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Not-So-Strong Female Characters

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By now, everyone is familiar with the “Strong Female Character” trope. The badass girl who can take anyone in a fight, looks gorgeous doing it, and, most importantly, doesn’t have any of those pesky weaknesses or emotions, except perhaps her love for the hero.

She’s expected to be Strong, where “strong” means unflinching and undeveloped, and where any hesitation, un-pretty sadness or doubt immediately makes her whiny and weak. Although the trope has often been posited as “girl power,” it forces female characters into an even more restrictive narrative box, and perpetuates the idea of “strength” as unattainable, inhuman perfection. And it’s worked. The trope has become so ingrained that critics are quick to criticize female characters for not being “strong” enough, for being “weak,” simply because they’re affected by the dramatic events around them, or because they’re not immediately completely in control of their situation.

Which is why I’ve loved seeing YA-inspired stories recently that deal with the mental toll of being “strong” in an intense, life-and-death type environment. Stories that show female characters who are leaders, who make difficult decisions… and who don’t emerge from it unscathed.

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The 100: Resurrection

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Give all the awards to Eliza Taylor.

In Resurrection, we saw the aftermath of Clarke’s decision to sacrifice a Grounder village to protect Bellamy and the other members of the 100 in Mount Weather. The result was an incredibly intense fight for survival, combined with the sorts of character moments and reflections on morality that The 100 has become so good at.

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The 100: Remember Me

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After the drama of last month’s mid-season finale,  The 100 faced a massive test. Plenty of shows manage the shocking, dramatic plot twist, but far few shows are able to follow through with the twist in the episodes that follow. Truly shocking plots are going to have severe emotional consequences for the characters and will color everything that follows, but this key story development is often handwaved away for more twists or for a return to the status quo.

Luckily, The 100 passed the test.

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Why Watch The 100

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In December, I got ever-so-slightly addicted to the CW survival show, The 100. After a fall TV season that’s left me feeling pretty cynical about most of my current favorites, The 100 was the perfect dose of addictive action, great plot twists and fantastic female characters.

The show follows a group of 100 teenage criminals (or “criminals,” as the case may be) who are sent down to a post-nuclear-apocalypse earth to see if its survivable when the space station hosting the last remnants of humanity begins to fail.

And since the whole show is available on Netflix, and the series is returning tonight after an amazing mid-season finale, I thought it was time to talk about why this show is a must-watch.

It’s LOST meets Battlestar Galactica

Even some of the cast is the same! The show is basically split into two halves — the people on a dying spaceship, trying to survive, and the teenagers dropped in the forest on earth, trying to figure out this strange world and not die in the process. One half is run-down space tech and political coups and harsh punishments and oxygen shortages, the other is unexplored landscapes and strange creatures and hostile Others and shortages of medical supplies. And in both parts, the greatest threat is often not any outside force, but the main characters themselves.

It has a fantastic cast of female characters

And these female characters are often in positions of power.

The protagonist, Clarke, is the healer and (at least initially) the more pacifistic of the teens’ leaders. She’s tough as nails, brave, determined, resourceful, insightful and caring. Then there’s her mother, Abby, the best healer on the space station and one of its leaders. She shares a lot of traits with her daughter, but she also has a selfish streak that leads to some very interesting issues. There’s Octavia, a girl who spent most of her life hidden away, who’s equal parts rebellious and empathetic, brave and reckless, or Raven, the group’s genius mechanic. Plus a bunch of other interesting female characters and leaders who can’t really be discussed for spoiler reasons, but who add a lot to the show.

And the male characters are interesting too!

Just in case anyone would consider accusing the show of making the male characters play second fiddle as part of some evil feminist agenda. Clarke is the main protagonist, and her relationship with her mom is important, as is her relationship with her dad. But there’s also the male Chancellor, who must tackle the difficult moral issues of being the leader of a society that cannot survive without some sacrifices along the way. Or the Vice Chancellor (Desmond from LOST), whose more aggressive and rule-driven approach is challenged as the story goes on. Or Bellamy, the immediate leader of the 100 whose anarchist approach quickly leads to chaos.

The cast is one of the most diverse on TV

Always a plus when a show is supposed to be about a future society where all countries merged in space.

The plot is endlessly twisty

It never settles for the expected. It’s tense and relentless, and occasionally pulls the Ned Stark/Game of Thrones-esque “that will never happen — OH MY GOD IT HAPPENED” twist where our own narrative expectations work against us. Sure, it often relies on Red Shirts to up the drama level, but that doesn’t mean it goes soft on its main characters, and it can be very difficult to predict where it’s going to go next.

It has surprising moral complexity

Yes, it starts off feeling very “teen drama”-esque. But it ultimately isn’t afraid to really tackle questions of survival and morality. Pretty much everyone ends up at least somewhat morally grey, and the show asks “what can we do for the sake of survival?” again and again, pushing the issue further each time.

Of course, the show does have its flaws. Sometimes the dialogue is a little weak, and the earlier episodes have an addictive binge-watching quality that doesn’t feel like it’s driven by quality (at least, in my experience). But then the show throws a sucker-punch at you, only a few episodes in, and you realize that it’s not quite what you expected. If you can buy into the characters — and by halfway through the first season, I was hooked by them — then their story of survival is beyond compelling.

The 100 probably isn’t a show for everybody, but if you like some light teen drama with your survival narratives, or if you’re just as sick of genre TV shows relying on Damsels in Distress, token girls, female character fetishization and rape threats as I am, then this show is definitely worth a watch.

 

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The 100: Spacewalker

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This was originally meant to be a “Why everyone should watch The 100″ post, after I accidentally marathoned the entire thing over the weekend. But then the mid-season finale was so good that I couldn’t possibly write about anything else. So — let’s pretend I’ve been blogging about The 100 all along, don’t read if you don’t want to be severely spoiled, and an intro “why this show is amazing” post will be coming soon!

Because, wow. That was intense.

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