This episode was thrilling, and I didn't see the twists coming at all, but like any good twist, everything that happened made perfect sense and derived from the characters. I went into the episode expecting to see Gaia fall in the arena and probably Indra too, just hoping desperately that something would happen to save Indra at the last minute. I could never have seen it coming that Monty would be the hero Wonkru deserved. I also didn't see it coming that Octavia would go full Roman emperor and decide that it's okay to become the villain if your people no longer treat you as a hero!
And no lie, I miss Octavia. Blodreina is a nightmare of a person, and I loved Octavia, for all her faults, for four+ seasons (her ascent to Blodreina was the last we saw of her). I see a lot of fans bitching online, and I suspect that what it comes down to is that they loved Octavia too much to accept this version of her, so they're angry at the show. I've been there, where a direction the creators took a character made them so fundamentally different from the person I thought they were, I disconnected from the overall experience. The 100 is beyond that for me; I am fully invested in the world of the show, and I believe the changes they make have always been explicable and internally consistent.
Just as you could see the seeds of Finn's instability long before he gunned down a village, and the clues that Bellamy didn't trust Grounders as much as his loved ones did long before he joined forces with Pike, and the signs of Jasper's fragility long before he started acting overtly suicidal, Octavia's rage, insecurity, and need for unconditional approval have been laid in as fundamental character traits from the beginning. What we're seeing now is the end result of someone whose worst instincts and basest needs were not merely indulged but encouraged for a very long time, and now suddenly. The same people who eagerly followed her are turning their backs, triggering all the fears of abandonment and rejection she has nurtured throughout her life, and her reaction is proportional to how long and how fully her needs had been met till now.
So with the reaction out of the way, let's cover the action!
Clarke and Madi have gotten well away from Polis while Madi continued to sleep off her post-Ascension hangover. When Madi awakens, she's royally pissed that Clarke has spirited her away from her people, because the spirit of the Commander has increasingly taken hold--that will continue throughout the episode, and it's good to watch Clarke lose her confident certainty that she's in charge here, much as we watched Abby experience in Season 2. Madi is also experiencing the memories of past Commanders in her dreams, and the revelation that Becca was burned at the stake possibly tells us why the chip is called the Flame in the first place, as it was presumably all that remained of her after.
Clarke also dumps out the worm eggs from the Rover, for some reason leaving them in a wriggling pile rather than setting them on fire or something...seriously, I would have found some way to destroy them rather than leaving them there to grow into nightmare creatures, but Clarke isn't great on long-term planning these days.
The closer Clarke and Madi get to the valley, the more heated their discord becomes over what to do with the Flame. Clarke keeps making moves to take it out in Madi's sleep, and Madi ultimately promises Clarke that in order to keep her from ascending all over again, Clarke would have to destroy the Flame. Because that means killing what's left of Lexa, that's a no-go for Clarke...but I fully believe that if she didn't have a personal connection to an element of the Flame. She wouldn't hesitate, any more than Abby hesitated when demolishing the radiation test chamber or interfering in Clarke's attempt at ascending, because Clarke is an overbearing mother from hell. It's a coincidence of competing for self-interest that stands in the way of her maternal instinct to stand in the way of her "daughter's" growth and power.
When they reach the valley, Madi gets another demonstration of Clarke's limited range of concern: McCreary and his goons are killing a bunch of Wonkru defectors, and Madi feels the Commander's impulse to rush in and save her people, but Clarke holds her back. Madi knowingly reminds Clarke that Abby is a defector, too.
Major badassery points to Madi for slitting the throat of a McCreary underling rather than letting him talk or possibly find a way to escape while promising to be useful.
They sneak further into the village and find Abby passed out on the floor by her pill bottle. But how she got these pills? That's a fantastic scene!
This season's MVP guest star, Mike Dopud, delivers another stunningly creepy performance this week, as Abby summons him via neck collar shock (his underlying tone of menace as he implicitly threatens her never to do that again is chilling) to beg him for help getting a fix. McCreary cut her off, and she's in such withdrawal that she insists she will literally die without more pills...who knows how true that is, but her need is evident regardless.
Vinson returns later with a plentiful supply, and he brightly says he knows what's it like to need things as he indulges his own need--the desire to rip a couple of dudes' throats out with his damn teeth!
Abby's subsequent overdose may be partially a result of taking too much after waiting so long to have any, partially the response of emotional horror after what she's just witnessed.
But that's it for the valley, so let's move on to Polis! We came into the week with the knowledge that one or even two major characters would die in the area. The deadpool greatly favored Bellamy to be last man standing, but no one was ready to lose Indra. No one except Octavia, who chooses Bellamy.
Octavia first goes to Indra, begging for help to find a solution that will allow her to maintain absolute control over Wonkru without carrying out the sentence according to Wonkru tradition. Indra points out there's no other way, it's Octavia's own fault, and by the way, I'm going to kill your brother first, so my daughter is certain to survive, so the hell with you.
So Octavia goes to Monty and asks him to convey a message to Bellamy about Indra's weaknesses, and he's like, Nope, this is your fault and your problem, and anyway, you can choose to change your entire plan because of my dope botany skills that will save Wonkru without having to go to war!
Then Octavia gives in and talks to Bellamy herself, and it's one of the greatest scenes of the series. She reminisces about one of the many times he put her safety above all other concerns back on the Ark, and she begs him to kill Indra and Gaia so he can survive. The emotional weight of their relationship is so powerful, so beautifully carried by these two brilliant actors who have built their connection over the past five years.
Rebuffed by Bellamy, the final rejection, Octavia goes away, slices open her arm in the exact place Bellamy once cut himself to protect her and uses the blood as her warpaint.
It's arena time, and Bellamy holds out as long as he can, trying to be a conscientious objector, but survival instinct kicks in, compelling him to fight back. The battle is intense, and Indra is getting a number of good slashes in, but Gaia changes the game!
Gaia picks up a spear and prays to the spirit of the Commander as she hurls it straight at Octavia! Bellamy's instinct to protect his sister is ever-powerful, and he knocks Gaia off balance, causing her aim to go foul.
In this moment, Octavia has the opportunity to end the fight, execute Gaia for attempted regicide, and pardon Bellamy for his act of saving her life, then exile Indra because she'd definitely never forgive Gaia's death...but of course, that's not what happens. Octavia just pretends not to be rattled by this near-death moment, tosses the spear back into the arena, and commands the fight to continue.
But here comes Monty, the hero we needed, the hero we deserve! He bursts into the arena with proof of his success growing new plants, and he announces to Wonkru that Octavia is lying to them! They don't have to go to war--it's not their only chance at survival, and she knows it because he's shown her how he's revived the hydrofarm! They could stay and survive and use the same technique to recultivate the land outside over time.
This revelation is all Wonkru needed to turn against their Red Queen (many of them were at the tipping point anyway, because they wanted their new true Commander to take her place!). Monty and Bellamy are heady with the joy of stopping this nightmare, but they quickly grow worried when no one knows where Octavia has disappeared to.
Their search is short-lived because a fire alarm tells them exactly where she is and what she's done. She's set the hydrofarm ablaze, destroying any hope for the future that didn't involve following her into war. Even Miller looks disillusioned with her now.
But hey, it worked...for her selfish purposes. She has deprived them of any other option besides carrying out her initial plan. The rations they have now are the last food they will ever have unless they can take the valley.
A dispirited, morose army marches out of Polis, and there's only one thing keeping them from murdering Octavia at this point: She's an incredibly strong warrior, and they can't afford to sacrifice an asset like that. Which brings us back to the heart of the series in a neat little way--The 100 has always valued people based on one thing: Are you helping your people survive, or bringing them closer to death?
10/10 (I'd give it an 11 if I could. Can I?)