Revolution has all the ingredients of a great TV show. There's a cool premise, nifty production values, a fascinating backstory and some meaty questions about the nature of society. And the characters seem like they ought to be fascinating, on paper. But this show just hasn't made us care about any of these people. Why is that?
Last night's episode of Revolution was a pretty decent collection of stories, none of which quite sparked.
1) Miles and Nora are trying to decide whether they can afford to get emotionally involved, given that one of them will probably die soon enough, and then Miles is forced to choose between saving Nora and saving Charlie. (And he chooses Charlie, because he feels guilty about the fact that he was a dick to Charlie's mom, way back when, as we see in flashbacks.)
2) Tom Neville is pissed that his son Jason left him for dead on that boat, and then Tom refuses to leave Jason for dead, dragging an injured Jason to safety and even taking out a group of soldiers in one of the episode's great "fuck yeah" moments.
3) Rachel teaches Google how to save her injured leg, using the nanotech device she pulled out of Danny's corpse — but then these local hunters glimpse the miracle healing and want Rachel's help saving their injured son. And Rachel proves that mentioning Michael Crichton on this show is a bad idea.
4) Jeremy convinces Bass to stop being a paranoid recluse and come out for a drink — and then an assassin takes a potshot at Bass, causing him to be even more of a paranoid recluse, and have Jeremy killed. Oops. Oh, and Bass has Nora as a prisoner because Miles didn't love Nora enough.
So what's missing here? What does this show need to do, to make us care about these people? Here are some thoughts:
No more speeches. I counted about 20 speeches in this episode, moments where one character holds forth while another character listens. There was seriously a lot of histrionics, and it started feeling the opposite of serious. These characters would feel more real if they actually conversed. Which brings us to...
Let these people breathe, goddamnit. Honestly, nothing happens in most of these episodes anyway. People get captured and escape and get captured again, Bass has another paranoid episode, Miles feels bad about stuff, there's another battle. So the show could spare 5-10 minutes every episode to show us what these people do when they're not yelling at each other or fighting/running for their lives. These characters really need to breathe a bit. Which also brings us to:
Open it up a bit. Every time Tom and Jason Neville have one of their spats, we hear about Tom's wife and how pissed she'll be if anything happens to either of them. What ever happened to Julia Neville, anyway? I want to see the three of them have lunch together, and how Julia acts around her husband and son. What does she think of Tom Neville's breaking every rule in the Good Book? (Who talks like that?)
Expand the cast a bit This show has done a good job of killing off characters at a steady pace — but now the cast is down to the Mathesons, Bass, and a handful of others. We would probably care more about the core characters if they had more people around them who seemed to matter. The more friends Charlie has, the more we'll think she's actually likable. You know, friends. Those people who aren't your uncle or your kinda-sorta boyfriend.
Actually talk about issues This show really wants to be about important stuff, deep down — like, is it ethical to use drone strikes to wipe out people who barely have 19th century levels of technology? Is it better to have one strong ruler, or a bunch of autonomous strongmen and women? Why is Bass a bad leader? Why is Miles (or that lady in Georgia) a good one? But nobody ever actually discusses these topics, or mentions any abstract notions at all. They just say things like "Bass is out of control," or "he's got to be stopped." If this is a show about how we want to construct a new society after the collapse of the old, let's actually get into that. And finally...
Either move the arc forward, or have better standalones. Sometimes it feels like this show can't quite decide whether to be fully arc-based, or to give us standalone stories like "there's a guy making Anthrax, and we gotta stop him." So it sort of does both — but the arc moves forward at a snail's pace, and the standalone episodes seldom pack enough of a punch. Probably, some of that comes down to not introducing interesting enough guest stars every week. We barely met the Anthrax guy, and this week there were no guest stars at all. If you're going to have a done-in-one storyline, introducing a set of characters who seem interesting in their own right, and then giving them some resolution this week, is a good idea.
I did like Miles telling Nora she should leave $20 on the nightstand, though. Miles Matheson: the best general ever, and so good in bed he's worth a whole Andrew Jackson.