“We Will Rise” has all the markings of an excellent episode of The 100. Monty spells out the stakes of the central mission rather explicitly: Roan, Clarke, and Bellamy are tasked with getting every last drop of the remaining rocket fuel to Raven so she can launch into space and manufacture synthetic blood that will save the human race from nuclear destruction — but they must transport that fuel over bumpy roads and across war-torn lands, sprinkled with warring clans and people panicked over the impending apocalypse. “What could possibly go wrong?” Roan playfully asks.
The episode certainly delivers on the action front. Getting the rocket fuel to Raven makes for the most exciting mission of the season so far. Now that Azgedan soldiers know the truth about the radiation, hundreds have deserted on their way back to Polis, returning to their families … and burning down Trikru villages on the way. Trikru’s need for vengeance and Azgedan self interests all collide to make the hydrazine journey all the more tumultuous. It culminates in a high-speed car chase and stylish fight sequence I referred to in my notes as “Fast & Furious: Azgeda Drift,” because that’s exactly what it felt and looked like.
The 100 could easily be accused of overusing slow-motion sequences, but it somehow always works. The show exercises enough restraint in its stylization between the climactic action scenes that it earns the spectacle. Of course, even when it seems like they’ve achieved the impossible by overcoming all the obstacles that stand in their way, Roan, Bellamy, and Clarke don’t emerge completely victorious. A Trikru arrow drained one of the hydrazine barrels entirely. After running simulations all episode to determine how to get to space and back safely, Raven finally finds a way — but she needed every last drop. The 100 never lets its characters off too easy.
The two other storylines that make up the episode also have crazy high stakes, adding to the episode’s thrills. Ilian remains in Skaikru custody and the people want justice — or, rather, they want mob justice. But they’re not going to get it on Kane’s watch. Much like the mob that once strung up Murphy for perceived wrongdoing, the group that wants to kill Ilian for blowing up Alpha Station has little concern for justice and more concern for revenge. What will killing him even achieve? Jus drein jus daun (blood must have blood), as Clarke and Lexa once insisted, isn’t always a productive policy. But the mob’s thirst for Ilian’s blood reveals ugly, frightening truths about humanity. Even David Miller turns on Kane to give the mob access to Ilian.
Over in Becca’s lab, Raven powers through her brain condition, running endless simulations. Abby is conveniently absent, leaving Luna and Murphy to deal with Raven’s increasing lack of control. Shows with large ensemble casts like The 100 usually have to work around all sorts of scheduling issues, and sometimes those can be hard to cover up. Abby’s glaring absence from this episode is particularly obvious, especially since it was necessary to make Raven’s storyline work. Getting Murphy alone with Raven allows their ongoing conflict to boil over. Some really great character work unfolds in Raven’s scenes, especially once Luna is thrown into the mix, but every time Murphy suggests that he go wake up Abby, it becomes more and more obvious that Paige Turco isn’t around. It’s a small distraction, and normally I wouldn’t think too hard about it, but little rips in the fabric like that can sometimes take away from the moment.
It’s another small thing, but it was so obvious that Roan’s soldier would die during the hydrazine transport that when they do indeed find him in a body bag, it feels like the natural progression of things rather than heightening the stakes like it should. Give a previously unknown character a name and a few lines, and you might as well just slap a Star Trek red shirt on them. I normally don’t get this nitpicky with The 100, especially when it comes to an episode as thrilling as “We Will Rise,” but one major misstep that comes later on makes these smaller blemishes even more easy to fixate on. Once that comes about, “We Will Rise” just looks like a flawed episode to the core.
After Skaikru gets their hands on Ilian, Octavia tells the mob leader that the kill is hers. They all take Ilian outside, and Kane and Jaha conspire at the last second to get everyone to abandon their revenge agenda with a faked black-rain alarm. Everyone leaves except for Octavia, who holds a gun to a kneeling Ilian’s head. Already, none of this makes sense. Sure, Octavia is no stranger to retribution: She ran a sword through Pike for killing Lincoln. But that was different — that was personal. The mob’s anger toward Ilian makes sense. Octavia’s? Less so. She’s Skairippa now, but even Skairippa knows when to kill. She kills when she has orders to do so, or — as Roan once plainly put it — when it’s good politics. Killing Ilian is not good politics. Killing Ilian is impulsive. Octavia isn’t usually as concerned with her people as others. (Roan remarks that Clarke is one of the only leaders who cares about more than just her own people, but Octavia exhibits those traits most of the time, too.)
Basically, this episode forces a gun into Octavia’s hands — that detail alone is out of character, given Octavia’s love of the sword — in order to execute a grossly gratuitous sequence that’s meant to be an emotional climax for the episode and for Octavia’s mourning of Lincoln’s death. The scene cuts between flashbacks to Lincoln’s execution and the very similar imagery of Octavia holding a gun to Ilian’s head. The 100 has never employed a narrative device quite like this, and it’s more than just distracting: It rips you out of the moment completely. No doubt intended to be deeply emotional and poignant, it comes off as violent and jarring. It’s so forced, undercutting some of the brilliant turns in Octavia’s arc since Lincoln’s demise. For what it’s worth, Marie Avgeropoulos gives a heart-wrenching performance, but it isn’t enough to make the sequence work. The moment leaves a gaping hole in the episode, bringing all the smaller holes to light.
Perhaps The 100 was committed to the ol’ show-don’t-tell rule, but by showing Lincoln’s actual execution, intercut with Octavia in the present, the episode shows too much. It kills the moment. There are more effective ways of doing this. Showing Clarke gazing at a picture she drew of Lexa after waking up next to Niylah, for instance, conveys backstory and character development and complex emotions, without taking the viewer out of the moment. That scene is one of the more subtle, organic, and emotional moments in “We Will Rise” and it could have made the episode, if the Lincoln sequence didn’t ruin it all.
In the end, it’s clear that action sequences alone do not make The 100 compelling. The action has to be backed with emotion — with real, human stakes. Octavia’s fraught interactions with her brother and the way Bellamy opens up to Clarke about their fractured relationship resonate with emotional honesty. Luna trying to calm down an explosive Raven with an elegant mantra about the sea makes for the most gorgeous sequence of the episode. That intimate, beautifully shot scene pulls you right in, in a way that the Octavia/Lincoln scene does not. “We Will Rise” could have easily been one of the best episodes of The 100 in a long time, but revisiting one of the most devastating scenes of the series ends up feeling cheap and exploitative.