As an esteemed TV critic, I watch a lot of television. It would also be accurate to say that I rewatch a lot of television. My most recent rewatch, as we coast on down the road towards the release of Daredevil season 3, is of the number three show on my “best of all time” list: The 100. I wasn’t planning on writing about The 100. I think it is a great show that is criminally underrated and should be talked about more. I think it explores a lot of very complex themes that can challenge a viewer’s perception of their own life, but I didn’t think I had much to say on it. That is, until I watched season two, episode five, “Human Trials.” Spoilers ahead, people, so strap in.
“Human Trials” is a transition episode. It marks the beginning of the meat of the season, sitting around the quarter mark, and, at least in my opinion, it’s where the show levels up. Season one is good, but it isn’t special. At that point, it’s a pretty standard post apocalyptic teen show, a bunch of horny teenage space criminals fight awesome looking tribal warriors. It does some cool stuff with the characters on the Arch, the flying space station where humanity was waiting out a nuclear war, but other than that, it’s not transcending any genres. And the least transcendental part is the character Finn. Finn’s the hot, muscle-y good guy who the female protagonist falls in love with. Finn doesn’t shoot guns because he’s too good. Finn wants to make peace. Finn can track in the woods, even though he grew up in a metal box. And he’s boring. His dialogue is stilted, his character is predictable, and I don’t think his actor plays him very well (Sorry, Thomas McDonell, no shots meant). He’s the most milktoast, paint by numbers character in existence.
Then we get to season two, and in season two, Finn is much more interesting. Tortured by the violence he’s seen and the loss of his girlfriend who he thinks has been kidnapped by the Grounders, Finn is angry, irrational, and cruel, driven by the single desire for revenge. He wants to leave one of his friends to die; he shoots a prisoner who he had agreed to free. It makes him very compelling to watch, and you’re constantly on edge, wondering what he’ll do next. And then we get to “Human Trials.” The episode is a good one. We get Jasper learning why the Mountain Men want his blood; we get Lincoln being tortured; and we get the return of the Clarke, Bellamy dynamic which is my favorite throughout the entire show. Then we reach the end. Finn and legit serial killer John Murphy sneak into a Grounder village where they think their friends are being kept prisoner. Finn lights a building on fire to cause a distraction and then discovers that the Grounders have all of the old sleeping bags that were left behind when the 100 were kidnapped. In a rage, he rounds up all of the Grounders and forces them into a pen like animals. He then rants and threatens his prisoners, who, as the audience knows, are innocent, demanding to know where his people are.
What I think is brilliant about this scene, even before we arrive at its culmination, is the interplay between Finn and Murphy. Murphy has been established as this scummy, morally empty character who feels nothing for anyone and is willing to commit acts of extreme atrocity to get what he wants. But he keeps telling Finn to relax and to stop what he’s doing. Subconsciously, the audience feels even more horror and trepidation towards what is about to happen because if Murphy thinks it’s over the line, it must be really over the line. And then one of the Grounders jumps the fence, and Finn proceeds to mow them down one after the other as the girl he was trying to rescue watches from the tree line. Brilliant. There is so much going on in this scene. Finn reaches his breaking point, doing everything he was against in season one. The Grounders are painted in an even more sympathetic light as their children and elderly are killed in cold blood. And the irony that Clarke, who, remember, Finn thinks is being held captive, is watching it all from the trees creates this amazing moment that lets the audience know that we have entered very new territory.
“Human Trials” is a masterstroke of the holy shit moment. It is both a logical continuation of character motivation and yet also completely out of nowhere. It is something so extreme that when the viewer experiences it for the first time, they know that everything in the show’s world is going to change. Over its five, soon to be six, season run, The 100 has a lot of these. It is a show that deals in shaking things up and going in new directions, but that first one sets the tone for the rest. Such a good show.