Monday, May 25, 2015

Every* Taylor Swift song, ranked

*So maybe not every Taylor Swift song, but only because most of her unreleased songs can only be found on Youtube and her team of laywers have made it so that many of her songs have either been taken down, muted, or pitched down to the point of being unrecognizable.

"Respect motherfucking craft when you hear it."  That's a line my favorite music critic Tom Breihan used to close out his review of Fearless, then referenced again in his excellent write-up of 1989, and it's an idea I return to endlessly regarding Taylor Swift.  There's a large percentage of the world that hates her: because she's young, because she's a woman, because she makes music for young women, because she has a narrow range of song topics, because her persona seems a little manufactured.  The list goes on.  And when there are so many people who are enraged by Swift for so many reasons, it can be a little hard to be a fan who has to defend her.  I spent so much time figuring out ways to do that very thing, yet it can all be summed up in a single, succinct sentence: "Respect motherfucking craft when you hear it."

But, if required, I could provide many reasons why I think Taylor Swift is so terrific.  Say what you will about the lyrical scope of her music, but when you get down to the lyrical content, there's nobody else making pop music this clear-eyed, emotionally rich, and empathetic.  There's a term I like to throw around when talking about Swift's songs called "emotional maximalism," which really gets at her ability to dig in to any feeling and blow it up into a beautiful widescreen version.  Maybe that's why her words resonate so much with people my age, because she doesn't present emotions as they are, but as they feel at the very moment of their inception.  Though her music was never as country as award show categories made it out to be, that evocative lyrical specificity is the biggest thing she took away from her Nashville-adjacent roots.

So I've decided to channel my undying love for the music of Taylor Swift into this crazy endeavor, a ranking of (almost) every song she's ever made.  There's been a great deal of playing and replaying of her albums these last few months, and in doing so, lots of patterns have emerged: her habit of ending songs on the same line(s) she began them with, her recent obsession with the color red, her inability to write a bad bridge, the amount of micro-melodies she stuffs in between the cracks of her songs.  But the main takeaway I've had from this experience is that Taylor Swift's music is incredible, even more so than I previously thought.  In fact, her genius seems so self-evident that it truly baffles me that there are so many people who don't see it.

The Rules: The criteria for this list is pretty straightforward.  I'm simply ranking Taylor Swift songs by personal preference.  Cover songs aren't allowed, which means I don't get to talk about the terrible awesomeness of her rendition of "Santa Baby".  Live or demo versions of studio songs also don't qualify, because then this list would be never ending.  And last but not least, if it's a song that features Swift but isn't actually her song, then it's not eligible.  (I think that only nixes John Mayer's pleasant "Half of My Heart" anyway.)  Anything else is fair game.  Now that all of that is cleared up, let's get started!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Some pre-finale thoughts on Mad Men's final stretch

"Is That All There Is?"  That's the name of the song by Peggy Lee that bookends "Severance," the first of Mad Men's final seven episodes, and it serves as a road map to understanding this half-season in the way that all of the show's premieres do.  It seems like a question everyone has been asking themselves for the entirety of the series, only now it's with an increasing sense of urgency.  At the end of last year's masterful "Waterloo," all of the main characters essentially sold their souls to McCann for a fat paycheck and a promise of retaining the status quo.  When we return to them, they've got money, they've got power, and yet "Severance" makes it clear that there's still something missing.

"Is that all there is?" was a question many fans were asking at the start of this final stretch as well.  The first few episodes divided the internet, with the louder party lamenting that they weren't momentous enough and with only seven episodes left, Matthew Weiner and his crew of writers were "wasting time."  It's easy to see where the frustration came from.  "Severance" deliberately called back to many of the show's early elements -- misogynist pigs give Peggy and Joan a hard time at an important meeting, the name "Rachel Menken" is spoken for the first time since season one, there's more Don philandering -- in a way that felt poetic and meaningful, but could just as simply be seen as evidence that Weiner no longer had anything new to say.  And it certainly didn't help that Don's latest brunette fling, Diane, was way more flat and boring than any of the other sirens he's bedded in the past.  It became a fun game to watch a new episode on Sunday, then log on to Twitter to see people arguing over whether or not it was a disappointment.

But here's the thing about Mad Men: it's a show that Matt Weiner has always made on his own terms, and if viewers were on the same wavelength as he was at any given moment, then that was just icing on the cake.  And he's gained enough goodwill that one would think he'd be trusted to figure out a way for everything to come together, but apparently that trust wasn't there for many fans and critics.  I thought it was bold of him to make episodes so willfully alienating to some people, but thankfully, I also wasn't one of those people being alienated.  I've loved every single episode that has aired this year.  (Yes, even "New Business," which many people are already calling one of the worst episodes in Mad Men history.  What a loopy, brilliant piece of comedy that episode was, and it was heartening to see that the show still had something that light in its arsenal this late in the game.)

Every season of Mad Men has its own individual themes that bubble up alongside the show's larger ideas, and from the first few moments of "Severance," season 7B has been pushing the notion of "the life not lived."  When you're first born, life is a massive series of branching paths, a river that breaks into trillions of tributaries.  But then you go down one of those tributaries, and suddenly those other ones start to disappear, like they never even existed.  This happens again and again, all throughout your life, until at some point that display of forks just becomes a single line.

These final episodes have been all about characters wrestling with their lives not lived, those tributaries they missed floating down because they chose another route.  These moments work because Mad Men has always had an excellent grasp of its own history, playing off the tapestry of connections that have accumulated between its characters to wring emotion out of a little glance or a knowing line.  When Pete catches a glimpse of Peggy standing amongst a gaggle of children in "Time & Life," we know he's thinking about what could have happened if she had told him about her pregnancy way back in season one.  Another episode opens with an idyllic scene of Don standing in the kitchen with Betty and his children, and it's so easy to imagine that this is what life would have been like if the two of them had stayed together, before Henry walks in and dissolves the dream.  The show has always drawn power from the way its stories allow us to reflect on aspects of our own lives, and by pondering the "life not lived" of these characters, we're also forced to think about all of the lives we'll never get to live.

McCann's decision to absorb Sterling Cooper & Partners into their own firm offered an opportunity for most of the main characters to forget about the life not lived in exchange for the life they've always wanted.  Ted gets the pharmaceutical he was dreaming about in "The Forecast;" Pete gets Nabisco; Roger gets Buick; and Don gets his own great white whale, Coca Cola.  But if nothing else, Mad Men is about how ephemeral everything is.  That beautiful ad you worked so hard at perfecting?  It will eventually stop being printed in magazines or aired on TV.  That person you're so sure will be the answer to your problems that you jump into an affair or relationship with them?  Sooner or later, you'll realize that they didn't fill that hole inside of you.  Happiness fades in the world of this series, so it's no surprise that many of these people got what they wanted and again realized that it's not enough.

Does my life mean anything?  Did I make the right choices?  Is this it?  These questions are swirling around every character, but especially Don.  He's searching for meaning, and he's willing to do anything to find it.  His whole story has been about wrapping himself up in layers to get away from his true self: a false identity, a Grace Kelly type of wife, a typical American family, success and money.  Season 7B has found him slowly stripping those layers from himself.  He gives away $1 million to Megan in "New Business," he walks away from advertising in "Lost Horizon," he relieves himself of his car in "The Milk & Honey Route."  Who knows where this is all leading to, but something tells me we won't see a return of the Don Draper we've known for seven seasons.

It's easy to see meta meanings in these ruminations on life and success during this whole half-season.  Creator Matt Weiner has spent the last 8 years crafting one of the greatest TV shows of all time, and now it's coming to a close, leaving him with the task of figuring out what life has in store for him next.  So in a way, the ending of Mad Men feels like it's mourning the end of Mad Men, as I'm sure Weiner was thinking about how they'd have to break down all the sets for good when he was writing about the gradual emptying of the offices in the Time-Life building.

There's been a heavy feeling of finality to these past six episodes; you can really see what Weiner meant when he said that every episode would feel like a finale in some way.  So many scenes feel like they could very well be the last we see of certain characters, and it's not hard to imagine a series finale that's just all Don.  If that's the case, then the show has left us with moments that feel right for everyone, in a story sense if not in a cosmic one.

Season 7B has been structured in a way that makes the whole thing feel like an epilogue to a version of the show that ended last year with Bert Cooper's haunting song-and-dance warning that the best things in life are free.  Everything after the move to the McCann offices, in particular, resembles the loose and somber nature of falling action.  If Peggy's last image is her walking into the new offices with sunglasses on and a cigarette hanging lazily out of her mouth, and Betty's final moment is her greeting death with a practiced smile and perfect hair, and Pete's ending is reuniting with Trudy and looking towards Kansas with a boundless sense of hope; then those are fitting and believable conclusions for them.

In this age, we place so much stock in "sticking the landing."  Years and years of satisfying viewing experiences can be washed away by a disappointing ending to far too many people.  Matt Weiner himself said it best when he told the New York Times, "If you do your ending right, then it is a great ending.  It's not a reflection on the entire TV show, but it is a great ending."  In the same way, a bad ending isn't a reflection on the entire TV show either.  Luckily, I have very little fear about the series finale of Mad Men, given that the six that came before it have been as challenging, massive, and gorgeous as ever.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

You're unlikely to hear a better album this year than Waxahatchee's "Ivy Tripp"

Despite only being 26 years old, Katie Crutchfield is something of a veteran in the indie world.  She's been recording and releasing music since she was a teenager, where she was in a band called The Ackleys with her twin sister Allison, and the both of them later went on to release two albums and an EP in the cult pop-punk band P.S. Eliot.  After the amicable breakup of that band in 2011, the Crutchfield twins went on to separate projects that attacked 90s alt revival from two different angles, with Allison forming the excellent fuzz-rock band Swearin' and Katie going the more introspective route with her solo project Waxahatchee.  American Weekend, her first album, was a terrific set of soul-bearing acoustic songs, but it wasn't until Cerulean Salt that she truly showed her potential.  Despite nearly a decade of fantastic work, it was the album that really put Katie Crutchfield on the map, gathering a slew of gushing reviews and winding up on many Best of 2013 lists.

With the breakout success of her sophomore album, she was left with the nearly impossible task of following it up.  And yet, she succeeds with Ivy Tripp, a record that takes a step forward while still feeling recognizable.  In the press release that announced the album a few months ago, Crutchfield wrote, "The title Ivy Tripp is really just a term I made up for directionless-ness, specifically of the 20-something, 30-something, 40-something of today, lacking regard for the complaisant life path of our parents and grandparents. I have thought of it like this: Cerulean Salt is a solid and Ivy Tripp is a gas."  You can definitely feel that sense of searching in the music of Ivy, which covers more sonic territory than Cerulean's specific brand of Kathleen Hanna-esque 90s alt-rock.  This album still has that ("Breathless," "Less Than"), but it also has a song with a bendy surf riff ("The Dirt"), a starry-eyed Built to Spill sprawl ("Bonfire"), a buoyant pop nugget ("La Loose"), and a song that sounds like it belongs to her sister's band ("Under a Rock").  If Cerulean Salt was about Crutchfield finding her pocket, then Ivy Tripp is about her spreading out and seeing what she's capable of.  It turns out the answer is almost everything.

In interviews, Crutchfield has mentioned that she doesn't enjoy being in studios, so she chose to record Ivy Tripp mostly in her house and a high school gymnasium.  You can hear the latter in a song like lead single "Air," whose chorus is so massive it sounds like she's bellowing it from the bottom of a canyon.  And the rest of the album has that same spacious, homespun quality.  Aside from a few rockers, the record has pretty sparse production, which only makes the melodies more insistent.

Lyrically, Ivy Tripp returns to that idea of being like a gas too.  It's a restless album, one full of "maybe"s and fidgety anxiety.  Many of the songs focus on not truly knowing what she wants out of life.  Take album opener "Breathless," which seems to be all about a guy who's everything one could ask for, yet she's not interested anyway.  "You indulge me, I indulge you, but I'm not trying to have it all," the song concludes.  "Air" covers similar ground, too: "And you were waiting patiently, giving every answer as I roamed free."  There's a feeling of movement that carries Ivy Tripp.  "Running water, running," the chorus of "Blue" repeats, and it could easily be referring to thoughts, emotions, or physical states.

Listening to a Waxahatchee song feels like having a direct line to the mindset of Katie Crutchfield, and it doesn't get more raw and immediate than on Ivy Tripp.  There's such an immediacy to it, in fact, that it often seems like we're following her as she comes to a revelation mid-song.  The subject matter on the album -- uncertainty; messy, complicated relationships; only slightly less messy, complicated relationships -- is stock 20-something malaise, but Crutchfield has the ability to make the most banal thoughts feel poetic and wrenching.

There's a quietly grim fatalism that hangs over this album, a sense that everything will sour eventually.  Even "La Loose" which feigns being joyous and romantic, is pulled back to earth with an aside like, "This charming picture of / hysteria in love / it could fade or wrinkle up / I don't hold faith in much."  Bleakness abounds on these 13 songs, and it's usually brutally pointed inward, bordering on self-abuse.  See for yourself: "When I am gone, at least I won't be thinking" ("Air"), "I'm a basement, brimming with nothing great" ("The Dirt"), "I know that I feel more than you do, I selfishly want you here to stick to" ("La Loose"), "And I will visualize a tragedy and blame you for it" ("La Loose").  Later, she closes "Less Than" by repeating "You're less than me, and I am nothing."  Even when she's putting down a guy, she can't help but lay into herself too.

It's so easy to go on and on about the lyrical content on this album because it's clear that Crutchfield puts so much thought and time into her words.  Here's the thing about Ivy Tripp: it contains at least 10 perfect lines.  And that's probably lowballing it.  You can comb through the lyrics sheet and pluck out  a number of magnificently crafted, poetic lines as your favorite, but I'll go with the wonderful and succinct, "The summer of love is a photo of us."  Her writing prowess doesn't just reveal itself in quotes either -- she's also got a knack for structure.  And it's wielded with great precision on "Half Moon."  It's a slow, sparse piano ballad that seems to be a nostalgic stroll through a former relationship, with little reminiscences like, "I invite myself in and I think I kissed you first."  Slowly, it turns in the middle, as a little bit of reality creeps in ("Our love tastes like sugar, but it pulls all the life out of me.")  Finally, it culminates in a sobering conclusion, as she talks about somebody else her ex is pursuing: "And she lied when she said she would call you today / And you know I couldn't blame her / The pain that you make / It never dies. / I hung up in a wistful disguise."  That punchline lingers with me every time.  My amount of spins of this album are in the double digits at this point, and it still stings.

Cerulean Salt was a very important album to me.  On my first few listens, I thought it was fine, but nothing world-conquering.  With time, it eventually soared all the way up to #5 on my Favorite Albums of 2013 list when it came around in December of that year.  It creeps up on you like that.  Somehow, I love it even more than I did then; it's always accumulating more power.  So it's not without great consideration when I say that Ivy Tripp may be even better.  With it, she's made another bible for my early 20s, one that I'll hold dearly and look back on with more than a wistful disguise.  Katie Crutchfield may be a veteran in the game, but the scary thing is that it feels like she's just getting started.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Forget the STD metaphor, It Follows is really about the fear of getting older

The most crucial scene in It Follows, this year's indie horror movie sensation, is disguised as a relatively minor one.  Young college student Jay (Maika Monroe, of last year's The Guest) is on date with Hugh (Jake Weary), a guy she just met, when she proposes that they play a game while waiting in line at the theater.  In this game, one must look at their surroundings and pick somebody they'd want to switch places with.  The other person then has to guess who that person would be and why.  Jay predicts Hugh would want to switch places with a guy in the crowd who has a hot girlfriend.  Hugh tells her she's incorrect, and points to a couple and their young son.  She assumes he means the dad, but no, he actually means the kid.  "Must be nice to still have your whole life ahead of you," Hugh remarks wistfully.

Once their relationship progresses a bit, Jay and Hugh have sex for the first time in his car, after which he chloroforms her.  The film's premise is then laid out simply and economically: Jay wakes up tied to a wheelchair, and Hugh explains that he's passed on a curse to her by having sex with her.  She will be followed relentlessly by a mysterious, murderous entity.  It can only be seen by those with the curse, it can take on the form of any person, and even though it's slow, it's not dumb.  The only way to get rid of this curse is to pass it on to somebody else, but if they get killed, the curse just reverts back down the line of transference.

It's easy to see that premise as one extended metaphor for STDs -- I mean, the film is essentially begging for that interpretation.  After all, it's about a supernatural force that's exchanged through sexual intercourse, something that follows you and haunts you constantly.  And indeed, many viewers have picked up on that explanation and ran with it.  But consider a secondary, deeper-seated metaphor, one that's clear from the aforementioned scene between Hugh and Jay at the theater.  It Follows is a horror film about the fear of aging.

Writer-director David Robert Mitchell landed on the scene with his feature-length film The Myth of the American Sleepover, a dreamy panorama of teenage life on the last weekend of summer vacation in the suburbs of Detroit.  It got rave reviews at film festivals, and though I personally wasn't crazy about it, I did love the hazy mood of it all.  Either way, I don't think anybody could've guess that his follow-up would be this.  It Follows exhibits such a technical mastery and distinct visual style that it feels like somebody with 10 films under his belt, not one.  The best trick in his repertoire is his use of the slow pan, circling around these perfectly choreographed scenes to give more visual information and map out the geography of a setting, priming the viewer to prepare for terror coming from any direction.  He uses those elegant, glacial camera movements time and time again for the film's many ingeniously constructed setpieces.

But though the film may be a gigantic leap-forward on a filmmaking level, it's very much in tune with his debut on a thematic and textural one.  That film was all about bottling up the experience -- the look, the sound, the mood -- of adolescence.  This one does the same, only in more oblique ways.  Though they may initially be skeptical of the veracity of what Jay is going through, she has her younger sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and her two friends Paul (Kier Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi) to stand by her through this ordeal.  Mitchell puts such care into carving out the interpersonal relationships here, and the film would work well even without the horror plot, solely on the strength of their characterizations.  They become something of a Scooby Gang on their quest to rid Jay of this evil.

There's such an aching nostalgia for youth in the way he captures the specificity of being young.  The way the characters lay around in bed, curled up beside each other.  The way they spend vacant time, sitting on the porch playing cards because there's nothing better to do.  The way they watch old black and white movies and goof around.  It's a romantic view the film takes on, as if everything after is going to be all downhill from here.

But the clearest evidence of the film's true aim of being about the anxieties of getting older is in its many scenes where a piece of literature is read aloud.  The first instance is a scene where Jay is sitting in English class, a day or two after she's had the curse passed down to her.  Her professor is reading T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" to the class, but Jay is too distracted by what she sees outside of a window: "It" staggering towards her in the form of an old woman.  Prufrock is a rambling, disorienting poem, but one of the prevailing interpretations is that it's about aging and decay.  It's no coincidence that as we hear a poem about a man who has "seen the moment of [his] greatness flicker," we see this harbinger of death inch closer and closer in the frame.

Or consider the film's penultimate scene, which would otherwise seem like it has no purpose being left in the final cut.  Throughout the film, Yara is reading Dostoyevsky's The Idiot on her little clam shell e-reader.  After the climactic showdown with It lands her in the hospital, there's a scene that's just her reading this excerpt of the book to the rest of the gang:
"When there is torture, there is pain and wounds, physical agony, and all this distracts the mind from mental suffering, so that one is tormented only by the wounds until the moment of death. But the most terrible agony may not be in the wounds themselves but in knowing for certain that within an hour, then ten minutes, then within half a minute, now at this very instant--your soul will leave your body and you will no longer be a person, and that this is certain.  The worst thing is certain."
It's Mitchell last way of saying: death is coming for you, no matter what.  You can try to avoid it, but it will catch up to you eventually.  Sounds like something else in this film.

When you're young, you feel invincible.  Darker days may be in store, but you don't have to worry about that for now.  Your whole world is those card games on the porch on lazy afternoons.  But then at some point, a rewiring begins to happen.  Adulthood encroaches -- slowly, then all at once -- and with it comes an awareness of your own mortality, your eventual decay.  It Follows knows that that's the greatest horror of all.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The 100 proves that season 1 wasn't a fluke

I can't remember the last time I was more nervous about a show's sophomore year than I was for season two of The CW's post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama The 100.  After binging on the first season in the span of a few days, I wrote a piece that heaped praise upon the show, calling it the best sci-fi series on television.  My effusive adulation even convinced some friends to give it a chance.  So after all of the proselytizing I did after the first season, I would've had quite a bit of egg on my face if it completely tanked afterward.  That was a very real possibility.  When you're watching a show that's on a prestigious cable network and made by reputable creators, there's more faith that if it starts good, it will remain that way for a while.  With a show like this, it's hard to tell whether or not everyone involved just stumbled upon momentary greatness.  Not to mention the fact that genre concepts generally tend to have a shorter shelf life anyway.

Thankfully, creator Jason Rothenberg and his team of writers kept charging ahead, picking up where season one left off without missing a beat.  The previous season closed on that haunting image of Clarke trapped in a brightly lit, white room that we find out is in Mt. Weather, a massive underground bunker that has housed a society of people for the 97 years since the Earth was irradiated.  Above ground, the other surviving members of the 100 are greeted by the adults from the Ark, which crash-landed on the planet in the season one finale.  Uneasy alliances were a major theme of the season, especially in the beginning, where the teens who'd had months to handle things on their own had to deal with being under the strict rule of the adults from The Ark once again, while Clarke and the rest of the gang at Mt. Weather were left to figure whether or not their hosts were as benevolent as they made themselves out to be.

Season two made The 100 a bigger and more expansive show, both in terms of the amount of stories it was forced to juggle and the physical ground it had to cover.  It stretched out the episode count to match that ambition, increasing from last season's 13 to a total of 16.  This led to some more flabbiness in the storytelling, where it felt obvious that two or three episodes in the middle were just people either standing around or deliberately being moved like pieces on a chessboard, in order to set up the real action.  An increased episode order also carved out space for some iffy subplots, like Jaha and Murphy's trek through the desert, which had a satisfying and bugnuts conclusion, but required lots of meandering to get there.  With so much sprawl and ambition, I occasionally found myself missing the simplicity of season one's balance of Earth stories and Ark stories.

Still, those minor flaws did little to mar the season as a whole, which ultimately ended up being the stronger effort.  This year, The 100 continued its trend of tough, intelligent sci-fi, delivering some of the most brutal and unflinching conflicts on television.  When I wrote about the show last year, I made some superficial comparisons to Battlestar Galactica, but I think it mirrors BSG in much deeper ways too.  Those parallels really clicked when I listened to an episode of the Nerdist Writers Panel featuring staff writer Kim Shumway, when she said that they break stories based around decisions characters have to make.  That's vintage Battlestar, which continually had its characters show you who they are through the tough choices they were asked to grapple with.  The 100 did that in season one and didn't step off of these characters' necks in season two.

The bulk of those tough decisions seemed to rest on the shoulders of Clarke (or, I should say, CLARKE!).  One of the greatest strengths of the show is its ability to really dig into its characters and allow them to grow and change in fascinating and logical ways.  But nobody has gone through a better character arc than Clarke Griffin, who has not only evolved into the best character on the show by a wide margin, but one of my favorite protagonists on TV.  Last week, I found myself randomly going back to watch the pilot, and I was stricken by how different everyone is in it, but especially Clarke, who comes off as a major wet blanket in that first episode.  It's a real night-and-day difference from the Clarke at the end of "Blood Must Have Blood," hardened and scarred by all of the punishing ultimatums placed upon her.

One of the most crucial quotes of season one was, "Who we are and who need to be to survive aren't the same thing."  This season was about those contrasts becoming less clear.  All of their time on the ground has turned everyone into different people.  Their tough choices are no longer a thing they can divorce from their true selves, it's something they have to reckon with.  These are rich, complicated ideas the show is chewing on, and it doesn't get enough credit for taking them on and exploring them effectively.

It's able to ask difficult questions and present weighty themes, yet it never lets plot fall by the wayside either.  Season two just kept churning on, exploring the shifting conflicts between the various factions at play.  (And at this point, the numbers are piling up: the Grounders, the dwindling 100, the adults from the Ark, Mount Weather, etc.)  Many genre shows fall into the trap of having plot for plot's sake, and villains that are mere obstacles without logical motivations, but the writers managed to avoid both of those problems.  Every story development came from a place rooted in character, and though the people from the Ark are the focal point of the show, it's becoming increasingly clear that there are no real good guys or bad guys.  That's what makes the two major twists in the "Blood Must Have Blood" two-parter -- Lexa betraying Clarke, and Clarke choosing to irradiate all of Mount Weather -- such doozies.  They're both powerful moments that challenge our perceptions of characters and the places the show is willing to go.

In my blurb for this show on my Best of 2014 list, I wrote, "The 100 is dark stuff, and whenever you find yourself asking, 'are they really going to go that far?,' the answer is almost always 'yes.'"  If Rothenberg and company aren't careful, the show could become a tiresome series of progressively worse things Clarke must do, but right now the grimness is perfectly calibrated.  I still encounter people on the internet who scoff at The 100 just because it's on The CW, or because its first few episodes were a little on the rough side.  What a shame too, because they're missing out on one of the most gripping shows on television, one that just keeps getting better and better.