspiration by getting back to the roots of the kind of story the series has always told best: one about the foibles of humanity and the inherent cycles of violence that come with it. And it has does so through a narrative device that has always made it one of the best pieces of genre fiction on television: reinvention.
Through its highs and lows, The 100 has always excelled at expanding and evolving the world it plays in, shifting the landscape in drastic yet natural ways. It did so first in its very concept, taking us from space to post-apocalyptic Earth, and then with the introduction of the grounders and Mount Weather, crashing the the Arkers to Earth, the City of Light, and so on. The 100 embraces the freedom of genre storytelling fearlessly to constantly uncover wondrous and despairing realms to explore (ok, mostly despairing). In keeping with series tradition, the end of Season 4 saw a significant culling, both of characters and dragging storylines, and as painful as it was to see them go, it was a necessary and a due evolution. This season’s time jump seals the deal, and once again The 100 drops us in a new reality where the ground has shifted under our feet.
Even for a series that always embraced change, we’ve never had such a head-spinning reset; essentially a mid-series soft reboot. It’s a brilliant move, thrusting the action forward toward the future once again, rather than spiraling inward toward the secrets of the past. That’s not to say there weren’t clever strokes in the way The 100 expanded its mythology in recent seasons, but the deep dive into the history of ALI and the secrets of the first apocalypse always felt like it was bringing us to where we already were. Now, The 100 feels like its forging forward again. The series hasn’t forgotten its past, to the contrary, the parallels between Season 5 and Season 1 ensure every moment is ripe with remembrance of it, but it is narratively free to move in exciting new directions.
The catalyst for change is the arrival of the intergalactic prisoners glimpsed in the Season 4 finale. Mercenary and ruthless, but not without reason (at least some of them aren’t), the Eligius mining prisoners bring a fantastic new slant to the world of The 100 — they are not descendants from the old world, they are citizens of it who returned to their planet after decades in cryosleep only to find it destroyed. And they’re headed up by one hell of a new antagonist, Charmaine Diyoza, a former military strategist who landed herself a place in prison when she turned to extremism. But she’s no raving lunatic, and as played with charm and a commanding presence by Ivana Milicevic, she’s a perfectly matched opponent for Clarke. Clever, calculating and hell-bent on saving her people, she’s got big guns and bigger psychopaths on her side, and she’s the kind of character who would be a perfect ally if her goals weren’t so directly at odds with our heroes.
Of course, not that the word “heroes” really applies in this series. The 100 thrives on exploring the moral grey area and the impossible choices of survival, and more than ever, Season 5 seems intent on examining the point where fighting for your people turns you into the bad guy, no matter how much you believe you’re right. “There are no good guys,” Clarke says as she fires off a killing shot at one of the intruders — an interesting reversal from the Grounder attacks in Season 1. This time we’re on the side of the people defending their land, but it’s certainly not the moral high-ground. That’s the magic of The 100’s story, the way it inspires empathy for its characters despite their hideous actions and forces you to explore morality from a place of emotional complicity. It’s a high-wire act that can easily topple over into perpetual punishment, and the series hasn’t always nailed the balance, but it has never shied away from the complexities.
It’s tough to dive too much into highlights without treading into spoiler territory, but let’s just say Season 5 is teed up to be Octavia’s season. The girl under the floor has become the queen of an underground people (how fitting), and the when the Sky Ripper is finally forced to accept her role as not just a warrior but a leader of her people, she is a spectacular force to behold, as Marie Avgeropoulos is a steely, sword-swinging wonder in the role.