'The 100' Has Always Been About Why People Join Cults

The latest episode of "The 100' brought a cult into the story, but it's been there all along. 

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The CW’s post-apocalyptic drama, The 100, has a melting pot of themes and ideas: resilience, the price of war, different modes of leadership. But there’s one that’s always been quietly in the background that Season 4 has brought out more overtly: why people are drawn to prophet figures and cults. The show’s introduction of the doomsday cult “The Second Dawn” only amplifies an idea that’s been simmering since Season 1.

In the third episode of Season 4, Clarke and Bellamy go on a road trip with Jaha — a sentence that would sound absurd in any prior season. Their purpose is to investigate a bunker that a pre-war doomsday cult built to see if it might provide a source of shelter during the impending wave of radiation. Naturally, it doesn’t, because since when are solutions easy on this show? But considering the fact that the cult motto is the same as the Season 4 tagline (“from the ashes, we will rise”), it’s safe to say this isn’t the last we’ll see of the “Second Dawn.”

It’s fitting that Jaha is the one to introduce it into the story because his Season 3 storyline involved finding and peddling the cult-like City of Light. He helped A.L.I.E. convince people to take the brainwashing chip by telling them it would ease their pain.

Echo and Roan do bullet wound rehab in Season 4

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The world of The 100 involves constant pain in both the physical realm (Raven’s leg, Roan’s healing bullet wound) and the mental realm (Octavia, Clarke, Bellamy, and Raven’s heartbreak over dead lovers, Luna’s over her little girl).

Even in the very first season, when the politics were straightforward and the Grounders were not yet a factor, the concept of easing pain and seeking answers was still at the heart of what every character wanted. Marcus Kane’s mother did it with Eden Tree religion; Bellamy did it with his brief stint as the “whatever the hell we want” leader with his own personal harem.

While they weren’t cults and prophets per se, these forms of temporary solace represented the same impulses. In Season 4, when Clarke and Bellamy watch the cult video on surprisingly sound wifi , the Second Dawn leader gives a powerful speech: “Everything we once trusted has turned on us. Government, religion. Even technology has become a weapon in our hands, used to poison our minds. I know you’re in pain, I know you’re afraid, but it doesn’t have to be like this. There is a way out of the darkness, I can show it to you. You can be saved.”

Bellamy and Clarke in "The 100" Season 4

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Bellamy waves him off as a religious fanatic, and we’ve seen nothing to indicate that’s not the case. But his words apply to the entire show. Their governments and power structures have betrayed them time and again, technology has turned on them in the form of both the first bombs and the impending nuclear meltdown, and religious fanaticism can be fatal — remember how the fanatical Titus killed Lexa. Every character since the beginning has tried to find a way out of the darkness.

At the end of “The Four Horsemen,” Clarke and Bellamy both struggle with the idea that they are worthy of salvation. Bellamy even has to write Clarke’s name on the list of those the Ark will shelter, because she’s unable to bring herself to do it. They want to believe they can be saved but the darkness has been ubiquitous for too long.

The 100 is not about cults per se, but cults keep cropping up in different forms because the reason people join them; the quest for salvation and for a light in the darkness is deeply human. Beneath the show’s superficial elements — the shocking deaths, the fan culture — its humanity is its most enduring quality of all.

The 100 airs on The CW, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST.

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