Eliza Taylor as Clarke, Bob Morley as Bellamy.
Season four of The 100 picks up exactly where season three ended: just moments after Octavia had slain Pike for killing Lincoln … just moments after Clarke had destroyed the City Of Light and returned pain and reality to its chipped prisoners … just moments after she had learned the world would end in a cloud of radiation in six month’s time. Ah, yes. The 100 is back, and the world is already ending.
And it all feels a bit familiar. At the insistence of Bellamy, Clarke agrees not to reveal to the rest of the clans that Earth will be uninhabitable in a matter of months. Remember how Clarke ended up on the ground in the first place? Her father found out that the Ark — the space station holding those thought to be the last survivors of Earth — was dying. He thought the public had a right to know, and Clarke did, too. But Abby and Kane disagreed, worried it would cause panic. Clarke’s father was executed and Clarke was imprisoned, altering the course of her life in cataclysmic ways. Now Clarke’s on the other side of the moral dilemma, opting to keep silent in order to keep the peace. “Echoes” doesn’t make any explicit connections to the past, but there’s an eerie sense throughout that history is repeating itself in more ways than one.
The 100 also isn’t holding back from parallels with real-life threats. “Science is our only hope,” Clarke explains later in the episode. Meanwhile, in our world, climate-change deniers have a stalwart ally in the White House, and Donald Trump’s administration has launched an all-out attack on science. Toxic smog isn’t a threat that exists merely in The 100’s universe; it’s real. While dealing with the urgent, life-or-death stakes of the present, “Echoes” also sets up the long-term conflict for the season, which basically amounts to environmental devastation. The 100 is often heavy-handed in its parallels with real life, but it’s smart and poignant, too. Watching the characters use science to save the world poses lots of opportunities for social commentary, which it hasn’t shied away from in the past.
Before they can worry about surviving nuclear destruction, Clarke, Bellamy, Octavia, Indra, Kane, and Abby just have to make it to tomorrow. After Lexa died, the coalition was left fractured. And with Ontari dead, there is no commander. “Echoes” confronts the direct aftermath of the City Of Light’s destruction, and The 100 doesn’t hold back in its portrayal of a people and land ravaged by war. Everyone Lexa and Clarke killed in the City Of Light is dead in reality, too. And this bloody reality has people stacking lifeless bodies, physical and emotional pain returned to their minds now that they’re no longer under the influence of the numbing chips. Clarke and the others have to once again face the deadly results of their choices.
With Polis in limbo, Azgeda seizes the opportunity to take control. Clarke and Abby learn that Roan somehow survived a bullet to the chest, and they rush to save him, but they’re stopped. Echo — the Azgedan spy who Bellamy first met as a prisoner at Mount Weather — rises as the temporary Azgedan leader in Roan’s stead, and she has no loyalty to Clarke in the way that Roan had shown in the past. She is Azgedan through and through. In other words: She is fiercely loyal to her people and unafraid to slice the throats of anyone who so much as challenges her. An ambassador of the coalition suggests that the only way Azgeda will take Polis is by force, and sure enough, Echo’s sword meets her throat seconds later. You don’t challenge a soldier of Ice Nation.
Meanwhile, Clarke hatches a plan to save Roan and keep Polis out of the icy clutch of Azgeda: She’ll send in Jaha — who wears his guilt visibly throughout the episode, his shoulders sagging and his feet dragging as he tries to comprehend all the destruction he perpetrated — to return Ontari’s body to her people. Bellamy attempts to create a distraction, meeting with Echo to negotiate the terms of Skaikru’s surrender. Enter Octavia Blake.
Octavia gets her fair share of spectacular moments in the premiere, and maybe season four will finally give the character the spotlight she deserves. Once she got her reckless teen impulses out at the very beginning of the series, Octavia quickly emerged as one of the show’s unexpected gems. She has consistently been one of the Grounders’ only true allies in Skaikru. Sure, Clarke pushed for the coalition between the clans, but Octavia doesn’t draw stark lines between “us” and “them” in the way that Clarke, Bellamy, and the others tend to do. As she fell in love with Lincoln, she fell in love with Grounder culture, too. She learned their language, learned their traditions. To this day, she doesn’t use guns, opting for Grounder weaponry instead — and she puts those weapons to use in “Echoes,” in a thrilling action sequence. Jaha pulls off the ol’ Trojan Horse maneuver, sneaking Octavia into Echo’s chambers under the guise of bringing Ontari back. And with Echo busy beating up Bellamy, Octavia slips out of her hiding place and promptly takes out all of the guards with her warrior moves. Again: Please let this season be the season of Octavia. Marie Avgeropoulos is so fun to watch, especially when paired with Adina Porter, one of the show’s most underrated players. I would follow Octavia and Indra to the end of the world.
Meanwhile, back in Arkadia, things are a little less bloody and tense, but Raven, Monty, Harper, and Jasper still suffer underlying wounds from their recent conflict. Under the impression that the world has been saved, Monty and Harper seize the opportunity to continue their little romance. Destroying A.L.I.E. brings no relief to Jasper, who admits to Raven that he wants to go back to the City Of Light. For him, trading his free will for inner peace is worth it. “Nothing like a little pain to remind you you’re alive,” Raven assures him. That may work for her, but it doesn’t work for Jasper.
The 100 deals with loss, grief, and trauma in just about every episode, and it’s smart and nuanced in its portrayal of how humans confront all three. Every character is different. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to coping. Octavia is compelled to kill her lover’s executioner in order to move forward. Raven uses her pain to push herself. In the past, Bellamy has become so impulsive and reckless in the wake of pain that it has made him susceptible to dangerous belief systems, like those of Pike. Kane doesn’t let his past inform his present. Abby and Clarke become caretakers of others in their weakest moments. Jasper hurts himself. The only way he knows how to handle his pain and suffering is to inflict it upon himself, to be in control. In “Echoes,” he almost takes his own life, only changing his mind when he learns the planet has an expiration date anyway.
I’ll be honest: The 100 has a lot of work to do. “Echoes” effectively sets up the season’s central conflict, and the fast-paced action of the episode keeps the stakes high without sacrificing character development. But season three lost some of its urgency when the City Of Light became too narratively complex and convoluted. The 100 needs to get back to the basics, refocus on the characters. It needs to earn back the trust of its most vocal fans, too. The conclusion of the third season was shrouded in controversy, with Lexa’s death reigniting an ongoing conversation about the Bury Your Gays trope and how damaging it can be for young queer viewers. I count myself among those disappointed by how The 100 executed Lexa. Killing characters isn’t the problem, though; on The 100, characters die all the time. War is an essential part of the show’s narrative, and war leads to deaths. But by killing Lexa mere seconds after she slept with Clarke, The 100 perpetuated a harmful association between queerness and death.
At the very least, Lexa has not been so easily forgotten. Throughout “Echoes,” Clarke’s sorrow seeps through her every move. Collapsing into Abby’s arms, Clarke thumbs the flame, all that she has left of Lexa, and says, “I loved her, Mom.” It’s a huge act of personal sacrifice for Clarke to hand over the flame to Roan as a bartering chip to keep the coalition intact, and Eliza Taylor makes it known just how hard this is for Clarke. The 100 can’t bring Lexa back, but it can keep her memory alive through the other characters, and through Clarke’s heartbreak. It should do the same with Lincoln and Octavia’s heartbreak, too. Every death on this show reverberates within the characters who survive. Death for shock value is cheap, and The 100 is best when it strives for something more. These early episodes of season four will test that part of the show’s narrative fabric as the characters start to rebuild all that has been lost.