Kane, Jaha, And Bellamy: Atonement, Redemption, and Learning to Live With What You’ve Done
In the first three episodes of season four, Bellamy has gotten two “here’s how you move on” pep talks, one from Kane in 401 and now one from Jaha in 403. Each one offers starkly different advice for him, and I think in each instance it reveals more about the advice giver than Bellamy himself. Both Kane and Jaha are men who have made mistakes while leading much like Bellamy, and given the whole “the youth are inheriting the earth” theme we’re going with this season, I don’t think it’s an accident that they’re laying out two different paths for Bellamy to take.
Let’s start with Kane. At the end of 401 he says, You turn the page and you don’t look back. You do better today than you did yesterday, you understand? Before you know it, you’ll deserve to survive. Kane gives Bellamy two concrete pieces of advice for dealing with his guilt: put it behind you and do better. There’s no changing the past and no reinterpreting it to make yourself feel better– you own up to the shit you did, and you make sure you don’t do it again.
This is basically what Kane did after the Culling, after all. He did his best to save everyone, both on the Ark and then on the ground. He’s committed himself to not making the same mistakes and I would say he’s been pretty damn successful. But I also want to draw your attention to the last bit of his advice:
Before you know it, you’ll deserve to survive.
He’s offering Bellamy a chance to escape his guilt through atonement. Kane is suggesting that good deeds might not wipe away the terrible things he’s done, but that they might eventually outweigh his sins. There’s no fixing the past, but you can earn a better future by atoning for what you’ve done. It’s an action-based plan, which I think would appeal to Bellamy but I also don’t know if he’s totally on board.
Now, there’s Jaha. You’ve made mistakes, it’s true, but your intentions were pure. Every choice you made you made to save your people, even shooting me…twice. As long as that’s the truth, you don’t need redemption. What Jaha suggests here is very different from Kane, because he essentially says no further action is needed. All that matters are Bellamy’s intentions, and as long as his motive was to save their people he’s already in the clear. In contrast to Kane, Jaha proposes an entirely theoretical model for easing Bellamy’s guilt.
This fits perfectly with Jaha’s character thus far, especially on the ground. Where Kane focused on deeds to prove himself worthy of surviving, Jaha has examined his motivations. I do think it’s accurate to say that he sought out ALIE and the City of Light to try and save his people, and while that created terrible destruction, his motivation was, to use his word, pure.
And don’t forget: As long as that’s the truth, you don’t need redemption.
To paraphrase Sex and the City for a moment, Jaha basically got that out of Convenient Theories for You Monthly. ALIE’s reign of terror over Polis lead to countless deaths, but Jaha has already made his peace with that. (I don’t think he’s completely over the deaths he’s caused, but I think he has accepted that he can’t change what happened and thus further guilt would not be productive). However, I also want to contrast his concept of redemption with Kane’s (implied) concept of atonement, because redemption is given to you, but you earn atonement.
Jaha claims to not even need redemption, but I don’t think that’s entirely true. He told Clarke to hope there’s a forgiving God, after all, so I do think he’s worried about his soul. But I also think he sees that as in someone else’s hands– he did what he did and he may be judged for it, but there is nothing he can do to change that now. Nothing will bring those people back so he will not waste time seeking atonement. He will continue to live and try to save his people, because at the end of all things what matters is what is in your heart.
At their most basic, these two options are essentially Catholicism (absolution is earned through penance and good deeds) and Protestantism (forgiveness is granted by the grace of God alone). I don’t think the show is necessarily making a point about Christian morality, but I do think it is worth pointing the parallels out.
And now, for Bellamy’s choice.
At first blush, it seems like Bellamy is choosing to listen to Kane. He responds I hope so when Kane offers his guidance, and it makes perfect sense, character-wise, for Bellamy to listen to his beloved Beard Dad. They are characters whose arcs have paralleled each other, especially during first season, and they have very similar I Am Your Dad Now habits when it comes to strays. Bellamy clearly looks up to Kane, and atonement-through-deeds would obviously appeal to a character like Bellamy who prizes action above almost all else. He chose to save the slaves in 402, putting the immediate lives of those he knows he can save above the hypothetical lives of people he isn’t sure they can save several months from now. He’s saving who he can save today, one day at a time. He’s turning the page and doing better, and according to Kane that means that one day, he’ll deserve to survive.
But I’m not so sure Bellamy believes that. Let’s go back to the end of his conversation with Jaha: If you’re wrong and there is a hell, I guess I’ll see you there, Bellamy sneers. And then Jaha hits the nail on the head: How many people do you have to save before you forgive yourself?
Guys, Bellamy doesn’t answer because there isn’t a number– for Bellamy, there is no atonement. He can save every single person on the face of the earth and it still won’t be good enough. So with Jaha– a man Bellamy clearly doesn’t particularly like, which I point out because a lot of times it is easier to be honest with people we aren’t close to– we see that mask slip. Jaha says okay, tell me the number– how many good deeds do you have to do to save your soul? and Bellamy just looks away.
He’s caught here, because not only is there no atonement for Bellamy, there’s also no redemption. He doesn’t believe I meant well is a good enough reason for redemption, but he also doesn’t believe there’s anything he can do that can outweigh the bad things he’s already done. He’s never going to deserve to survive, and if there’s an afterlife, he’s going to be punished for his sins. This is a bleak, dark place for Bellamy to be, and it hurts. But it’s also clearly the beginning of his arc, not the end.
So where is he going to go from here? Well, as always with this show, I think he’s going to find himself carving a third path. Kane is standing on one side saying you can earn your absolution and Jaha is on the other side saying your sins are too heavy for that, you must make peace with your intentions. I suspect Bellamy is going to have to find a middle ground somewhere between atonement and redemption– to accept that he may never be able to forgive himself for what he’s done, but make some peace with it anyway. He’s going to have to save who he can save today, and then forgive himself for the ones he couldn’t.