Commander Lexa

Maybe you agree: I find that the most satisfying character introduction is when we hear about the character before we actually meet her. In young adult sci-fi series ‘The 100’, Lexa deservedly gets one such introduction. Played coolly by Alycia Debnam-Carey, Lexa hasn’t had a lot of screentime so far, but her role is vital. She represents the biggest ethical dilemma of the series: in times of desperation is cold utilitarianism the only way to survive as a group, or is it better to lead from the heart?

Spoiler Alert
The post-apocalyptic tale of ‘The 100’ starts when 100 juvenile delinquents are sent down from their space station to determine if Earth has become inhabitable again after a nuclear war. The series follows this bunch of feisty kidlets, the adults who eventually join them from the space station, and the ‘Grounders’, archaised humans who survived the war. Early in season two we hear of a great commander who unites all twelve Grounder clans, and we meet her before we know it’s her.

While two kidnapped characters discuss their plans, they’re overseen by a slight young woman with a meek demeanour. Predictably, they assume she’s harmless. And perhaps just as predictably, they shouldn’t have – the quiet teenager soon reveals herself as Commander Lexa.

Not just a fearless leader and warrior, Lexa champions one of the show’s biggest moral themes, as best expressed through her rapport and turbulent alliance with our hero, Clarke.

We’ve been with 17-year-old Clarke from the beginning, and although surrounded by people who love and respect her, she’s still alone. She’s a natural though reluctant leader, and has neither come to terms with her own moral decisions nor been able relate to those who have made similar ones. She can’t even relate to her own mother, who has made properly nasty sacrifices for the greater good. Clarke is trapped in her own turmoil.

Then along comes Lexa.

The most prominent reason why Clarke can relate so strongly to Lexa (and vice versa) is made clear during a conversation between two of the adults. “They’re being led by a child”, says one. “So are we”, replies the other. Lexa and Clarke are two people of the same age, growing up in the same wild mobocracy while finding that so many older and more experienced people look to them for leadership. Yikes, to be honest.

Lexa is cold, calculating and pragmatic. She appears to rule without heart, making brutal sacrifices and showing no sentiment, having learnt through experience that love is weakness. But it’s clear to us that she doesn’t truly think this, whatever her stony exterior insists. When Clarke is forced to kill Finn, a boy for whom she cares deeply, Lexa is aware that Clarke will suffer this for the rest of her life. It’s a sign that Lexa has been through something similar.

And it’s this side of her that Clarke herself starts to challenge. "You say having feelings is weak”, she tells Lexa, “but you're weak for hiding from them." And so the teacher becomes the student. She even falls for Clarke, adding another layer to their ever-evolving relationship.

It’s a relationship that we suspect will change them both as leaders as they continue to learn from each other. In a story all about moral balance, Lexa is focussed on the survival of her own people by any means necessary, while Clarke stands for a more idealistic view of unity.

But now we’re at a standstill. Clarke has not yet had a big enough effect on Lexa: the young Commander ultimately betrays Clarke’s people in order to save her own. It’s what the pre-Clarke Lexa would’ve done, and boy we hate to see it happen.

It’s important for the survival of humanity (in both senses of the word) that these two leaders continue to learn from each other, but for now they’re enemies once again. I bet this divide will have wider consequences. Their fight isn’t over.
Victory stands on the back of sacrifice.
Lexa: "You're the one who burned 300 of my warriors alive."
Clarke: "You're the one who sent them there to kill us."
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Published on 16 July 2015
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