This is the first outing of ‘Revolution’, the post-technology adventure drama created by ‘Supernatural’s’ Eric Kripke, produced by J.J. Abrams, and directed by ‘Iron Man’s’ Jon Favreau. The show rests on one premise: one night, all electricity and modern technology fails to work, plunging the world back into the Stone Age. However, it seems that a select few (like there always is on a show like this) knew about the ‘blackout’ ahead of time, and not only does the show depict a new agrarian America living in the ruins of the modern era, it follows a budding conspiracy to find out what happened and why.
The first five minutes of ‘Revolution’ depict that blackout in and around a suburb outside of Chicago, as a man named Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee) rushes into his home with boxes of groceries and tells his wife Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell, ‘Lost’, welcome in any TV program) to fill up all the bathtubs and secure the water tanks, while he hurriedly loads information from his computer onto an intricate silver flashdrive. It’s got a sort of symbol on its casing and folds into itself to make it look like… well, not a flashdrive, more of a pendent. ‘It’s happening, isn’t it?’ she says, trying not to scare her two young children. On the highway in South Carolina, two men, one named Miles (Billy Burke, always known to me as ‘the man too good for the Twilight franchise’) chats with another when he receives a call from Ben, who is his brother. “It’s all gonna turn off, all of it.” he warns. They head back to ‘base’, but before they can, it begins. All the power goes out. Cars stall on the road, losing power in a domino effect. Houses go completely dark. Planes begin to fall out of the sky. Before the show can give the viewer too much time to wonder about what’s happening to things like nuclear power plants or missile defense systems, a voice over begins to explain The Blackout: basically, anyone who didn’t leave the cities died. There were long periods of strife due to the lack of irrigation, medicine, etc, especially because our entire society was entirely reliant on electricity to run everything.
Cut to 15 years later: the voice is that of Aaron (Zak Orth), who is explaining to this to a group of young kids as a sort of history lesson. Things haven’t gone totally medieval yet, Aaron is still clad in wayfarer glasses and an AC/DC t-shirt. Things seem pretty idyllic and pastoral, for the ruins of a planned community. People hunt, people farm. Aaron remarks that he knows learning isn’t as cool as, say, learning to use a crossbow, but it seems that, for the most part, civility has not fallen by the wayside. Aaron also tells the kids that the way that the physics of the world turned on them, without explanation, should bother them. Ben, the man with the flashdrive, seems to be the community’s leader, but Rachel is nowhere to be seen. His kids, Charlie (Tracy Spiradakos) and Danny (Graham Rogers), are now teenagers. Charlie is our protagonist. She’s a curious and capable girl, and we first see her and her brother exploring an old RV, when they’re supposed to be hunting. Inside the RV, Charlie finds a postcard of Chicago and pockets it, remembering eating ice cream one last time with her parents in the immediate aftermath of the blackout. Danny’s asthma is triggered and forces them to turn back for home, and Charlie takes him to Maggie, their father’s new girlfriend and somewhat of a resident healer. The family tropes start to fall into place here fairly quickly: Ben is the well-meaning but overprotective father, Charlie is the headstrong teenager who dreams of “more”, Danny is the innocent younger sibling, and Maggie is the cool, somewhat distant (but loving) step-mother figure. “Nothing is safe, everything is off limits.” she tells her father, who thinks that if she wanders off, she’ll get killed by bandits or caught by the militia, just like her mother was.
Charlie stalks off to her secret hiding place and pulls out a rusted ‘Return of the Jedi’ lunchbox, where she stores all her remnants of the old world: postcards of cities she probably never visited, an iPod, a Rubix cube. At this point, I was primed for her to start singing “Part of Your World” from ‘The Little Mermaid’. (‘Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat’, etc). Back in the village, armed men on horseback arrive, much to everyone’s dismay. They are the Militia, led by Captain Tom Neville (‘Breaking Bad’s Emmy-Nominated Giancarlo Esposito). Everyone seems to be pretty afraid of these guys, and no wonder, given the menacing attitude of Neville and his men. Before Neville approaches them, Ben hastily gives the flashdrive to Aaron, telling him to stay off the roads with it, because the Militia will be looking for it. Neville asks Ben where his brother Miles is, not beating around the bush. Neville has come to collect Ben and Miles on behalf of General Sebastian Monroe, who runs the territory their village is settled in. Ben has two options: come with Neville, or have his children turned over to the militia and “re-educated” until they don’t remember their parents.
Ben actually, despite the danger, appears ready to go with the Militia, when Danny interrupts the stand-off with a crossbow. Then another man from the village, pulls out a rifle. (Interesting: owning a firearm is a hanging crime, but its cool for the Militia. Neville himself totes a handgun.) There is a stand-off and Ben is shot in the chest, leading to a brief skirmish in which Danny is captured and taken away. Charlie hears the gunshots and arrives just in time for her father to give her his dying requests: go find Miles in Chicago and get your brother back. So there’s a quest to be had.
Maggie and Aaron join Charlie, despite her “I can do this alone” attitude. On the road, Neville tells Danny that he had to take him, if he couldn’t take his father, he had to bring someone back. He sends someone out with a dispatch. Danny tries to call Neville a murderer but Neville reminds him that he, in fact, drew first. Look guys, if this show is gonna make me choose who to root for between Danny and Neville, Danny isn’t going to win. That mess was on him. Elsewhere, Charlie goes to get some water and runs into a young man stringing a bow and arrow. He calls himself Nate (JD Pardo). There’s some flirtatious danger between the two, and when he asks Charlie where she’s going, she tells him to mind his own business. Nate is an attractive young man and will surely return.
There’s some interesting info tossed around as the group treks through the woods towards Chicago: Aaron used to be a Google exec and owned a private jet, which is why he knows where planes stored things like emergency medications. The three of them try to find supplies in the plane, which, interestingly enough, landed safely. They decide to camp out in the cabin for the night and are ambushed in the night by a group of men with nefarious purpose. Maggie quickly offers the men a bottle of whiskey stored in her backpack, which, after a moment, causes them to vomit blood and die. Before one of the men can jump Charlie, she’s saved when Nate kills him with an arrow. In the morning, Nate treks along with the crew and only Charlie seems to trust him, because of course she does. Maggie warns her, prompting Charlie to say “Is that why you carry poison whiskey?” Um. I mean, didn’t that save your lives, Charlie? Literally every stranger you’ve met in the last two days has tried to kill someone you know. “Not everyone can be a monster.” This girl is like a Disney Princess with a crossbow, I swear. Elsewhere, Danny escapes from the Militia and passes out near someone’s cabin.
At the half-hour mark, the group makes it into Chicago, and a walk through the streets is vaguely reminiscent of a walk through ‘Deadwood’ except with more boats and just as much fighting. They arrive at the Grand Hotel, and Aaron tells Maggie that he’d been there before, to get married. Seeing as Aaron appears unwed now, there must be a story there. The lobby and bar area of the hotel seems converted into a sort of Saloon. The man helming the bar is none other than Miles Matheson, although no one else knows that, and gives Maggie the run around, but he’s not immune to the power of his niece’s doe-eyes and gives up his identity without much of a fight. Charlie tells him what happened, in hopes that he’ll be able to help.
Danny wakes up handcuffed to a bed in the cabin he passed out near. A woman points a gun at him, trying to make sure he’s not a Militia Spy. But since Danny lacks things like the Militia brand and a backbone, she’s able to deduce his innocence pretty quickly. At the hotel, Miles tells Charlie why the Militia might hav e wanted her father: everyone thinks he knew something about the Blackout, and that he might have told Miles about it. If Ben could do something about getting the power back on, he could basically become Emperor of the entire world, because of his control over things like tanks, missiles, factories. When Charlie asks what they do next, Miles gives him the Han Solo-esque answer of “I don’t. Good luck.” He knows Danny is bait. But Charlie tries her hardest to win him over with the tearful statement: “We’re family.” But Miles doesn’t go for it. Nate tries to get in Miles face about upsetting her, but Miles yanks up his wrist and reveals the Militia brand. Nate pulls his bow and makes a quick escape.
Miles figures that Nate was from the same unit that killed Charlie’s father, who had followed them since the beginning in order to flush him out. Which is exactly what they did. Miles plan is to sit and drink the last real bottle of whiskey in Chicago until they get here. At Grace’s cabin, Neville and his men arrive at her door, and despite Grace’s best attempts to send them away, Neville is able to figure out that Danny is there. He is recaptured. At the Grand Hotel, Nate and the rest of the Militia arrive to take Miles, and Miles draws a sword, and warns them about hurting them, even though Miles is easily outnumbered 20-1. What ensues is a pretty impressive fight scene employing all sorts of weapons, mostly of the close-quarters variety like swords, axes, and knives. Burke pulls off his stuntwork well. (Or at the very least, his stuntman blends in well.) Just when you thought they might be gone, Maggie, Charlie and Aaron return to aid Miles. Before she can be killed, Nate saves Charlie. These two aren’t gonna be an item or anything. Eventually, Miles agrees to go on their expedition, because, really, it’s not like the Militia is going to give up on the whole ‘killing them’ thing anytime soon.
The episode ends on a brief flashback to the night of the Blackout, with Miles and his friend, Bass, on the road. They head back to what might be the creepiest looking military base in history. Bass pulls back his shirtsleeve to reveal a tattoo exactly like the Milita brand, and reveals himself as Sebastian Munroe, the General who runs this territory. At the Militia base, which looks like a painting of a Civil War camp, Munroe (David Lyons) receives the news of Ben’s death and Danny’s capture, sent by Neville.
In her cabin, Grace pulls out a device that is exactly like Ben’s flashdrive and pushes a button, which causes the electric lights in her workstation to power up. She uses it to communicate with someone on an old computer. “So, what now?” it asks.
So NBC seems to be trotting out ‘Revolution’ as one of it’s premiere dramas, and because of the powerhouses behind it, Kripke, Favreau, Abrams, etc, it’s no surprise. But I found the show’s outing to be somewhat… tepid. The premise is irresistible – what would life be like without electricity? How would the world work? Unfortunately, ‘Revolution’ is somewhat reminiscent of a bunch of other things: ‘Lost’, ‘Jericho’, ‘The Hunger Games’, and the sum of all these tropes are not nearly as interesting as they could be. The main problem seems to be this: it relies on Charlie as a lead. It makes sense, she’s an audience surrogate – young, impressionable, and is modeled that sort of scrappy Katniss Everdeen mold that today’s young audience would find appealing. The problem is that, while Katniss had a personality, she was hardened, resourceful, loyal, etc, Charlie is… well, that’s the problem, Charlie is more defined by what happens to her, rather than her own actions and personality. That, and, admittedly, she, along with her brother, makes some pretty stupid mistakes. I wasn’t being glib when I mentioned that she reminded me more of Ariel than anyone who has spent their entire live in a world formed by the collapse of every single modern social and governmental structure formed over hundreds of years. Of course she doesn’t have to be a Katniss ripoff, but I do want her to be capable and responsible, a heroine rather than a damsel.
The rest of the characters fare much better. Of couse, Giancarlo Esposito brings a wonderful flare to anything he does and I would stick around just to watch him in action. I also liked Maggie and Aaron, whose motivations need to be fleshed out a bit more, but they have adequately formed personalities. Miles is well played by Billy Burke, even if his character, the Lone Drinker, is something we’ve seen before. There’s just not enough going on yet and they’re not playing with the world enough: what happened to the governments? Does anyone control things that, despite their powerlessness, could be used as a weapon in the “revolution”, like missiles or weapons? The search for Danny is a short term plot filler, and an admittedly, uninteresting one, unless we’re gonna fill that time with more Esposito. The problem is that ‘Revolution’ feels too… docile – the Blackout should be the scariest thing to happen to this planet save something like a pandemic or nuclear obliteration and 15 years later… things seem… okay, for the most part, aside from the militarism and all that. ‘Revolution’ could use a little more boom, and hopefully it gets there sooner rather than later.
- Kripke tropes: “family” as the central theme of the show, orphans, love of nontraditional weaponry, the drunken soon-to-be father figure
- Abrams tropes: bad things happening to planes or in planes, mysterious green font computers, Elizabeth Mitchell, and the following character names: Ben, Miles, Charlie/Charlotte, Danny, Rachel and Aaron. Also, there’s a sign in the Grand Hotel that says “Lou Malnati’s Pizza.” Sounds like Illuminati to me.
- Favreau tropes: AC/DC, and Tim Guinee appeared in both ‘Iron Man’ films
- Miles tells Charlie to “dial back” the we’re-a-family stuff. I laughed.
- Neville was an insurance adjuster pre-Blackout. His wife is still alive. apparently. I want to know how Neville got to be a part of the Militia, and more about them in general, especially since he mentions to Ben that they are capable of taking children and reprogramming them.
- Things I am skeptical about their general usefulness: a 15-year-old asthma inhaler, Aaron’s glasses, which I assume are prescription. Maybe they’re just a part of his former identity as a rich nerd.
- No but seriously, what happened to nuclear power plants? For the most part, in shows like this, I can say ”okay show, I will go along with your science.” But I thought of this one right away.We have a lot of nuclear power in the US alone.
- Either Tracy Spiridakos has very rosy cheeks, or she’s part of the Maybelline tribe.
- Danny is about as useful as a clam without a shell.
- Naturally, Rachel is not dead, since she is Elizabeth Mitchell. I suspect she may be the person Grace communicates with.