Since Donald Trump took office less than a week ago, there have been worldwide marches, hashtag movements, pink yarn shortages and more than a few scientists going rogue on Twitter. But if you’re looking for another way to oppose the already-oppressive Trump administration, television may provide one answer. Saturday Night Live has been doing a good job so far of leading the resistance. The show regularly roasts Trump, who then tweets his rage to the masses, and ABC’s black-ish, a show Trump once deemed “racist,” just aired its own election-themed episode that provided an honest, nuanced look at the divide in our country caused by our current Commander-in-Chief.
But, as ironic as it may be, the show most capable of giving us an example of how to resist Trump’s fear mongering rhetoric and fascist propaganda just so happens to be a millennial dystopian drama on the CW.
If you’re not familiar with The 100, the series is set nearly a century into the future after a nuclear Armageddon has destroyed Earth and survivors are forced to live on a spaceship known as The Ark. With resources running low on board, 100 juvenile delinquents are sent back to earth to discover whether the planet is habitable again.
Over the course of three seasons, this group of teenagers learns to survive by working together, to negotiate with hostile natives – known as Grounders – to defend against would-be invaders and to form a functioning settlement, mostly on their own. The show tackles issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, colonization, climate change, institutionalized patriarchies and more and unlike plenty of other apocalyptic dramas on TV and in the movies, The 100 doesn’t focus on a bleak dystopia but on how tragedy, adversity and upheaval can push people together and bring needed change.
Through meaningful story lines and strong character development, the show is handing us a formula for defying Trump and his cabinet of cronies. Here are a few key ingredients.
Giving women bodily autonomy, equal rights, or worst of all, positions of power, might send Trump into a misogynistic meltdown but The 100 has no problem imagining women, mainly young women, in charge. The series’ main protagonist, Clarke (Eliza Taylor) is an intelligent and opinionated female, once outcast by her people and now their de-facto leader. Not only does she galvanize a group of unruly kids into working as a community for a common goal, she brokers treaties with foreign nations, makes tough decisions and more than a few personal sacrifices for the betterment of her people and for the greater good.
But she’s not the only woman wielding power on the show. Season three saw the emergence of Grounder queen Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey), a warrior chosen to lead her people because of her strength and vision. Grounder culture doesn’t differentiate between gender – they’ve evolved to understand that one’s ability doesn’t hinge on what sex organs you happen to be born with — and the show chose to prove a woman could effectively command an army, look out for her own nation’s interest and work towards a peaceful cohabitation and alliance with a former enemy when it combined Clarke and Lexa’s storylines in the third season.
If anything, it’s the men in charge that often make bad decisions on The 100. Marcus Kane (Henry Ian Cusick) a council member, who later becomes Chancellor, advocates killing hundreds of his own people in season one to stave off having to leave their comfortable spaceship and live on Earth. Jaha (Isaiah Washington), their exiled leader, returns in season three to convince his people to swallow a chip that will take away their self-government by allowing an A.I. to invade their brains. The third season also saw the appearance of a new villain, Pike (Michael Beach), a teacher forced to become a soldier who chooses to see the Grounders as an enemy, one to be slaughtered not negotiated with. In fact, most of the women in this show spend an ample amount of time trying to right a man’s wrongs and prevent the disastrous consequences of their decisions. It might be a bit too relevant when it comes to issues we’re facing right now.
A running theme of The 100 is a pretty common TV trope, but in this case, it’s one done right. Time and again it’s the least valued, often overlooked characters that prove their worth and end up saving the day on the show (or at least making the story more interesting). That’s really nothing new when it comes to TV, everyone loves an underdog after all, but what sets The 100 apart is its commitment to not only highlighting these lesser represented groups but assigning them actual character arcs, giving them opportunities to grow, making them fallible, relatable and integral.
Take Raven Reyes (Lindsey Morgan) for instance. In a current social and political climate where our own president openly mocks the disabled and his pick for Secretary of Education fails to see the value of programs aimed at giving disabled students an equal opportunity to learn in school, The 100 is busy writing a heroine that just so happens to be a disabled woman of color. A mechanic and engineer, Raven sustains nerve damage in her leg in season one after being shot. She struggles in later seasons with wearing a brace and adapting to life without the use of one leg. That struggle leads her to temporarily taking a chip offered by Jaha in season three – one that takes away her body’s pain even as it gives an A.I. control over it. Eventually, Raven resists the A.I.’s control, becoming the ultimate weapon against it, helping her friends as they fight to free their community from its influence. Raven isn’t perfect – she makes mistakes and is often ruled by misguided anger at her situation– but she is real, and her ability to move past her disability, to make a difference not in spite of it but because of it, is a great example for others in the same circumstance.
Strong LGBT Characters
LGBT representation on TV and in the movies is slowly moving in the right direction – which is a good thing considering our current president and particularly, our vice president, have some unsettling beliefs and dangerous plans for those who don’t sexually identify they think they should. The 100 is doing its part to create and continue conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity on TV and to feature LGBT characters in prominent roles. In season three, Lexa and Clarke embarked on a romantic relationship – one of depth and substance that refreshingly refrained from catering to the male gaze. Clarke has had relationships with both men and women through the seasons thought it was through Lexa that she found the most growth and solidity in her identity as a woman and a leader.
The show also features a relationship between two men – Nathan Miller (Jarod Joseph) and Bryan (Jonathan Whitesell), both soldiers. Season three brings about a strain in the couple’s relationship when Bryan decides to follow the increasingly psychotic Pike and Nathan chooses to help undermine him by siding with Chancellor Kane.
It’s important to address the valid criticisms of how the show handles LGBT characters. When the writers and showrunner Jason Rothenberg decided to kill off Lexa in the middle of the third season, the choice angered fans and the LGBT community who accurately pointed out TV’s proclivity for killing off queer characters in order to further hetero character’s storylines. With Nathan and Bryan, both secondary characters on the show, the absence of background in their relationship points to a lack of interest in exploring what being a gay man in the dystopian future really looks like. The 100 has a ways to go in terms of how it treats its LGTB characters – which isn’t surprising as our own society and government seems to regularly fail this group of people – but the queer characters it has given us – the Lexas, the Nathans and Bryans and Clarkes – have been strong, independent, fascinating people with rich backgrounds and tremendous potential.
Climate Change Believers
Respected scientists, fact-based evidence and the National Park Service going rogue on Twitter don’t seem to be enough to convince Trump that climate change is, in fact, real, but spending a day living in the nuclear waste zone that is the setting for The 100 probably would. The entire premise of the show rests on humanity’s inability to recognize the destruction it’s wrought on an entire planet. While some were fortunate to escape the consequences by living on the Ark, and others were able to adapt to harsh environments like the Grounders, even more were left stranded.
Season two introduced viewers to a group of people dubbed the Mountain Men – an entire society forced to live inside a pile of rocks because their bodies would literally combust if they were to step outside and expose themselves to radiation. Things didn’t end well for them.
At the end of season three, we find out that the show’s main antagonist, the A.I. named Allie, wanted to chip everyone on earth, not because she was interested in ruling them, but to spare them from the horrific deaths they’ll endure once the world’s remaining nuclear reactors melt down and wipe out everything left living there. Season four will continue that plotline with Clarke and the rest of her group trying to solve an environmental disaster that hasn’t happened yet, one that wasn’t of their making but will threaten to destroy their existence. It’s pretty telling that the writers have chosen this season to expand upon the theme of climate change, one that’s been inherent in the show since the beginning but that’s often taken a backseat to political machinations, love triangles, character deaths and other more teen soap fare.
As Trump continues to make decisions and appointments that anger and frighten a majority of American citizens, expect more and more TV shows to start taking notice. Producers behind series like Designated Survivor, The Good Fight, Quantico, and Mr. Robot have already announced their intentions to respond to Trump. There will be mocking and the hurling of insults, a few imagined doomsday scenarios if Michael Bay has his way, some predicted political consequences and maybe even a Trump/Putin rom-com – that last one is purely hypothetical but highly hoped for.
Still, if we’re looking for a way to battle back against some of the more damaging ideas central to Trump’s platform; ideas that state women, LGBT people, people of color and immigrants are second-class citizens undeserving of basic human rights; ideas that imply we should laugh at disabled people and be suspicious of minorities; ideas that rest solely on the fictitious, eccentric imaginings of a man with a bad combover and a short attention span not on facts and science, The 100 might be something worth tuning into. Not because it’s a show about the apocalypse – we don’t need any help imagining one of those right now – but because it’s a show about our shared humanity, one that reminds us we’ll need each other to survive.
The 100 returns tonight, February 1st, at 9pm ET on CW.