Given how horrible John Murphy has been throughout The 100, he should definitely be dead. He’s murdered people. He permanently maimed Raven Reyes. He set the delinquents’ food stores on fire in season one and nearly killed them all by transferring a plague when he “escaped” a grounder prison. For all intents and purposes, John Murphy should be dead.

So why isn’t he?

Before we even dive into this, let’s point out the obvious: Murphy is one of the only white male delinquents still alive from season one. He’s also arguably the worst. Several men of color have been killed or put through significantly rougher redemption arcs for doing less than Murphy did in a single season. When you look at this through a “racism is real even in post-apocalyptic America because racism exists in the present day” lens, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Murphy is still alive simply because he’s white.

But the narrative of the show would have us believe otherwise, despite the fact that his strongest antagonist is the Latinx woman he permanently maimed during a failed powerplay. Odd, right?

In last week’s episode, we got a conversation that’s been coming since season one (watch here). Raven — at the end of her rope trying to figure out how to save the human race from Nuclear Apocalypse 2: This Time It’s Personal — finally snaps at Murphy when he makes a Shining reference at her expense.

I’ve had enough of your stupid little jokes. You’re just a self-loathing bottom-feeder. Abby’s an idiot for trusting you. But she doesn’t know you like I do. You’re a leech, Murphy, sucking people dry. Taking whatever you can so that you can survive. — Raven, 4×06 “We Will Rise”

Obviously, this tension has been building for months. As mentioned previously, he’s responsible for the leg injury that has plagued her since season one. He shoots her through the floor of the dropship while she’s trying to rescue Bellamy, whom Murphy has strung up to hang. Earlier in the season, the delinquents try to execute Murphy the same way when they falsely accuse him of murdering Wells, and Bellamy encourages them, so this is Murphy’s retribution.

After he kills two of the three parties who were most vocal in trying to hang him and fails to kill Bellamy, Murphy is captured by grounders a second time. He is also shot in the leg, for not giving the grounders all of the information he had the first time he was captured. Unlike Raven’s injury, Murphy’s doesn’t seem to have any lasting effect (he even walks across the Dead Zone later in the series with no problem). His guard is shot and killed by Raven, who turns the gun on Murphy but it jams. Before she can do anything else, she starts coughing up blood.

At this point, he starts trying to be helpful by rolling Raven onto her side. His reasoning? “I don’t want to die alone.”

Murphy then becomes an asset to the delinquents because he has knowledge of grounder camps and practices, having been their prisoner twice over. He’s arrested for murder, released by Bellamy so he can help them navigate the woods, and later tries to stop Finn from massacring a village in the search for Clarke. He fails.

Like when Murphy was wrongly accused of murdering Wells in season one, he’s also blamed for Finn’s massacre in the village. When the grounders come looking for Finn, citing “Blood must have blood”, Raven’s solution is to give them Murphy instead. She loves Finn, doesn’t trust Murphy, and has a lasting, debilitating leg injury because of him.

The grounders also recognize Murphy as being complicit in the village massacre, which we discover later — those who survived claim that he “did nothing” while Finn gunned down their people, and he’s told that he’ll burn the same way Finn did.

He doesn’t. Instead, Murphy ends up on a bizarre religious pilgrimage to the City of Light with Thelonious Jaha, the former Chancellor of the Ark and the late Wells Jaha’s father. Jaha believes that Murphy deserves a second chance: “Good can come out of even the darkest acts.”

As it turns out, the City of Light is basically the Matrix: an artificial intelligence bot created a hundred years ago can take over the consciousness of humans if they ingest a robotic chip. The benefit is that they stop feeling pain and forget all of their difficult memories; the downfall is that they lose memories of dead loved ones and good experiences with them, too.

Murphy is one of the only people who doesn’t take the chip.

He knows, unlike Jaha, that A.L.I.E. — the woman in the City of Light who claims it’s a place of haven for those who have suffered — was actually responsible for setting off the first nuclear apocalypse a century ago. He refuses to take the chip because he claims that the things it allows you to escape (hate, pain, envy) are pillars of his character, but in actuality he wants Jaha to understand that the CoL is a bad place. A.L.I.E. isn’t a savior. She’s a killer.

The fact that he doesn’t take the chip says a lot about how his priorities have shifted, from being most concerned about himself to being concerned about others. The person who seems to create this shift in him is Emori, a grounder girl he meets during the pilgrimage. Even when she takes the chip, Murphy refuses, and ends up becoming a savior of everyone in his determination to save her.

True love. Or something.

Of course, his intention isn’t to save everyone. During season three when he’s captured by the Grounders and enslaved by Ontari, his motivation for getting out of her clutches is to reunite with Emori. This plot is really uncomfortable; Murphy is essentially a sex slave, adding to all of the bodily trauma he’s already experienced without any actual exploration of what’s happened to him.

Although Murphy constantly puts himself (and later Emori) above everyone else, the seriousness of what’s happened to him is never explored with any real depth. He is so determined to be unaffected by things that even when Emori asks him if “the sex was good” in season four, he doesn’t tell her that he was forced to perform sexual acts. He never talks about when he almost kills himself in his bunker in season three.

It would seem, at a certain point, that John Murphy is a good kid to whom really horrible things have happened, turning him into a criminal and a killer because he doesn’t know how else to deal.

That should be obvious from when we first find out why he was put in the Sky Box: Jaha tells Murphy before their trip to find the City of Light that he remembers everyone he floated as Chancellor, including Murphy’s father. He was caught stealing medicine for his sick son and floated as a consequence; later, after Murphy’s alcoholic mother blames him for his father’s death, he sets fire to his father’s arresting officer’s quarters. It’s why he’s put in the Sky Box, making him one of the “expendable” delinquents sent to the Earth to find out if it’s still inhabitable for humanity.

By the time Raven yells at Murphy in episode 4×06, he’s become one of the most compelling characters on the show. Every series has a snake: Draco Malfoy, Chuck Bass, Spike. All of these characters have dealt with trauma in their lives and responded to it by becoming violent little sneaks who look out for themselves and maybe their own, but no one else.

John Murphy certainly fits that description, but it still made me wince to hear Raven call him a cockroach two episodes ago because he stole medicine to save a kid. Like his father before him, Murphy can’t leave an innocent person to death because of rationing rules.

But the simple fact that he does so many horrible things and is given a second chance just because Jaha believes he deserves one reeks of a misplaced kind of privilege, honestly. Murphy does what he has to do to survive, and isn’t even properly called out on his crap until season four when Raven snaps. He’s repeatedly told he can’t be trusted, and looked at as lesser by the rest of his people for what he’s done, but he sneaks by because he’s useful. And that’s not okay.

What’s interesting is that as Raven picks him apart in season four, Murphy doesn’t even fight back. He helps her run from the drone on the island and defends himself when she attacks him in episode 4×06, but doesn’t lay a hand on her otherwise. He looks genuinely horrified to have been so ripped apart by what she said.

It would seem that, now that he has to rely on his people to save him (and Emori) when the next death wave comes, Murphy is forcing himself to make amends. That means he has to make himself useful, which in this case means helping Raven Reyes, the woman he nearly killed before failing to keep the love of her life from committing mass murder and being executed.

He had it coming. Attacking him was the tamest way Raven could have gone after him, to be quite frank. Raven is framed as the villain in that scene in episode 4×06, which is not cool given where that anger comes from and why it’s taken so long to be unleashed. She’s literally sacrificing her body and her mind to save humanity and Murphy is babysitting her only because he’s there to be useful. For his own survival. Not anyone else’s.

It’s an infuriating plot, to be certain, but one of the most fascinating and layered ones on the show.

For all intents and purposes, John Murphy should have been killed a long time ago. But in spite of the potentially racist reasoning for why he wasn’t, I find myself glad that he’s still around. I hope his redemption arc is worth it.

Samantha Puc
Samantha Puc is a freelance writer, editor, and social media manager residing in southern New England with her partner and three cats. She likes Shakespeare, space babes, bikes, and dismantling the patriarchy. She also loves vegan food. Her work has appeared on Rogues Portal, SheKnows, Femsplain, The Tempest, and elsewhere. For more, follow her on Twitter!

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