‘The 100’ left fans outraged and in tears. Why they’re still as devoted as ever
Cannibalism, human experimentation, portals that lead to other planets, mind drives that allow other people to infiltrate your brain — these are only a few of the insane things that have happened in the seven seasons of “The 100,” which comes to an end with its 100th episode on Wednesday. While the CW series, created by Jason Rothenberg, has never found mainstream success, it has attracted a passionate and loyal fan base thanks to its dramatic twists and beloved, diverse characters.
What began in 2014 as a story about a group of 100 raised-in-space teenagers sent back to Earth 97 years after a destructive nuclear war became a constantly evolving story about the lengths we’ll go to for survival — no matter the cost.
“For me, every season was designed to be almost like a new show and a new story,” says Rothenberg, who was pitched the series by the CW and wrote the pilot at the same time Kass Morgan wrote her young adult novel, on which “The 100” is loosely based. “I approached it as a feature writer coming into television for the first time, as each of these seasons was a movie broken down into 13 or 16 parts. That’s why the show changes so drastically season to season, which is one of the things I love about it.”
Rothenberg set the show’s tone early, establishing that “The 100” would become the sort of series where anyone could die at any time and absolutely anything could happen, no matter how nuts. Premiering the same year as “Jane the Virgin,” it was something of an experiment for the network, which Rothenberg says has always allowed “The 100” to push the envelope as far as possible.
“Jokingly, I could say they gave us enough rope to hang ourselves with” Rothenberg notes. “We should take full blame for things that people didn’t like. But I was always amazed by how much we got away with.”
Rothenberg hadn’t used Twitter before “The 100” premiered, and neither had most of the cast members, who began to dip their toes into the waters of social media as the series picked up steam. By Season 2, it was clear that there was a serious fan base of a wide demographic of people developing online — and that they had strong opinions about everything involving “The 100.”
“I remember in the first season it was very magical because we were all making this project and no one knew how anyone would feel about it,” says cast member Lindsey Morgan. “It started to boom. And it really started to boom in the second season. Twitter was a huge part of that. I didn’t anticipate the dedication of the fans.”
“Sometimes there’s quite a bit of controversy online, which I try to stay away from when it comes to people getting upset about the show,” adds Eliza Taylor, who plays the show’s lead, Clarke Griffin. “They have every right to, but when they start fighting with each other I tend to step out. It’s amazing that they feel so much for these characters that we’ve worked so hard to build. It means we’re doing our job.”
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While Rothenberg and his writers have never shied away from killing off beloved characters, often in brutal ways, the show stumbled into its first big controversy in Season 3 when Clarke’s lover, Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey), died immediately after the pair consummated their relationship. Outraged critics accused Rothenberg of playing into the “Bury Your Gays” phenomenon, a problematic storytelling trope in which LGBTQ characters’ lives are treated as expendable. The showrunner responded with a lengthy post on Medium apologizing to fans, but the pain has lingered. Evelyn Ulrich, head journalist and site manager for “The 100” fan site Grounders Source, feels that of all the character deaths over seven seasons, Lexa’s was handled the most poorly, calling it “abrupt and sad.”
“I created a world where gender didn’t matter and race didn’t matter and sexual orientation didn’t matter,” Rothenberg responds, citing Lexa’s death as his biggest regret on the series. “None of those things are issues in ‘The 100.’ There’s not a lot of dialogue about any of those things. We’re not portraying the life situation of people in the real world and so I felt kind of immune to that, that everybody in the show could die and that extended to her. And obviously I misjudged the intensity of that. I wish I could get it back and do things differently, but you can’t.”
“This show is ruthless with killing off beloved characters,” Taylor adds, emphasizing the impact the Clarke-Lexa relationship has had on the series’ LGBTQ fans, including a convention, ClexaCon, named after the pair. “And this one wasn’t handled as delicately as it should have been.”
For fans, the more recent loss of Bellamy (Bob Morley), may be even worse. There was a long-held assumption that he would end up with Clarke — Twitter is filled with the #Bellarke hashtag and there are numerous websites supporting their relationship. (The characters do end up together in Morgan’s book series.) But instead of playing into that endgame, Rothenberg had Clarke kill Bellamy to save her adopted daughter, infuriating many viewers.
“Bellamy’s death really affected me because it came out of nowhere,” says Jacqueline Washo, a fan from East Syracuse, N.Y. “I cried for three days straight. A fictional character death has never affected me like this. I’ve been watching this show for five years, Bellamy is my favorite character and he died for no reason. … I definitely think the show has done a disservice to the fans. Bellamy has been the male lead for seven years and his death was 11 seconds. All that development between Bellamy and Clarke was ruined in an 11-second death that came out of nowhere.”
“I don’t necessarily agree with Bellamy’s death, or a lot of other deaths,” replies Taylor, who is married to Morley in real life. “But it’s just the nature of the beast. Our show doesn’t shy away from killing off its loved ones.”
Washo is particularly incensed because she can point to tweets from Rothenberg responding to fans in 2015 saying the show wouldn’t kill off a main character and that “without Bellamy there would be nothing.” Rothenberg knows he got too entangled on Twitter and says he’s stepped back in recent years.
“It’s one of the things I now realize I shouldn’t have done,” he says. “Because clearly I put out some ideas and planted some messages that we didn’t follow through on or were inflammatory. We make the show and then we put it out there for the audience and it’s theirs. It’s a Rorschach test and it’s up to them to interpret it. I really regret getting online and defending or explaining things.”
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Still, most viewers retain a deep love for “The 100” and its characters. There are conventions dedicated specifically to the show and its mythology, and the cast travels all over the world for appearances at sci-fi and TV conventions.
“I cannot tell you how many times women want to give me a hug,” says Adina Porter, who plays a warrior named Indra. “They appreciate a badass on television. And I cannot tell you how many Black women come up to me and thank me for wearing my hair natural on television. I think people appreciate that maybe they also can have a swagger and be a badass after being 35 years old. It makes me feel like I’m giving them a reflection that it’s possible.”
“We were one of the first shows that was on the precipice of writing really empowered, intelligent and fierce female characters,” Morgan adds. “We were also one of the first shows that had a cast that reflected that. All of our characters defied stereotypes.”
There’s also appreciation for how much Rothenberg and the writers have allowed the characters to evolve. No one on the show has ever been boxed in as a villain or a hero. That’s the thing Richard Harmon, who plays Murphy, hears most at conventions. In Season 1, he received death threats from fans because his character was so disliked, but now many relate to Murphy.
“I definitely had worked quite a bit playing a certain type of character for years,” Harmon says. “Always bad guys. This show gave me the opportunity to expand what I can do as an actor because I never thought I would play a hero. Here I am seven years later and Murphy is trying his darnedest to do the right thing. People can change, it’s just hard.”
Though Wednesday’s finale brings “The 100” to a close with a small glimpse of hope, for fans it’s the series’ darkness that’s most interesting: If the apocalypse comes, there may not be a happy ending, and “The 100” allows us to contemplate how that might play out.
“It’s really heavy, it’s really deep — it talks about really heavy things like eating people and survival and having to make terrible choices about who gets to live and who gets to die and all of these things we fear might happen to us someday with climate change and scarcity of resources. All of the stuff my kid will probably be going through someday,” notes Cyndi Lynott, a fan in Los Angeles. “I watch it and I feel heavy watching it, but I’m also so obsessed and I have to know what happens next.”
“The show has always been about the idea that tribalism is bad and until you can overcome that, and realize the person on the other side of that gun is just like you, you’re going to keep perpetrating this cycle of violence that leads to apocalypse,” Rothenberg says of finding the right ending for the series. “And look out the window — we’re not far from that now, unfortunately. I needed to get to a point where there [was] a resolution to that idea, that there is something we can achieve or do to make that leap evolutionarily. One of the things I want to leave the audience with is that, until we all realize we’re in this together, we’re f—.”
Where: The CW
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Rated: TV-14-V (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with an advisory for violence)
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