“Fog of War” is the result of The 100’s continuous attention paid to character-driven stories and a superb cast which, when given some serious heavy thematic lifting to do, continually rises to the occasion. Somewhere over the course of its first season, The 100 moved from being a solid but unremarkable dystopian teen drama, to a complex, intricate musing on morality, politics, colonialism, and bureaucracy. Almost halfway through its second season, the show is using its detailed world building and cast of characters to explore the physical and psychological costs of war. What’s remarkable about “Fog of War” is that, in terms of actual physical movement and action, not a whole lot happens. The majority of the episode sees characters confined to tight spaces; there’s not much running and gunning, no real movement in terms of military action. But wars aren’t all action. There’s a lot of strategizing, second-guessing, and eerie silences that serve to accentuate the harsh, quick brutality of the violence.
Clarke, along with Abigail, Finn, Bellamy, Octavia, and Raven, have decided to head to Mount Weather to destroy a tower jamming their radio frequencies, which is keeping them from contacting any other potential Ark survivors. They get within sight of the tower, but then another acid fog rolls in–fog which we learn later in the episode is actually a weapon used by Mount Weather. Bellamy and Octavia, having split from the group to find a way into Mount Weather against Abigail’s orders, take shelter in an underground parking garage, a remnant of the old world. Meanwhile, Clarke and Finn are confined to the bunker where they had sex last season; or, more recently, where Finn shot his first of many Grounders in a single episode. Raven and Abigail set up the tent they were carrying with them just in time. The characters spend the majority of the episode trapped in these places, but since the characterization on The 100 is so strong, it hardly matters that they’re not moving.
Raven realizes that a single radio frequency is clear, and that it belongs to Mount Weather. After cracking the encryption, her and Abigail can listen in on the enemy, and therefore decide that blowing up the tower isn’t in their best interest. Not only does this create a new narrative possibility, giving the people of the Ark the upper hand, it gives Raven a chance to shine. The 100 might have the best set of female characters on television; they’re strong and smart, but never without flaws or complexities. It’s wonderful to see Raven as a tech geek, a role so typically given to a skinny white guy and played for laughs. Here, Raven is far from a joke; she’s integral to giving her people a strategic advantage in their war against Mount Weather.
The scenes in the underground garage are some of the most tense and beautifully shot moments of the season. The lighting and cinematography, all shadows and dust, has the effect of not only suggesting an eerie emptiness, but also making us feel claustrophobic. Those ideas run contrary to one another, and that creates tension. I’ve complained throughout this season that Octavia hasn’t been given much to do and that her storyline with Lincoln is based on a flimsy, undercooked romance, but the devastation on her face when she discovers that Lincoln is now a Reaper was worth the wait. It’s an emotional moment, and not only gives us insight into her psyche, but also gives her motivation going forward in this war.
Finn and Clarke don’t get a ton of screen time, but they make use of what little they have. After last week’s massacre, both of them are clearly reeling. “I don’t even know who you are anymore,” says Clarke. Finn replies, “neither do I.” It’s long been understood that these kids are making decisions well beyond their years, but their scenes in this episode are some of the deepest psychological exploration the show has delved into so far. Finn and Clarke aren’t just dealing with the massacre; their body language, their eyes, their exhaustion all suggest that their dealing with everything, from being sent to earth to die, to losing members of the original 100, to having to decide when to torture a hostage. They’re contemplating their new life, and wondering when the constant state of anxiety will end.
It’s not just the female characters on this show that are complex, but the storylines too. The first few episodes of this season, while solid, lacked a certain narrative focus. With “Fog of War,” everything is starting to fall into place. Every decision made has a consequence, and not just an immediate one. While Jaha and Kane are imprisoned by the Grounders, they are told to fight one another for peace. When one of them dies, therefore atoning for the massacre on their people, peace talks might begin. A knife is thrown between them, and a Grounder named Lexa is told to bear witness. It’s the first Kane and Jaha have heard of the massacre, and Lexa fills them in on the details. Finn’s actions aren’t merely a plot point for his psychological unraveling; his actions have far-reaching consequences, influencing the attempt at democracy undertaken by Kane and Jaha. Ultimately, a bargain is made. Lexa turns out to be the Commander of the Grounders (another female character in a prominent role of power!! I love you, The 100), and after witnessing Kane’s attempt to sacrifice himself for his people, she agrees to let them go. The catch: Jaha is to be made an example of. He’s sent back to Camp–his first appearance there–with a message: the people of the Ark have two days to leave or they will die.
At Mount Weather, confinement is just a given, but the extent of that confinement is revealed further. Not only do we learn of their attempts to jam radio frequencies and use the acid fog as a weapon, but Jasper and Monty learn about their harvesting. Maya comes to them for help, because she’s scared of what will happen to them. It’s clear that after Maya’s successful recovery from the radiation exposure (which was a planned leak; President Wallace suspects it was the work of his son), certain members of Mount Weather will do anything to harvest them. Thus, Jasper, Monty, and Maya, along with some of the shows ever-reliable tertiary characters, begin to plan an escape. Again, there’s not real movement here, but the power of the narrative is in the deliberation. A constant theme in this show is how afraid we should all be of existing power structures. Just watch the news lately and you’ll see plenty of evidence that some of those who are put in power to protect us don’t always live up to that standard. Mount Weather is no different, a political and militarized body of power that seems to mistake oppression for safety.
In so many ways, “Fog of War” is a remarkable episode of television. It manages to clearly establish a number of storylines while never once feeling complacent. More than that though, it puts it characters first, using their backstories and personalities to muse on larger themes of moral responsibility, what it means to establish ”civility,” and the uncertainty that comes with war.
- First things first: this gifset popped into my Twitter timeline via A.V. Club colleague Carrie Raisler the other day, and it made me feel so many things that I just had to share.
- The only thing stopping me from giving this episode an ‘A’ is the way the writers seemed to gloss over Finn’s massacre at the end of the episode. Raven basically forgives him, saying ”we all have battle scars.” Umm, he killed a bunch of unarmed men, women, and children. Not exactly a battle scar. Hoping that’s not the end of the talk about Finn’s reprehensible actions.
- So the plan is to bring Lincoln back and…heal him, presumably? If the Reapers can be saved, that’ll add another moral conundrum into the mix.
- I’m excited for Lexa and everything she might bring to this story.
- The creepy toy version of “Carol of the Bells” was pitch-perfect for the tone of the scene in the underground garage when the Reapers attack.
- Raven knows who runs the show around here: “Tough call. I know what Clarke would do.” If anyone wants to make and mail me a “What Would Clark Griffin Do?” bracelet, I’m totally okay with that.
- President Wallace, showing a bit of poetic empathy: “If I give the order to harvest these kids, I don’t deserve to see it [outside Mount Weather] again.”
- “Beat it, Murphy.” Seriously, Raven rules.