Complex Moralities: The 100
My name is Katja, and I love The 100.
I was introduced to The 100 (read: the hundred, not the one hundred) by my wonderful friend, Ally. She’s a fantastic CP & cheerleader and I was in a low spot with my SAMM manuscript, so she compiled a ton of video footage & made me an awesome fake book trailer. It featured the one and only Bellamy Blake as my desperately-in-need-of-new-boots monster boy, Finian and I fell hard.
I obsessively watched the show, which was 5 seasons in at that point and then I rewatched it. It checked off all the tiny boxes in my brain that made it 100% my jam and totally overrode the parts of my logic that were like WAIT A TICK SCIENCE DOES NOT SCIENCE LIKE THAT.
The show has since ended and while I have some personal feelings about the last two seasons, I was overall satisfied with how it closed out. I’m in the midst of yet another rewatch because I love all these disaster children vying for the fate of humankind against barbaric conditions and choices. I also realize how much of it influenced the manuscript I wrote after SAMM, Tarnished Hearts, in a roundabout way (Lexa/Clark vibes, bb Anden being raised to be the next commander at the age of 12, Sinclair! Maddie!) and how it influenced Harpy Girls (a friendship with the deep roots of Monty & Jasper with shades of Bellamy & Clarke).
And since I’m me and love to expound about the things I love, I’m going to do a series of close reads of the show from a craft standpoint. Because although the science is a bit shoddy in places (I mean, how did horses survive but domesticated dogs and cats didn’t? How does every single grounder have perfect teeth?) The character development and the tension and conflict are on point. At every turn, the writers of this show had the viewer all spun up, cornering these kids into impossible choices that really have you pondering morality.
And, so, here we are. I’m writing about what I love. So, a few ground(er) rules before we dive into the first bit. 1) I know other people & blogs have discussed this show, it's characters, and done deep dives. But I haven't. And since I have a lot of thoughts, I'm writing my own blogs. 2) I’m going to divide all of these with the same chaos embraced by the show. So I'll be jumping around from season to season and character to character with only my heart for a compass.
So, ah, SPOILERS.
I also have to say that I’m in love with absolutely everyone on this show. If any one of them came up to me and asked me out on a date, the answer would be an enthusiastic yes. Especially Bellamy (duh), Murphy, Harper, Octavia, Echo, & Indra. They are all just so damn amazing. This show also has my favorite sexy trope--"grimes up good" where the characters get dirtier and dirtier and more and more beat up. It totally works for me. Plus abs. Abs is a trope, you will not change my mind and there are some GREAT abs in this show.
The complex morality of The 100 is perhaps my absolute favorite thing about this show. I find it fascinating to watch characters faced with impossible choices have to make those choices and no matter what they do, they’re wrong. (Is this a trope? It should be). Before I dive into a minor moral (if you’re reading this & have never watched the show, you might be like THIS IS MINOR??? But trust me, this is pretty pedestrian) I want to touch on a concept that really broadened my moral ambiguity horizons.
I had the absolute privilege to listen to a presentation about morally grey characters and worlds at Sirens in 2022, given by the indomitable Fonda Lee. (fangirl moment. I met her. She signed my book. I was screaming internally so loud I can’t believe she didn’t hear me) Go read her books, srsly. Go buy the Green Bone Saga right now, call off work for a week and pay your respects to the Kaul family. This is the BEST series I have ever read, I will not change my mind. (unless Fonda’s next work knocks it from the top of my list).
*Ahem* The subject of Fonda Lee’s presentation was morality. It brought a whole new understanding to my obsession with morally grey characters and it made the question of who and what is morally grey more complex. Basically, you need to not only analyze the character’s choices, but their choices within the world where they exist vs how those choices would look or feel in the world in which we exist. Which absolutely blew my mind. I think as readers and consumers of media, we often forget how immersed in our own perspectives we are and forget to take a step back and examine the character choices based on their world and their life experiences. Which makes morality a lot more complex than just right or wrong based on our world and it starts to intersect with how uncomfortable those things make us feel.
This thinking applies to The 100 in every possible way and the show absolutely pushes the viewer to feel uncomfortable. These moments are not just shock value, they’re building a complex moral scaffolding that not only shows us the brutality and terror in this world, but sets up for future painful decisions as the show progresses.
Season 1 comes in hard. (In case you missed it above, SPOILERS: specifically for the first half of season 1). And we immediately see how characters are trying to shift the narrative and protect their own interests. I'm going to plow ahead without giving much plot context, so if you haven't watched it, I suggest you do.
We’ll start on the ARK, where we see Marcus Kane going head to head with Abby Griffin for, (are you ready for it?) saving Chancellor Jaha's life and using “more than the allotted” medical supplies. So, basically, Abby, who’s a doctor and whose sole career objective is to HELP PEOPLE, did a good thing and is about to be floated (their version of executed) because she saved someone’s life. Let’s unpack this as far as character and world building.
This immediately tells us that life on the ARK is difficult and not all holorooms and teleporters like Star Trek has led us to believe. In order to survive, everything is rationed. EVERYTHING. Which means that if you get sick, you only get so much medicine before, too bad, they let you die.
What you don’t entirely know yet (it’s being hinted at) is that the ARK is dying. It can’t sustain it’s population anymore and they only have one or two months left before everyone dies--hence the kids being sent to see if the earth is survivable. So now we have a lot more to figure out inside our heads.
My question is this: If everyone is dying in two months anyway, what does it hurt to save the Chancellor--the voice of reason and logic that was elected to keep order? And it brings up the age old debate of who is worth saving vs. who is not. As the Chancellor, he has some extra privileges on the ARK, does he deserve to be kept alive more than someone else? If another person, a maintenance worker had been shot, would Abby have been as adamant about saving them or would she perhaps let them die and followed the rationing guidelines?
Future character development says she probably would have saved them, but by the time we get to those moments, the world of Skaikru has changed so much that it’s hard to know for sure.
On the other hand, we have Marcus Kane. In the Chancellor’s absence he is chancellor pro tempore (fancy Latin words for temporary) and he says, according to the the Exodus Charter, Abby must be floated. Any adult who commits a crime is immediately put to death. No exceptions. None. He understands why she did it, but he refuses to bend on this law.
Surviving in space for 97 years (which means there could have possibly been a single person still alive who had seen the ground? They would be like 100 (ahahahahahahahahahahaa, what if that was the twist. That person gets to the ground is like I’m THE 100 now bitches and it was really just this centenarian) was not easy, especially since it was done in haste (as revealed in Season 3). It required a strict adherence to the law and Kane takes this position very seriously. He’s willing to kill Abby, the best medical doctor they have on the ARK in order to uphold the letter of the law. He is rigid and unchanging.
Side note: I’m not gonna lie, I wanted to kick Kane in season 1. He is such a dick. His character arc is one of the most brilliant pieces of this show though.
So, we’re immediately faced with a complex moral decision. Our hearts tend to side with Abby. Of course she wants to save the Chancellor. She’s a doctor and she believes in his empathetic style of leadership. He’s the safer option that gives them all the higher chance of surviving. She risks being floated to save him.
But our minds need to consider the rest of the ARK’s people. They're stuck in the space station, trying to ensure humanity survives, they can’t afford to be empathetic. It won’t lead to success. They have to be harsh, brutal, and rigid in their laws. So the world itself is morally skewed from ours.
In our world, despite the wealth and privilege gaps, a doctor is unlikely to be punished for doing what was necessary to save a patient’s life. They wouldn’t be in trouble for using two band aids instead of one. So, as a viewer of this show, we’re left uncomfortable with Kane’s reaction and handling of this event. We take the moral high ground and side with Abby. She saved a life after all. She did the right thing.
But did she? In the moment, Chancellor Jaha continues to be a steady force guiding the Arkadians to safe harbor, but in the end, Jaha changes (another fascinating character study). So maybe Abby is the bad guy because she should have let him die. (I'm purposefully NOT going into more depth here because SPOILERS)
Which gets us into the “she didn’t know!” argument. And you’re right. We never know what precisely the future will hold, all we can do is hold steady in the moment and hope we make the best decision. This gets hammered home in Season 2 when Abby tells Clark to "remember we’re the good guys” followed by Clarke’s eventual realization that there are no good guys.
Gah. Season two is painful. That choice at the end is just *CHEF’S KISS* and will be the focus of a another blog post.
But let’s enjoy the moral complexity of this moment. Abby, who did the right thing by our standards, did the wrong thing by her world's. So we get mad at Kane for doing the right thing by their laws because in our world, he’s being unreasonable and unfeeling. And this is what makes it so engaging.
But wait! There's more!
Why did Chancellor Jaha need saved at all? Why happened to him? Because Bellamy Blake (not to be confused with my Bellamy Q. Blake, the bestest doggo to ever doggo this side of the Mississippi) shot him. Bellamy Blake, one of the most beloved characters on the show, begins his tenure as a hired thug who, in return for killing Jaha, gets a spot on the drop ship going down to earth so that he can protect his baby sister, who was arrested for the crime of being born.
HOLY CARP RIGHT? 🐟
(and yes, carp. Because it’s funny. It is not a typo)
Look at the layers and conflicts we have going on here. Bellamy’s core command is to protect his sister. On the ARK, because of resources, no family is allowed to have more than one child. His mom got pregnant a second time, hid it from a close knit group of survivors on a spaceship, gave birth in their tiny room with 6 year old Bellamy as a midwife. (I was not kidding when I said the science does not science right in this show) The backstory scene ends with his mom telling him “your sister, your responsibility” and he internalizes this so much that every choice he makes. EVERY DAMN ONE. EVERY DAMN SEASON, has this at its center. Everything he does is for Octavia, to protect her.
So, anyway, in order to get on that ship, he needed to grease some palms, aka, be a hired thug for a movement of people who didn’t want Jaha in power anymore. So Bellamy makes the choice to kill him so he can go to earth with his sister, where he might die anyway, but at least he can die having kept his word to his mom (who was floated, by the way, when his sister was eventually discovered because she broke the law by having a second child!).
Bellamy weighs his choices and puts his sister above the life of Jaha. (there is some added guilt because it’s his fault that Octavia was arrested in the first place). So not only do these characters all face morally difficult decision with limited options and resources, but they all interweave. You might miss it on the first watch through because much is going on and it’s so traumatizing, but on the rewatch, you can find all the subtle threads connecting everything together.
So who's the good guy? Who's the bad guy? Was anyone justified in what they did or how they arrived at their decisions? And if we dig even deeper, how do we, personally decide who gets a pass and who doesn't? I adore Bellamy and even when I learned he'd shot Jaha, I was like, THAT'S COOL HE'S STILL AN OKAY DUDE. HE JUST MADE ONE BAD DECISION... It shifted my understanding of him, but I was willing to forgive him. I'd be foolish to ignore the YEARS of social patriarchal conditioning that led to this (aka, a cis-het white man can do horrible things, but if he's SEXY and at least hints at being sorry about it, it's okay and he just needs to be understood), but the more I unpack it, the more tangled their reasons become. Each was acting out of love, duty, & upholding the law.
And this is where I get caught up in everything. I love examining these complicated questions and knowing that none of them actually have a right or wrong answer, it's more of a "which has the least horrible consequences?" And then we need to look at how that all intersects with each of these character's personal beliefs and misbeliefs. The writers did a bang up job here because as the show progresses, we see these elements appear again and again as these characters are forced into a continual cycle of impossible choices. They change and grow as people, but that core that we see in our first introduction to them is always present. It never goes away.
Okay, I've rambled enough. There will be more The 100 Moral Complexity posts in the future where I do deep dives into characters and various plot points. If there's something you want me to focus on, please let me know. I am here to go full #Nerd on everything about this show. Pop over and talk to me on Twitter @KatjaBookDragon!
OR!! I think I think people might be able to leave comments now that I have officially paid for this website??? Please (try and ) leave a comment! I want to respond! I want to engage!!!