Arrr ye matey, tharr be spoilers ahead!
A quick recap:
It’s been 97 years since a planet-wide nuclear war. A very small percentage of humanity escaped into space, and has since been biding time in The Ark, a space station orbiting post-apocalypse earth. It is ruled with the iron fist of the democratically elected chancellor, and any rule breakers above the age of 18 are “floated” – sent out an air lock to their death, floating into frozen space. Under-age rule breakers are kept confined, awaiting a retrial on their 18th birthday, when they will either rejoin The Ark’s society, or be floated.
The air starts running out on The Ark. Dramatic, drastic measures are taken but little time is gained for the inhabitants of The Ark. There proves to be a chance that Earth is becoming habitable again, so the decision is made to send the juvenile delinquents down to Earth as an experiment. With futuristic FitBits locked to their wrists, 100 good-looking teens are shot down to Earth. The bracelets let The Ark know how their bodies react to the climate – and radiation – on Earth.
No surprise, it turns out to be habitable. The JDs get all Lord of the Flies and a primitive culture and leadership develops. One of these leaders is Clarke, a relatively goody-two-shoes who tries to maintain her moral high ground, but finds herself quickly devolving with the rest of the no-good kids.
But for a select number of people, it’s been habitable the entire time humanity has been waiting it out in space. In “modern” society’s absence, a primitive, tribal culture has developed. These are the Grounders. The JDs are the Sky People. Season one is basically Sky People vs Grounders. But then the adults from The Ark come to earth, and shit gets real.
We first meet Lexa in season two. She enters as a diminutive witness to the jailing and brutal fight-to-the-death between adult protagonists Jaha and Kane.
But then she’s exposed as the Commander – Heda, in Trigedasleng – when she shakes off her shy demeanor and instantly disables Jaha when he attempts to hold her hostage with a knife.
Not only is Lexa a strong, badass woman; she’s the leader. Her people are a bunch of strong badasses, so it says a lot that she’s their leader. This chick is not just another hottie in a show full of hotties.
When Clarke and Lexa first meet, Lexa is looking even more intimidating, with dark war paint on her face – which I’m pretty sure is actually her own blood. Clarke is trying to strike a deal to protect her people, and Lexa is terrifying. Kudos to Clarke for standing her ground!
Things go pear-shaped as they usually do for our young heroes, but Clarke and her mother pull a medical miracle and save the day. Lexa is totally impressed with Clarke’s ingenuity and perseverance, and we get the first hint of attraction, the barest whisper of CLEXA. The sexual tension only builds from here.
But Clarke is wrapped up with Finn, who unfortunately killed an entire village of Grounders to find Clarke. It worked super well, BTW. A shaky peace treaty between the Grounders and Sky People ends up being possible only on one condition: the surrender of casual-not-really-Clarke’s-boyfriend Finn.
When Raven – totally in love with Finn – gives Clarke a knife to gut Lexa with after they prepare to execute him, she finds she is unable to do so. She tells Lexa that she is the reason Finn shot up the village. She offers herself to die in place of Finn. Lexa tells her that since Finn slaughtered the villagers for her, he must also die for her. Clarke knows he’s kind of losing it at this point anyways, so she only asks to say goodbye.
Clarke kills Finn, sparing him the pain of the drawn-out execution, but totally estranging herself from some of her people. Lexa allows Clarke to pass unharmed even though all the Grounders are super mad they didn’t get proper vengeance. Lexa’s just too impressed with Stone Cold Clarke.
When Clarke has trouble processing the event, Lexa takes her under her wing and tells Clarke her own tale of love and loss. In her story she reveals that her last relationship was with a woman. It’s not a big deal. The big deal is that her girlfriend was beheaded, the head finding its way into Lexa’s bed.
Lexa gives Clarke a piece of sage advice: Love is weakness. A weakness that others can exploit. A good leader keeps her emotions at arms-length.
They bond further when they are both chased through the woods by a blood-thirsty mutant gorilla. Lexa gets injured and Clarke saves her, against Lexa’s better judgement. Once they are temporarily safe, Lexa mocks Clarke for being weak; if their roles were reversed, Lexa would have left Clarke for dead. Lexa phrases it as a leadership lesson, telling Clarke she must be ready to make hard choices. They manage to get away thanks to Clarke’s ingenuity, and Lexa begrudgingly admits that perhaps, Clarke does know what she’s doing.
Clarke and Lexa soon find out through super top-secret spying maneuvers that a missile is being launched at the village they are in. Leaders of clans are convening for an important war meeting. Not wanting to give away the fact that the super top-secret spying maneuvers exist, they escape, but leave most people unaware.
The fall-out is horrendous. Many people die. It’s hard to feel good about Clarke and Lexa making it out okay. Our heroes quickly realize that there are people on both sides who know that Lexa and Clarke knew about the missile and didn’t tell anyone. In the midst of the paranoia that ensues, Clarke calls Lexa out on her bullshit not-feeling-anything facade that she maintains despite the fact that so many of her people died, and so many people close to her have died. It’s a really powerful scene – Clarke has Lexa physically retreating to get away from Clarke’s verbal onslaught. There’s also that undercurrent of sexual tension that brings the “make oooouuut!” chant out in me.
Lexa provides guidance and strength to Clarke, but Clarke puts Lexa back in touch with her emotions. Lexa admits that yes, many died, but at least Clarke remained safe during the missile strike. The admission is a tense moment; Lexa has opened up to Clarke, putting her heart on her sleeve, following the path Clarke has shown her to humanity. Ignoring Lexa’s point, Clarke brings it back to her people again. She deviously manipulates Lexa by threatening to tell everyone about the missile, knowing now that Lexa would never hurt her. It’s a moment where for once, Lexa is the emotionally exposed, and Clarke is wielding ruthless power.
As they prepare to wage war on the enemy that has united them, Lexa tells Clarke that the Grounders’ brutal ways have been how they have survived for generations. But Clarke says that “life should be about more than just surviving”. Lexa admits that maybe there is more to life than war and blood-must-have-blood, and she goes in for the kill.
This is a moment where a totally improbable ship suddenly became actual reality and started sailing the high seas. It was flabbergasting! I am no stranger to queer-baiting. It’s been something I’ve been aware of since Xena. Sherlock was especially bad for it in its first season, so much that it almost hurt. So I never, in a million years, expected a same-sex ship to actually take off. But it did.
Clarke returns the kiss, even initiating subsequent kisses, but claims to not be ready to be with anyone just yet. I mean, she only mercy-killed her not-really-boyfriend a few days ago. They are also about to wage war on an impenetrable mountain of death. She needs to save her people. But you can see that as much as she might understand, Lexa still feels hurt.
In the calm before the battle, Lexa asks Clarke what she will do when it is over. What does she want? Clarke only says, “my people back”. Burn! Lexa tells Clarke that she should come to the capital. Essentially, hey, we should U-Haul it to happy coupledom. Clarke gives her a very noncommittal answer. Lexa’s hurt clearly deepens. I think she feels betrayed, even, at this rejection of her vulnerability, her hesitant reaching out for connection.
So Lexa betrays Clarke in return, striking a bargain with the Mountain Men, their shared enemy, to save her people. Rising to the occasion, Clarke becomes the Mountain Slayer, Wanheda – the Commander of Death. She is forced to kill the entire mountain to save her people, when the original plan with Lexa was to kill as few as possible.
Season three opens with Clarke getting hot and heavy with a Grounder chick, Niylah. It would seem that Clarke’s same-sex attraction is not limited to just Lexa. (Hurray!) But after sexing it up with Clarke, Niylah gets beaten to a pulp because of her interaction with Wanheda.
I think it goes without saying that when Lexa eventually has Clarke captured and brought to her in the capital, Clarke is slightly less than pleased to see her.
Lexa helps Clarke start the grieving process for what happened at Mount Weather. Lexa is one of the few who can understand the tough choice that Clarke made. Lexa had been priming her to make that choice their entire relationship. Clarke holds onto her anger at Lexa for as long as she can. But when Lexa’s life is threatened and she is forced by her people’s laws to fight to the death, Clarke allows herself to feel for Lexa again. Life is too short, and Lexa might die.
Clarke pledges her political allegiance to Lexa as an ambassador for the Sky People, and in turn, Lexa pledges her personal allegiance to Clarke in a really intense moment. They reconnect, and CLEXA sets sail again, as if the debacle at the mountain never happened. But of course, more Sky People drama emerges, involving the slaughter of more of Lexa’s people. Friggen’ Sky People, man.
Lexa continues the lessons on leadership and ruthlessness, and Clarke continues to counter with lessons of compassion and peace. Clarke is still focused on the safety of her people. Clarke challenges Lexa to change to protect the Sky People, and you can see that Lexa is torn between the desire to make amends with Clarke, but also to the history of her own people. They’ve both been hurt and are focusing hard on their people to avoid their personal feelings. It isn’t the best strategy.
When the last Mountain Man is sent to Clarke as a gift, she immediately seeks to kill him for her people. But Lexa preaches her own words back to her, and she changes her mind. They are finally on the same page!
But when a blockade and kill order is enacted around the Sky People’s camp, to keep the peace for her people, Clarke must leave; to stay with Lexa essentially renounces her ties to her people. She chooses her people. Lexa accepts her decision, almost letting it slip that Clarke’s loyalty to her people is why she loves her. Nice save, Lexa. Clarke says that some day, when they owe nothing more to their people, they could be together.
Mutually, they make the decision that they are both sick of putting their people first, and for the first time, they give in – completely – to their feelings for each other.
They totally bang.
But they slept together, and the Laws of Queer People on TV can’t be denied.
Lexa dies, and it’s the worst. Not only was the CLEXA ship finally sailing, but there was so much promise to their future. Clarke was changing Lexa, and Lexa was changing Clarke. They were growing together, and could have been amazing co-leaders of their people, and then they pulled this crap.
The saving grace was the finale.
Lexa shows up in the finale for an emotional, digital reunion, and she’s a total badass.
She protects Clarke, aiding her in the goal of taking out season three’s Big Bad.
In the end, both the audience and Clarke get the goodbye they wanted.
Most exciting for me has been the idea that the titular character of a show that I loved was bisexual. “[T]hey don’t label themselves,” as Jason Rothenberg, The 100‘s creator said on Twitter. Clarke is a strong woman, and her bisexuality is only one small facet of her character. She has flaws, but her sexuality is never considered one of them. Everyone just loves whom they love, and it’s no big deal. “Remember,” Rothenberg says, “that in this society, no one’s worried about it. They’re worried about spears to the chest.”
While I’m sad that the CLEXA ship has sunk, I’m excited to see where they take Clarke’s romantic life next. There are not a lot of heavy romantic plots in The 100 for obvious reasons (see above about spears to the chest), so it will be interesting to see how Clarke processes her grief over Lexa’s death, and if – and potentially with whom – she moves on.