This season of the The 100 has been more plot-driven than character-driven. At the end of season 2, Jasper gets his goggles back, and in that moment, you feel how much he has been changed by his experience in Mt. Weather. In season 3, the characters have been more stagnant, and most wouldn’t make a decision differently than they would’ve at the beginning of the season. One character stands apart: John Murphy. He has the most satisfying character arc, and he also happens to be everyone’s new favorite character, and I’m guessing those aren’t unrelated.
Two episodes ago, we had characters making some tough choices. Murphy is about to crush ALIE when chipped-Emori tells him that real-Emori will disappear too. He hesitates. He can’t do it. Murphy actually gives a shit? What? It’s a huge change for him. At the beginning of this season, ALIE/Jaha locked him up and he learned that ALIE’s the one who nuked the planet. There’s no way he wouldn’t have done it. It would’ve been the best move to survive, and Murphy was all about survival. Then, he proves it wasn’t a fluke by going along with the plan to go to the tower and take out ALIE. He tells Bellamy he’s not the only one who has someone he cares about. There’s no taking back this decision because there’s literally no physical way out. This weakness and capacity for love is new for him. From his backstory, you know that he’s been closed off emotionally since his childhood. It’s a big leap for his character, and it’s satisfying for us as the audience to have seen that journey. The big moments matter because they reveal something interesting about his character.
Meanwhile, Monty is also making tough choices. ALIE plops Monty’s mom in front of the kill-switch, and so Monty has to decide whether to kill his mom a second time. But it mostly plays as an “Oh shit” moment for the audience. There’s not much we learn about Monty that we didn’t already learn the first time around. And the first time around didn’t seem to reveal much about his character either. Perhaps you could make the case that he has graduated from priming the genocide gas but not pulling the switch to actually pulling the trigger. But between killing his mom the first time and the second time, he’s very much in follower-mode, arguing that Raven should stick to the plan. You could also say that he went from going along with his mom’s decisions (and Pike’s) to disobeying her and killing her. Even so, it’s more the circumstances around him changing than his thought processes changing. His arc is more similar to Bellamy’s (which I’ll explain soon) than Murphy’s. There’s another tough decision for him to make in the season finale with chipped-Jasper having taken Harper hostage, and the stakes have been artificially upped by suddenly turning Monty and Harper in the couple. I’m still holding out hope that we learn something new about Monty, or that being forced to continually make these decisions fundamentally changes him somehow — perhaps he breaks like Jasper? (Speaking of Jasper, his character hasn’t changed that much since the beginning of the season either.)
Bellamy was also making tough choices throughout the decision, first deciding to align with Pike and then deciding to betray him. There should be some type of character arc there, but there’s no fall or redemption, really. He remained the same person throughout. This is specifically shown in the episode where he decides he’s no longer in Pike’s camp. The episode is bookended with him responding “I do it everyday” to the idea of protecting his people. His people are mostly those he landed with, whom he lead at the very beginning. Pike goes from “We don’t go after our own” when being arrested to specifically trying to find the spies inside instead of thinking about the threat outside. Pike wants to execute Kane, instead of throwing him in jail, which in turn threatens the lives of Miller and Harper. Crossing this threshold of killing one’s own people is what makes Bellamy switch sides. Instead of Bellamy changing, the circumstances around him change. Afterwards, when Bellamy is trying to do some soul searching, thinking he was on the wrong side, Clarke basically tells him to accept himself and that there are no bad guys. There’s not really a place to go with a redemption arc either. It’s not as if the show is completely unaware of what it’s doing. Kane wonders if Bellamy betrayed Pike because he had really changed or if he did it to protect his sister. The storyline is kind of supposed to subvert a straight-forward fall and redemption arc. When a story does this, though, it would be more fun to have some type of emotional journey for the viewer. Instead, many people feel frustrated.
One of the reasons why the tough choice in season 2 of pulling the lever resonates more is because it reveals more about the characters. Clarke wants to be different, to be moral and strong, but in the end, she chooses her people, just as Lexa and Dante did too. It’s a heart-breaking, earned reveal. Bellamy chooses his people, but he also chooses to share the burden with Clarke, which also makes it more interesting. He offers Clarke forgiveness as she offered him forgiveness in the beginning. Plus, it’s an even tougher decision for him because he actually worked with the Mt. Weather resistance.
Arguably, the only other character with a satisfying character arc in this season is Lexa’s. She doesn’t completely abandon her philosophy of protecting her people, but she wants to redefine people. She wants to welcome skaikru and feels guilty about what she’s done. She also opens herself open to love, deciding that Clarke was right about there being more to life than surviving and that love is not weakness. Then, Titus shoots her, so we’re robbed of an awesome character who’s acting like a real leader and trying to guide society to new ideas.
We’re at the finale, so maybe we’ll see more changes in the characters. There’s still potential with the Octavia, Pike, and Indra mess. Will they seek revenge? Will Pike learn to be less of an asshole? Monty, as mentioned above, may be forced to rethink how he’s been doing things. But even if the characters don’t change too much, I’m still excited to see where the plot goes, how the ALIE threat is resolved (or not resolved), and what kind of crazy twist cliffhanger we’ll be hit with at the end.