TV First Impression: “Revolution” (Revisited)
When I first watched Revolution, I was intrigued by the premise. After the pilot episode, however, I wasn’t impressed by the rather boilerplate plot, the lack of grittiness, and a kind of nod to The Hunger Games that was woven into one of the main characters (Charlie Matheson as played by Tracy Spiridakos). Well, now that the post-apocalypic drama is on a break until next year, it seems fitting to revisit the show.
After a plodding start, Revolution hit its stride about three episodes in. The show’s plot centers on the struggle to find a way to restore electric power after an “event” that occurred 15 years ago rendered all devices that rely on electric power to run, powerless. A whole generation grew up without electric power and, as a result, humanity has adapted by using very low tech/agrarian means to create communities that could sustain themselves.
Alas, the “return to a simpler time” without technology assaulting our senses proves to be less an Eden than a resumption of a kind of brutish power struggle between tribes, clans and militias. Militias are by far the most complex power groupings in this society, who often ruthlessly shake people down for food and other resources as a kind of tax. Within this world, there comes a-brewin‘ an epic battle between the leader of one of the militias ruling a territory known as the Monroe Republic (the capital is in Philadelphia), and members of the Matheson family (and their friends) who are trying to free one of their own from the militia. In the process, the Matheson clan is also trying to keep the leader of the Monroe Republic from getting a device that will restore power in a very limited way. At bottom is the question of whether having an electric powered world is really such a good thing since the Monroe Republic will use it to make war on their enemies and further subdue the population in their territory.
J.J. Abrams is involved with the show as an executive producer, so there are some LOST flourishes to gin up the mysterious quality of the event that caused the power outage, but they are less of a central issue than the larger question that gets asked during the course of the season. In a sense, the patina of “civilization” is really what’s being explored in Revolution — at least for the characters who are old enough to know what life was like before the power went out. As told through flashbacks (which is also another nod to LOST), we see characters like Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) whose life as a rather meek insurance adjuster changed after the power went out, and how he had to fight for the survival of his family. Gone was Neville’s Mr. Nice Guy and born was Colonel Ruthless — whose take no prisoners mentality was seen as very valuable to the Monroe Republic. Neville loves the power of his position and sees the world in very stark terms. Indeed, he loves this new world because he knows that world that technology wrought sapped his masculinity and made him a frightful shell of a man whose frustrations at his station in life could only be taken out on a punching bag in his basement.
Aaron Pittman (Zak Orth) is another example of rising to the top in the pre-outage era, only to be pushed down more than a few rungs on the ladder of power after the outage. Pittman was a Google executive who made millions, lived a very comfortable life, and tried to “give back” by becoming a teacher. After the blackout, the world became high school again, and nerds were people to be bullied rather than revered. And so we see Pitman very unsure of himself, prone to bouts of self-loathing, guilt over abandoning his wife, and generally feeling like he’s a third wheel in this society.
However, one of the biggest question marks and the central source of conflict is between Miles Matheson and his former BF, Sebastian Monroe. Miles was a general in Monroe’s militia and taught their army how to be ruthless killers. But for some reason, Miles left the Monroe Republic (and Sebastian) to live a life of booze and being a tavern owner in Chicago. We’re not quite sure why Miles grew weary of being such a mucky muck in the Monroe Republic and tried to kill his best friend, Sebastian. Sebastian is obsessed with getting Miles back (and restoring the power for his nefarious plans), but their reunion doesn’t go as planned (And why would it? I mean, the show needs to sustain this conflict to keep the plot going). The result is a mid-season cliff hanger that may or may not be resolved by the end of the season 1 in the spring.
Like I wrote at the outset, after a rather plodding first few episodes, the show found its footing and has settled into a pretty good romp. J.J. Abrams is a guy who loves to contrive mysteries to hook the viewer, but I’m not sure it really needs to go too deep into that territory. It’s clear that the devices used to shut the power down were done so purposefully, but what’s not clear is why? Did some kind of Luddite cult take over halls of power? If so, why did they do so? Perhaps some of these questions will be answered when the series picks up again in late March. In the meantime, if you missed Revolution during its initial run, now would be the time to catch up on this series that’s good (but not great), and certainly more compelling than 90% of most of what’s on TV nowadays.