I rarely write reviews of television. If the makers don’t put much thought into creating it, why should I try to find meaning where there is none? I will invariably become disappointed. More so for Netflix – Obama’s pet Gramscian project, another institution to march through. As if the wasteland left behind wasn’t enough already; the pandemic was a golden chance for the culture programmers to push what they hope to sell as normal behavior to an increasingly un-skeptical public.
Of course for every rule, there is its exception. And “The 100” for me meets that criteria. I like to watch dystopian movies; the signs of our times really, that we all seem to find solace in the ‘end of the world’. My novels, at least the “San Porfirio” series, are also dystopian to a sense – but in the Latin American magical realist category, more fun and absurd than vicious and brutal.
Most dystopian stories end in one of two ways. Either in the final extinguishing event, onto silence – or the “new heaven and new earth” where after the purging, the trial by fire the utopia finally arrives. The latter is by far the most satisfying. It is after all the story of Christianity and hard-wired into our souls as good and true. Our utopia deferred till the suffering has sorted the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats.
“The 100” is the story of friendship above all. “We do what we have to to save our people,” Clarke (the heroine, who is sort of an anti-hero as well) keeps saying, as little by little the number of people dwindles, as she kills them off in ones and twos and hundreds, forced to choose who to save since humanity, even after the apocalypse, is at each others throats. “Save our people” becomes “Save my friends”. There is no morality whatsoever, the show is a study in utilitarianism. Salvation, the most important thing – at what cost? Turns out there are no limits. “What happened here?” asks Raven appearing through the portal to a pile of dead bodies. “We killed them. It’s what we do.” Says Octavia, Bellamie’s sister who had become for a time the cannibal queen Bloodreina (evoking images of heart of darkness – ‘the horror’). And salvation from the anarchy? “We do better” Kane says, as he is forced to fight in the death arena. “We do better!” Bellamy, Clarke’s best friend, keeps saying, echoing Kane. Till she shoots him too.
Spoiler alert, they never do better.
It is the struggle that defines this movie series. Situational ethics meets philosophy of the struggle, perhaps. “We survive,” they say quite often as one mishap after the next accosts them. “What is the survivor’s move?” John Murphy (my favorite character) asks often. None of this is particularly new or imaginative – the movie series comes from a book series (which I have not read but is now on my not-insubstantial list) by Kass Morgan. And had the series ended (spoiler alert) in humanity being subsumed into the alien utopia, that consciousness of the universe which absorbs all worthy beings after they pass the test of life, I would have shrugged and moved on. An entertaining story. Another paene attempt at meaning, utopia through dystopia (which is more Maoist than Stalinist) which is what the anti-nuclear apocalyptic environmentalists are selling.
But it didn’t. In the final scene (another spoiler) Clarke (of course, our disastrous heroine) breaks through to the final alien test meant to gain admittance for all humanity to the utopian consciousness. Of course she fails, instead of answering the questions she rages against the alien judges, “What gives you the right to judge us? If we fail, you kill us? How is that any different from our own genocides?” She has a point, but misses the fact that there are times when decorum is the better part of valor and when you are representing all that is left of humanity (most the apocalypse killed and the precious few left Clarke did her best to wipe out to defend her ‘friends’) perhaps that is the time to bite your tongue. She scores a rhetorical point – genocide is genocide after all – but she loses the test. And humanity is only saved by Bloodreina averting the last human war, showing that there is something redeemable about us after all. Though frankly that case is a little hard to make after eight seasons of brutality and bad decisions.
But here comes the interesting part. Clarke is of course denied entrance into utopia, though the human race is saved (but only through ascension, if they had been left to themselves they would have kept destroying worlds and planets one after the other – like they did to earth: twice). She is sent alone to earth to die there of natural causes, the end of her race. Only to be met by her friends; who chose a finite time on a regenerating planet instead of an eternity in nirvana, to be together at the end of it all, watching each other age and one-by-one pass away leaving a beautiful, empty planet behind for eternity. “You will have no children, you are the last of your kind,” the alien says to Clarke before leaving.
There is something of Albert Camus joyful nihilism about this ending. “Life is to be lived now.” A beautiful sunset, an extraordinary friendship, a wonderful novel. And Camus found something glorious in this transience that he succeeded in instilling in all of us through his literature (The First Man being his best, read it if you haven’t). But this only works if you believe there is nothing else out there. However what if, having been offered utopia, you turn it down in an act of rebellion and defiance – or an act of existentialist sacrificial friendship?
Utopians, modern and ancient, justify the violence with the belief that after the blood will come peace. This has been what has always bothered me about communist utopians: whether Leninist or Trotskyist or Maoist (I’ve just finished a tremendous book on Maoism, review coming soon). While Christianity offers “a new heaven and a new earth” after the suffering into which we will graduate after we are tested; these atheistic utopian religions cannot offer that. To those who die promoting the utopia, what’s in it for them? And even if they achieve it, after all the violence, for how long? Or is it for the children? Modern environmental apocalyptic utopians would deny us even our right to a better world for our children, preferring as they do a beautiful planet empty of all humanity – green and lush but without sentience to judge it as so.
So what is “The 100” then teaching us, what lessons? A tremendous act of self-harm against our immortal souls, justified by our defiance of a greater power who would judge us for we consider them unworthy – though that is irrelevant because, in the Nietzschien sense their power to destroy worlds gives them the authority to do so: for are not Nietzsche and Camus the two sides of the same coin? Food for thought.
At any rate – all that to say, “The 100” – though certainly not for the faint of heart – gave me pause to think. And for that I’m grateful, coming as it did from our entertainment world which is so deficient in ideas and thinking. I put it up there with “Hunger Games”, which also made me think. I’ll read the novels next, and write a review of them. Stay tuned.