“Humankind seems to have an enormous capacity for savagery, for brutality, for lack of empathy, for lack of compassion.” —Annie Lennox
Last week, I spent a good portion of my review trying desperately to be positive. Anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering, I told myself. Don’t fixate on what’s wrong. Cut the show some slack. You’ve been too negative already.
Then, rumors started that this episode had received an MA rating and even more rumors started flying about what it meant. Having now watched the episode, I feel obligated to issue a trigger warning for graphic self-harm, violence/gore, and rape. If these are of concern to you, please don’t read this and please don’t watch this episode. Go take a bubble bath and listen to soothing music instead. Go watch Steven Universe or a James Bond film, if that’s your kind of problematic fave. Take care of yourself. I support you in that.
In “Fallen”, we’ve returned to Jaha, ALIE, and the City of Light as the primary the plot arc. Raven is frantically seeking a way to block ALIE from her head with sensory overload while Jaha and ALIE lurk outside her room. Jasper (suddenly on Abby’s team post Raven breaking down) and Abby quickly send Jaha and Co. packing, but they regroup. ALIE is confused about why Raven would be resisting the escape from pain that she offers. It’s illogical. Jaha counters that the problem is free will, not pain avoidance and recommends that they override Raven’s free will using pain as a trigger.
Meanwhile, Raven believes she has a cure for ALIE: use the wristcuffs that had been on the delinquents in S1 to fry the piece of the chip that is embedded in her brain. To stop her, ALIE follows Jaha’s advice and returns Raven’s memories, but only the ones of her physical and emotional pain and all at once. Debilitated by the onslaught, Raven is taken to the infirmary by Abby while Jasper runs off to get the wristcuff. While Abby is badgering Jackson into helping her, Raven suddenly stops screaming. She sits up in a marionette like movement and tilts her head in that creepy way ALIE has just before Jackson sedates Abby.
Raven (ALIE): “I have full access to Raven’s synaptic network. She’s ours”
Jasper, in the meantime, found spare wristcuffs in a storeroom, but is interrupted by Jaha, who destroys them, leaving Jasper imprisoned in the storeroom. When Abby awakens, Jaha, Jackson, and Raven face her. She demands to speak with Raven, but ALIE, through Raven, says that Raven is in the City of Light and can only be reached if Abby swallows the key. Abby refuses. But Jaha and ALIE need Abby to say the key is safe in order to convince more Arkadians to join their cause, so Raven/ALIE picks up a scalpel and slits Raven’s wrists. Abby demands they let her go so she can help Raven, but Jaha will only do that if Abby swallows the key herself. Raven faints, and just as it looks like she’ll bleed out, Abby agrees to join them so that she can save Raven’s life.
Meanwhile, Jasper breaks free from the storeroom just in time to see Abby convincing a room full of Arkadians to swallow the key. Finding a bandaged and creepily calm Raven in the infirmary, he realizes all is not right, sedates her, and kidnaps her. Abby, Jaha, and ALIE get a room full of quasi-zombies to give chase while Jasper steals the rover to get Raven out of Arkadia, running through the front gate and smack dab into Clarke, who came back to talk to Lincoln about Luna. The rover goes conveniently dead just as Jaha and the ALIE-zombies open fire, but it starts up in time for Clarke to push a guy out the back and spot her mother in the front lines. As they drive off, Abby turns to Jaha and says that now Arkadia has fallen, they can start Phase 2.
Where is Pike in all of this, you wonder? Well, he’s participating in a side plot with Kane, Octavia, Bellamy, and Monty. Bellamy is in chains when the episode begins, waiting on the traitors from Arkadia to return to the cave. In deep grief, Octavia beats up Bellamy, refusing to stop even when Kane and Miller try to intervene. Both times, Bellamy tells them to back off and let Octavia keep punching him.
Octavia: “You’re dead to me.”
Once she’s done taking out her anger and grief on the one she sees as instigating it all, the traitors discuss taking out Pike in order to become the 13th clan again and lift the blockade. They may not know who the new commander is, but they’d rather face that than live under Pike. They’re interrupted by a radio from Monty. He’d had a discussion with his mom—she told him that Pike knows Monty betrayed them to help his friends and that he has to leave—and wants to meet them at the drop ship. They suspect a trap and plan to take Bellamy in chains as a bargaining chip in case things go south.
Turns out taking Bellamy was a good idea, because Pike followed Monty. A standoff ensues. Pike holds a gun to Monty’s head while Kane and Octavia hold a gun and sword to Bellamy’s. Bellamy, however, overpowers Octavia, allowing Pike and the gang to take charge of the situation, offering to take Pike to the cave to prove that he’s back on his side. On the way, Pike offers Bellamy the same deal he’d offered Hannah: if Octavia (Monty) agrees to play nice, he won’t press charges and will allow them to live. Bellamy promises to keep Octavia in line. But it was all a trap! Octavia translates for Bellamy as they give Pike up to Grounders from the blockade. The entire Arkadian team is killed except for Pike, who is injured, and Kane offers to go with Pike and the Grounders as the ambassador of the 13th clan to meet the new commander. Monty is left to deal with the reality that his mom betrayed him, and Bellamy and Octavia still have to sort through their, ah, differences.
Speaking of the new commander, we’re given snippets of Ontari and Murphy throughout the episode, enough to show that Kane is probably not going to get the kind of welcome he hopes for. In chains, Murphy baits Ontari, questioning her control over Polis now that King Roan of Azgeda has left her to search for Clarke. Yet when an ambassador challenges Ontari’s reign, Murphy covers for her about Titus’ ‘absence.’ When they’re next alone, he offers to help her lie her way into being heda, which he thinks is a better plan than killing everyone. You see, her reign as heda only begins when she recites the names of all the former commanders in front of the Coalition of 12 Tribes, but without the flame/AI, she can’t do this. She argues she is entitled to rule because she suffered as a child and was groomed by Queen Nia, yet she apparently needs Murphy to council her because instead of getting rid of him, she decides to accept his help.
While she practices a commanding speech, Murphy tries to find a list of former commanders that she can memorize. They are interrupted by the same ambassador, who challenges her authority to rule as heda without the recitation of the former commanders’ names. She gives her previously practiced speech, then gouges out the ambassador’s eyes when he attempts to defy her. Murphy chastises her, but she retorts that she only promised not to kill him. When they return to her room, she puts Murphy back in chains and strips. He feels “less hurt” about the chains now that he sees her naked, but suddenly remembers Emori and declines what Ontari is offering. She threatens him verbally with death, mutilation, and torture, tugging him closer to her on the chain with every threat. He pithily quips, “the things I do to survive” before we are mercifully spared seeing him raped on screen.
So. That was “Fallen.” Unlike last week, I’m feeling less charitable. Troublesome characterization, plot holes, rape, graphic self-harm, eye gouging, sibling brutality, honestly there’s so much I want to talk about that it’s hard to know where to begin. The Polis arc is the most self-contained so let’s start there.
First off, Ontari. What is happening with her? Why is she suddenly so unsure of herself? She killed a room full of children while they slept and then sat on a throne coated in blood and suddenly she needs Murphy to hold her hand through her newfound coup? It makes no sense. And MURPHY of all people. He was with Clarke, so why does she trust him? Because she threatened to kill him? Shouldn’t that make her more suspicious of his motives? But suddenly she is just going to follow all of his advice because Roan is gone and she needs a man to help her think straight. That may not be how they intended her characterization to go, but that’s exactly how it looks. They tried to give her depth with her description of being groomed by Nia and suffering as a child, but it comes out whiney and entitled rather than engendering empathy.
And then of course she has to use sex to control said man pawn because what even is the Madonna/Whore complex? And sex cannot be consensual, oh no, she must rape Murphy. So Edgy™ of Jason Rothenberg to bring rape into his show. So Brave™. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was written off as Murphy being ‘lucky’ or not even real rape because he is a man. I certainly hope this doesn’t happen, but I won’t be surprised if it does because male rape is rarely discussed well, if at all, by the media.
That brings me to Murphy. What is Murphy’s motivation, like, ever? Sure, he’s a survivor, but if that was it he could have sided with the ambassador and given up Ontari as a false leader. The ambassador seemed genuinely surprised at Murphy’s harsh treatment. On the surface, he seems like he could be a sympathetic ally to Murphy, or more sympathetic than Ontari at the very least. Murphy could barter his knowledge of Ontari’s actions for his freedom and without Roan there to back her, Ontari is basically screwed. The Coalition doesn’t like her anyway.
So survival doesn’t seem to be the reason Murphy sides with her, at least not when you really dig into the plot. But what else is it? Does he want power? Again, why side with Ontari? He could have power now that Clarke is gone even without Ontari. The way I see it, he has literally zero motivation to help Ontari other than plot reasons.
The more you look at the Polis arc the more it breaks down. The Coalition seems concerned about the delay in Ontari’s ascension given that they keep sending this ambassador to speak to her, yet no one has outright called shenanigans or asked about Clarke or even asked to see proof that the AI is in Ontari’s neck.
At the same time, the ambassador seemed surprised Murphy was still chained, which also makes no sense since Murphy is still a prisoner due to the blockade Lexa set up, which is still in effect given what happens with Pike. Ontari is inexplicably fragile and weak and needs Murphy’s guidance to help her seize control, but despite him being a prisoner of the blockade and Skaikru, no one questions his place at Ontari’s side despite the fact that Clarke’s presence at Lexa’s side somehow made her weak because Clarke was Skaikru? Seriously, don’t ask me to explain how this works. I have no idea.
Plus, the eye-gouging was a bit too on the nose for Game of Thrones to be anything other than a cheap gimmick disguised as a ‘head nod’. I’m sure Jason Rothenberg was going for Shocking™. I mean, if eye gouging worked to start a buzz for GoT, then surely it will work for him. Instead, he looks derivative and ridiculous, practically begging people to call his show Edgy™ and Dark™ while using the same needlessly graphic gore of the show he’s imitating.
Hoo boy. I haven’t even started talking about Bellamy yet. Oh Bellamy. What even is characterization? He’s done more 180s this season than an Olympic platform diver. I get that sometimes planning and plot has to take place off screen to preserve tension, but the trap they sprang on Pike doesn’t make sense even as an offscreen plan. Bellamy being beaten up by his sister and then being “dead” to her doesn’t fit with him being a full participant in the plan, especially after Kane calls him “the enemy” straight to Miller’s face.
I honestly want to know when Kane, Octavia, and Bellamy planned this elaborate ruse. On the way to the drop ship out in the open air where people could hear them? And whose idea was it? Sure as hell wasn’t Octavia’s. And it couldn’t have been Bellamy’s because with where Octavia is at emotionally, there’s no way in hell she would do anything Bellamy said. That just leaves Kane. But why would Octavia go along with it given that she’d just beat tup her brother and told Kane to butt out when he tried to stop her? No amount of honeypotting can get me to understand when and how they came up with this plan, even offscreen.
Moreover, despite how satisfyingly cathartic seeing Octavia beat up Bellamy was, it’s emotional power was (to me) undercut by Bellamy’s lamb-to-the-slaughter martyrdom. Part of what makes physical reactions to grief and physical punishment for his being an a-hole so cathartic is the raw violence and power of it all. Bellamy waving away mercy actually works against Octavia’s expressions of grief, painting her as volatile and uncontrolled over and against his calm passivity. I think the writers were attempting to communicate that Bellamy believes he deserves it, but it came across more that he’s being longsuffering, which turns Octavia’s grief into character development for Bellamy.
He could have had a chance to say he deserved it after she was done rather than have him wave off help not once, but twice. If they’d gone that route, we still would have gotten the full weight of her grief and his guilt, rather than the latter undercutting the former and turning him into a martyr. As it stands, her grief basically served Bellamy’s development rather than standing on its own, and if there’s one thing this girl deserves after all the crap she’s lived with, it’s a moment of grief that’s all her own. As with Clarke/Lexa, we were short-shrifted on seeing this female character’s grief over the death of her lover.
The one thing that I do like about this episode is how Jaha and the City of Light narrative explores what it really means to be human via Raven, ALIE, and the chip. A part of being human means grieving and dealing with pain and loss, to not have those things is to not be human. The theme of pain being intrinsic to humanity is moving and powerful. It is a theme worth exploring and Lindsey Morgan acts the hell out of Raven. Seriously, this woman deserves an Oscar for her performance tonight. She is a beast.
That being said, while exploring the problem of pain and its import for humanity is valuable, I do not think the graphic depiction of self-harm is the right way to go about it. In fact, I’ll come right out and say this is one of the worst ways to explore this. You have got to be kidding me. In whose mind was graphic depiction of self-harm a good writing decision? And said graphic depiction was used as a coercive device on a protagonist to turn them into a villain. I’ll put it blatantly: Raven/ALIE threatened suicide to turn Abby into a villain. This is so messed up.
Honestly, I didn’t think that this show could get any worse than Lexa’s bury your gays post-coital death by stray bullet of plot convenience and Lincoln’s black man chained up kneeling in the mud execution. I was wrong. Graphic self-harm to turn a hero into a villain. Good job Jason Rothenberg, you’ve officially hit a trifecta of f*ckery in the span of a month that rivals even GoT. Maybe that’s what he was going for; I don’t know. But you’ve officially turned something I enjoyed into the worst kind of disgusting display of Shock and Awe™ writing tactics.
No thought was given to audience reception. No thought was given to trigger warnings, because even an MA rating can’t prepare you for a young woman graphically and lingeringly slitting her own wrists and bleeding out on your TV screen. Do you think this makes you Brave™, Jason? Do you? Do you think giving your audience panic attacks and depressive episodes is good television? It doesn’t and it’s not.
And it isn’t that I don’t think that self-harm can be depicted or explored. But not like this. Not as a shock tactic. Not as a coercive device. Not as a means to turn the most compelling adult character on the show into a cartoonish snake oil selling villain. Turning empathy and care for others into the ‘flaw’ that makes her a villain is disgusting, trivializing, and downright bad writing. Not even Lindsey Morgan’s compelling acting can compensate for just how terrible a choice that was. God. I need to go take a shower.
- Wait…are Ontari’s scars different this episode? There didn’t seem to be as many and they’re in different patterns.
- Woman called a b*tch. That makes 3x, yet no men are ever called a b*tch on this show in this supposedly post-sexist society. This is clearly still a gendered slur.
- The Monty/Hannah moment in the dining hall was really moving, even if she did end up betraying him. This is the first time I’ve ever actually felt for Hannah.
- How TF does the chip get from the stomach to the brain???????
- Lindsey Morgan is an amazing actor. ALL HAIL.
- “My sister, my responsibility” was a decent callback to S1
- “Did you do this for your sister or because it is the right thing to do? It matters. Until you see that you’ll still be lost.” Great line. A bit preachy when Kane says it, but I still love the implications of it.
- The Monty/Hannah situation is a nice parallel with Octavia/Bellamy and now Abby/Clarke. Does this show have it out for families?
- Basically everyone who is not one of the main characters is a sheep because Abby was able to convince dozens of people to take the chip when Jaha wasn’t.
- Who is enforcing Lexa’s blockade with all the political intrigue at Polis? Three episodes post Lexa’s death and I still do not understand how this is even happening.