The 100 season four wrapped last Wednesday with a heart-stopping, stress-sweat-inducing hour focused on just some of the main characters’ desperate attempt to escape the coming death wave. The whole season focused on finding a bunker to ride out five years of deathly radiation, only for some of our main heroes to end up having to go back to space to escape. Conveniently, the space trip also separated The 100‘s greatest ‘ship: Bellarke.
Bellarke, for those not in the know, is the popular ‘ship portmanteau for Bellamy Blake (Bob Morley) and Clarke Griffin (Eliza Taylor), whose hate-turned-love relationship has kept fans on their toes since the pilot.
Bellarke is the relationship at the very heart of The 100. Since the pilot, when Bellamy tried to establish anarchy among the hundred to save his own skin and Clarke tried to maintain order in spite of his rousing speeches, they’ve been integral to each other’s lives. That initial dislike has very slowly, over the course of four seasons, become a co-dependent relationship: Clarke is the head and Bellamy is the heart.
As co-leaders, they keep each other grounded, something that is commented on by several characters, but put most succinctly by Jaha in season four: “She’s lucky to have you. You keep her centered.” (Bellamy’s reply, “You got that backwards,” still screws me up. God.)
When Clarke and Bellamy are apart, they both go off the rails. As a unit, they’re able to bear the burdens of decisions they’ve both made in order for their people to survive. Separately, they both become wracked with anger and guilt in their own fashion and make stupid decisions because of it.
It should be noted that the show requires these two to be separate in order to pursue some of its more criticized storylines, largely because when they’re together the show focuses significantly on them, even if that focus isn’t intentional. In order for Clarke to truly fall for Lexa and explore a relationship with her, she has to be completely isolated from everyone she knows, including (and maybe most especially) Bellamy. In order for Bellamy to commit mass violence against the grounders on the word of someone acting as a xenophobic dictator, he first has to be driven to that point by Clarke leaving.
The 100 ended its first two seasons with Bellamy and Clarke apart, then allowed them to stay together for the season three finale. At the end of season four, it appears as if they’ll be able to stay together again. But then they have a long conversation about what they are to each other — the head and the heart — and it quickly becomes apparent that no, they aren’t going to stay together.
If they were, we certainly wouldn’t get so close to them finally confessing their feelings. That’s not how this works.
In some ways, they fall into the traditional will they or won’t they? tension model that audiences have been seeing for decades. TV Tropes identifies it like this:
Two characters, often combative but with obvious Unresolved Sexual Tension, resist going into a full blown relationship for a rather long time. Usually the two characters will be presented so that “they will” is the conclusion to root for; only rarely is the question of whether the writers think they should in any real doubt.
Yeah, that sounds about right.
The fact that this relationship has been so central to the show and its story from the beginning means that the writers should, feasibly, be able to avoid making The 100 too Bellarke-focused when they finally get together. It’s not clear whether or not they’ve jumped the shark with the “Praimfaya” time jump yet, but let’s assume that they haven’t. Let’s also assume that, given how vocal fans have been about wanting to see Bellamy and Clarke together, actually canonizing a romance between them won’t kill viewership.
Will they or won’t they? depends, largely, on drawing viewers in week after week to see whether they ever will. Once a ‘ship has given into their UST, writers run the risk of the show losing appeal because that tension is gone. However, there is such a thing as working too hard to avoid a ‘ship. There’s also such a thing as waiting too long to get them together.
In the case of Bellarke, it feels less like a drawing-out of tension in order to make the relationship as satisfying as it can be. It feels more like an attempt to derail obsessive fans who watch the show every week for even the smallest hint that someday, Bellamy and Clarke may get together. And that, as a fan of the show, a ‘shipper, and a fan of TV in general, feels really unfair.
Drawing out the will they or won’t they? trope only works insofar as the audience is willing to be patient with the writing. Thus far, we have. We’ve accepted that Bellamy and Clarke didn’t get together when they were reunited the first time, or the second, or the third. We accepted that she loved Finn, and then Lexa, and that maybe she wasn’t yet ready to commit to something with Bellamy. We even accepted that Bellamy could make a ton of horrible, backwards decisions because of his grief over Clarke leaving him for the grounder girl who betrayed them.
We accepted these things because the narrative told us, again and again, that Bellamy loves Clarke. The narrative told us, again and again, that Clarke loves Bellamy. Whether romantic or platonic, these two are deeply invested in each other’s well-being. Even when they hate each other, there’s still an underlying layer of love and trust that seemingly cannot be broken by even the most extreme situations.
Clarke can turn her back on her people — on Bellamy — and then point a gun at Bellamy for daring to put their people at risk, two seasons later. Bellamy can blame her for every death Skaicru has ever caused and challenge her leadership decisions when she screws up, going so far as to actually handcuff her when she tries diplomacy with him.
At the end of the day, they love each other. Full stop.
So when the perfect opportunity presents itself for two characters to confess their feelings — such as right before a nuclear death wave is about to wipe them out — it seems feasible for the writers to take that opportunity.
When they don’t, it reads two ways: 1) the show is continuing for season five, and Bellarke aren’t yet canon, but may still be, so keep watching! and 2) we, as writers, are still denying that these two characters are in love because at this point, if we admit to it, we’re admitting defeat.
The 100 writers have fed and fed and fed ‘shippers while also vehemently denying that they will, someday, be a couple. They’ve shoved women in refrigerators, heralded a settler-colonialist relationship, and given Clarke a casual lady love to continue affirming that yes, she’s bisexual and no, she isn’t into Bellamy.
There seems to be a strong effort in The 100 writers’ room to both encourage Bellarke shippers and to remind them that Clarke doesn’t have to end up with the male lead, because she’s bisexual. That’s completely true! Pairing off the male and female lead in a series like this one does seem tired. But letting Clarke be with Bellamy in no way legitimizes her bisexuality. Whether she ends up with a man, a woman, a nonbinary person, or no one, she is still bisexual. The way Bellarke has been focused on throughout the series with so little payoff (thus far) means that the show is missing its own narrative beats to avoid giving into it.
Following the finale, show creator Jason Rothenberg did an interview with Entertainment Weekly, wherein he had the following to say about the future of Bellarke:
First of all, Bellamy and Clarke have always been at the center of this show. It has always been the story of — on some level — Clarke and her relationship to Bellamy. And whether they were going to survive or not depended on how well those two human beings worked together — whether romantic or otherwise. I try not to take a position on it. I think it’s ultimately kind of a Rorschach test for people: any interpretation is right, there’s no right and wrong. Until we commit canonically to it, you’re free to interpret it any way you want.
“Until we commit canonically to it” feels like the ultimate plea to keep watching, because the phrasing of that answer sounds so obvious. It reads as, “no, we haven’t done it yet, but we will eventually.” Of course we’re going to keep watching, “until.”
In “Praimfaya”, they don’t say “I love you.” They don’t kiss. They hug, touch each other’s faces, and have a heart-wrenching conversation. Bellamy says, out loud, that he “left her behind” when the rocket launches into space. He says that they can’t die, because then she’ll have died in vain. But the writers had to launch him into space to avoid letting Bellarke give into their tension in this episode, which is so ridiculous it’s almost funny.
Mostly, it’s just sad. Bob Morley has consistently delivered one of the best, most emotional performances on this series. In every episode, he elevates Bellamy to new heights, delivering subcontext with eyes, mouth, body language and tone of voice. He portrays so much, even when the character does or says very little, and he delivered tenfold in “Praimfaya.” Bellamy’s agony over losing Clarke is palpable in a way that it never has been before, because he truly believes that he’s left her on Earth to die. It hurts to watch, especially knowing that Clarke is still alive.
Cut to the time jump, six years and seven days in the future. Clarke has attempted to contact Bellamy via radio for 2,199 days, and Eliza Taylor’s subtlety in this scene is incredible. She watches the sky, talks about how talking to Bellamy — even if he can’t hear her, even if he’s possibly dead (something she doesn’t seem able to consider) — keeps her centered. It helps her remember who she was, and who she is. She’s spent over six years on the ground, alone save for a new character we meet in this scene, but she’s gotten on the radio every day to try to talk to him.
If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is. The scene calls to mind that famous line in The Notebook when Allie asks Noah why he never wrote and he says he wrote letters every day for a year, but never heard back. It’s fucking romantic as much as it’s heartbreaking, and it makes me think that—
Bellarke will, in season five. This reunion will be the one that finally brings them together, lets them confess their feelings and figure out how to be together in spite of everything. I know that it’s possible the writers will continue to stretch out the tension. They did, after all, separate them by an entire galaxy to keep them apart in “Praimfaya”, but after more than six years apart, surely they’ve suffered enough.
Surely, after four seasons of watching this show and four very active season hiatuses, so have we.