Post-apocalyptic drama The 100 is known for many things: breakneck plotting with a high death toll, a vocal fan base, prominence in the world of Tumblr fandom. But looking past its most buzzed-about qualities, Season 4 will stand apart from the rest of television for another reason: the show’s willingness to grapple with the most important crisis of our time.
The 100 is set in a world recovering from the aftermath of a nuclear war several generations ago. In the ensuing years, humanity’s efforts to rebuild consisted of tribal societies that constantly fight and shift alliances. The third season is particularly tense as the aggressive Ice Nation appears as an onscreen part of the story for the first time. On the home front, Clarke (Eliza Taylor)’s people elect a myopic, trigger-happy new leader who tramples all over the fragile peace.
At the end of Season 3, Clarke learns that the human infighting that has dominated the season might all be for nothing, considering the remaining nuclear reactors will soon melt down and destroy what’s left of the world. The finale ends on a cliffhanger as she grimly informs her friend and co-leader Bellamy (Bob Morley), who spent Season 3 entangled in the bloody squabbling at the expense of his relationship with his sister.
Season 4 will thus follow Clarke, Bellamy, Raven (Lindsey Morgan), and the rest of the gang as the Sky People and Grounders alike face an environmental apocalypse. The trailer for Season 4 showcases appalling side effects to the nuclear meltdown: toxic black rain, a lack of drinkable water, people getting pre-cancerous lesions, and dying. A lot. “Death is inevitable” A.L.I.E.’s robotic voice says. This is The 100, after all — sunshine and rainbows are not on the menu.
Although the show exists in a heightened reality, it’s a reflection of the single most important crisis that society faces in 2017. A lack of drinkable water? Look at Flint, Michigan. Weird and dangerous weather events like toxic rain? Look at the melting ice caps, the air in China, the dying bees, the increase of hurricanes.
And yet, as the concept of facts and science have become politicized in our world, human squabbling is interfering with efforts to combat this crisis — just as it is on the show. President-elect Donald Trump has nominated a climate change denier who has accepted donations from the oil industry to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Further, he recently tweeted in favor of nuclear weapons and scorned briefings from intelligence agencies — just as The 100’s Pike favors the use of force and ignores Abby and Kane’s insights from their peaceful relations with Grounders.
The end of Season 3 sees Pike and his largest detractors putting aside their differences to combat the larger threat. Similarly, in our world, environmental crisis does not care about egos or politics — it’s coming no matter what. After his own misguided venture into this world of politics, Bellamy emerges from Season 3 having learned this lesson the hard way. Will our politicians go on the journey?
Of course, The 100 is far from the only fictional narrative to circle environmental crisis. Many shows approach the topic less directly. The mantra of “winter is coming” on Game of Thrones has been read as an allegory for climate change; Star Trek: The Next Generation dedicated two episodes to it. You can even read Westworld’s musings on who “this world” belongs to as an indirect commentary. But The 100 is tackling it head-on in a way that no other show is today.
It’s highly unlikely that Season 4 won’t also feature infighting and human conflict. Polis is now without a commander, the Sky People are without an official leader — as Octavia killed Pike — and the volatile Ice Nation’s new leader King Roan (Zach McGowan) is the ultimate wild card. Nobody knows if he will continue to be an ally or will prove to be a foe, as he seems to be aligned with the duplicitous Echo.
Just like the real world, petty human conflict never stops even in the face of the apocalypse. But like all good fiction, The 100 gives us a distorted lens through which to consider our own reality. If Season 4 delivers, The 100 could very well be one of the most relevant and necessary shows of 2017. It’s reminding us to not forget about our future, not just the people, but the planet itself.
The 100’s Season 4 premieres February 1 on the CW.