"Perverse Instantiation: Part One" pulls no punches. Almost immediately after Clarke and Co. arrive in Polis, the episode takes a dark turn, trotting out some of the most difficult-to-watch torture scenes we've seen on The 100. It's certainly effective, raising the stakes and tying the final bows on this season's character development. At times, however, the episode is stalled by the many problems that have plagued the season.
At the end of last week's episode, the gang was left with no plan. When "Perverse Instantiation" begins, they're still still stuck figuring out their next move. Clarke wants to march into every village to personally seek out Nightbloods. The others disagree. The conversation gets heated, and Clarke storms off. She looks at the Flame, mere seconds away from being attacked, when Rowan rescues her.
For a minute, Clarke and Rowan try to have a rational conversation about their situation. Rowan, the Ice King, wants to take the Flame so that he can insert it into Ontari. At first, Clarke doesn't want that to happen — she even points her gun at his face. In a great bit of comic relief, Rowan literally snaps the gun out her hand. I'm glad that Rowan finally made his way back into this story line, but I wish we'd had a moment of dialogue that made it clear why he'd taken so long to reach Clarke. Clarke's been running all over the place — she's been to Arkadia at least two times. She's been to the trading post, where Rowan has literally kidnapped her. And she's been traipsing around in a rover, which doesn't leave the most unsubtle tracks. Instead of taking a struggling Clarke to Polis, Rowan is interrupted by Bellamy. The three of them slowly come to the conclusion that Ontari is their best hope. They're far beyond the question of whether they want a ruthless commander ruling the clans. Right now, the biggest threat is A.L.I.E.
They head back to Arkadia to gather supplies and check in with the rest of the team. While Clarke and the rest infiltrate Polis, Raven promises that she'll get access to A.L.I.E's code. This is one of the best parts of the episode — as was the case in previous seasons, the scenes where everyone works together for a common goal are the most effective bits of storytelling. Rowan helps come up with a plan, Miller and his boyfriend gather supplies, and Bellamy and Octavia debate battle strategy. The 100 has often showed us that when a external threat looms large, the internal threat can be put aside. It's a theme that'll recur in this episode.
The plan rests on Clarke as bait. Rowan will march her into Polis, claiming he has the Flame. When they get close enough to Ontari, they'll redeliver the kind of EMP that saved Raven from A.L.I.E., then stick the Flame in her. When Bellamy asks Clarke if she thinks the plan will work, she mentions that she doesn't fully trust Rowan … but she's doing it because Bellamy will be covering her the entire time. "I trust you," she says.
Of course, the plan goes awry as soon as they're in Polis. Ontari is not in charge; Jaha and A.L.I.E. seem to be running the show. Rowan quickly assesses the situation and threatens to kill Clarke, the person they truly need to use the Flame. As Jaha tells Rowan how unnecessary he is, the two make a break for it, and Kane appears just in time to shoot Rowan. Bellamy, Octavia, Miller, and Bryan are all hiding in a tunnel so that they can protect Clarke — but they're found out pretty quickly too.
A.L.I.E.'s foot soldiers have insider information. After everything he saw at Luna's rig, Jasper has voluntarily decided to take the chip. This tragic reveal is executed in a beautiful way. At first, Jasper appears to mend fences with Monty. Though Monty is initially wary — Jasper has been all over the place in terms of grief — Jasper seals the deal with the most adorable of hugs. Then, he stabs his best friend and tries to steal the motherboard that Raven needs. Raven and Monty realize that Jasper's been silently overhearing all of their plans. He stands outside the door, taunting both of them as he creepily runs a finger over the glass.
As the episode continues, Raven and Monty are faced with an impossible decision. Harper, who's acting as guard, comes back to check on Raven. Monty realizes that she's in danger just as Jasper hits her. He hits her hard. She's lying flat on the ground, unconscious, as Jasper presses a gun up to the glass. If they don't let him in, he'll kill Harper.
After Clarke is captured in Polis, the situation gets even grimmer. We haven't seen a ton of Paige Turco's Abby this season, but in this scene, she tortures her daughter with a truly creepy kind of disaffected distance. After realizing that hurting Clarke won't do the trick, she calls for Bellamy. As the guards start to take him to Clarke, Murphy appears. Flanked on either side by Pike and Indra, both holding machine guns, Bellamy yells that everyone should hit the deck.
When Indra, Murphy, Pike, and Kane began to work together last week, I was stunned but relieved. This week, I'm a little disappointed. The 100 has introduced major flaws this season — see: the mishandling of Lexa's death and Bellamy's bizarre character arc — but the choice to go with an over-the-top villain instead of delving into nuanced character development is an especially harmful one. This moment should really work. Instead, it just feels rushed.
Of course, this isn't the first time that The 100 has used "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" as a storytelling device. It's just that the quick unification of Pike, Indra, and Murphy doesn't seem well-earned. Octavia tries to mend this with some patchwork dialogue, as she questions Indra over her decision to work with Pike. Indra reminds her that working with someone who's physically present for a greater cause is the only thing they can do. Murphy tells Bellamy he's in it to save someone he cares about. But Pike's motivation to do the right thing isn't really fleshed out. It's as if we're just supposed to draw conclusions on our own.
After the rescue, Bellamy and the rest of the delinquents regroup. The plan is simple: Get up in the elevator and rescue Clarke. Meanwhile, Abby has realized that using Bellamy to torture Clarke into taking the chip isn't a plan anymore. She ties a noose, and then steps off into it. There's a slow, prolonged scene of her choking as she hangs herself. Jaha, realizing that the situation is dire, takes an iron rod and beats Ontari with it. If she's dead, A.L.I.E. must realize, no one can implant the Flame. Bellamy and Murphy burst into the room. Murphy rushes to Abby, saving her at the last moment. Bellamy goes to Ontari. She's alive, but brain dead.
- Early relationships on The 100 were treated with tenderness and care, but I'm not sure the writers are doing that anymore. Last week, Harper and Monty hooked up after scant build-up. Similar pairings have occurred again and again this season. Murphy and Emori, Kane and Abby — both couples could have easily made sense, had the show taken more time with them. When Monty shows concern about Harper this week, I felt manipulated. Are the stakes high for Monty or Raven just because the show's clunky storytelling told us that they're a thing now? As a viewer, I don't feel any more or less attached to Harper now that I know Monty has romantic feelings for her. It's a bit of lazy storytelling that I can't get behind.
- I loved the way Clarke resisted taking the chip even as her mother hung herself. She really would have allowed her mother to die instead of compromising her beliefs.
- Did anyone else think that Bellamy's nonviolent approach was overdone? I get that he's supposed to be reformed and I'm glad that the old Bellamy is back-ish, but telling Pike that no killing would be involved seemed to fall a bit flat.