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As Scene on TV: "The 100"

The 100: “Pilot” – Removal of the Wristbands

From a certain perspective, every episode of television (as well as every movie, novel, short story, narrative video game, or any other story telling medium) is a mystery.  Viewers tune in to see what’s going to happen, or to discover a character’s deep dark secret, or to find out how an inevitable event will play out.  On rare occasions, the audience will know something that the characters do not, and the mystery will be how will the protagonist discover the truth and how will she react?

Eliza-Taylor-of-The-100

There are three different levels of information equality or inequality between the audience and the characters.  Either A) The information is equal: the audience and the characters know the same information, B) The information is unequal, and the characters know more than the audience (such as when a character has a secret that is not divulged) or C) the information is unequal, and the audience knows more than the characters (such as when we see that a killer is hiding in the attic, and the protagonist enters unaware).  A story can operate on multiple levels with different plotlines.

A scene from the middle of the pilot for The 100 exemplifies the tension that can arise from varying degrees of knowledge disclosed to the audience and the characters.  According to IMDb.com, The 100’s logline is “Set 97 years after a nuclear war has destroyed civilization, when a spaceship housing humanity's lone survivors sends 100 juvenile delinquents back to Earth in hopes of possibly re-populating the planet.”  At this point in the episode, the space station, known as the Ark, has lost contact with the 100 would-be colonists.  They don’t know if earth is inhabitable due to high radiation levels, and their only way to figure this out is to track the 100’s life signs remotely via bracelets.  Meanwhile, on earth, the 100 divide into two camps: those who want to demonstrate earth to be safe so their friends and family can join them on the planet, and those who want to break ties with the station.

This conflict begins to play out in this scene: http://www.hulu.com/embed.html?eid=rvxtpvujs5yuyz09edpc6a&et=1310&st=1199

By first showing Bellamy Black’s campaign for all of the colonists to remove their wristbands, The 100 lets the audience know that nobody has actually died: the teens are just tampering with the station’s ability to track their life signs.  The scene also conveys important exposition: Bellamy and the other would-be colonists are second-class citizens, and have no interest in seeing the arrival of the rest of the Ark.

An often-cited rule of writing is that characters should never tell one another what they already know just for the sake of conveying exposition.  This scene seemingly breaks this rule.  All three of these characters grew up on the Ark: they know that they don’t want to continue to be part of the system on earth.  Part of the reason that expositional scenes like this still work is because the dialogue is witty: note Bellamy’s wordplay with the dual meanings of “follow.”

Another reason this exposition works is because of the way Bellamy delivers it.  He uses rhetorical questions.  He appeals to the two Johns’ sense of injustice.  He hints at a better life without explicitly stating what he’s going to do.  In this scene, Bellamy comes across like a politician making a speech: this isn’t a conversation where the parties are exchanging ideas.  This is an assertion of power: Bellamy is making a statement about the way of the world, and encouraging his listeners to take a particular course of action.  This scene conveys information in two ways: there’s explicitly stated exposition, and the implicit power dynamics between Bellamy and his followers.  The complexity of the information conveyed makes the scene work.

Imagine for a moment, that the episode had played out differently.   Instead of showing the scene on earth, where Bellamy convinces the two Johns to remove their bracelets, what if the episode had cut straight to the spaceship, with our space-bound characters suddenly no longer receiving life signs from two characters?  If the information distribution was equal between the Ark and the audience, neither the viewers, nor the crew, would know exactly what had happened.  It would add tension and mystery to this segment, as another level of mystery would be introduced.   Rather than having the assurance that the 100 are safe but rebellious, we’d be wondering about the radiation levels on earth, and questioning the safety of our main characters.

So why didn’t the writers go with this route?  At this point, the protagonist, Clarke, has already separated from the rest of the 100 to search for supplies, so it’s not like checking in with this group is necessary to progress the A-plot.  Without this scene, we would lose the beats of Bellamy’s characterization, but it would open the possibility of a twist later on down the line – we could see characters seeming to die while Clarke and the others are separated from the group, and we would anticipate that Clarke would return to a camp of corpses, only for her to, instead, find a rebellion in full swing, led by Bellamy.  What a twist!

Perhaps establishing the early stages of the rebellion is important to establish Bellamy as an antagonist for the series.  Perhaps life on the station is not important enough to the series’ progression for the audience to have equal information with them.  Or, perhaps the series simply fumbled the potential for an extra source of tension and mystery.  Only future episodes will tell.

Angela Jorgensen originally hails from Iowa. She currently resides in Los Angeles and aspires to write for hour-long television dramas. She’s currently producing a documentary called The Longest Straw [www.thelongeststraw.wordpress.com].