After seven years (give or take a century) of deciding whether or not to pull the lever on various threats for the sake of protecting those they loved, humanity as represented by The 100 finally faced its own test. Yet for all that the series finale purported to grapple with the show’s themes, its outcome didn’t actually satisfy the moral arguments posed by Clarke Griffin and her fellow juvenile-delinquents-turned-survivors. Nor did it even fulfill season 7’s messy storytelling, opting instead for bringing back some fan favorite characters within the context of humanity’s “Last Test” in a way that rang hollow.
Ultimately, The 1oo’s series finale felt like another television casualty, a series that lost sight of its original, dynamic premise and scrambled to throw together something adequate. It wasn’t quite Game of Thrones-level fumbling, but the final product is just as narratively sloppy.
Spoilers for The 100 7×16 “The Last War”
To be fair, season 7 should never have happened the way it did. Bringing back Bill Cadogan and retroactively introducing the Disciples was simply too much new worldbuilding when our heroes had barely finished reckoning with Sanctum and its god-like Primes. At least Russell Lightbourne and his technologically-immortal kin were an extension of established mythology around the Flame (storing the minds of past Grounder commanders) and engaged each of the core characters in ways that augmented their characters arcs. The 100 breaking its own rules about death last season was a fantastic example of how a long-running series could still look within itself and find something fresh to say.
Instead, all of the mishigas about the “Last War” reads like someone skimmed the CliffsNotes for this series and decided, Hey yeah, let’s make it all about them being the ones who are judged worthy of survival for once! By omnipotent, ascended, alien beings, no less—despite the series never once engaging with the presence of extraterrestrials. While the characters fit naturally into season 6’s plot, almost all of the “arcs” this season felt shoehorned in: the time dilation skewing everyone’s relative senses of time, Bellamy going full sheep and Clarke killing him to save Madi, last week’s ableist outcome in which Clarke almost killed a locked-in Madi without her consent. The only character who really benefited from this season’s wacky wormholes and time loops was Octavia (more on that later).
The reveal that Cadogan and his ilk had mistranslated “Last War” from “Last Test” wasn’t even much of a twist, because (a) of course it’s a test, after years of Clarke and co. deciding who deserved to die so they could find a new home and (b) the violent, self-preserving tendencies that these humans have always demonstrated left very little doubt that there would be some sort of fight as part of the test.
That Clarke opens the episode by remorselessly gunning down nameless Disciples is a mockery of the consideration and anguish with which she has approached past genocides. That she murders Cadogan before he can answer the first question of the test should make it clear to the celestial judges how the exam is going to go. While Bill Cadogan has absolutely no business speaking on behalf of the human race, Clarke Griffin isn’t a much better pick.
The problem with the Last Test, and with transcendence, is that the rules are never made clear until we’re in the moment. We know nothing about these ascended beings other than that they have the power to invite other civilizations to become “infinite” with them, or to annihilate them by way of reforming them into crystal statues as a testament to their failure. The beings seem to be so far beyond any human emotion or experience—yet they are supposed to possess the nuance to judge human behavior—so their solution is to appear as a crucial figure to the test-taker.
Thus, it is a brief joy to see the return of Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey), even though it is immediately apparent that this is Lexa in form only. On the one hand, going by the judge’s explanation, it reinforces that Lexa was both Clarke’s greatest teacher and her greatest love. Yet that means very little if it’s just a comforting mask mouthing familiar Trigedasleng mantras without the personality or perspective to accompany her counsel.
In the early seasons, Clarke represented the best and worst of humanity: She was the one willing to make impossible decisions, to pull the literal lever that places humanity permanently on the other side of a devastating choice. More than once she sentenced herself to death or exile or isolation so that she could bear that pain while others could prosper. But this final season has warped her character into a shrill, single-minded maternal figure who is so short-sighted she can’t consider anything beyond her adoptive teenage daughter’s safety, treating Madi like a helpless infant instead of someone the same age that she, as a juvenile delinquent, was sent to Earth to fend for herself.
The Last Test sees Clarke self-righteously describing her pain to an elevated creature who might be able to feel it but cannot actually fathom it; who responds by saying that Clarke has just passed on more suffering to others, that she is unable to follow a slogan other than the Grounders’ jus drein jus daun, or “blood must have blood.”
So of course, when judged through Clarke-as-proxy, humanity is found wanting. But she was never meant to represent humanity as a whole; she embodies its worst impulses and gravest decisions. Yet by the judges’ rules, humanity is deemed undeserving of transcendence.
The thing is, our heroes had no interest in transcending their existence before they came across the Disciples. Even though their every encounter with another civilization ended in competition and bloodshed, they never gave up on the hope that the next time they would be able to co-exist with another set of humans. Remember that Clarke chose to destroy the City of Light and its weird digital afterlife, knowing that Praimfaya was on its way, because that sterile approximation of existence was not the way humanity was meant to continue on.
So for them to suddenly be faced with this ultimatum—transcend or become extinct—puts them in an impossible position. Thank goodness, then, for Raven Reyes, who never met an impossibility she couldn’t take apart.
In this case, it’s treating the Last Test as a relay race. Raven demands the chance to retake it, prompting the judge—as Abby!—to teleport them to Bardo in real time to see that the Last War is indeed happening, between the surviving Grounders and the indoctrinated Disciples. Both sides’ entire cultures are built around fighting as the immediate and reflexive choice; whether they’re shouting jus drein, jus daun or “for all mankind,” it’s the same self-preserving violence. So even if the judge were willing to consider the whole of humanity (which at this point is a couple hundred people, tops), they’re modeling the same behavior as Clarke.
The only thing they can do, then, is decide that their fight is over—not because they die, but because they stop fighting.
Raven, as some weird ghostly observer, can’t interfere with the action. So it’s especially heartening to see Octavia and Indra come to the realization on their own that this isn’t the Last War in the sense of a final, winner-take-all fight, but the Last War meaning that they have to break the cycle of violence. Indra finally gets rid of Sheidheda (several episodes too late!), while Octavia gives everyone a pep talk about being Wonkru. (Hmm, maybe they should have tried for that at the start??)
This is what good character growth looks like: Octavia Blake, the girl in the floor, Blodreina, had to put all of her anger aside, had to grapple with her bloodthirst, in order to break her own ingrained cycle of killing-as-control. Yet even her big speech has shades of Tyrion Lannister’s “what’s most important is a good story” spiel in the Game of Thrones series finale; it all feels too on-the-nose.
“We can change,” Raven tells the Abby-judge, “we just need more time.” Apparently those few minutes are all that’s required, because the judges reverse their decision and allow humanity to transcend: some combination of the Doctor’s golden regeneration and The Good Place’s final visual, with all of the humans inexplicably joyful at this mass exodus from their corporeal forms.
All except Clarke, who once again is cast as the martyr and pariah, intended to live out the rest of her mortal existence alone. To be honest, the Lexa-judge makes a good point that Clarke was the only test subject to commit murder during the test, so it makes sense that there would be a consequence…yet it’s not as if the Last Test had any clear rules.
And then the final scene undoes everything in this episode and in the series as a whole, all due to another twist of new information not previously available: Transcendence is a choice, and all of Clarke’s friends have chosen to reject it in favor of joining her back on Earth.
That means Murphy, Emori, Niylah, Jackson, Miller, Octavia, Levitt, Hope, and Jordan all chose mortality over some City of Light-esque infinite existence, just so Clarke wouldn’t spend the rest of her days talking into a radio with no one to listen on the other end. (No Madi, because she knew Clarke wouldn’t want a future with no peers or love interests for her, and that’s fair, give the poor girl a break already.) Frankly, this makes sense; as I said above, these characters never even wanted transcendence; they just didn’t want to be annihilated. So they came back to try again
It’s all very heartwarming, yet the whole time I felt more emotionally manipulated than anything else. It also raises so many questions:
Is Earth just fine? Was Monty completely wrong about Earth recovering from the Eligius IV nuke, and they could have just stayed in cryosleep a bit longer? If the Disciples knew that Earth was fine, why not just send our heroes through it at the start and let them live out the rest of their brief lives in ignorance, rather than risk them messing up the Disciples’ plan? Yes, that would have led to humanity going extinct, but that’s a hell of a convoluted way of getting back to Earth.
But the most disturbing fallout of this narrative choice is that The 100, a series about humanity’s constant struggles to co-exist, ends on the message that everything is fine when there’s no one you have to put aside differences with. Paradise for Clarke and co. is being with each other and not having to worry about invading anyone’s land, or assimilating with anyone else’s culture, or being tempted to wipe out any supposed enemies for their own survival. It’s one thing for them to have realized it’s possible not to fight when faced with an opposing army, but to reward them with a lifetime in which they will never have to fight with another conflicting force doesn’t feel like they actually learned anything valuable.
Thematically, the final visual of them setting up shelter on the shore does swing back around to the Ark’s prayer of “may we meet again”: In peace, may you leave the shore. In love, may you find the next. Safe passage on your travels until our final journey to the ground. May we meet again. They always spoke it over their dying, which is ironic considering that transcendence did not allow for the dead to join. Instead, the mantra describes Clarke and her friends.
So, The 100 managed to weave in new meanings for both your fight is over and may we meet again. That, at least, is poetically done, though I wish that everything leading up to it had been so different.
- The dock on which Cadogan starts his test made me crack a joke about “is he in The Good Place?” which was only the first of many times that I pondered how The Good Place did all of this SO MUCH BETTER.
- While there was no doubt that Clarke needed to stop Cadogan, it was frustrating that she did so before he could be adequately interrogated as to why he thought eliminating love from the Disciples would help save humanity.
- Hope sitting on Blodreina’s throne in the bunker was such a random but enjoyable visual.
- “Without you I would just be surviving, I wouldn’t be living.” If Clarke is Wanheda, then Murphy is the survivor; the series has always set him up as grimly ruthless concerning his own survival, so to reverse that when he realizes that without Emori that kind of existence simply isn’t sufficient? It’s perfect for his character.
- Also though, the Murphy/Emori resolution felt very Dollhouse.
- Jackson and Miller deciding to spend their final moments dancing is why they are one of the series’ most enduring couples.
- The number of times I have muttered “Sheidheda, you shady bitch” this season…
- The slowed-down cover of R.E.M.’s “The One I Love” just made me laugh. I know the music choices worked for others, but I found them distracting.
- There was a trippy vaping commercial right after the transcendence that was so weirdly timed, I wasn’t the only person who wondered if it were part of the episode.
- GEE, BET CLARKE’S GLAD SHE DIDN’T KILL MADI LAST WEEK.
- It is hilarious that Clarke thinks Murphy and Emori might also not have transcended.
- So dogs don’t deserve to ascend?!
Well, that was certainly an episode of television. What did you think of The 100’s series finale?