The 100 – Season 7 Episode 8
The 100 takes a break from the main plot of the season and turns the clock back to the time of the first Apocalypse in order to set up a potential spin-off.
Backdoor pilots are a strange beast. They are episodes of a TV show designed to set up the major elements of a different one. The idea is to get existing fans of the current show on board with the spin-off concept by giving them an extended tease of what it might be like to watch it week on week. My view on backdoor pilots is that they generally don’t work as an episode of the show we’re currently watching because they take time away from the characters and plot to set up things that may never be expanded on. If the characters of the current show are in it at all they tend to be in the background with limited participation in the events of the episode because the new characters need to be able to stand alone and deal with problems in their own way. Supernatural has had two attempts at this method of spinning off with both being unsuccessful, Star Trek: The Original Series also unsuccessfully tried this and there are other examples throughout television history of spin-off’s failing to come to anything after a backdoor pilot. There are successful examples such as Schooled spinning out of The Goldbergs or JAG setting up NCIS but backdoor pilots generally have a very low hit rate in terms of becoming an actual TV show. It should be noted that an episode of Arrow was meant to serve as a backdoor pilot for The Flash but that changed when those in charge were so impressed by Barry’s debut on Arrow that they commissioned a proper pilot and later a series.
I’ll start by covering the role the characters of The 100 play in this episode. The episode begins with Clarke and Raven mourning the apparent loss of Bellamy as an extension of them learning about it in the previous episode. It hits the right emotional notes and it’s good that time is being taken to show how the characters react to this even though it’s unlikely that Bellamy is actually dead. Many shows treat the return of a character believed dead as an inevitability which means that the other characters don’t react to it as if they’re really gone. This tends to make the apparent death of a major character feel manipulative and a cheap attempt to create drama before bringing them back. The reactions to Bellamy’s “death” are believable which allows it to have meaning even if his return is all but assured. It’s very brief but the actors do excellent work conveying that sense of loss.
The freshly awoken Bill Cadogan comes face to face with Clarke and puts on his best soft voice to try getting her on side. It’s as if he’s going out of his way to be reasonable in order to resolve the situation. John Pyper-Ferguson is great in this role because he plays Bill in such a way that he could be persuasive. His kindness and compassion seem genuine enough but there’s also something beneath the surface that suggests he could be problematic when things aren’t going his way. Through him we learn that Clarke is “the key” because she is believed to be the current keeper of The Flame -the flashbacks further explain why that’s important but I’ll get to that- so immediately there is a conflict brewing because Bill will inevitably learn that Clarke doesn’t have The Flame and there’s no way he’ll react well to that. Clarke is playing a dangerous game by leading him to believe that she has The Flame though she’s well practiced in playing dangerous games by this point.
Most of the episode takes place around the time of the first Apocalypse; the first time Earth was rendered a nuclear wasteland and focuses on Bill’s daughter Calliope -or Calli- (Iola Evans) as she and her family adapt to the end of the world as they know it. The flashbacks begin with Calli and her friend, Lucy (Nicole Muñoz) dealing with some minor injuries following a protest. Through conversations with Lucy and her mother, Gemma (Crystal Balint) we get some background on Calli’s world. The highlights are that her parents are separated and she’s preparing to drop out of MIT now that she’s 18 so that she can devote all of her time to protesting as a member of a group called Trikru. Her parents are less than enthusiastic about this decision because they see it as her throwing her future away but Calli’s insistent that this is what she wants to do and a choice she has every right to make now that she’s 18. There’s a really good conversation she has with Bill where she points out that even if it turns out to be a mistake it’s entirely her choice and she’s prepared to live with the consequences. Calli is very quickly set up as being passionate yet reflective with her choice being very well considered based on her own internal logic. I could see their being a constant battle between the rational and the emotional raging within her which makes for a strong foundation.
The consequences of Calli’s decision won’t ever be explored as her future is interrupted by the end of the world. Bill calls his ex-wife and children to warn them that the missiles are in the air and get them to safety so the setting quickly shifts to the bunker that the characters we know will come to inhabit much later. Calli’s perspective allows us an insight into how people would react to seeing the world obliterated before their eyes and what adjusting to a new normal might look like. She’s one of the fortunate ones in that she has a safe place to live where billions of others are either killed or slowly wait for death from radiation poisoning but it doesn’t mean that the situation is an ideal one. It’s all summed up in one moment where it dawns on her that the rest of her life will be spent in a bunker and she’s unable to fully process what that means. It’s a quick acknowledgement of the fact that there are no unimportant problems and that being more fortunate than others in terms of circumstance doesn’t make a particular situation any easier to deal with. Those in the bunker have to live with the idea that countless people are dead which includes people they cared about, the world as they knew it is gone and there is no hope for a bright future. As far as anyone in the bunker knows they’re stuck behind a locked door waiting to die which makes for a less than ideal situation. August (Leo Howard) frantically looking to go back out to find his girlfriend is a clear example of what so many people will be dealing with.
One thing I would have liked to see more of is day to day life in the bunker. Calli’s perspective is a good one because she’s connected to Bill in a really big way so has access to some really important information though she’s largely disconnected from the average resident. There’s no sense of community to the bunker dwellers because the episode is in such a hurry to move the plot along to what the spin-off may be about. The two year time jump doesn’t help with this as we cut from the chaos of the early days to a point where a routine has been established and people have become accustomed to their new normal. There was surely a lot of mileage in showing how that grows and develops rather than skipping to the point where it already exists.
Bill features heavily in the episode with the beginning and end of the episode serving as bookends that suggest the story is being told from his point of view. It doesn’t entirely work because there is so much information he would never have access to but it does answer how he got to Bardo and what currently motivates him. The Anomaly Stone on Earth at this point makes sense as a way for him to get to Bardo though it’s unclear what happened to it as it appears to still be in the bunker by the end of these events which means it should have been there at the point Wonkru were living in it. Did Octavia just think it was unimportant or is this a bit of a retcon? I suspect the whereabouts of Earth’s anomaly stone will become important later and it remains unknown who made them. Bill’s role in this episode does seem to go against my “Bardo is Earth” theory but I’m still not ruling out time travel so it is still on the table.
The Anomaly Stone is a source of obsession for Bill who believes that the salvation of the Human race will be found on another planet. He’s adopting the same trial and error method that Gabriel later becomes involved in to figure out the correct sequence to open a wormhole to another world. It’s very slow going but Bill is a patient man and time is something he has a lot of so he’s content to keep pressing random symbols to figure out the correct sequence no matter how long it might take.
Becca’s arrival on Earth syncs up with what we’ve seen before and expands on what was once a very brief visual that suggested her appearance to be the beginning of what led to the Grounders and the factions as we know them. We gain deeper insight into the origins of Nightbloods as something that Becca came up with so that people could leave the bunker. At this point in time there are thousands of them so the assumption is that it becomes diluted over time to the point that it’s rare as we see in the earlier seasons. This is the very beginning of the first Apocalypse so it’s as close to a society that we recognise as we’ve ever seen albeit a futuristic one where the world is in severe environmental trouble as is teased by the news reports of various natural and unnatural disasters happening globally. I would have liked to see that world explored in more detail before it was blown up as there was probably enough in there to fill a spin-off show on its own though it’s possible that flashbacks to the way the world used to be could be part of the DNA of the show.
As for Becca, in this setting she works really well. She’s a great foil for Cadogan while also having a strong connection with Callie. The have an engaging dynamic instantly and Becca’s expertise is instrumental in pointing Callie in the direction she ends up going in though it’s already on her mind already as she consistently champions the idea of repairing the world they have and protecting those in it in contrast to her father who wants to leave if for dead and start fresh. Both are valid viewpoints that are explored well but having Becca around as a complimentary presence for Callie as well as a contrary presence for Bill ends up enhancing both sides as more time is taken to explore them. Becca’s commitment is to science so she always approaches things from that point of view and urges caution once she completes the sequence that opens a wormhole. Common sense conclusions such as having no idea if what’s on the other side of it is even survivable fall on deaf ears where Bill is concerned because he has faith that the Anomaly Stone is there for a reason so any working sequence surely means salvation. It’s not the most rational of views and it does slightly contradict with Bill’s more measured approach thoughout the episode though “blinded by faith” is a valid reading of the character as well so it does work.
The biggest point of opposition between Becca and Becca is after she keys a particular sequence and is shown a vision of “Judgement Day”; an event in the future that the current season is almost certainly building to. To Bill’s chagrin she keeps the details to herself which gets her locked up. Once again The Flame is the key and anyone with Nightblood who merges with it will gain the ability to hear the Anomaly Stone in order to learn what Becca has chosen to keep to herself. Becca does point out that the right user can save the world where the wrong user could be disastrous. We’ve already seen examples of that through good Commanders like Lexa and bad Commanders like Sheidheda but this gives us greater context for what that actually means and how powerful The Flame really is beyond containing the combined wisdom of all Commanders. The Anomaly Stones are a new invention though they do fit well enough into the established mythology by expanding on familiar elements.
It’s a shame that this episode gets to the point where Becca is burned at the stake as we already knew as it limits her potential involvement in any spin-off that might materialise and cuts off any chance for Callie to interact with her. Considering how strong their connection was in this episode it’s unfortunate that this can’t continue unless Callie uses The Flame and is able to talk to a version of her using that.
Callie’s main conflict in this episode is with her brother, Reese (Adain Bradley) who opposes her on pretty much every level. At first their arguments are best represented by their parents. Reese sides with Bill and believes in everything he says where Callie is more aligned with her mother in thinking there are better ways to live. It’s a good starting point and the siblings do come into their own as the story progresses. Reese is interesting because he follows every rule his father created, looks up to him and practically begs to be noticed as the model son that he is but Bill clearly favours Callie over him because he believes that she has much greater potential. It’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before and a common way to create conflict within families but it’s done really well here. Adain Bradley conveys the pain and anger wonderfully. He and Iola Evans have an excellent on screen dynamic and setting Reese up as someone desperate for recognition along with purpose is a really strong start. If the spin-off happens then this will likely be the core relationship that carries the show. The base assumption is that Callie is the right mind to bond with The Flame where Reese is the wrong one but that has the potential to be challenged in different ways.
Gemma is another great character that I am glad likely remains on the board if we are to see more of these characters. She makes some contradictory decisions over the course of the episode but each of those feels earned because they are believably the best available option at the time. Going into the bunker despite her fractured relationship with Bill is about ensuring the survival of her family and helping her daughter escape is entirely motivated by assuring the safety of her daughter
As I mentioned before, the purpose of a backdoor pilot is to convince viewers of the parent show to watch the spin-off when it appears so I can’t help but think along the lines of whether I want to watch this show should it materialise. I think it’s a strong episode on its own that does interesting things with the existing mythology, offers a different perspective on established events and fleshes out certain elements in really compelling ways. Seeing what happened to Becca on the surface before she was killed is a great example of things this episode does well. The episode ends with Callie on the surface with those she injected with Becca’s anti-radiation serum with the suggestion that they will all work together to rebuild in the wake of such destruction. It’s a strong setup and it was a strong setup when The 100 started. At this point I’m not entirely convinced this new show will offer anything extra on a long term basis though there is potential to expand the mythology further by flashing back to live in the pre-Apocalyptic world to explore what living in it was like before everything fell apart. As an episode of The 100 with single use characters interacting with a small number of characters we’re familiar with it was really good but as a sales pitch for an entirely new TV show I don’t think it quite does enough to convince of its need to exist.
A good episode that tells a compelling character driven story set directly after the first Apocalypse that has some merit to continue in a potential spin-off. Forgetting about the fact that this is a backdoor pilot for a show we will never see it does what it sets out to do really well. Bill remains an engaging presence without hiding how problematic his blind faith is when tested. He’s portrayed in a really complex way here and his reactions to any challenges that come his way make for engaging viewing. Callie is an excellent lead played really well by Iola Evans. Her belief in Earth as being a salvageable place rather than leaving it behind to start fresh carries the episode and informs her actions throughout while establishing believable conflicts with Bill as well as her brother, Reese. Her connection to Becca is also brilliantly done and her presence enhances the arguments being made by Bill by forcing him to explain them in ways that feel organic. Becca adds more context to The Flame in light of the changes made on the show itself and expands the mythology believably while setting up its importance for the potential spin-off. Having Becca killed in the way previously established so soon removes a lot of obvious potential to develop an engaging dynamic.
Reese is an interesting character with believable motivations. He wants his father to accept him as the dutiful son but more of his attention is on Callie who he believes to have greater potential. It’s a strong if typical setup that is naturally geared towards the two characters being in opposition to one another with plenty of room for the roles to shift as necessary. Gemma is another great character who makes a number of contradictory choices throughout the episode that all feel earned because the reasoning behind them always made sense and factored neatly into the story. As an episode of The 100 with single use characters that tells a story designed to expand the mythology, offer a different perspective on established events and flesh out elements in compelling ways it’s a really strong one but it doesn’t do quite enough to sell the idea that an entire show should be made out of it. The 100 was a show about rebuilding following an Apocalypse and the ending of this episode suggests that it’ll be very similar in its initial setup. Of course there is scope to use flashbacks to flesh out the world before it was blown up but in terms of what was presented here it doesn’t really do enough to convince of its need to exist.
- the strongly portrayed reactions to Bellamy’s apparent death
- small yet powerful touches that show different reactions to the end of the world
- Bill Cadogan portrayed as a complex problematic character
- a strong lead in Callie
- Callie’s dynamic with Becca
- Becca as an oppositional presence to Bill
- Reese being set up as a strong counter to Callie
- expanding the overall mythology in organic ways
- not taking the time to fully establish what life in the bunker is like
- not doing enough to justify the need of this to expand into its own TV show
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