Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW

Every season of The 100, with the exception of the remarkable, near-perfect second season, goes through a slump. Every season reaches a point in the middle where the story starts to sag, the motivations of the characters become murky, and the episodes become a little less compelling. It’s a pattern that this season looked primed to avoid after those gamechanging first few episodes. Now though, nine episodes into a 13-episode season, we’ve hit that slump again. Last week’s outing was filled with familiar storytelling beats, as every character reckoned with the morally challenging decisions they had to make about Octavia and Diyoza going to war over Shallow Valley. “Sic Semper Tyrannis” is a more exciting episode, but some of the same problems prevent it from feeling like the catharsis it perhaps needs to be at this point in the season.

The two issues that contribute to the pattern mentioned above in previous seasons are interconnected; it’s a strange mix of not enough story to fill the episode count, which leads to trouble with pacing. It feels like the fifth season is struggling with that at the moment. “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” in terms of plot, is about one thing only: whether Diyoza and Octavia will go to war, or if the backdoor dealings of the likes of Bellamy, Indra, Echo, and Kane will put a stop to the potential violence. That kind of focus in story results in a more captivating episode than last week’s, but it still feels like a pit stop on the way to something bigger.

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The question then becomes, is it fair game to criticize an episode for being a pit stop on the way to something bigger if that’s exactly what it intends to be? After all, stories and seasons have all sorts of ebbs and flows that are necessary for creating tension and intrigue. So no, it wouldn’t be fair to offer up a vision of what “Sic Semper Tyrannis” should be, but with that said, it’s an episode that’s representative of the larger issues with this season. Doesn’t it seem like The 100 is creating conflict amongst certain characters simply because it needs to, and not because it fits with the storytelling or the character arcs? As the episode builds to its climax, and Clarke points a gun at Octavia only to turn her back on Bellamy, I can’t help but feel like the show’s lost its way, failing to really explore why these characters are making these decisions.

Part of the problem is stakes. The 100 has a bad habit of making every single decisions its characters face seem like it’s life or death. Sometimes it is, but that can’t always be the stakes. There needs to be more nuance, more of an understanding of what the various outcomes will be should Clarke or Bellamy or whoever decide to go against the group. “Sic Semper Tyrannis” struggles when it’s not fully involved in the action. Once the plot picks up, and McCreary revolts against Diyoza while Raven, Emori, Murphy, Kane, and the rest of the defectors make a run for it, the episode turns into something captivating. The fight scenes are well shot, and there’s plenty of tension to go around, especially after McCreary kidnaps Abby.

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But when “Sic Semper Tyrannis” makes it way into the more personal conflicts, the ones that result in harsh words and looks of betrayal instead of violence, it doesn’t rise to the same level. The lone exception is the conversation between Indra and Octavia, as the latter wakes up and realizes she’s been betrayed. The scene itself is too short, but it’s brimming with tension built on seasons of character history. Octavia lashes out and says she’s ashamed of Indra. The warrior fires back and says she’s scared of what Octavia has become. Then, Indra turns from her former leader, and tears fill her eyes. It’s a haunting look, one that shows the loss she’s feeling in this moment. There’s no going back now, but Indra wouldn’t have it any other way, because Octavia has gone off the deep end.

That beautifully evocative interaction stands head and shoulders above whatever’s supposed to be going on with Clarke and Bellamy. Yes, Clarke wants to keep Madi safe above all else, but her doing so at the expense of her friends seems like a strange choice. She’s siding with Nyla and Octavia and then leaving Bellamy for dead. “They made their choice,” she says to Madi, who’s started to absorb the knowledge of previous Commanders after having the flame installed by Gaia. None of this is necessarily a storytelling misstep, but it does feel like there’s a lot of motivations being either ignored or insufficiently examined.

Perhaps this will only be a two-episode slump though, because as “Sic Semper Tyrannis” comes to a close, Octavia sentences Bellamy to fight for his life in the pit. She watches as he’s bound and gagged and put on his knees. She takes her spot on the throne, the doors close in front of her, and she cracks. Her eyes well up with tears, and for a split second we see that her humanity hasn’t totally vanished. That’s an intriguing, welcome cliffhanger that, with any luck, the show can build from as the season creeps closer to the finale.

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Stray observations

  • “It’s Abby. I have to.” You’re breaking my heart again, Murphy.
  • Well, it looks like McCreary is taking a very violent, no-nonsense approach to ruling his own militia. No surprise there.
  • Clarke going completely rogue feels so strange. She’s always the one doing what she can to help her people, and now she’s just leaving them behind.

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