The 100 – Season 7 Episode 9
The 100 shows the journey to becoming a disciple on Bardo as Sanctum deals with a hostage situation.
One of the more frustrating things about this season is how little overall forward progression there is on some of the plots. Many steps forward are countered by show turning back the clock to detail how the characters got to that point. In some ways that’s a good thing as it can offer context to the various reveals but at this point in the season it’s overused with too much time being spent giving information to the audience that could be handled in a more efficient way.
The Bardo plot is a really good example of that. There’s a lot of really interesting character work here but a vast chunk of one of the few remaining episodes this show has before it concludes is spent on material that didn’t need this amount of time to deliver. Spending time on world building is absolutely a good thing and having familiar characters be the lens that the audience sees this world has its advantages. If the audience is on board with the characters involved then their perspective on this unfamiliar world will be valuable. If done correctly then their perspective can be used to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of a way of life.
In this case, the perspective of Octavia, Diyoza, Hope and Echo is applied inconsistently. The information presented to the viewer is that Bardo is a passionless; almost clinical place where people are actively conditioned away from forging meaningful personal bonds with those around them. Our introduction to Anders framed him as someone preparing for a War that he knows very little about other than it can’t be avoided so to a degree this makes sense. Everyone has to be focused on this War and attachments would get in the way of that as they may distract people from what needs to be done. What the episode fails to do properly is explore this through the lens of Octavia and Diyoza being driven by their attachments. There is a simulation that Diyoza fails because the fear of losing Hope overpowers her but where was the argument around how much strength her maternal connection gives her? Same with Octavia who found a new form of serenity during her time with Diyoza and Hope but still found the strength to do what she felt was necessary to protect Hope when the time came. There’s a really interesting debate just beneath the surface of this between the notions of love and duty; both sides are looking to achieve the goal of protecting others but the approach is very different.
Anders is looking to gain the loyalty of Octavia, Diyoza, Hope and Echo because he wants them to fight in this War but before he’ll allow them to fight for him they need to prove that they are committed to the cause rather than each other. As such they are put through a training regime that teaches them the ways of Bardo and tests their resolve in various ways. The training is really interesting because it shows how functional a society can be when everyone is singularly focused on the same goal without any emotional entanglements diverting their attention. Functional is the key word in all of this as Bardo is a visually sparse location with most of the rooms and corridors being almost completely white. The implication here is that Bardo is a place with very little sense of identity. There’s no colour, no personality and no variety to the location or most of the people within it. They exist for one purpose and have cast off everything that has been deemed unnecessary in achieving that purpose so the suggestion is that they’ve lost something fundamental in focusing their attention on what they feel needs to be done.
By contrast, Octavia, Diyoza, Hope and Echo enter this location with strong bonds to each other and the place they came from. Breaking them isn’t easy or arguably even possible but I’ll get to that later. The best word for what they all go through in this episode is “indoctrination”. They are repeatedly faced with scenarios and stimuli designed to force them to be loyal to Bardo and the cause they are focused on. There is variation in how the characters react to this. Diyoza isn’t easily swayed because her maternal instincts drive her, Octavia’s survival instincts kick in meaning that she follows the path in front of her as much as she needs to, Hope’s anger and impatience causes a few problems for her and Echo’s need to win rapidly moves her through the training.
All of this makes sense given the available information we have about these characters though in some cases it compounds problems that were previously created. I’ve mentioned in prior reviews that I find the handling of Echo this season questionable as there’s no real justification for any decision she makes. The time skip doesn’t help with that as we weren’t presented with any information to suggest that something happened to her in that time that justifies her current behaviour. That aside, this is how she acts now so her behaviour in this episode is entirely consistent with that which means it isn’t surprising when she incapacitates everyone else to make sure she is the first person to hit the target. This demonstrates an ability to make a dispassionate decision for the greater good to Anders so puts Echo ahead of the pack in terms of becoming what he wants her to become. Similarly her approach to the final test when Hope comes to her with a plan to torch the oxygen garden then escape is to wound her as a warning then kill her when she doesn’t back down. It isn’t really hope and Echo is likely fully aware of the test as well as its purpose but it’s another example of her willingness to do what must be done in service of a higher cause. Once again, it’s exactly what Anders wants. This worked in context but it’s starting to look like nothing will be done to retroactively justify what Echo has become which is a significant misstep on the part of the writers.
Octavia has consistently been a survivor so nothing really changes here. Her approach is far less brutal than the one Echo takes but there are shades of a version of the Bloodreina persona in what she does here. Of course it’s nowhere near as bloodthirsty but she still finds ways to take charge of the situation in her own way and deal with it. Her greatest resource in that respect is Levitt because he has become obsessed with her after taking a walk through her memories. She recognises this and uses his willingness to help her through this training to her advantage. Their conversation that leads to them sleeping together is confirmation of the fact that the conditioning can be broken as Levitt has become emotionally compromised by her. Enough has been done to suggest that she has genuine affection for him founded on the idea that he accepts her for who she truly is and sees her in a way that nobody else does but this remains a situation that has to be survived and Octavia makes use of his fascination with her in order to learn all she can about it.
Like Echo she passes the final test which forces her to decide to kill Hope in order to save everyone in Bardo. She will almost certainly be aware that it was a simulation which ties into her overall desire to survive. Octavia does everything she needs to do to ensure she passes the training and becomes a disciple but also retains her emotionally driven motivations as she does so. It’s unclear how this will play out once the War inevitably begins but for now Octavia has successfully manoeuvred herself into a favourable position that affords her a level of trust that she can possibly make use of.
Diyoza also passed the test while likely understanding that it is a test and what it takes to pass it. In the simulation she kills Hope for the greater good of Bardo which convinces Anders that she has severed her emotional tie to her daughter and become the perfect Disciple. She references earlier in the episode that she has been through similar before so understands exactly what is expected of her and takes the necessary steps to make sure that she is put in a favourable position. It’s interesting to see how the three characters approach the training and how their individual traits all lead them to take the same action for their own reasons.
Hope is a different story. She demonstrates an insubordinate attitude through the whole testing process which suggests that she feels that Bardo isn’t really a threat to her so playing the game they put in front of her is unnecessary. Her failure of the final test shows her inability to cast off -or appear to cast off- her personal attachments. When the simulation of her mother encourages her to torch the oxygen garden she resists at first because doing so will kill those she cares about but once it’s confirmed that they’ll be safe and can all escape together she wastes no time in going ahead with the plan. Anders points out that her failure requires punishment and takes Octavia’s suggestion to maroon her on Penance for five years. It’s interesting that the suggestion comes from Echo and Anders accepts it. It suggests that Anders fully trusts Echo to the point that he is happy to take her suggestions and implement them. I’m not ruling out the fact that Octavia and Diyoza -definitely those two; Echo remains something of a wildcard- have a plan that involves presenting the appearance of compliance until they have an opportunity to do what they actually plan to do.
Marooning Hope on Penance may be part of that. On the surface it’s a harsh punishment as it banishes her to a life of solitude for half a decade meaning that she grows five years older while everyone else remains the same age. This might have the opposite effect where Hope is concerned as she grew up on Penance so as far as she’s concerned it is -or at least was- her home. It’s highly likely that she’ll feel comfortable there so it may not be the punishment that Anders thinks it is. It’s valid to wonder why he wouldn’t see through that but it has been established that fully on board with the ways of Bardo so it’s conceivable that he doesn’t understand what a meaningful emotional connection to a person or place is and how strong an influence it can be. If it is part of a plan yet to be revealed then using Anders’ ignorance against him is a really good idea.
Anders showing how children are born in Bardo says a lot about the society. Babies are brought to term in artificial wombs with the parents only supplying the genetic material necessary to create them. This supports the idea of not forging emotional connections in service of the higher cause. Once the children are born they are raised by the society and indoctrinated into a certain way of thinking. It certainly seems nefarious from a certain point of view but the depiction of Bardo so far has done a strong job establishing that they feel it’s necessary to structure their society in this way. The brief visit to the surface acts as a convincing visual representation of what failure means for them so in a sense this way of living is better than the alternative. Whether it’s necessary or not is fully up for debate and the episode leaves it up to the viewer to consider the moral implications of it. The characters don’t spend much time debating it though they may come to internalise it in time. For now it’s a different approach to procreating that has its own advantages and disadvantages. It’s mentioned that genetic defects are corrected technologically meaning that no child is born with a disability or a deformity. This seems ideal though it also establishes Bardo as an ableist society with lingering questions over how they would treat what they deem to be an imperfection. Emori is an example of someone they may consider imperfect so it may be interesting to see how they would react to that.
Another angle that begs to be explored is Cadogan himself. The previous episode highlighted that he was torn between his loyalty to his family and the society he had created. His family may be long dead but it’s possible he still has emotional attachments that will cloud his judgement. At this point he’s revered as the Shepherd; a religious leader but what happens when he fails to live up to the ideals that formed the very foundation of this society? Stories where leaders fail to live up to the standards they set for those they lead can go in interesting directions so it’s something to watch out for when Cadogan becomes a prominent fixture in the coming episodes.
The Sanctum scenes pick up on the hostage situation that came into play two episodes ago. Nikki is holding a number of people hostage because she wants to exact revenge on Raven for the death of her husband. In theory this is a great setup because it takes full advantage of the tenuous situation in Sanctum at this point with various factions barely maintaining a peaceful situation but in practice it comes across as a means to an end. Nikki isn’t really a significant threat or a strong ringleader who can capably lead a particular plot on her own. Her motivation is simple in that she wants revenge but there’s nothing more to her than that which makes the whole thing less engaging. Murphy altering the narrative slightly to cast the blame onto himself was in keeping with his characterisation this season and was successful in getting Nikki to listen to him. His loyalty to Emori is consistent and his new role as the protector of children works well in this space but Nikki is dealt with too quickly and it’s clear this entire situation only existed to bridge the gap between the tensions earlier in the season and whatever comes next.
Sheidheda further manipulates everyone expertly in order to position himself as the best option to help deal with this. It feels contrived but considering how easily he has played everyone around him so far it’s not unexpected. A few truths come out such as Murphy not really being Daniel Prime and Russell’s consciousness being replaced by that of Sheidheda. The reveal looks to thin some of Indra’s support and make things worse as a result. Sheidheda is now free and has followers he can use. In effect he has solidified himself as a new faction though considering how many people he kills it’s probably about even with what it was before. JR Bourne continues to impress in this role and Sheidheda is becoming an increasingly effective foil for Indra but there were two many contrivances leading to this development that it was difficult to accept. The level of payoff doesn’t match with the amount of time taken to build to it either so the plot was overall problematic.
As good as some of the character work was in some of those scenes, the insight into how Bardo works as a society and forward movement on the Sheidheda/Sanctum situation, the show in general is failing to strike the right storytelling balance. Some episodes focus on plot at the expense of character and others focus on character at the expense of plot. This results in a season that is largely uneven in how it handles its storytelling. I’m personally drawn to the characterisation and the development of these relationships but when an entire episode goes by just to catch the viewer up to where a prior episode ended -just as this one does- then it’s hard to say that the time is being used effectively. The basic structure is to end the episode on a reveal and then spend a significant chunk of a later episode explaining how that reveal came to be. In a lot of cases this explanation could have been done more efficiently though that would come at the expense of the often strong characterisation associated with it. Prior seasons had a greater sense of balance where this one feels more muddled especially with Clarke and Bellamy being absent for long periods of time.
A good episode that combines compelling characterisation with strong worldbuilding to create a stronger sense of how the society in Bardo functions. Diyoza, Octavia, Echo and Hope each have distinct approaches to dealing with the Disciple training that fits who they are as characters. Echo’s behaviour is no less problematic than it was before but it’s consistent with how she has been written this season so it works in context even if prior episode failed to properly justify the way this character acts now. Diyoza sees the purpose of the test almost immediately having had experience in this sort of training before, Octavia falls back on her survival instincts and navigates the situation with her usual skill; especially when it comes to making use of Levitt’s obsession with her. Hope is very different. She has an insubordinate attitude throughout the whole training process because she clearly doesn’t see Bardo as a threat so doesn’t play the game as they want her to. This results in her failing and being punished for her failure with everyone else passing and being trusted as a result. So much so that Octavia’s suggestion is accepted without question. It’s unclear at this point if there is a plan in place that involves pretending to be compliant while waiting for the right opportunity to take action though it seems likely given who is involved. This plot allows for some interesting insight into how Bardo works as a society. They are entirely focused on the upcoming War which means indoctrinating the people into casting off personal connections in service to the cause. The training is all about removing those connections and the entire society is built around that. The children forming in artificial wombs is part of that as it means the parents have no connection to the children while any genetic abnormalities are removed well in advance. This suggests and ableist culture which might colour their interactions with characters like Emori. The sparse design to Bardo deliberately lacks in identity because the people have no interest in cultivating one. It’s an interesting look at this society from the perspective of characters who are governed by their feelings.
The Sanctum portion of the episode feels like a means to an end rather than a properly crafted plot. Nikki fails to come across as much of a threat with a payoff to her role that doesn’t match the time taken to build up to it. Her motivation is simply revenge which works well enough to get things moving but there’s very little else to say about it. The ease of her being taken down is disappointing as well though this plot does enable some strong material for Murphy who further reinforces his loyalty to Emori and continues to demonstrate his new role as protector of children. His reframing of the situation to divert blame away from Raven which at least prompts Nikki to listen to him. Sheidheda continues to be an engaging presence thanks to JR Bourne’s performance. He’s a good foil for Indra but the circumstances leading to him being freed and having followers are far too contrived and don’t feel satisfying given the build-up. In general the structure of the season is problematic as reveals happen at the end of an episode only to rewind in a later episode to explain how that reveal came about. There are great character moments within these episodes but the storytelling isn’t very efficient and the show struggles to find a good balance between storytelling and characterisation.
- the distinct approach each character has to the Disciple training and how that fits with what has been established about them
- Octavia falling back on her well cultivated survival instincts but approaching them differently
- exploring the Bardo society and culture
- everything about Bardo including the visual aesthetic feeding into what is learned in this episode
- Murphy finding his own way to handle Nikki
- Sheidheda as a good foil for Indra
- very little plot movement
- the payoff to Nikki’s role in the plot not living up to the build-up
- Sheidheda becoming free and gaining more followers being as a result of several contrivances
- the structure of the season creating an imbalance between characterisation and plot movement
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