Throughout its first two seasons, The 100’s greatest strength was its restraint. The show is masterful in its world-building, developing dense mythology with care and precision. The best episodes usually take on the simplest of plots, with clear, time-sensitive missions that the characters must accomplish. But even within those more self-contained stories, the writers lay groundwork for the future, foreshadowing and hinting at what’s to come. (Though a much different show, Jane the Virgin is also remarkably good at that balance.) The Mountain Men were mentioned far before they ever appeared, as were Reapers, Ice Nation, and characters like Lexa and Luna.
Put simply, this show has a ton of moving parts. The City of Light fractured The 100’s narrative framework toward the end of season three by making things a little too complicated and too circumstantial; now there are several clans at play and several factions within those clans. The conflict is not merely Skaikru versus Grounders anymore. But season four has already started rebuilding, returning to the basics of the show’s core storytelling. And it does so by reaching back into the past.
Because even though The 100 always seems to have its eyes set on what’s to come, it’s also rather deft at preserving its characters’ histories, giving meaning to the past and letting it seep into the present. Every death has implications and emotional weight long after it occurs. In “Heavy Lies the Crown,” the ghost of Jake Griffin is a haunting presence, never far from the characters’ thoughts. Last week’s season premiere hinted that history was repeating itself, and “Heavy Lies the Crown” makes those connections even more explicit.
After Monty realizes that the answer to surviving the impending nuclear apocalypse is the Alpha Station itself (a moment that also harks back to the past, when Jaha first realized that the Ark could serve as a drop ship during the first season), Raven gets to work on repairing the ship. But the rest of Skaikru doesn’t know the stakes of the situation, unaware of the planet’s six-month expiration date. Raven advocates for the truth, explaining to Clarke that if people knew the world was ending, they’d be more diligent about pitching in to repair the ship. She reminds Clarke of the culling on the Ark, when people volunteered to die in order to protect the human race. She name-checks Sinclair, too. Everyone on this show has their ghosts. Clarke takes the opposite stance that she and her father took back on the Ark, opting for silence. Even at the end, when she makes one of her grand speeches that suggests she’s finally about to tell the unknowing folks of Arkadia the truth, she boldly lies. Following advice from Jaha, she prioritizes hope over the truth.
For now, the only solution is turning the ship into a bunker, and there’s the issue of water. Conveniently, a “hydrogenator” machine that makes water survived when Farm Station crashed to Earth. Not so conveniently, Farm Station still lies within Ice Nation. So Monty, Bellamy, Harper, Bryan, and Miller take a trip to Ice Nation, where they’re promptly ambushed by Azgedan soldiers with little respect for the shoddy alliance upheld by Roan.
Like early episodes of The 100, “Heavy Lies the Crown” doesn’t bite off more than it can chew. The characters are divided between two clear missions: One group is trying to secure the hydrogenerator, while the group back at Polis tries to secure Roan’s position on the throne. Rafael, an ambassador eager to take advantage of Roan’s injuries, teams up with new character Ilan (Chai Romruen), a Grounder who was forced to murder his entire family under the influence of the City of Light. Together, they plot against Roan, with Rafael promising to challenge the king in court. Little do they know, resident badass Octavia is always listening in the shadows, one step ahead of them. She kills the ambassador with a blade to the brain before he ever gets the chance to face Roan.
Back in Ice Nation, the quest for a hydrogenerator gets complicated. The Azgedan warriors permit Bellamy and friends to retrieve their machine … leading them through a throng of enslaved people, including Skaikru’s Riley. Faced with the prisoners, the hydrogenerator suddenly doesn’t seem so important to Harper, Bryan, and Bellamy. They have a decision to make: Retrieve the machine and leave the prisoners to suffer at the hands of Ice Nation, or turn the hydrogenerator into a bomb, losing their best shot at an essential water source. Monty and Miller take the utilitarian position, knowing that the water source could save more lives in the future than rescuing these prisoners in the present. But there isn’t really time for a moral debate. All the characters have clear motivations for their beliefs. Bellamy is always short-sighted when it comes to solutions, as evidenced by his personal motto all episode: “We save who we can save today.”
They return to Arkadia with the prisoners and without the water source. Bellamy and Clarke are back to leadership roles, forced to make decisions about who lives and who dies. It calls to mind not only the hard choices Kane and Jaha made on the Ark back in season one, but also Bellamy and Clarke’s personal histories during their early days on the ground, when Bellamy took the more aggressive route to survival and Clarke was a bit more measured and practical. Back then, they were little war babies, completely inexperienced and in over their heads. Now, they have the experience. But the choices still challenge.
While the life-or-death and time-sensitive nature of the Polis and Arkadia story lines make for high-stakes plotting, there are also emotional implications that ground each narrative. The simple plot structure is imbued with the weight of these characters’ histories, desires, and psychological underpinnings. Miller and Bryan’s differing perspectives ultimately rupture their relationship. When Clarke announces to the people of Arkadia that they will all prosper if the ship is repaired swiftly — conveniently omitting the bits about nuclear destruction and a water shortage — Raven throws her past back in her face, sarcastically saying her father would be proud. Jake Griffin haunts Polis, too. Abby and Kane are finally hooking up (another part of the show that has been gradually building since season one), and when Abby instinctively reaches for the necklace Jake gave her, Kane assures her he understands that Jake is a part of who she is. The ghosts of The 100 are always there, sneaking up on these characters.
Even newcomer Ilan gets a backstory. In the cold open, we see him still under the influence of the City of Light, coercing his mother to take the chip by killing the rest of his family and threatening to kill himself. His mother dies moments after A.L.I.E. gets shut down, and we see Ilan begin to process the hell he wrought at the mercy of the chip. He blames Skaikru, and that fuels his actions for the rest of the episode. He doesn’t meet the end of Octavia’s blade, living to see another episode. In fact, Octavia and Ilan share a brief, soft moment. Octavia has hardened since Lincoln’s death, and so far her role in season four has been to flamboyantly murder people (and look great while doing so), as well as providing snarky commentary amid everyone else’s bleak seriousness. But even after Ilan accuses her of murder, Octavia rests a hand on his shoulder and assures him she’s sorry about his family. And she means it. Octavia knows loss all too well, and the wounds left by Pike have barely begun to heal.