The 100: Pilot Review
By Adam James Cuthbert
The latest import to E4, the first impression of The 100, in the rise of young-adult science-fiction, is that the series fails to distinguish itself: an original identity is subsumed by the trends of the market. The characters consist of over-familiarised archetypes, and the scenario presented is unexceptional in the genre. This is not to say that the series is at a detriment; on the contrary, the pilot is entertaining. A science-fiction series can be successful without innovating the genre, so long as the archetypes are well-written, and supported by the quality of the actors and/or direction.
In her voice-over narration, the heroine Clarke Griffin exposits: 97 years ago the Earth was devastated by nuclear war. The survivors found asylum on space stations, which were later cannibalised into a single sanctuary, the Ark. The Biblical connotations of the appellation are immediately apparent, and the pilot depicts its account of the Fall of Man. Indeed, the antagonist on the Ark is named Kane, possibly a homophonic play on Cain, the first murderer. Clarke is one of the eponymous hundred (all under the age of eighteen) who have been incarcerated. Their youth spares them from execution as punishment for their crimes.
The juvenile prisoners are deemed “expendable” by the presiding council, and dispatched to Earth to ensure that it is habitable for colonisation. The council has an ulterior motive, however. The Ark is dying, and its limited resources will be unable to sustain the population. Sending the prisoners to Earth is only a reprieve from the seeming inevitable.
One problem with the pilot is that the audience is never shown how dire the predicament is. We only briefly glimpse the ordinary people on the Ark, and there’s no insight into their living conditions that would give the audience a substantive reason to be emotionally invested in the stakes at hand. If the episode had perhaps stated the population number, there would at least be a quantifiable sense of scale. This could further justify Councillor Kane’s motivation to commit genocide to protract the survival of the human race.
The character of Kane is to the episode’s merit, fulfilling one of the criteria of science-fiction: to re-examine the human race’s place in the universe. Kane’s authority, and ambition for power, is challenged by the morality of Clarke’s mother Abigail, who delineates the crucial difference between them. In keeping with its Biblical influences, the episode explores the theme of free will, and the consequences of choice. Kane prioritises the survival of the species on its terms. Abigail calls into question whether or not the human race deserves to live in the aftermath of nuclear apocalypse. The Biblical influence is directly evoked by Kane’s allusion to Genesis.
The highlight of the episode is the interactions between Clarke and Finn. Eliza Taylor and Thomas McDowell insinuate signs of a burgeoning chemistry between the characters that should it develop would be enticing viewing. While the age of the actors (both are in their twenties) can distract from the ‘authenticity’ of the teenage characters, the actors nonetheless define the roles, even as they are limited by the archetypal nature of the characters. Finn is the charming rebellious type with a good heart. Clarke is presented as her father’s daughter: a born leader, with a steely resolve and underlying compassion. Her pragmatism acts as a foil to Finn’s laidback attitude.
There’s a beautiful moment where Clarke and Finn are surrounded by the luminescent forest. The scene lends a mystical atmosphere to the post-apocalyptic Earth, as if the characters had been transported to another world, a return to Eden after the fall. The imagery of the forest feels exotic, and the world genuinely exciting to explore.
The consequences of choice are shown to be grave when Finn’s actions cost two teenagers their lives during the descent to Earth. McDowell registers the momentary shock and possible guilt experienced by Finn. Finn subsequently acts as though the deaths never transpired. This is unfortunate since the deaths could have enlarged the character, reacting against the complicated morality of his initially innocuous actions.
Overall Verdict: 7.5/10