The 100 S4E5: "The Tinderbox"
The Tinderbox is another plot-forward episode that drops character beats and continuity in favor of setting the stage for the next act. Still, shocking reveals, great direction, and a stunning final sequence make it a fun episode to watch.
I'LL DRIVE, YOU COOK
Abby and Raven’s relationship has been strained since season two, but the bond between them has always been undeniable. While they are often at odds, they are also uniquely suited to understand each other as women of science who will do anything to save their people, dedicated to their own unique search for answers.
(I went into their relationship in depth in my review of The Four Horsemen, link here.)
The Tinderbox adds another layer of complication with the introduction of the “glitch” in Raven’s ALIE-juiced super brain. It turns out that when Clarke force ejected ALIE out of Raven’s brain through EMP (Nevermore, 3.11), ALIE left both Becca’s memories and part of ALIE’s code, but (as ALIE warned her) also damaged her brain. This is revealed in Raven’s seizure induced hallucination in the first scene of the episode, where Raven is floating through the lab as if she’s in space. It’s an incredibly poignant visual given her history, and creepy, too—the audience knows something is not right. And it isn’t—she’s really having stroke-like seizures.
However, during those seizures, she’s accessing Becca’s memories, following the breadcrumbs in her mind and around the lab to solve the problem of nightblood synthesis. Jackson and Abby have been working for days, getting nowhere, and when Raven wakes up from her seizure she figures it out. Nightblood needs to be developed in space, in zero gravity.
(Also, put a pin in it that Jackson mentions Becca developed nightblood for an asteroid mining company who needed to put their workers in hypersleep).
How to do that in the lab environment they have? They can’t.
But, handily enough (and in a really cool reveal) there is a two-seater rocket waiting behind a wall. Look, the reveal could be jumping-the-shark as hell, but it wasn’t. The music, the wonder, the possibility—and also the fact that The 100 has always been cracky-crazy—sold it to me. Sure, as long as the story is good, I’ll go for the ride.
The only hitch besides Raven’s glitching brain? That Abby is dodging Jackson’s concern about her health, since Clarke pulled ALIE from Abby with an EMP, like she did with Raven. Brain damage presents in different ways and she has no symptoms, she says, brushing Jackson off. By the end of the episode we know that’s not true, as Abby hallucinates Clarke.
Dovetailing Raven and Abby’s story together again, after what felt like the missed opportunity of season three, is satisfying, earned storytelling. There is so much to dig into here, not only with their history but also with these two women who define themselves by their intelligence struggling with the fact that their minds are now acting in ways that are incomprehensible. Can the visions be trusted? How about Becca or ALIE influencing them—ALIE, who tried to end the world? It’s a fascinating story platform, and a clever, sci-fi twist on the trope of 'rational person suddenly having supernatural abilities'. Even better, it's both of these women who love and respect each other so much. If developed correctly will provide a strong, character-driven counterweight to the increasingly fantastical elements of this storyline.
THE BELLAMY PROBLEM
The grounder army massacre in early season three has hung over the show and specifically Bellamy since it happened. Whether or not it was a good writing choice at the time is beside the point now. Now the question is how the show and writers are dealing with the fallout of such an extreme choice that they, in my opinion, didn’t realize would be so divisive.
However, the turn for Bellamy’s character in season three came with the thorough and beautiful paced realization that he made the wrong choices for the wrong reasons. From the end of episode eight onwards, Bellamy has a slow arc through the ramifications of his mistakes (with Lincoln dying and his estrangement from Octavia) through to the other side of parsing his responsibility (Join or Die, 3.13), to choosing to act differently and favor non-violent strategies in the finale. It was a beautiful arc and perfectly teed up Bellamy to move forward in season four.
In the beginning of season four, it seemed that the show was taking that same measured pace onwards. Yes, there were a few heavy drops to BELLAMY REALLY REGRETS THIS THING HE DID in episodes one through three, but I had hoped that that was wrapping it up. Alas, here we are in episode five, and now Bellamy is speechifying to a character we don’t really know that well about How He Was Very Wrong and Did a Very Bad Thing in case any remaining audience members just don’t get it.
To be honest? It’s tiresome. It’s as tiresome as when, in season three, Clarke was forced to say “I’m sorry” to almost every character whether they deserved it or not. Some of those were earned—her confrontation with Bellamy in Hakeldama(3.5) remains a series highlight. But whatever wrongs she perceived she did seem to have been laid to rest, and Clarke is slowly moving on.
Bellamy, however, is looping back to the same regrets as in season three, this time with the side-attachment of Echo. I can see why the writers thought that this duo would bring forward the very obvious themes of this season, but it’s just not working out (yet). For one, like with Clarke and Lexa in season three, the writing doesn’t allow for Bellamy to be angry at Echo in service of plot expediency. Missing that character beat is so huge that it compromised the entire standoff-storyline. Not only did Echo assist in killing Gina, she also injured Octavia enough to where she felt confident in telling Bellamy that Octavia had died. As I said for A Lie Guarded, another scene that gave Echo’s development priority over Bellamy’s anger/grief, Bellamy’s entire existence has been centered on his sister. To not give that any weight over two episodes makes the interactions between Echo and Bellamy ultimately toothless. Hopefully the show figures out what they’re doing with that pairing and soon.
The Tinderbox is one of those episodes that both worked and didn’t. Strong scenes, especially between Abby and Raven, and Clarke and Roan, pulled the rest of the episode forward. However, even with as much verve as Clarke and Roan have together, revisionist history in the dialogue irritated me, especially because it is, yet again, at the expense of Clarke and her character. For the second episode in a row, Bellamy’s storyline suffered from misplaced priorities, and hopefully the show figures out what they’re trying to do with the Bellamy/Echo team because it’s been five episodes and I’m still unsure. That said, I loved seeing Niylah team up with Octavia, and as usual, Monty saved the entire operation with his wits and strength of character. While Clarke and Bellamy seem to be (a little) directionless this season (so far, I’m not ready to call it yet), the rest of the characterization has been on point.
The directing, set-decoration, and fantastic sequences both in the lab and the burning of Arkadia made The Tinderbox worth it for me, even on multiple rewatches. The creepy-cool-sinister atmosphere of Raven floating through space in the clean and modern lab juxtaposed with the explosive flames that ripped through Arkadia tell two stories that are ultimately, tragically maybe, intertwined through both history and the present. There is no future without the nightblood, but there is also becoming less and less to save. As the Ark burned and the camera panned to each stunned, grief-stricken face, cast in the orange glow of the flames, it was a moment just as foreboding as Abby’s vision that finished the episode. The fire isn’t coming for just for Arkadia, it’s coming for them all. And as Clarke says, they’re running out of time.