If a television show falls out of favor with both critics and fans, that’s basically the kiss of death — unless it’s The 100. Now that Season 4 of The CW’s post-apocalyptic drama has ended, Marcus Kane’s words about being “better today than yesterday” prove to be a motto for the show as a whole.

Following its Season 3 fall from grace and Season 4 recovery, The 100 is more meta than it perhaps intends. Its characters are scrappy within the story, and in the real world, the show is too.

During the third season’s airing in 2016, the show publicly stumbled. By positing itself as LGBTQ+ positive and subsequently axing a lesbian character (Lexa) in a way that embodied a harmful trope, The 100 provoked a justified backlash among fans and critics alike. The response was so strong that creator Jason Rothenberg issued a public letter of apology. For most shows, this level of negative press would be a death wave. But the Season 3 misstep also spoke to a larger truth, which is how Season 4 redeemed itself.

Eliza Taylor and Bob Morley in 'The 100'
Clarke and Bellamy in "Echoes," the first episode of "The 100" Season 4.

In Season 1, The 100’s actors and creators were almost all unknowns; its press and fandom modest. As word spread that it was far more interesting and complex than “sexy Lord of the Flies,” its presence and acclaim grew. It earned acknowledgment from figures like Stephen King, essays in mainstream publications, and Teen Choice and Saturn Award nominations. The 100 found itself tangling with a beast every popular show confronts today: modern fandom.

Thanks to social media, fan culture, and its vocabulary — like shipping, where fans focus on characters’ romantic relationships — it’s no longer niche. Creators and actors can’t avoid the language of fandom, as they encounter at cons and on social media. Of course, shows shouldn’t mold around fans’ whims, but ignoring them in the digital age is like trying to block out A.L.I.E. after you’ve taken her chip. If the creator needs to write letters of apology, clearly something is amiss in the relationship between show and audience.

And aside from its impact on many LGBTQ+ fans, the Season 3 Lexa plot showed that The 100 had no idea how to balance the odd-couple combination of its gritty, blood-soaked storytelling with its shipping-focused fandom. More than most, this show has a fascinating disparity between what many of its fans want and what its writers aim to do. Rothenberg have stated, that it’s a show from the perspective of survival above all.

But in trying to remain neutral about shipping by dividing Clarke and Bellamy and capping her meaningful Lexa moments with violence, Season 3 forgot to have heart no matter what lens you watched it through. Was this divide between show and fandom as unbridgeable as the differences between Trikru and Azgeda?

Bob Morley and Henry Ian Cusik in 'The 100'
Marcus Kane and Bellamy Blake in "Die All, Die Merrily" 

Not for Season 4. Of course, it can’t erase the manner of Lexa’s death — but as Marcus tells Bellamy in its first episode, “You do better today than you did yesterday.” The 100 has. By including a maybe-romance between two men of color and continuing to acknowledge Clarke’s bisexuality and her love for Lexa, Season 4 has shown that Season 3’s missteps do not negate its status as a show that is casually inclusive.

Throughout Season 4, Clarke has mourned Lexa and kept her memory alive. The show isn’t making Clarke forget Lexa or stop loving her — it’s simply letting her be a fully realized human who can love in a layered multitude of ways. And although it takes the entire season and the end of the world for her to be ready to acknowledge a different love beyond casual sex with Niylah, she does in “Praimfaya.”

Spoilers are below for the Season 4 finale of The 100.

When Bellamy and his friends think they’re about to die in space and every couple turns to each other, he turns to Clarke. She isn’t literally with him, as she’s stranded on Earth, but he verbally invokes her. Similarly, in the 6-year time jump at the episode’s end, the show reveals that Clarke has been using Bellamy as a lifeline, keeping her sanity in an isolated world by maintaining a sense of connection with him. They don’t physically show their love, but the show establishes it with subtlety and grace.

Eliza Taylor as Clarke Griffin in 'The 100' Season 4 finale 'Praimfaya'
Clarke Griffin in "Praimfaya" 

If The 100 catered to the large portion of its fans who ship Clarke and Bellamy, they would have kissed long ago. If the show chose to shy away from it, one of them would have died. Four seasons in, this show, that has had an uneasy and self-conscious relationship with its fandom versus its story, finally found its “just right” option.

The result is the show at its best. The relationship drama hardly detracts from the action, as “Praimfaya” is one of its tensest hours yet. It has all the stakes and moral dilemmas that Season 2 had, as Bellamy, Clarke, and their friends scramble and make hard decisions in order to survive. But when human emotion anchors the action, it’s infinitely more meaningful.

After a public fall from grace in Season 3, Season 4 fulfills its own perfectly meta tagline of “from the ashes, we will rise.” As Season 5 looms over the horizon, bringing an uncertain future for characters who are six years older, The 100 remains among the most thoughtful current sci-fi shows.

The 100 has been renewed for a fifth season at The CW, but there is no word yet on an air date.

Photos via The CW (1, 2, 3)