The 100 Recap: 3×09 “Stealing Fire”

Another day, another controversial death on The 100. Regardless of your opinions on the two major character deaths that have occurred in the last three episodes, there’s no denying that The 100 has inspired a ton of constructive discourse (as well as some counterproductive ad hominem attacks) about social issues, the responsibility of media creators to their fans, and the role of violence on television. Even when it makes mistakes, The 100 is thoughtful enough to stimulate important conversations, which I would say is commendable in itself.

All right. Let’s do this.

Previously on The 100: Pike sentenced Kane to death for treason; Bellamy participated in a massacre but then finally came to his senses at the thought of a friend’s death, because he’s myopic as all get-out; Kane and Abby made googly eyes at each other; and Lexa was killed off in a brutal manner that, as long as we’re doing fire metaphors tonight, set the entire fandom ablaze with controversy.

After taking an emotional break from the Lexa fallout by spending last week’s episode in Arkadia, we start off in Polis immediately after Lexa’s death. Clarke is locked in the room where Lexa died, and the bed is still covered in her blood. Ouch. Poor Clarke. Luckily, she has Murphy there for emotional support (just kidding, he’s just sort of hanging out on the blood-soaked bed like a champ). HA. Love Murphy.

Clarke comments sadly that the Conclave is starting, and Murphy first snarks–“What, having a bunch of Grounders fight to the death to get an AI stuck in their head, that doesn’t sound fun to you?”–and then, when Clarke starts to cry upon seeing the bed, is actually sensitive: “I’m sorry. I know how much she meant to you.” Aw. Clarke, the master of compartmentalization, demurs that this has nothing to do with her; instead, they need to make sure Aden wins the Conclave.

Titus comes in, and is treated to Clarke and Murphy’s best death stares. Titus is there to release them, though, and Murphy wants to get the hell out of Dodge. Clarke chooses to stay so she can make sure Aden wins, and goes to find him during the “purification ritual” before the Conclave.

Sidebar: The show has teased Clarke returning to her people several times, but seems determined to keep her away from Arkadia, and it’s not really working for me. It was fine for a few episodes, but we’re past the halfway mark now, and our protagonist is still separate from the main action of the season. It mostly worked when Jasper and Monty were marooned in Mount Weather in season 2, but specifically because they were secondary characters. Clarke is our window into this world, and it doesn’t feel right for her to be gone for so long. Isn’t she worried about her people? About her friends? About Pike’s reign of terror? About her mother?

Clarke finds Aden and the other adorable Nightbloods praying over Lexa’s body. He asks if Clarke would like a moment with Lexa, because he’s the most mature and sensitive twelve-year-old of all time. She looks tempted, but instead asks him if he still promises to protect her people if he should become Commander. He says, “We all will,” referring to the other Nightbloods. “Lexa made each of us vow it. We loved her.” AW. Break my heart, why don’t you.

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Hi, Roan!

At that moment, Roan barges in with Ontari, the Ice Queen’s Natblida. She immediately charges at Clarke, and tosses Aden aside like a little rag doll when he gets in her way (not a good sign, is it?). She tries to stab Clarke, but Titus stops her, and Roan tells her to listen to her king and stand down. Ontari spits that his kingship is another “unfortunate” occurrence caused by Clarke (so I guess he’s having trouble solidifying his rule then? I wish we had checked in on him since he became king). Ontari threatens Clarke: “When I am Heda and the king bows to me, you and every last member of Skaikru will die.”

Back at Arkadia, Lincoln is comforting some of the other political prisoners, telling them to “stay strong.” Kane looks at him admiringly and says, “You inspire them.” Be quiet, Kane! Don’t you know that automatically means Lincoln will be killed off by the end of the episode? Pike ruins this Hallmark moment by coming in and sentencing all of the prisoners to death, because they’re all “guilty of the same crime as Kane.” This is the same guy who insisted on leniency for Sinclair at the end of last episode? I thought that he was only justifying Kane’s execution because Kane directly tried to kill Pike? Ugh, whatever. I was giving this plotline the benefit of the doubt, but now, the quicker we can get through it, the better.

Lincoln nobly begs for the others’ lives: “My people are innocent. They know nothing. Don’t let them suffer for my crimes.” Bellamy agrees, and says that the other prisoners were just “running through an open door,” like anyone would. Pike is somehow dumb enough to fall for that, so he decides to only execute Kane, Lincoln, and Sinclair as the ringleaders of the coup. What a nice guy.

Bellamy and Monty find Miller and Harper, disable the surveillance in order to show they can be trusted, and try to join forces with the rebellion. Miller and Harper pretty much give them the finger, and feign ignorance about any plan to save the prisoners. Bellamy acts all affronted and in-a-huff, which, like, really Bellamy? You and Monty literally just turned them in for plotting against Pike last episode (which took place approximately twelve hours ago in the show’s timeline). Monty is even more annoying, and says self-righteously, “After everything we’ve been through, you don’t trust me?” Harper calls bullshit, because she’s suddenly awesome: “Does your mom know you’re here, Monty?” You tell him, Harper.

Finally, Bellamy just says that if Octavia wants to save her boyfriend, she’ll meet him by the dropship in an hour. She does, and I’m afraid for a second that she’ll be stupid and trust Bellamy, but then she just injects something in his neck and knocks him flat. Thank God.

Back in Polis, Clarke and Murphy talk to Titus about preventing Ontari from winning the Conclave as he’s fussing with the A.L.I.E. 2.0 chip. Clarke has a sad moment and asks in a small voice, “Is she really in there?” Titus answers, “Of course she is,” but then qualifies that heavily: “I’ve served four Commanders as Flamekeeper, none of them half as wise or strong as Lexa kom Trikru.” As I speculated in my recap of “Thirteen,” the A.I. just enhances the qualities in a person that are already there. So that not only maintains the authenticity of the Clarke and Lexa relationship, but also means that if Ontari wins the Conclave, her hatred for Clarke and Skaikru will be heightened, and she’ll burn Arkadia to the ground.

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The victory horn is already sounding, which can’t mean anything good. Clarke rushes to the Capitol tower and finds a crowd surounding a blood-covered Ontari, who’s sitting in Lexa’s throne. Titus asks the meaning of this, and Ontari answers by taking a severed head out of a bag in front of her. The show takes a cue from Seven (and the censors, presumably) and doesn’t actually show us the head, but Clarke confirms with a horrified gasp that it’s Aden. Ontari killed (and decapitated) all of the other Nightbloods in their sleep! Jesus Christ. She finishes off with, “I win,” and throws the head in front of her.

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Evil AF

I have to say, I have more of a problem with The 100‘s methods of killing off minor characters than major characters this season. First, the Grounder massacre occurred offscreen, which greatly reduced the impact of such a horrific act, and undercut the seriousness of Bellamy’s transgressions. Now, The 100 has killed off a bunch of adorable children offscreen, which doesn’t sit right at all. Maybe some would argue that showing it (or part of it) onscreen would have been gratuitous or exploitative, but I think it’s more exploitative to use child murder for shock value without impressing on the audience just how evil this act really is. The 100‘s violence is at its best and most humanistic when you really feel for the victims, feel every punch (or decapitation, as the case may be), and that empathetic staging has been sorely lacking for non-regular characters this season. For all of the problems with Lexa’s exit, at least her death was deeply felt by the audience. Aden was cute and all, but we didn’t know any of the Nightbloods well enough for these deaths to have a real impact on the viewers.

Anyway, Bellamy wakes up in a cave, chained up and held hostage by Octavia and Indra. Indra snarls that they shouldn’t bother with him, that they should take down Pike themselves. Bellamy says that’s suicide, and that he’s the only one who could get close to Pike. “We can save them, but we need to work together,” he says. He’s probably right, but Octavia is even more right when she says fiercely, “You’re the reason they need saving.” He concedes that, but insists she needs him, and she replies coolly, “For the first time in my life, that’s not true.” I’m 100% on Octavia’s side in this scene, but goddammit if Bob Morley doesn’t make me feel for Bellamy with his amazing cry-face:

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Then we have another weird scene between Miller and his boyfriend, in which the boyfriend just straight-up admits to bugging Miller and being Pike’s spy. Miller basically just tells him to decide his priorities, and they’re surprisingly mature about the whole thing, but I still don’t really care. LGBT representation is a great thing, but we barely know Miller well enough to care about him, let alone his generic Logan Lerman/Tom Holland/Liam James-esque boyfriend whose name I can never remember.

Kane meets with Abby (where were you last episode, woman??), because I guess Pike had a moment of weakness and let them say goodbye? That doesn’t seem characteristic, but this is a great Kabby scene, so we’ll let it go for now. Abby is clearly planning to try to break him out, but he begs her not to try to help so she doesn’t get executed as well. “Arkadia needs someone here to show them a way out of the dark,” he says grandly. Tears start streaming down her face as she tells him that she can’t say goodbye to him again, and they nearly kiss, but he tells her “not to make this harder than it already is.” So melodramatic, but so adorable!

Roan is sneaking Clarke out of Polis so Ontari won’t lop her head off, too. Clarke tries to get Roan on her side, assuming that he won’t support a new Commander who cheated at the Conclave and “hacked the heads off children as they slept” (seriously, though, morals aside, isn’t that kind of breaking the rules?). She’s shocked to find that Roan is ready to support her because she’s Ice Nation, and it’s a little disappointing from this character, but he rightly reminds her that she was willing to kill every man, woman, and child in Mount Weather to do what was best for her own people. “That’s not a bad point,” Murphy mutters. Clarke: “Shut up, Murphy.” Heh. Roan tells Clarke that this is her last get-out-of-jail-free card: “I saved your life–again. The next time we see each other, it won’t be as friends.” This is a much more interesting moral ambiguity than Bellamy’s, so for those of you keeping score, I think I’m officially a Clarke/Roan shipper now.

Murphy sees Clarke with her determined face on, and says in a resigned and annoyed voice, “We’re not leaving, are we?” She says they can’t leave without the Flame, and they both re-enter Polis. Aside from safety in numbers, I can’t see a reason Murphy wouldn’t leave without her at this point other than the fact that he cares about her, which goes to show how much he’s grown over the last couple of seasons. Season one Murphy would have high-tailed it out of there without thinking twice about it.

Titus catches Clarke trying to steal the Flame, and blames her for Lexa’s death. “I pulled the trigger, but it was you.” All right, Titus, you keep telling yourself that. Clarke doesn’t even dignify this with a response, and pleads with him to let her steal the Flame, because Lexa’s spirit would never choose someone who murdered children. Titus says there’s no choice, because all of the other Nightbloods are gone, and Clarke says they should just “put the damn thing in someone else.” Titus starts to choke her out, and tells her it’s not just superstition, if someone without black blood takes the Flame, then they’ll die. “If the black blood is so rare, then why do you let them kill each other?” Clarke asks, not unreasonably. “That has to be the dumbest succession plan ever!” Hee!

But then Clarke remembers that there was one other Nightblood who survived Lexa’s Conclave. Titus reveals that the eighth initiate fled, and Lexa wouldn’t let him hunt her down. “She’s a coward, a traitor to the blood. She’s unfit to be Commander.” But not more unfit than Ontari, Clarke points out. At that moment, Murphy is thrown down the stairs by Ontari, and grumbles, “She’s here,” in a hilariously disgruntled voice. Murphy is my favorite. After a tense exchange, Titus sends Murphy to perform the purification ritual on Ontari, because I suppose he’s already figured out that Murphy is the type of person who can bullshit his way through the ritual and stall her.

Once Ontari is gone, Titus reveals that the runaway was Luna, the woman Lincoln mentioned several times who takes in refugees. Some have speculated that Luna will be Lexa’s sister or something comparable, especially since Lexa spared her life, but either way this sounds promising. Titus hands the Flame over to Clarke to give to Luna, because Luna won’t let Titus anywhere near her. Titus sentimentally declares Clarke the new Flamekeeper, and it’s sort of a nice moment, although it would make a lot more sense if he hadn’t been blaming her for Lexa’s death literally five minutes ago.

In Arkadia’s prison, Kane is ruminating over the failed 13th clan plan, and trying to rally Lincoln and Sinclair to serve as martyrs for the cause. “Death can be an act of unity if we don’t break. We don’t show fear. People will remember.” Pike and his goons arrive to take them away, and Lincoln tells his people not to be afraid. Ugh, this is rough.

Harper sees Pike leading Kane, Lincoln, and Sinclair to their deaths, and tells “OKS” over her walkie that they’re on the move. Monty’s mother, who is still the worst, hears this through the surveillance and figures out that it’s “Octavia kom Skaikru,” but Monty lies that he can’t pinpoint a location. Pike gets wind that there’s a plan in motion, and locks up the prisoners with Miller’s boyfriend and one other person guarding the door while he figures out what’s going on.

We already know that the rebels know about the surveillance, so it’s no surprise when we cut to Indra and Bellamy in the cave and she tells him they’re “counting on” Pike figuring out that Octavia is in Arkadia. Bellamy is still worried, and begs Indra to let him go so he can use his position with Pike to help his sister. Indra reminds him that he earned that position “on the battlefield where [he] murdered [her] brothers and sisters.” He, in turn, reminds her that he saved her life, but then admits that it was for the same reason she’s not killing him at this moment: Octavia. Ugh, so it wasn’t even out of his own respect for Indra? Bellamy is the worst this season! He panics that Octavia could die without his help, and Indra responds, “Then Octavia kom Skaikru will earn the warrior’s death that you denied me.” Poor Indra.

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Pike and his goons go on a wild goose chase to find Octavia, but then realize it was all a ruse so Miller’s boyfriend could knock out the other guards and free the prisoners. Pike finds the prisoners gone, but it turns out Octavia had hidden them under the floorboards, in a great callback to her tragic early life. (“It’s a little tight in there,” Kane says as they pull themselves out of the floor. Octavia replies, “Try doing it for 16 years.”) She has a tender moment with Lincoln as she frees him from his handcuffs, and Abby does the same to Kane, as he chastises that he told her not to help him. “I’m supposed to start listening to you now?” Love these two.

The guards start to close in on the rebels, and Monty finally saves the day by calling all the guards to the main gate–in front of his mom. Hannah is horrified, but still covers for her son with Pike–marking the first time she’s actually behaved like a human being–and the rebels manage to escape. Abby stays behind at the last minute, and echoes Kane’s words back to him about leading their people out of the dark. He responds by full-on making out with her (yay!), and saying an impassioned, “May we meet again.” She whispers, “We will.” AW.

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But just as the rebels are about to leave Arkadia, they hear Pike say, “There will be an execution today. Turn yourselves in, or I’ll kill the Grounder prisoners.” Lincoln, always the hero, immediately turns back to sacrifice himself. I would say that this is a little silly, since there’s no guarantee that Pike would spare the other prisoners if one or all of them turned themselves in, but Pike is so driven by pride and machismo, it actually makes sense that he would only carry out senseless executions if he needed to save face. When Kane and Octavia fail to convince Lincoln to leave with them, Octavia prepares to go with him, saying in Trigedasleng, “We fight together.” Lincoln tells Octavia he loves her, which is possibly the first time either of them have said those words onscreen, and then knocks her out with an injection to the neck. After Kane tells him to “stay strong” and takes an unconscious Octavia away, Lincoln emerges and allows himself to be taken, his hands in the air.

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In Polis, Ontari is undergoing the purification ritual, which, as far as I can tell, involves her bathing while Murphy awkwardly looks out the window. The staging makes it clear that there are sexual undertones between these two, and I already despise this pairing with every fiber of my being.

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Murphy tells Ontari that he thinks killing those kids was “smart. A little crazy, maybe, but you do what you need to do to survive.” She reminds him that she plans to wipe out his people, and he says, “Sucks for them.” Considering that he’s only in this predicament because he was helping Clarke, that’s laying it on a little thick. I’m guessing that he’s half-bullshitting and half-hedging his bets, which is a pretty succinct summary of the character in general. She gets out of the water, Murphy sort of accidentally looks at her naked body and is super awkward about it, and she revels in his attention. YUCK. Stop it, you two, I’m in no mood for this.

Roan blusters in with Titus, furious that Clarke has made off with the Flame. He starts to beat up Murphy for information (seriously, can Murphy go even one episode without getting the shit kicked out of him?), but Titus admits that he gave it to Clarke, and spits that “that abomination” (Ontari) will never ascend to Commander. Ontari wants to murder Titus, because that’s her answer to everything, but Murphy thinks quickly on his feet and reminds them that Titus is the only one who can perform the ascension ritual. (Is that even true? Isn’t it just cutting open someone’s neck and sticking the chip in? I doubt that Titus has some kind of advanced surgical training.) Titus seems to take them at their word, though, because he uses Roan’s knife to slit his own throat, gasps “For Lexa,” and quickly bleeds out after falling into the purification pool.

This was a brutal death, and at least it did the character more justice than those poor little Nightbloods, but… what was the point of that, exactly? They don’t have the Flame, so he can’t be forced to perform the Ascension ritual. And now that he’s dead, as the characters discuss literally two minutes after, there’s no one to corroborate that Ontari hasn’t ascended and isn’t the true Commander. (Well, there’s Murphy, but as he poetically puts it, he “happens to like his head.”) Ontari orders Roan to play along with her ruse that she’s already the new Commander and retrieve the Flame from Clarke ASAP, and he agrees. She technically has no authority over him yet, but I suppose this makes sense, considering that he wants someone from Azgeda to be Commander and there are no other Ice Nation Nightbloods.

Polis sounds the horn, and Indra turns to leave so she can serve the new Commander. Bellamy yells after her that this is just like Mount Weather, and maybe now Octavia will see that Indra’s loyalty will always lie with her people. (Obviously, this is completely different from Mount Weather, considering that Indra failing to babysit Bellamy won’t directly lead to the murder of dozens of innocents. But I guess the bad analogy is supposed to be secondary to Bellamy’s blatant hypocrisy.) Indra answers, “Octavia is my people.” (Aw!) But she still leaves, with a last, “Tell her I’m sorry.” I mean, this looks bad, but Indra wasn’t really a part of Octavia’s plan to begin with. The worst thing that could happen is that Bellamy gets free, but Indra’s abandonment might sting a little more considering what comes next.

In a bloodbath of an episode, this next death hits the hardest by a landslide. Octavia wakes up just in time to see Pike’s goons drag Lincoln outside to face execution. Pike, trying and failing to be kind, tells him that while his people won’t be freed, they will be “well-cared for.” You know, like zoo animals. Lincoln faces death stoically, as we would expect from him, and when Pike asks if he has any last words, he simply replies, “Not for you.” He can’t see that Octavia is watching from afar, but that’s as sweet a farewell as any. Pike unceremoniously shoots him in the head, and Marie Avgeropoulos intensely performs Octavia’s transition from heartbreak to steely, murderous resolve.

Especially after the controversy surrounding Lexa’s death (which I discussed in detail here) there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to Lincoln’s demise. First, broadly speaking, I think it was the right decision to kill off the character. Lincoln has long served as a symbol of Grounder-Arker unity, so in a season where both sides are dehumanizing each other and peace is beginning to seem impossible, his death is necessitated by the narrative (so much so that we predicted it back in the premiere), either to stoke the fires of conflict or to shake people out of complacency and motivate diplomatic action. Considering how the plotline has shaken out, and Kane’s “death can be an act of unity” comment, I’m guessing it will be the latter.

Plus, Lincoln was, frankly, too good of a person to survive indefinitely on a show like The 100. After three seasons, the only options for avoiding stagnation were killing the character or morally corrupting him in some way (relationship problems with Octavia might have made the character more dynamic as well, although it would have been a tightrope walk, since the show has generally moved away from the teen drama genre). It wouldn’t have rung true for the character to be corrupted, and while the “too good for this world” trope is a little bit of a cliché, it’s a cliché for a reason.

That being said, I have several problems with the execution (no pun intended, seriously) of this death. First, there are the racial implications, which are especially fraught after the Lexa controversy. I don’t think it was inherently racist to kill off Lincoln, since, similar to my argument about Lexa, it would only be insensitive if he were more expendable by virtue of being a person of color. He was definitely more expendable than many of the other characters, but it’s a very diverse cast, and there are still several POC that won’t be killed off anytime soon. In addition to secondary characters like Indra and Pike (the latter of whom is probably not long for this world, to be fair), there are virtually un-killable characters like Raven, Monty, Bellamy, and Jaha. And I think it’s extremely important that the narrative called for Lincoln’s death; this isn’t The Walking Dead, which cynically decides that it’s time for a character to die, “just so happens” to choose women, POC, and LGBT characters every single time, and uses the tired “no one is safe” excuse as a catch-all. Lincoln was an important and beloved character for several seasons, but since he was so noble and perfect, he simply didn’t have as much narrative potential as some of the other characters.

However, there are also criticisms that the manner of his death–a shot to the head while in handcuffs–was unnecessarily racially charged, and that’s a harder accusation to shake off:

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One could argue that he was killed in this manner because he’s the first major character to be killed onscreen by Pike, and that is probably how Pike would do things. But would it have been staged or shot differently if Kane had been the one to be executed? And if the answer is yes, is that difference solely the result of personality differences between the characters, or is there a racial element as well? I’m posing the question, because I honestly just don’t know.

Evaluating this death is also complicated by the fact that Ricky Whittle has been sidelined for the last season or so, amid rumors of behind-the-scenes drama. (Well, not really rumors, more like outright accusations of bullying from Whittle and his mother. Between the Wick debacle, Lexa, and Lincoln, The 100 is having a lot of behind-the-scenes problems this season, isn’t it?) But regardless of whether Whittle has been sidelined as a result of interpersonal problems or as a result of more insidious marginalization, this feels like the ending of an extended arc that we didn’t get to see. After the premiere dropped so many hints about Lincoln being the bridge between the Grounders and Arkers, I was expecting him to have a meaty storyline in which he worked to unify the two peoples, and then was somehow killed for his efforts. That essentially happened, but it happened within a cumulative 20 minutes of screentime over an entire half-season rather than developing into a real storyline, with lots of references to Lincoln “inspiring” his people without actually showing it.

This diminishment of Lincoln’s character made this death both narratively unsatisfying and somewhat more offensive. I didn’t have nearly as much of an issue with Lexa’s death, because it came at the end of several Lexa-centric episodes that, in retrospect, were clearly the writers’ efforts to do the character justice before Alycia Debnam-Carey had to leave for Fear the Walking Dead. No such effort was made with Lincoln, and while that may not have been the result of any conscious racism on the writers’ part, it definitely didn’t serve to insulate the show against accusations of marginalizing its non-white characters. This death broke my heart a little, but it would have been even more devastating (and less offensive) if Lincoln had been given the attention he deserved this season.

See you next week! I already know that no major characters die in the next episode, so I promise my recap will be a little more upbeat.

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