Friday, May 20, 2016

Race on The 100 #2

We have previously written a post about Race on The 100, but like many shows that last for more than one season, the extra time gave them more chance to double down on their awfulness and our old post badly need updating

So we have to look again at the treatment of POC on The 100, especially in light of Lincoln’s death among so much other awfulness

We already spoke about the problems with Lincoln’s early depiction in our previous post about Race on The 100  - almost instantly willing to abandon and turn on his people for the sake of a White female love interest, spending episode after episode being brutally tortured. Then spending more time as a brutal, animalistic medical experiment. Honestly, it’s almost astonishing that they could do more to Lincoln to exacerbate this given how utterly terrible it was.

Well, they do - partly by not doing anything to him. Lincoln, the man who is both a Grounder and Skaikru affiliated, straddles both worlds in a way only matched by Octavia and maybe Clarke, a man who could bring so much knowledge and insight to Skaikru and should be in every scene providing information, seemed to pretty much fade into the background. Not only did this waste his potential, it quite literally made very little sense to bench him at all. It was almost plot sabotaging to not have him be more prominent. Of course, being nigh invisible is followed up by the inevitable - death.

Lincoln’s death joins other notorious deaths for how utterly unnecessary it was. Lincoln could have escaped - just as Kane did. The whole idea that he would come back and give himself up for the sake of other Grounders taken prisoners is based on the idea he’d trust Pike not to kill the other prisoners anyway (and why would he trust that? Seriously has Pike done anything to suggest he wouldn’t just kill anyone he considered Grounderish?). We have to note that Kane certainly isn’t willing to get down on his knees and pointlessly sacrifice himself for a group of extras (again, Pike threatened to kill said imprisoned extras unless they gave themselves up - they assumed Pike would be happy with only one of them? This all involves a whole lot of trust of the paranoid, violent, genocidal tyrant, guys!). Aside from the imagery of Lincoln being forced to kneel in the mud and be murdered being repellent , this death is repellent for making no sense.

I know that someone is going to hove in with the old excuse that the actor who plays Lincoln, Ricky Whittle, wants to leave the show. It’s the same excuse that was made about Abbie leaving Sleepy Hollow and, again, it’s equally ridiculous and inexcusable. The actor has not only been sidelined all season but he has been treated pretty abominable by showrunner Jason Rothenberg. You can’t drive someone off then turn round and act like their absence is inevitable!

But let’s assume that, yes, the showrunners are completely blameless in Ricky Whittle’s choice to leave - ok… but he still didn’t have to die. In fact the whole reason why he’s still hanging around with Skaikru at this point seems dubious - even Octavia, the woman he pretty much threw all his old loyalties away for has lost all faith in Skaikru. If they had to get rid of Lincoln then have him and Octavia ride off together. Yes, the actor wanted to leave - which, again, we have to make the point is unsurprising given how he was treated both on the show and off it (and is hardly a defence against racism on this show), but there were very easy ways to achieve this without killing him off, especially given that he has very few real reasons to be loyal to Skaikru (which, y’know, could have been developed in all that time where he was pushed so far into the background).

There was no need for Lincoln’s death - and in the end it reduced this character to nothing more than a source of angst and suffering - a cause of the rift between Octavia and Bellamy. His death wasn’t even about him.

This complete lack of real characterisation has hit other POC characters pretty terribly as well - because it leaves them with no storyline or characterisation to add more depth to what little we see of them. So we end up with characters like Monty the Eternal Suffering. Of course, lots of characters on this show suffer; the show loves this suffering. But Monty has lurked in the background for most of the show, being an extra or sidekick to various other characters (and a witness to Jasper’s eternal epic Manpain) and the only storylines left to him have been ones of suffering. He spent half the season being deeply conflicted about his mother, Hannah’s, loyalty to Pike and killing all the Grounders - this depressing angst could have been interesting if we’d focused on either of them or if either of them were actually a major element in either faction. Of course she took the Allie Pill and not only had to die… but Monty had to kill her.

Twice. No hope for you, Monty - there is only pain.

Speaking of that, Monty now has a love interest with Harper. Is this for hope? Is this for happiness? Is this a sign of things getting better? Nope, it’s so Monty can have another loved one imperiled  

Again, yes other people on this show have epicly suffered. But suffering is pretty much all Monty has done: it’s the shallowness of his portrayal that makes his one note actions so problematic. This pretty much sums up Hannah - the overbearing Tiger Mom who was entirely defined by her oppressive and domineering presence in Monty’s life. Another one-note character whose shallowness only emphasises how much of her is a stereotype. Contrast that with Abbie! Abbie and Clarke have repeatedly been at odds, but that is used as a character point to build both of their stories. That has been built into their characters and, despite all of their repeated opposition to the other, neither side has ever completely written off the other. Abbie never turned her back on Clarke - and vice versa - no matter what crimes or sins apply. We know this, it would beyond imagining for this not to be true - yet Hannah sells Monty out the minute he steps out of line. The contrasting portrayal of motherhood is stark and brutal and let’s be honest racist. It’s long been a disgusting project of white supremacy to paint mothers of colour as incompetent breeders even as it elevates White motherhood to an almost divine state for White women. Ironically this warped motherhood is then used as a vehicle to justify destroying families of colour just as The 100 did with its cruel murder of Hannah twice.

We can’t talk about POC who seem locked into endless cycles of suffering without much else without coming to Raven. Again, like Lincoln, she had vast potential. An engineer, a technical wizard with excellent skills that even made her valuable (albeit secondary) in the first season. We’re beginning to a glimmer of this in the battle against Allie - and, after all, given her skills shouldn’t be she front and centre?

But she isn’t - like the first season her technical and computer skills are not the main fight against Allie - Clarke’s trip looking for oddly coloured blood is. Not only that, but Raven is frequently portrayed as not only not helping but actively causing damage to the cause. She’s even presented as indirectly responsible for Hannah’s second death at Monty’s hands. Her essential skill set is actually becoming something of a liability. Yes I hope for more, and there’s definite potential for more that is not just missed - but almost story-breakingly missed. Instead of Raven being defined by her competence and ability she is defined by… pain.

We’ve touched on some of her treatment in the first season, being sidelined by Clarke - but it’s also notable that Raven was tortured not once, but twice in the first season alone before being shot and suffering her characteristic leg injury. Again this could have been an excellent chance to examine injury and Raven’s adaptation to her disability; but despite touching on it, she’s never given enough real attention to follow it through to a full storyline. All we see if pain and angst - which in turn leads her into Alie’s clutches. For yet more rounds of torture. Seriously, does she get a punch card or something? For every 5 torture sessions you get a free box of bamboo slivers?

The sad thing is with both her epic skills and her disability we could have made an excellent showcase of how valuable and precious she is. We could have had Raven reaffirm her worth, her power, her capability and proven it again and again as a central and vital figure to the group. Hey, we would even have not put her love interest into the plot box! What did he actually risk providing Raven with a storyline beyond her weekly torture session?

The character which bothers me the most is Indra played by the very amazing Adina Porter. Indra was first introduced to us as the leader of Tondc, but that position of power was really short lived. Sure, Tondc was destroyed by a missile strike but it’s notable that Lexa and Clarke knew the attack was coming and did nothing.  We have not seen Indra in charge of another territory since the destruction of Tondc. Even though Indra began with her own community to run, she was still second to Lexa. As much as I was saddened by the death of Lexa, I had really hoped that this would give Indra’s character a new lease.  Instead, The 100 created some convoluted reason involving tech and night blood to bypass Indra as a leader to search for someone else. This effectively set Indra up to be a permanent second despite her skill, wisdom and bravery.

When Indra wasn’t busy following Lexa’s orders, she serves as a mentor to Octavia.  In the Survival of the Fittest, Octavia takes on one of Indra’s Grounders and though she is defeated, Indra sees strength in her resilience.  Indra spends her time training Octavia to become a warrior and being a second ambassador to Grounder society for Octavia. When she is not tutoring Octavia in fighting skills, she’s busy dispensing wisdom. Between Lexa and Octavia, Indra is little more than a sidekick/servant.  Her entire character revolves around servitude so much that beyond knowing that Indra knew Lincoln since he was a child and that she is fiercely loyal to her people, Indra is absolutely a blank slate.  Does she have a family? Does she have a lover? Does she even have any friends?  Indra is nothing but a trope.

We do have examples of POC in power on this show - Jaha and Pike who can easily be summed up with one gif

They’re powerful, but they’re wrong. Always wrong. Pike is obviously and horrendously wrong now: in fact that is his whole character. The terrible leader. The hater (and, really, shows have got to try and show their “nuanced thinking” but having POC as raging bigot storylines. We can see what you’re trying to do. It’s not impressive). This is the sum total of his character. Like so many of those we’ve written about here, he’s less a character than he is a role. Or a force. Or a plot point. Pike isn’t a realised character with independent set of goals and personalities - Pike is the opposition Clarke, Octavia etc have to overcome. He doesn’t exist as an independent person because he’s a concept, a narrative tool.

And Jaha? Jaha takes an award for wrongness because he has never been right. From his decisions on the Arc to his decisions upon landing to his decisions on seeking the City of Light and, now, his being chief acolyte of his master Abbie. Which manages to make his leadership both utterly wrong while, at the same time, removing any actual power and agency from him. Hey, at least Pike gets to be terrible and awful in his own right, Jaha is just the vessel of awfulness now after seasons of utter incompetence.

The thing is, other leaders have screwed up - Clarke, Kane, Abbie, Lexa - but they’ve also all had a chance to redeem themselves, change their minds, learn, grow and STILL be leaders.

Does anyone think, should Pike change his mind, he will retain leadership? Or do you think his Redemption Train will involve him conceding leadership and kneeling before some white leader (my money is on Kane), assuming he even manages to live through this?  Do we think, should Jaha ever get Alie out of his skull (and live which, again, is so very unlikely) that he will still be a leader?

We know this won’t happen - these characters are both epic tales of incompetence and awfulness, eternal antagonism until they’re either put in their place or killed. And at this point we’re almost hoping it happens sooner rather than later just to let this saga of incompetence and evil end.

Other than that we do still have a number of minority faces lurking in the background as minor characters (There’s also Bellamy - but we mentioned on our previous post why this is a problem and we’ve spoken before about which minorities are likely to be more prominently “portrayed”). Jackson the loyal doctor following Abbie around. Miller, random soldier number three stood at the back of the crowd pretending to be a returning character. Sinclair, technically there since the beginning of season 1 but always lurking in the periphery. His relationship with Raven was powerful respectful, deeply necessary for both characters - and little more than a footnote to the greater story. A footnote that has now been firmly ended with Sinclair, adding another body to the POC death count.

I have seen a lot of defence of the deaths on The 100 basically saying, over and over again, that it’s a show where “anyone can die.” It’s a common excuse and, frankly, it’s pretty much never true

We’ve seen it said about shows from The Falling Skies, to The Walking Dead as a defence when we see minorities dying off disproportionately - and it’s never ever true. No matter how high the bodies pile up, these shows always have a small cadre of cis, straight, white able bodied men we KNOW will live - or at very least seem to be sporting plot armour that could deflect light sabers. Sometimes even when it boggles the mind how they could have survived in a Disney movie, let alone a post apocalyptic world where “anyone can die”.

The 100 is no exception to this - we have three candidates that continue to shock me episode after episode with their continued survival: Marcus Kane, John Murphy and Jasper Jordan.

Anyone can die? Kane has now joined his, what, third rebel group? He was plotting to the point of terrorism, against Jaha when they were back on the station. He was plotting against Abbie on the ground. Then he tortured her. Then fell in love with her at some point after being trapped under-ground by a bomb blast that managed not to kill him. Somehow. And now he’s part of another rebellion, was captured red handed as a member of that rebellion and is STILL alive.

Lincoln just got executed for existing while being a Grounder, basically (he didn’t do anything else. Him doing anything else would have involved him actually having a storyline). Pike should stop trying to execute Kane and have him lead his troops into battle - watching every bullet magically miss his forces.

Jasper? He’s staggering around being a loose canon of self-absorbed manpain in an oppressive violent police state. And no-one has shot him. At this point Jasper could take up clog dancing on unexploded nukes and I’d expect him to live. I think he has literally pissed off every single faction - Alie’s zombies, the Grounders, Skaikru - all of them have wanted Jaser to die at some point.

That really sums up The 100: it does (or did) have a very large number of POC, but not only was their treatment severely lacking and deeply flawed (reminding us, yet again, that not all inclusion is good inclusion a lesson we all should have really learned by now) but the way their characters were treated next to the White characters was stark in contrast. “Anyone can die” and “other characters suffer” does not take into account the full contrast in how these characters are treated and the tropes that fed into them throughout this show. It is by this contrast we see how deeply flawed The 100’s treatment of POC and other minorities has been