It’s a scope that benefits the moral quandaries of the show’s ideas, far more than the first two seasons, which feel like vertical slices in comparison. That’s not a knock against any hour of this show (all of which I’ve loved), but a testament to their importance as a foundation for what Rothenberg and his group have built off from the seeds of Kass Morgan’s original novel. It’s still awash in pulling apart at the themes of survival, war, and the fight for power, but against a larger backdrop, the darkness intensifies, the action magnifies, and the search for definitive answers amidst all of the various explosions, executions, kidnappings, and genocides only gets more grim.
All of which makes The 100 sound like some oppressively bleak slog, but it is about as far from that as possible. This is whiplash-fast television with plot twists of the fiery-death-via-jet-engine variety that repeatedly earns its shocks by way of creating characters – most of which are teenagers, remember – that are impressively un-annoying. The center of that is Clarke, obviously, played with commandeering presence by Taylor, who has a ton of fun with being feral and on the run in the opening hours of the year. Her confused, steamy relationship with Grounder leader Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) continues to entertain without resorting to obnoxiousness.
The adults orbit the show enough to keep the high stakes of the world alive without providing all of the answers themselves. The new season finds Clarke’s mom, Dr. Abigail (Paige Turco) ready to relinquish her role as Chancellor to Marcus Kane (Henry Ian Cusick). This gets a bit clouded once a group of unexpected newcomers enter the midsts of Arkadia after being discovered as survivors of a separate wreckage of the Ark. They’re led by the morally staunch Commander Pike (Michael Beach), who becomes so comically contrarian to our hero’s viewpoints he may as well walk around with a sign that says “Bad Guy Incoming.” In a season opening so fleet-footed and self-assured, he’s an unfortunate, unsympathetic stick in the mud.
He can’t bring The 100 down, though. The show is too well-realized and worthwhile to be taken that easily, and that’s all without mentioning the heady delights that Jaha (Isaiah Washington) faces following his run in with an artificial intelligence that may have all of humanity’s blood on her hands. He finally finds his City of Light, but Murphy (Richard Harmon) isn’t entirely convinced it’s a trip worth taking. These spiffy side excursions could potentially bring down the show’s feral subject matter, but the scenes and conversations presented in the opening of season 3 revolving around Alie’s (Erica Cerra) endgame are essentially as intriguing as anything else discovered in The 100‘s world thus far.
As far as platitudes go, the most infamous and infuriating of modern television has to be the ease with which a show’s creators confirm that a new season will “be darker.” “It’s gonna go there,” they’ll say, or something along those lines. The 100 actually does go there, and it earns its stay thanks to characters that react to the rules of the world with believable fear, and twists that never cease to be I need to sit up for this shocking. It gives fans what they want (here’s four words: Bellamy, Lincoln, shirtless, fight) but creatively challenges what they expect (have fun screaming at your TV in the closing moments of episode three). If still covered in The CW’s tween sheen, and occasionally reliant on frustrating character archetypes, The 100‘s ultimate goal to thrill is so relentlessly achieved, that that list in your head may as well start making room near the top.
The 100 absolutely explodes in season 3; the characters fascinate, the moral murkiness of the plot thickens, and the scope of the world expands to mythical proportions in wondrous, gripping, and appropriately novel ways.