Spoilers through season 3, episode 12: “Join or Die”
For most of season 3 of The 100, Pike and Bellamy have split the role of antagonist. Oh sure, we all hated Ontari and Titus for a few moments but let’s be honest: everyone cheered when Octavia beat the snot out of her brother and everyone cheered when the Grounders dragged Pike away from Arkadia.
Bellamy has been on the path to redemption for a few episodes now and even though in “Join or Die” Octavia has yet to forgive him, you have to feel that moment is coming fast for the Blake siblings. Pike, on the other hand, hasn’t been set up for a road to forgiveness because we don’t know as much about him, and that’s a damn shame.
One of the best things about The 100, as I’ve said maybe a billion times, is the grayness of each of the characters. We root for them not just because they’re good, but because they’re fallible. Kane, Bellamy, Lexa, Murphy, Indra are all characters who came from “antagonist” backgrounds and grew into heroes we love. In much the same way that Jaha, Jasper, Pike, and (to some extent) Clarke grew into or teetered on the edge of darkness as a villain. Each character is acting based upon the limited knowledge they have with them, making every decision fraught with the possibility of destruction. No one is evil for evil sake and that’s why when Pike burst on to the screen, we were upset at this wrecking ball of a character, intent on destroying the ones we loved. He wasn’t malicious, sure, and he definitely wasn’t ALIE sitting on the Grounder Throne levels of devious, but without much of his background, all we knew of him as a leader was that he wanted to protect his people. He was, essentially, season 1 Kane.
Pike received a bit of a redemption story in “Join or Die” and I’m left wondering if it wasn’t too little too late, or even, dare I say, damaging to the character we knew. You see, we already hated Pike, that much was set in stone. Unlike Kane after the Culling, Pike didn’t have much remorse for killing 300 people for the sake of the “greater good.” And unlike Kane, Pike was directly responsible for the death of a major beloved character, an action hard to recover from. Yet, Pike was ruthless for the sake of protecting his people. I respected that sentiment as a leader and understood it, but I still didn’t like him.
In “Join or Die” we’re presented with flashbacks to a time on the Ark when Pike taught the delinquents Earth Skills. Pike is understandably upset at impending events, dooming children to a painful death on the way to Earth or banishing them to a life of struggle on the ground. But in his time with Jaha, Abby, and Kane, Pike knows the cost of speaking out against the leadership. He knows the price of having a voice, but still he breaks the rules, ever so slightly, for sake of doing what he thought was right. And then, what is that old saying? “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Pike does just that. Once in power, he mirrors what the leaders on the Ark did, squashes rebellion and keeps the truth hidden. And it’s his downfall.
It’s difficult to have empathy for a teacher who preaches togetherness (in unorthodox fashion) and then comes into his leadership by putting “his people” in Farm Station first. Pike tries to teach the delinquents about fighting together as a people, not just with the help of your friends or your station, but together as human beings. It would be admirable as a teacher if Pike didn’t immediately go against that very sentiment on the ground. Or at the very least, he didn’t face these decisions while he was a leader.
Of course, there are other factors at play here. No one predicted the Grounders. No one predicted the violence Ice Nation would display toward Skaikru. Life in a sheltered box in the sky is much different from the open-air world on the ground. That being said, when it came time for Pike to lead, he ignored the lessons he taught the delinquents and honestly? His character was better without having that background. The struggle of leading a group to their deaths, of fighting daily, of the very real threat of starving to death made his actions harsh but understandable. With the new flashbacks we’re presented with a Pike we haven’t seen on the show. A Pike who knows that sometimes rules need to broken, even when lives are on the line. A Pike who sees the differences in people but wants them to work together anyway. He’s a broken man, that much is certain, but he’s not devoid of sympathy. Maybe if we had seen such flashbacks earlier in the season or maybe if we had seen Pike’s real struggle with his decisions, this turn of events would have had a bigger impact.
But for now, there’s little empathy for Pike as a character. He won’t die because he’s need to help save the human race from ALIE. Even Murphy recognizes the need to keep Pike alive, but like the viewers, just because we need him, doesn’t mean we have to like him.