When is killing justifiable? That’s the question at the center of “Gimme Shelter,” one of the tightest episodes of the season from a thematic perspective. The interlocking story lines all engage in some way with death and killing and making lethal choices, but every time it seems like The 100 is going to slip into flat moralizing, it grounds those themes with the characters. “Gimme Shelter” doesn’t merely ask philosophical questions about murder: It shows how taking life has shaped all of these characters, how it informs the psychological underpinnings of their actions.
While on the surface it seems like every character has a different moral code when it comes to taking life, they are all united by the shared goal of survival. In “Gimme Shelter,” the black rain finally arrives, and it’s worse than anyone anticipated. When rushing into what’s left of Alpha Station, Harper streams past a fallen man who reaches for her. It’s one of the smaller subplots in the episode, but it’s effective, a small-scale exploration of the episode’s compelling central theme. Harper is racked with guilt over not helping the man, who indeed goes on to die. But given all that we know of Harper up to this point, it’s easy to sympathize with her, to see that this one slip in judgement does not make her wholly bad or selfish. It doesn’t discredit the sacrifices she has made in other contexts.
Bellamy makes it to shelter with everyone else, but he’s pulled back out into the deadly rain when a member of Skaikru radios that he’s stuck outside with his son, one of the members of the original 100. At first, that’s how Bellamy justifies going back out into the rain without a protective suit: He feels tied to the 100, a group that had to work together to survive the second they landed on Earth. But remember: Back then, Bellamy was more invested in self-preservation or, more specifically, saving himself and his sister. And his motivations aren’t all that different now. When Bellamy’s rover gets stuck and he has to tell the two stranded members of Skaikru that he cannot save them, essentially telling them they are going to die, he becomes racked with guilt. But as he talks with Kane, who tries dissuading him from the fool’s mission all episode, the truth of his intentions become clear. The guilt he feels for this failure is an extension of the guilt he still feels for slaughtering the Trikru army, the first major blow in the series of events that severed the love that bound Bellamy and Octavia together. He says he failed, and he confesses that he’s talking about failing Octavia, not the father and son in the black rain. Kane tries to point out that Bellamy’s mother would be proud of the way he has fought for his sister, and Bellamy points out that Kane floated his mother. Every character on this show has taken life, and they all try to justify it, but Kane puts it best when he tells Abby that survival trumps humanity. No matter the stakes or context, killing requires losing your humanity.
The 100 isn’t subtle with these themes by any means, but that’s all right because it’s so anchored to its characters, their personal histories, and what drives them. The only place where this falters a bit is when the episode comes to Octavia and Ilian, who reluctantly team up to seek shelter after the rain hits. Ilian’s connection to the central theme is well developed and compelling: He blames himself for killing his entire family, even though he was under the influence of the chip. Banished by Skaikru, the only home he has left is the staging area of those brutal acts. Octavia tells Ilian he isn’t a murderer. According to her, the distinction has to do with what one feels after the fact. She tells Ilian he acts the way he’s “supposed to” after taking a life. She, on the other hand, feels nothing. Again, that’s a well-developed and cogent place for this particular character to be coming from. When Lincoln died, Octavia lost part of her humanity — more accurately, it was taken from her — and that has seeped into the way she regards killing. She’s Skairippa now.
Still, Octavia’s interactions with Ilian here underscore how unbelievable it was for her to put a gun to his head last episode. She claims she doesn’t feel anything, so what exactly was her motivating factor for adopting the mob’s thirst for revenge when it came to Ilian? I’m also hesitant about the romantic developments between Octavia and Ilian. Even though it’s clear that she is just using him to feel something, Octavia’s character arc this season can certainly stand on its own without needing to throw a love interest into the mix. Hopefully, it really is just sex. Anything more than that would be difficult to sell. Of course, The 100 has pulled off perfectly executed one-night stands in the past — anyone remember Bellamy and Raven in season one? — so there’s hope that this really won’t mean more than exactly what it was.
Over at Becca’s lab, Abby wrestles with her latest realization: They can use Luna’s bone marrow to protect against the radiation, but in order to test the procedure’s efficacy, they’d have to expose someone to the extremely high levels of radiation that will soon be the norm on Earth. Emori overhears Abby explaining this to Clarke, and she immediately becomes worried that she or Murphy will be the designated lab rat. Her fears build on the character’s distrust for others and the feelings of abandonment instilled on her when she was cast out of her clan for her appearance. I’m not always the most invested in Murphy and Emori’s love story, but their connection is undeniably deep: Both were rejected by their own people, and both were made to feel like they can only look out for themselves. A match made in heaven!
At first, The 100 delivers what looks like much too simple of a solution to both Emori’s fears and Abby’s scientific dilemma: An unknown Grounder shows up to Becca’s house and attacks Emori. The 100 plays with different genres every once in a while, and I especially love when they take on horror. The rare presence of a house (thanks, Becca!) lets “Gimme Shelter” play with some home-invasion horror tropes, starting with Clarke realizing someone is inside. When they’ve finally apprehended the intruder, Emori explains that he tormented her and her brother. She gives a starkly convincing monologue about wanting the kill for herself, asking Clarke if she has ever killed for revenge. Clarke may be the commander of death, but it’s true that she has never crossed into that territory. She had the choice to kill Emerson for revenge, and she didn’t take it. (Although, she did eventually kill him in an act of self-defense.) “Gimme Shelter” is the first episode to really shine a spotlight on Emori, who uses her past to give stakes to the present. She makes a persuasive argument in favor of jus drein jus daun in this particular case, and Clarke quickly realizes that Emori’s need for revenge and Abby’s conundrum have the same solution: They can use the man as their radiation test case.
It’s almost too tidy a conclusion, except for the fact that it isn’t quite as neat as it seems. In the final seconds of the episode, Emori reveals to Murphy that she had no idea who that guy was. It was all an act so that she wouldn’t end up in the radiation chamber. The twist works so well: “Gimme Shelter” remains true to who Emori is while also peeling back some new layers to her. Nothing Emori said about her past was technically untrue, which makes her lie all the more convincing. Like Bellamy, her core motivations remain the same even when it seems like she’s after something different in the episode. For Bellamy, it’s always his sister. For Emori, it’s always herself. She isn’t a victim, but she is a survivor, and through both her and Murphy The 100 complicates that word. Murphy and Emori are trying to survive on their own. Abby is trying to make sure the human race survives. But even her seemingly noble cause comes at the sacrifice of her individual humanity.
A show more interested in drawing clear distinctions between heroes and villains, between good and bad, might try to absolve all of these characters or otherwise make some grand statement about atonement. But The 100 thrives on killing dichotomies. These characters have to keep living with what they’ve done, they have to keep moving forward. There isn’t time to stop and contemplate who among them is good or bad. The world’s still ending, after all.