Things that were great in last night's episode of Revolution: 1) Giancarlo Esposito showing us his journey from mild-mannered corporate wuss to shirtless, face-punching kill-maniac. 2) We finally (almost) get to see Nora blow something up.
Things that were not so great in last night's episode of Revolution: Everything else. Spoilers ahead...
Actually, I think Revolution is starting to pick up again, and it definitely has all the makings of a decent television show. Last night's "Soul Train" was definitely better than the previous week's "dogs and family values" outing, and even the kids were somewhat more watchable.
Most TV shows have one sort of idea that they really engage with in a meaningful fashion. They work when they focus on that idea, and when they stray into other areas, they often falter. Fringe is usually great when it delves into the question of Walter Bishop's culpability for his past hubris, for example. Falling Skies really works best when it's exploring the harness as a metaphor for how being conquered by invaders changes you, especially the next generation.
And it's becoming clearer that, at least for now, Revolution is interesting when it's a show about why people would want to be in the Militia, and why the Militia might seem necessary in a post-apocalyptic world. All of the most interesting character stuff on the show has to do with the decision to found the Militia or join the Militia, and what it does to people.
Maybe eventually, we'll delve into the mysterious Randall and why he's taken Grace prisoner — I guess they connect up with the scavenger hunt the show is already setting up, for the dozen magic pendants that can restore electricity, so we're bound to get back to them at some point. But for now, all of the show's storytelling energy seems to have gone into the characters of Miles Matheson, Tom Neville, Sebastian Monroe and (whenever he returns) Jeremy Baker.
The Militia is just a more interesting metaphor than "plucky teenagers who lost their mom" or "freedom fighters who want to bring back the USA." Those latter two ideas feel like something out of a movie that Spielberg produced but did not direct, and not necessarily something that you can build a lot of weekly episodes around. But the Militia is turning out to be pretty interesting — it's more morally gray, which is always more interesting to watch, and it allows us to get into questions of the use of force and the nature of government.
Is the Monroe Republic the best terrible government you can have in a world where everything's fallen into a shambles and all our communication technology is kaput? Is the Militia a necessary evil because it keeps the peace? Even if the Monroe Republic were a liberal democracy, would terrible acts be justified to keep its borders safe? And so on.
So in last night's episode, the best parts were clearly the flashbacks, in which we saw Tom Neville start out as a wussy insurance adjuster whose hilariously douchey Blackberry-typing supervisor fires him for giving too much help to a family who lost their home in a fire. He goes home and blows off some steam with the punching bag in his basement, while trying desperately to maintain his veneer of calm and cheerfulness. And then, the power goes out for good.
Oh, and Past Neville has an evil next-door neighbor who blasts heavy metal music all night and has rowdy parties. Neville asks the head-banger to turn his music down, and he just snorts. Later, six weeks after the blackout, when Neville and his wife are trying to decide whether to leave the safety of their home to try and find food and shelter elsewhere, the headbanger comes over and tries to steal from them. The headbanger expects Neville to just roll over, like he always did before the collapse of civilization, and let the headbanger take whatever he wants — but instead, Neville beats the headbanger, possibly to death. In front of his son.
Oh, and at the end of this episode, we find out that Neville's son is "Nate," the cute Militia soldier who's been following Charlie and Miles since the pilot. Apparently Neville and his son have had some kind of falling out in the past 15 years, since "Nate" (I think his real name is Jason) doesn't seem to have much respect for his dad and regimental commander — and towards the end of the episode, when Jason/Nate has Charlie at gunpoint, Neville doesn't just order his son to hand her over. Instead, he resorts to threatening to kill Danny unless Jason hands Charlie over — and when Jason lets Charlie go instead, there appear to be zero consequences.
The basic plot of "Soul Train": Our gang get to Noblesville, where there's an honest-to-god steam train. And Danny is due to be shipped out on that train, straight to Philadelphia and the clutches of Sebastian, who already has Danny's mom and needs leverage to get answers out of her. Charlie and Miles try to rescue Danny before he leaves on the train, but Charlie's, uh, gift for improvisation makes matters much more difficult than they need to be. Meanwhile, Nora decides to blow up the train, and then changes her mind. In the end, the train is undamaged and Danny is finally on his way to meet his mom.
So why are Charlie and Danny so bratty, and clueless? They often come across as though they've spent the past 15 years playing PlayStation and listening to too much LMFAO, instead of living hand to mouth in the wake of an energy apocalypse. But I think we're supposed to understand that Charlie and Danny were A) traumatized by seeing their mom become a murderer and then disappear, and B) sheltered by living in a nice rural enclave where everything was tidy and pretty, except that the Militia would occasionally come and take away crops and people. They've never really been in the outside world, where you have to be tough to survive, except when they were little.
Here's the thing, though — to the extent that Charlie spent most of her formative years in a rural paradise where things were stable and mellow, she has the Militia to thank. The Militia presumably were the reason that random gangs of raiders and survivalists didn't descend on her little settlement every other week and take a lot more than just a few crops and the occasional conscript or prisoner. Not that I'm defending the Militia — but I'm surprised that nobody ever points out that the sheltered upbringing that allows Charlie and Danny to be so smug and so sure of their moral principles came as a result of people like Tom Neville going out there and killing scumbags like Mr. Headbanger.
In any case, Charlie is especially weak in "Soul Train." First, she mopes a lot when Uncle Miles points out the the obvious: Every moment they're sitting around weeping over Maggie's grave is another moment they're not searching for Danny, and time's a-wastin'. Later, she gives a huge speech about how she's remembered that she met Uncle Miles when she was a little kid, before the blackout, and he had a tapedeck back then. A tapedeck. Containing, no doubt, the carefully preserved cassingle for Lionel Richie's "Dancin' on the Ceiling." Whatever happened to that guy? Why can't Miles just pretend he still has that tapedeck? Miles feels really sad about this, probably thinking about the cassette of Metal Love Ballads Volume VIII that he'll never listen to again. Oh, and then there's the part where Miles instructs Charlie not to get close if she sees Neville or anyone else, and then Charlie decides to follow Neville, leading to our heroes being basically screwed.
Oh, and it does bear mentioning: If they can have one steam train, why not a whole bunch of steam engines? Why not a whole city running on furnaces? There doesn't appear to be a wood shortage. It's been 15 years, and you'd think there'd be time to start creating a steam-powered industrial base, in between putting up giant "M"s on all the buildings in Philadelphia.
So while Charlie's being a jerk to her long-suffering Uncle Miles, Danny is still being a jerk to Tom Neville — who seems genuinely to want to be friends with the boy, for some reason. I don't think Tom is just playing mind games, although it's a little weird that he tries to get Danny to box with him shirtless. When Danny snivels about how beating up an 18-year-old boy doesn't make Tom Neville a big man, you have to wonder just what Danny thinks most 18-year-olds are like. Wouldn't a fistfight between an 18-year-old dude and a middle-aged dude be lopsided, in the 18-year-old's favor? You'd think, anyway. In any case, Tom makes a few more efforts to be friends with Danny, and is rebuffed by Mr. Snivel-head.
We also look in on Sebastian Monroe, and get a glimpse of just why Monroe is so eager to get the secret of turning the power back on. His borders are under attack by an alliance of the Plains Nation and the Georgia Federation. (Here's a map of the new shape of the United States.) These other republics think Monroe's mini-nation is weak because he has these rebels with their American flags. But if Monroe just had a single blackhawk helicopter, he could show them what's what. He fantasizes about basically conquering all of North America if he had access to technology, the way the Maya bowed to Cortez. (And yes, he's got his history kind of messed up.)