Like many others, I was sucked into The CW’s “The 100” and completed 2 seasons of the show in less than 2 weeks. The series is set about a century after a nuclear war left earth unlivable, causing mankind to retreat to space a station called “The Ark”. When oxygen starts running low on the space station, a band of juvenile prisoners are sent back down to the ground to determine if the earth is survivable. The show follows the conflicts and struggles that the team encounter in trying to survive and create a community in a place without rules. The show is engaging, well-paced and extremely addictive. However, after catching up on the latest episodes, I realized that the characters and stories seemed oddly familiar; the show seemed to be a re-telling of ABC’s “Lost” in a new context. At this point, I started to worry that the promising new show was doomed to the same fate. But rest assured! After a closer look, I noticed many aspects of “The 100” that suggest it might be safe from the messy trajectory “Lost” eventually took. In many ways, I see “The 100” as being a new and improved “Lost”. Consider some of the following aspects of the shows, and how they were addressed differently.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES: THE “OTHERS” VS THE “GROUNDERS”
Both “Lost” and “The 100” use the presence of indigenous tribes as a plot point to create intrigue and conflict. In “Lost”, the survivors of the crash of Oceanic Flight 815 begin building a functioning community only to learn that the island was already inhabited; they refer to theses inhabitants as the “others”. In “The 100,” a similar situation arises after landing on Earth; they call the natives “grounders”. The attributes of these two indigenous tribes, however, were very different. The Others were a civilized society with a long history on the island. They were at an overwhelming advantage throughout the entire story with respect to their technology and numbers, and – as we learn later in the show – a sort of divine assistance from the man in white. Their history is complicated and their motives are often unclear. For the show, this presented some difficulty in addressing the theme of diplomacy and warfare between groups. The Others were initially depicted as a powerful force that was to be avoided. Later, as characters from the Others were made to be more sympathetic, the show started to depict the relationship between the survivors and the Others as a tense situation between two co-habiting peoples. However, the nature of the Others as a group made it difficult to create real conflict at this point. As a result, this theme that was set up in earlier seasons was never really followed through to completion. Instead, groups of people with more power were continually introduced for the sake of introducing conflict, which in part, led to the convoluted state of the show in later seasons.
In “The 100,” the Grounders are at a technological disadvantage to the newcomers, but were trained as soldiers and are more familiar with the terrain. This made for uncertainty in the outcome. “The 100” does however have a group that lives in luxury and toys with the newcomers (very similar to the Others in this way). The Mountain Men are a group of survivors that have survived nuclear warfare by concealing themselves in a mountain. They are also brought into conflict with the other groups but their strong defenses and organization is balanced with an important weakness; they aren’t able to leave their home unprotected due to their susceptibility to radiation poisoning. By sharing the backgrounds, motivations and weaknesses of the societies involved, there is a greater level of suspense and intrigue, as the audience understands the positions of the warring communities and are uncertain of the outcome.
Lost’s Kate Austen and The 100’s Octavia Blake serve similar roles in their respective narratives. They are both portrayed initially as the extremely attractive female of the team. In both cases, the characters are developed to reveal the difficult past of keeping away from others through running or hiding. They are both also assertive and involved. However, unlike Octavia, Kate was received as one of the most annoying characters in her respective show. Although the handling of this character can’t be directly blamed for the eventual conclusion of series, it is a source of the lack of audience investment. Ultimately, I don’t think it was the characteristics or backstory that resulted in the differences in audience opinion. In my opinion, it was the roles the characters played in the story and their development throughout the show. Despite Kate’s abilities and her experiences as a fugitive, throughout her time on the island she seemed to cause more problems than solve them.
Furthermore, Kate’s character doesn’t really learn anything throughout the show; she still makes the same mistakes and continues to confuse the audiences–and often herself–with the decisions she makes. In addition to this, she is often mysterious in her motivations and decisions. However, instead of creating intrigue, this creates confusion regarding the nature of the character. In contrast, Octavia Blake contributes in a unique and tangible way to the progression of story. Despite a sheltered upbringing, Octavia is able to act as diplomat and solider is many cases to progress the agendas of various groups in the show. Her own development is dramatic and is most definitely not ignored by the show. She explores sides of herself that she wasn’t able to back on The Ark, and in doing so develops a new identity and new motivations, both of which are clear and consistent from a viewer’s point of view. By creating these differences, “The 100” presents a version of the “hot female badass” trope that is significantly more likeable and therefore more relevant to the audience. As Octavia’s character continues to develop, we will hopefully stay away from the confusing and often detrimental decisions made by Kate, which made her an inconsistent and irritating aspect of the overall story.
ANARCHY AND ORDER: JACK/SAWYER VS CLARKE/BELLAMY
In building a new community in an environment where there is no pre-established government, the characters in both “The 100” and “Lost” encounter differences in leadership. In both shows, there is a character promoting chaos; Lost’s Sawyer and The 100’s Bellamy encourage a kind of anarchy in which citizens take and do whatever they want. In both cases, they have selfish motivations for encouraging self-rule. In “Lost”, Jack acts as the opposition to Sawyer by promoting of teamwork and collaboration for survival; Clarke plays a similar role in “The 100”. In “Lost”, Sawyer’s character is painted as a nuisance and an obstacle to the rest of the group. His position on government isn’t really explored, except when his selfish actions create an obstacle for Jack. Furthermore, the disagreements between Sawyer and Jack slowly become less about the principles they promote and choose to live by. Instead, their fights are the result of two guys vying for the attention of the same girl. The conflict effectively becomes a love triangle as opposed to an exploration of the difficulties in creating a new society with regards to rules and government. “The 100” actually gives power to both of these camps at different points in the narrative and concludes this struggle with a shared rule by the two leaders. Clarke and Bellamy debate decisions and, as the story progresses, change each other’s opinions on matters. Like with warfare and diplomacy in regards to indigenous peoples, “The 100” plays out the themes and conflicts that it sets up. There is a fleshed out exploration of the issues that are addressed and they are resolved in a logical way.
AN ISSUE OF FAITH: JOHN LOCKE VS THELONIOUS JAHA
In both shows, there is also a spiritual character; in “Lost” it is John Locke and in “The 100” it is Thelonious Jaha. Both character come to believe there is a higher purpose once they reach the new environment. Their stories become about journeys driven by faith and a belief in their important destiny. Jaha’s story only recently took this turn in the latest season and it may be too early to comment as we have only just seen the result of Jaha’s first act of faith. At the end of season 2, he encounters an artificial intelligence after his journey through desert lands. This conclusion to his trek, in the context of the larger story seems to be either an accident or a manipulation of the character by the artificial intelligence. In contrast, John Locke’s faith is validated on several occasions. He is depicted as being privy to a greater type of knowledge and others trust his faith-based judgments. The writers of the show however were unable to fully explain the powers that John was placing his trust in. The messy ending of the show presented a lot of problems, one of them being that it wasn’t clear if John’s faith was in the island itself or perhaps the man in white. In either case, it isn’t clear if his faith was “right” and John doesn’t really get a complete answer to the blind belief he had in earlier seasons. Thus the issue of his faith isn’t given a clear answer after it was addressed. Perhaps by shying away from a validation of faith, “The 100” will avoid the introduction of half-explained divine elements and higher powers to address the journey of characters and thus, avoid unnecessarily convoluting their story.
The above are just some comparable elements that are worth discussing. There are many others that can also be considered. One could consider the comedic pairings of “Lost”’s Charlie and Hugo in comparison to “The 100”’s Monty and Jasper. Additionally, we could also examine the use of inter-group relationships in “Lost”’s Jack/Juliet and Sawyer/Juliet in relation to “The 100”’s Octavia/Lincoln. Even more specifically, we could compare the presentation and purpose of the two “capture and torture stories” between the shows (when “Lost”’s Ben was interrogated by the Oceanic survivors and when “The 100”’s Lincoln was captured by the team of juvenile offenders). There are a lot of parallels between the shows and I think the above comparison are good starting points for discussions about how similar concepts were handled by different writers.
To conclude, perhaps I am being overly optimistic regarding the future of “The 100” and thus far it definitely has not done a perfect job (we could all do without the teen romance drama). However, I do think the way that the characters and narrative is presented shows promise compared to “Lost”. In a lot of ways, it may also be too early to say with any kind of certainty what sort of trajectory the show will take; I guess we will just have to wait and see!