By this point, I think my assessment of "The 100" is pretty clear. I've written a number of pieces about the show, in its first and second season, praising its pace, its cast and its commitment to its premise about survival in an unforgiving, post-apocalyptic world.
Strangely enough, despite being one of the critics spreading the word about how smart this show was about putting its themes and its premise to work, I was shocked by the ending of "Spacewalker."
Let me put it another way: I was both surprised and unsurprised by the ending, but either way, I only have positive thoughts about what occurred. It's not that I enjoy watching a core character die, of course. I just think that too many shows shirk from having characters suffer realistic consequences for their actions, and ever since Finn (Thomas McDonell) massacred 18 Grounders in a small village, I have thought he would have to pay a very big price for that action.
Not that that's the kind of act that can ever truly be atoned for, but if "The 100" had let that incident slide, I would have thought much less of the show. Brisk pacing and good twists are one thing, but a show accrues more substantial emotional weight when the characters have to struggle though events that are hard to process and accept. What occurred in "Spacewalker" was hard to watch -- but in a good way, given that it will deepen the characters and make their lives and their dilemmas even more challenging going forward.
As I said, I wasn't surprised that Finn had to pay a price for his actions: That lines up with the moral universe the show has been building for two seasons. I was somewhat surprised that that price was death. Despite much evidence that it's not interested in conducting TV business as usual (unless that suits its purposes), I expected "The 100" to behave like a typical broadcast network drama and find a way to avoid killing off a popular character in the middle of the show's second season. What "The 100" did is quite rare, though I do think it was the right decision under this particular set of circumstances.
That said, many aspects of Finn's fate landed like a punch in the gut. The hardest thing to watch: Clarke as the person who ended Finn's life. There were so many reasons it had to be that way: Practically, a quick death via Clarke's knife was better than slow, horrific death courtesy of the Grounders, and of course, Clarke and Finn cared about each other a great deal. For her to be able to comfort him just before his death was so important.
And on reflection, I'm not shocked that Clarke did what she did: From day one, the character has had to make tough calls and has often had to choose among impossible options. What's great about Eliza Taylor's performance -- and the show's willingness to be subtle -- is that you see the cost of those choices on her face. Given the same set of options, I think Clarke would make the same decision, but you could see, in that final scene, that she hated herself for doing it and that she'd never get over it.
All in all, what occurred in "Groundwalker" was both surprising and inevitable, a combination that's hard to achieve but when it works, as it did here, it can be powerful and even moving.
More thoughts about the second season of "The 100" and "Spacewalker" are contained in a Talking TV podcast and in this interview with executive producer Jason Rothenberg:
Well, I’m doing not doing too well, because I just watched the episode again and I was crying, so I cursed you.
I can’t say that makes me sorry, actually.
Nor would I want you to. Kudos all around on the episode. There were some brave choices in there and the cast did an incredible job.
Thank you very much.
My first question is, is Finn really dead? There's not going to be some miracle battlefield surgery, right? He won’t magically come back to life?
No, sadly, he's really dead. He could come back in a flashback kind of way, but he’s no longer part of the show. It's sad. When that happens, it’s like you lose a member of the family. It’s harder on us probably than it is even on the fans.
"Ultimately it lands on Clarke. She’s haunted. Literally she will be broken and haunted by that for the rest of her life, and certainly for the rest of the season."
I get that, but I really respect that choice. After the episode with the massacre in the village, I turned to my husband and said, "I really hope the consequences of this becomes an ongoing story line." You know, this can’t just be brushed aside, like, "Well, they had one more close call with the Grounders!" This was something different, and I really hoped that the consequences of that encounter would become an ongoing thread on the show. And even though “The 100” has made other brave decisions in situations like that, I wasn’t really sure what the show would do. So what happened -- I can’t think of a bigger consequence for the characters in that world to pay, especially Finn.
Well, yeah. The truth is, I knew going into the season that that was going to happen. I talked to Thomas [in May], and told him what the plan was -- that we were going to take his character in a pretty dark direction and that he was going to leave us somewhere in the middle of the season. I didn’t know that it would be the mid-season finale. As you’re breaking the season [i.e. figuring out the overall storylines], you have certain stories that sort of want to be certain things, and this one just felt like a tentpole moment, a pivot point for the season. It lined up with one of our best writers, Bruce Miller, so all the planets aligned.
But yeah, I knew that he was going to have the massacre, I knew that he was going to have to die for it ultimately, and I knew that it was going to be Clarke [who ended his life]. That's the most surprising part about it, to me. You know people are anticipating that Finn’s going to die because what he did was so horrible, but I don’t think anybody’s going to see coming what happens. Ultimately it lands on Clarke. She’s haunted. Literally she will be broken and haunted by that for the rest of her life, and certainly for the rest of the season.
I did think it was very interesting that it landed on Clarke, and having it be a choice that she made was so hard -- you could see how wrenching that decision was. And I didn't see it coming, not really, because broadcast network television just doesn’t do that very often. Despite everything else "The 100" has done with its characters in the past, I didn't necessarily think the show would be that... I guess the word is "uncompromising."
Thank you. I think that is sort of becoming our thing. Not to give away the formula, but if you look at episodes, we say we’re going to do something and then [we do it]. Most network shows, certainly most broadcast network shows, don’t follow through in the end -- there’s the miraculous, eleventh-hour save. But we say we’re going to do something, and then we do it.
Episode 5 last year, which was also written by Bruce, was "The Calling." That whole episode was about the fact that [the leadership was] going to kill these 300 people to make more oxygen for everybody else. "But maybe the kids on the ground are going save the day!" [But they didn't and the Arc inhabitants died.] That lands really hard.
Similarly, with this story, the whole episode is about -- Finn was going to die. "We have to give Finn up. The Grounders want Finn." We go over five different ways that we’re going to try to save his life. And then we just do what we said we were going to do. On some level, that says something about broadcast television [i.e. about the usual desire for resolutions that aren't nearly as dark]. It also says, I think, something about the kinds of stories that we want to tell.
It was especially bold, because you also had the whole flashback plot about Finn doing a selfless, kind thing -- giving Raven the spacewalk. It turns out that his crime wasn’t really a crime -- it wasn't an irresponsible spacewalk for himself, it was for Raven. So even more than usual, you would think, according to the usual rules of broadcast network television -- if you have done some work to bring some good character traits to light, surely things couldn't go that badly for him.
Yeah. That was sort of designed. The fact that Raven took the spacewalk and Finn took the fall for it -- that was something that we’ve known for a while, and I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get it into the show. It just sort of lined up perfectly [for this episode], especially in the wake of the massacre, where the reaction has been kind of intense online. I follow it probably too much.
People are understandably enraged, a lot of people. We did that by design. It’s an enraging thing that he did. But [with the flashback], maybe it’s a little bit manipulative creatively, but we certainly were conscious of, "Okay, we need not to 'win him back,' but on some level, we need for people to care about him again before we pull him away." His death would have been emotional anyway, because the characters we care about are so moved and messed up by it. But I think it’s even more emotionally devastating because of what you’re saying -- we realize what a good guy he could be right as we kill him.
We did a very similar thing way back in Episode 3 in Season 1 with Wells. We told that flashback story that was kind of redeeming, and we see how he basically let Clarke think that he was the one that was responsible for her father’s death, so that she wouldn’t hate her own mother. And then we killed him in the same episode.
So what you’re saying is that you’re just a terrible person.
Yeah. [Laughs] I mean, you know what? The thing is -- and I say this to the staff all the time -- our job is to make people feel things.
"The thing is, our job is to make people feel things."
Oh, I know.
Feel something. If I don’t feel something in a script that comes in, or even an outline that comes in, then I always send it back, because that’s the job.
Part of the reason I was feeling things at the end of the episode is because I watched the scene with Finn and Raven in the drop ship, and he says, "May we meet again." He's already decided at that point to sacrifice himself. To me what makes me more interested in Finn and his fate is that he knows he crossed a line and there’s really no way he could ever make amends for what he did. He knows how bad it was, on some level, and he feels torn up about it and he wants to at least do something to help other people. It’s the one good thing he can do.
Yeah, he’s not going to let other people take the fall for him. I think Thomas, as an actor, really elevated his game all season. He embraced the darkness of what we were doing with Finn, and showed side of himself as an actor that he didn’t know that he had. I really proud of him, and I’m going to miss him a lot, and so is everybody else in the cast.
I think that he did elevate his game, especially in this episode. It was very moving in the scene where Clarke kills him. He’s afraid, but when he knows what is happening, he says, "Thanks, Princess."
That was tough.
Yeah, Bruce just did a really great job. Sometimes everything just sort of works. The idea, like I said, was there from the beginning and then you give it to the writers to put their spin on it, and Bruce is an excellent writer and really found the heart of that scene. I’ve seen it probably 20 times through [post-production] and every time I watch that scene, I get emotional. So I hear you.
It's emotional because it has real weight. There are real consequences to his actions, and as much as his actions were unconscionable, it was hard to watch how his fate came down, for both of them. This is one of the things I look for in a drama -- situations in which there’s no good choice and the characters are torn up by their bad options. For me as an audience member, it's easier to invest in that kind of world -- no matter what kind of circumstances the characters are in, that kind of heartbreaking challenge is relatable.
I should give a hat tip to the director, John Showalter. As I watch it, up until she says, “Can I say goodbye?” and then walks over -- you’re thinking, "There’s no way. Something will happen. Someone will come in and save him." She’s got a knife. We see that. "She’s going to kill [Grounder leader] Lexa." That’s probably what most people are thinking. That’s certainly, by design, what we want people to think. So that tension really exists until that moment, and then, for me, it’s like, "Oh my God, are they really going to do this?"
I didn't really expect it to go down that way. I thought, "Well, Clarke is one of the most resourceful people in this world. She’s going to cut loose his ropes and they're going to run off into the forest and it’ll be some insane adventure." But now, the cliffhanger is that the characters have to emotionally deal with the fallout. That is so much more interesting than, "Clarke and Finn run off, and we catch up with them in the next episode trying to evade the Grounders." That is a mechanical cliffhanger, whereas this is an emotional cliffhanger, if you will.
Yeah. I can’t believe people have to wait until Jan. 21 to see the next episode, because it’s another outstanding one. Everybody on our crew and the cast is just firing at such a high level right now -- it’s really exciting for me. But you’re right. It’s an emotional cliffhanger. Episode 9 is really the one where I felt like, okay, people are going to need to sort of take a breath and absorb what’s happened. It’s a very different kind of episode for us but it’s emotionally … not devastating, but almost cathartic.
It seems like you follow fan reactions online pretty closely. How would you characterize how that has been going lately, and do you have any guesses in terms of how people will react to this episode?
You know, I’m not surprised by the reaction [lately]. I feel like some people really got exactly what I was hoping they would get from Finn’s descent, which was that he was broken and that he was sort of suffering a little bit of PTSD from a fairly traumatic few weeks, from the Season 1 finale through the massacre, certainly. In that moment, he suffered a break and he was under the belief that his people had all been killed. In that moment he believed that, and he thought the people in this village were lying. Some people really sort of went with that and understood what he did, nevertheless believing it to be horrible and terrible and all of the things that it was.
Others though, you know -- I feel like it’s hard to separate people’s feelings about a character and who they like the most and who they want Clarke to be with the most -- to sort of separate those feelings and just go for the ride. I felt that was how it was divided -- basically people who liked Bellamy and Clarke together sort of were almost rooting for Finn’s death after that. But again, it’s not surprising to me. The truth is, we as the audience were way ahead of Finn. We were watching this train wreck that we knew was going to happen because he was operating with the wrong information. We knew Clarke wasn’t there. We knew Clarke was trying to forge a peace with the Grounders and that Finn was barreling towards this really dangerous moment. And again, most shows would have had Clarke and company probably arrive before that massacre.
But we wanted it to be the story that we knew we were telling, and I uncompromisingly set our compass and just drove for it. And by the way, the network -- say what we will about broadcast television, and I have feelings probably similar to yours -- has been incredibly supportive of everything. They’ve never balked at a single thing. It’s been kind of incredible, actually.
In terms of setting up the next seven episodes -- what do you want to say about that? Is the alliance with the Grounders going to happen and is a war coming with Mount Weather?
Clarke will not let what she’s done in Episode 8 be for nothing. She will relentlessly drive forward until that confrontation happens. She’s not going to let the alliance fall apart. There will be a lot of people trying to pull it apart -- the alliance between the Grounders and the Sky People [and the alliance between the Arc survivors and the Grounders]. Alliances are hard, you know. You don’t make peace with your friends. We’ll see that really coming to a head in the back half of the season. It really does become about rounding a bend and finally going after their people at Mount Weather before they can all be killed. Things are really heating up inside Mount Weather in a bad way as well. We took a week off for Episode 8 in Mount Weather, but off-camera, things are getting worse there.
No more cake in Mount Weather.
No more cake, definitely.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
The last Talking TV podcast of 2014 is all about "The 100," which I've also paid tribute to on my Tumblr. The podcast, in which Ryan McGee and I talk about "Spacewalker" quite a bit, is available here, on iTunes and below.