The 100: Pilot

“Songs like trees bear fruit only in their own time and their own way: and sometimes they are withered untimely.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

You may have heard of The 100. In fact, if you watch E4 at all, you will have heard of The 100, which was launched a few weeks ago after a massive marketing campaign involving trailers for the show at every single ad break as well as a ridiculous amount of entirely unwarranted hype from over-excited continuity announcers.

For those of you who do not watch E4 (what do you do in the evenings?), The 100 is a post-apocalyptic science fiction drama about a group of juvenile delinquents (the titular 100) sent to Earth from the Ark, a super-satellite whose life-support systems are beginning to fail. The catch? 97 years ago, Earth was uninhabitable, made radioactive by a disastrous nuclear war which supposedly wiped out all life. The 100 are going into unknown territory, filled with possible mutants; they could die of radiation poisoning the moment they hit the ground; the water may be undrinkable, or the food non-existent.

So that all sounds awesome, which is why I watched it. However, I forgot to take into account that The 100 is an American sci-fi drama, which means it is written by people who have no understanding of the nature of anything technical. A few pointers: radiation rarely goes away after just 97 years; you cannot find your position on a paper map in the middle of a wood just by looking at it; and underwater predators rarely let their prey escape with all their limbs intact, unless someone shoots them. (Star Wars has a lot to answer for.)

Possibly I’m being harsh. Maybe the writers do understand the nature of radiation, maps and underwater predators, but simply chose to ignore all that knowledge in favour of an Exciting Plot. Fair enough. After all, the Doctor Who writers tend to do the same thing, if a little more subtly.

What’s less excusable, at least in my opinion, is the characterisation. You see, the action in The 100 is split between the adventures of the young people on the ground, which is all very Lord of the Flies and predictable, and the drama unfolding on the Ark as the Powers that Are prepare to take difficult decisions regarding the fate of the surplus population aboard. The Ark segments are much more interesting and much more futuristic, but the show is already showing a distressing tendency towards the kind of black-and-white categorisation of characters so rife in SFF programmes at the moment. We’re given a Vice-Chancellor, Cain, who wants to preserve humanity, no matter what the cost to the individual, who is thus unequivocally Evil; and a Chancellor who’s quite happy to allow people to break rules to save his life, but not others. He is unequivocally Good. And the thing is, Cain actually has a point. It may be an extreme point, but it’s still a good one. And the Chancellor (whose name I forget) also has a point, but it’s a more questionable one. And those opposing views are never explored or discussed: there is simply a right one and a wrong one. It’s a world away from the ambiguous darkness of Game of Thrones.

The 100 does have its merits. The Ark is quite fascinating, and the adventures of the 100 look like they could become interesting at some point. And this is only, after all, the pilot episode. There’s potential here, certainly. Of course, it may all go horribly wrong in the next few episodes. But one can only hope.

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