Turning Arkadia into a bunker was a doomed solution from the very beginning. The second that hydrogenerator blew up, guaranteeing that only 100 members of Skaikru could survive the end of the world, it became clear that the characters would have to find another way. But by quite literally blowing up Skaikru’s “viable solution” to the end of the world, The 100 raises the stakes exponentially. Raven and Abby’s quixotic nightblood solution is, officially, the only solution.
The tension leading up to the explosive ending of “The Tinder Box” is urgent but measured, the weight of battle bearing down on the characters before it even has a chance to begin. Octavia, fresh off a stab wound and nasty fall, miraculously makes it back to Arkadia in time to warn the others, assisted by Ilian, who has his own reasons for helping her. Clarke hatches a plan to take Ice Nation by surprise, cutting them off on their route toward Arkadia and demanding to speak with Roan. Ice Nation has Bellamy and Kane in custody, but Skaikru has guns, which they in turn aim at Roan after he has his archers target Clarke. At an impasse, the king realizes he has walked into a trap and concedes to Clarke’s demands.
No one even has to start firing at each other for the severity of the situation to settle in. “The Tinder Box” thrives on anticipation, on the slow build-up to an ultimately sensible and violence-free resolution — which subsequently gets blown apart in the episode’s payoff. No one wants war. Not even bloodthirsty Echo. Ice Nation knows it can’t win against Skaikru’s guns, but anyone who takes the first shot will incite a massacre that will devastate both sides. But, of course, someone refuses to play by the rules. Riley, recently freed from the chains of Azgedan slavery, breaks Skaikru formation for a solo mission to slaughter Roan. Monty, Harper, and Bellamy are all in agreement that Riley should have never been there in the first place, but David Miller’s oversight in handing Riley a gun provides necessary additional conflict on top of the already sticky situation, pushing Ice Nation and Skaikru even closer to the brink of war.
Ever since they first met in the depths of Mount Weather, Bellamy and Echo keep getting thrown up against one another, bound together by the ongoing friction between their peoples. Like Roan and Clarke, they’re neither friends nor enemies. In “The Tinder Box,” Bellamy convinces Echo to let him try to talk Riley down, so she accompanies him on a last-ditch effort to save the king and prevent war. “The Tinder Box” demands that we emotionally invest in two very new characters — Riley and Ilian — but The 100 is so good at exposition that it isn’t too tall an order. We just met Riley three episodes back, but his motivations are clear, and they resonate with emotional honesty. Like Pike, he can only see Ice Nation as the enemy. But unlike Pike, he was enslaved for months, giving him even more reason to hate Azgeda. Bellamy tries to appeal to Riley’s humanity, the urgency of his pep talk heightened by the presence of Echo’s bow. “War made me a murderer,” Bellamy says, the consequences of his actions in season three still reverberating within him. He gets Riley to lay down his gun.
Meanwhile in the cave, Clarke and Roan come to a sensible — if imperfect — agreement. Both leaders make good points: Clarke claims she wasn’t trying to betray Ice Nation by getting the ship ready to save her people, but her words are weak, especially when challenged by Roan’s invocation of Lexa. As Commander, Lexa transcended loyalty to her clan. Clarke claims to be looking for a way to save everyone, and she reiterates the potential of the nightblood, but from Roan’s perspective, it still looks like she’s just trying to save her own kind, and he’s not technically wrong. So they settle on a compromise: Azgeda and Skaikru will split the ship with 50 spots each.
Leave it to The 100 to take a peaceful compromise and drop an actual bomb on it. A massacre may have been avoided, but peace remains elusive. After all, war broke out the second the original 100 landed on the ground. That war has changed over time, alliances shifting, new enemies emerging, but it has never really ended — only evolved. In season four, the common enemy isn’t a powerful group like the Mountain Men nor a rogue A.I. like A.L.I.E. Instead, it’s radiation. Suddenly, the enemy is a nebulous, inhuman entity that threatens to wipe everyone out regardless of clan or creed. The only way to fight it is together, but that’s easier said than done, especially when established conflicts between clans remain.
In “The Tinder Box,” a lone agent disrupts the peace. Like Riley, Ilian acts on his own. Seeking vengeance in his family’s name, he destroys Arkadia. For him, tech is the enemy. As with Riley, Ilian’s arc is backed with strong character work and complex emotions. Octavia tries to talk him down, her injured body propped up by Clarke’s one-time lover, Niylah, who will hopefully be developed more this season. Octavia uses her own experiences to relate to Ilian, much like Bellamy does with Riley, but it doesn’t work this time. She wasn’t in the City Of Light, so Ilian believes she couldn’t possibly understand his pain. He lowers his torch and Alpha Station, a cornerstone of The 100’s sprawling set pieces since the beginning, goes up in flames. (Side note: Is no one worried about a massive forest fire?) As the station burns, a colossal blaze erupts alongside hopelessness and despair. Scraps rain down on Azgedan and Skaikru warriors alike, further binding their fates.
That leaves Abby and Raven to save the world. (Oh, right, and Jackson. Poor Jackson. Unlike most of the characters who have been around since the beginning, Jackson remains unspecific, little more than a sounding board for Abby.) In Becca’s lab, they run into a binding issue with the nightblood formula, but Upgraded Raven has an out-of-body experience that leads her to a crucial discovery. Raven’s brain is operating at such a high capacity that it’s killing her. When she was violently disconnected from the City of Light, her brain maintained part of A.L.I.E.’s code, leaving her with some of Becca’s memories. She deduces that nightblood has to be made in a zero-gravity environment, and she finds a launch ship in the lab.
Raven is essentially a supercomputer now, and while there are times when her newfound super-intelligence is all too convenient for the plot, it’s also a bizarrely fitting evolution of the character’s arc. Even before A.L.I.E. upgraded her brain, Raven showed intelligence and ingenuity well beyond her age and training. She has always been resourceful and wildly confident, accomplishing seemingly impossible tasks ever since she first built a ship that took her to the ground. Brilliant mechanic to supercomputer is a fascinating evolution of the character because deep down, she’s the same ol’ Raven.
Of course, Raven wasn’t the only one ripped away from the City of Light before Clarke hit the kill switch. Abby was, too, and the end of the episode reveals she’s suffering from the same symptoms as Raven. Will these two become even more bound to each other? They have the capacity to save the world, but it might kill them in the process, setting them on the shared path of tragic heroism.