While they both may air on the CW, The 100 and The Originals are not typically two shows you'd talk about in the same breath.
One's about extra-immortal vampires who've been around for thousands of years and now inhabit the French Quarter in New Orleans. The other is a post-apocalyptic survival show in which no one is even close to immortal and that's the point. But this year, the two shows have a weird number of things in common.
They both started their fifth seasons within a week of each other, and both left their fourth seasons on a development that radically changed the show, separating all the main characters in some seriously significant ways. And then they both headed into their fifth seasons with major time jumps and a promise—spoken or unspoken—that those main characters will find their way back to each other.
Both shows also use that time jump incredibly well, as a way to both jump start their stories and bypass some boring bits to give us some of their best episodes ever.
Last week's premiere of The 100 spent a brutal first half hour showing Clarke (Eliza Taylor) struggling to survive after the death wave of radiation that left the ground essentially uninhabitable, then jumped ahead to when things really got going, six years after the end of season four.
After we learned what Clarke had gone through—nearly dying before finding and essentially adopting a little girl who had also survived—we got to see the extent of how everything had changed in six years. Clarke was still trapped on the ground, Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos), Abby (Paige Turco), and most others were still trapped underground, and one small group was still trapped in space. Everyone had grown up and relationships had changed, particularly due to the fact that the time jump was several times longer than time covered in the first four seasons.
"It gives you the freedom of [letting you do] almost anything that you want to do, because you can justify it in the sense of, you know, they had enough time for that to develop," executive producer Jason Rothenberg tells us of that time jump. "Really, we could do anything."
"Anything" included turning Clarke into a survivalist mom of a preteen, putting two space-bound characters into a rather polarizing relationship, and, as we saw in last night's bunker-centric episode, heroically killed off a mentor and created a new system of justice that involved fights to the death for any lawbreakers, with Octavia overseeing it all. And while none of that is truly surprising, it is seriously exhilarating in the ways the best episodes of this show have always been.
In some ways, the episode is similar to what The Originals does with tonight's episode, the third of the season. It's an hour entirely focused on Elijah (Daniel Gillies) and his journey during the eight year time jump as he's "forced to confront his past, and to choose between his past and a possible future," according to director Joseph Morgan.
The stories are quite different, but they do both take a moment to focus only on one important part of the story that took place in the time we missed, condensing a six or eight-year journey into one poignant hour.
The Originals returned two weeks ago for its final season with a premise that's a pretty big deal on that show about siblings promising to never leave each other's side. All those siblings had been forcibly separated after each taking on a piece of a terrible evil that threatened their super powerful niece/daughter, and they could never see each other again if they wanted that evil to stay buried.
At the start of the premiere, eight years had gone by. Klaus (Morgan) had occasionally paid his brother a visit, but Elijah had asked to be compelled to forget about his tormented vampire life and the vow he made with his siblings.
Creator Julie Plec says the time jump was partly an excuse to age up Klaus' powerful daughter Hope from seven to 15, to give her better stories. But it was also to make sure that the decision made at the end of season four—to separate the family—had real stakes.
"We wanted the stakes to have felt like there was an actual consequence to that choice that stuck," Plec says. "So we didn't want to do like six months later, everyone's back and it's a family reunion. We really wanted to feel an extreme and difficult amount of time had passed—enough time for somebody, for example like Elijah, could have created an entirely new, rich, and full life for themselves."
While Elijah gets an entire episode tonight, Plec didn't feel it was necessary for everybody to get that time jump backstory.
"For most people it was just being able to capture them in a moment in time in the present that reflected the journey they'd been on the last eight years," she says. "That felt right for most people, so Freya and Keelin had been able to enjoy a happy relationship in spite of being newly separated for work, that New Orleans was living in enough levels of peace that Hayley felt comfortable finding a new boyfriend..."
But Elijah was a different story.
"With Elijah, we really really wanted to explore what his life would look like if the burden of codependency to Klaus was lifted, and in this case that's what happened at the end of last season," she explains. "Who would that Elijah be? What would he sound like? What would he wear? Would he smile, would he be happy? And that was something we were dying to dig much deeper into and that resulted in the episode we told mostly from his point of view."
Elijah is nearly unrecognizable eight years later and everyone in The 100's bunker has been through the ringer in six years, but Rothenberg says a time jump requires some careful balancing of character development.
"The trick also, of course, is to have it feel like [the characters are] different, but they're not. They're still the same people that we've come to love so there has to be that sort of consistency. And of course the actors haven't changed, so they still feel the same hopefully. That's one of the tricky things about a time jump, but that's also the thing that's most exciting about it."
Clarke may now be a gun-toting parent and Klaus may be an absent father murdering buildings full of people, but neither of those are unexpected or unfamiliar roads. They also make complete sense in the time that has passed, and they've given us some new dynamics that may not make us happy, but they've certainly got us compelled and entertained.
It's both shows giving us some of their best episodes, and maybe even their best seasons ever. Only time will tell.
The 100 airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m., and The Originals airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on the CW.