Last spring, one of the best signs for the future of Revolution even beyond its survival to a second season was the news that Rockne O’Bannon would be joining the show as an executive producer. As the show grew increasingly tedious it was clear that the writers’ room could use some fresh blood, and O’Bannon seemed to be exactly the transfusion they needed. His involvement with a breadth of sci-fi programming across the spectrum—creator of Farscape and seaQuest DSV, writer on V and Defiance—spoke of an experience with character growth and engaging weirdness, both traits that Revolution was sorely lacking in its first installments. Even his most recent work, the baffling Cult, gave hope to the idea that if the show got worse it might do so in a fascinating way.
Thankfully it hasn’t gotten worse—quite the opposite in fact—and it’s certainly fair to give O’Bannon and fellow executive producer Ben Edlund credit for helping right the ship. “Come Blow Your Horn” is the first episode this season to give O’Bannon a writing credit, and it’s an episode that on the surface doesn’t have too many differences from what’s come before: Miles and company work against the Willoughby occupation, Neville wages a one-man war on Patriot high command, and Aaron sets people on fire with his mind. However, it’s a step up from the earlier episodes, largely because it’s an episode full of good character moments that lets us see how much this conflict is starting to take a toll on everyone involved.
Certainly the most cracked of these characters is Rachel, who’s not taking either Dr. Horn’s obsessions or Gene’s betrayal well. Not normally a voice of reason even in the best of times—Aaron seems to be the only person left who hasn’t called her out on her crazy—she’s now deciding to earn the label of “terrorist” the Patriots have slapped on Aaron and Miles and bomb their headquarters with a chemical weapon. I’ve long since stopped thinking anything Rachel does makes sense to anyone but her, but this latest scheme has a decidedly personal touch to it, given she doesn’t even blink at the idea that this bomb may kill off Gene as well. Even for her, that’s a cold decision, and if Charlie and Miles aren’t even going to fight her on it it’s looking like the character may be beyond salvation.
Their acquiescence to the plan also leads to a nice change in tone as they put it into practice. Most of the action this yearn has fallen to the reliably executed sword fights, but their rooftop incursion of Patriot HQ is a scene with all the energy of a well-executed stealth mission in a video game. Miles provides surveillance through a sniper scope, Charlie provides a key distraction for the guards by use of a dog whistle, and Rachel times her movements into shadow at just the right moments—it’s an effective and largely silent affair that builds the tension in a way Revolution doesn’t often pull off. And when Gene enters the building, the moral choice component enters as Rachel weighs the possibility of killing her father, making the decision and striding up the fire escape to drop the charges.
Any emotional fallout from the decision is held back, as Miles gets to her just in time, letting her know that Aaron’s in the bunker as well. It turns out that Gene had one last tidbit to give out, telling Truman’s men the location of Aaron’s boatyard hangout, where the increasingly desperate man is seeking forgiveness from Cynthia and trading barbs with Monroe. Monroe does his job by effortlessly taking down four Patriots—action you think would get old by this point but still hasn’t—leaves Aaron and Cynthia for pickup once he sees a fight he can’t win. Beyond leaving Aaron in a bad place it adds a welcome dimension back to Monroe’s character, reminding us that this alliance is solely one of convenience for the former dictator, and that if a better option pops up he’ll take it without hesitating.
With one of their own in custody, the group circles around the downtrodden Gene, taking him back to their pool safehouse for an honest conversation. And honest it is, as Gene’s emotions are now so close to the surface that he can’t help but confide, revealing the reasons for his Patriot betrayal and calling them hypocrites for their similarly ambiguous decisions. On the other side, Rachel clearly had a long list of things to say to her father if she ever saw him again, and since he didn’t get a lungful of nerve gas she’s able to rail at him for everything: ignoring her conspiracy theories, betraying their family principles, showing weakness. It’s a conversation that’s been a long time coming, even though it’s disappointingly cut short when Truman’s men find the area, Gene offering to sacrifice himself to give the others a chance to escape.
Then again, a bullet from Truman might be the better alternative for Gene, as it turns out Horn’s reputation is well-deserved. Now that Aaron’s in the good doctor’s possession he treats the man like a test subject primed for dissection, going through various tortures and experiments to uncover Aaron’s various superpowers—now including healing abilities that rival Wolverine’s. For the second week in a row Zeljko Ivanek plays Horn with the prerequisite creepiness, though this time things are mixed up with some repressed trembling and secret milky injections. Turns out that he’s suffering from a brain tumor and considers the nanotech his way out, a development that helps the character avoid chaotic evil extremes while also justifying the violence he’s inflicting on the beleaguered Aaron. He’s so devoted to the search that he’s prepared to sacrifice Cynthia to coax a truly volatile reaction from Aaron—one that may well do to the bunker what Rachel’s chemical weapon could only dream of.
The Neville half of the story is similarly engrossing, as his plan to gut the Patriot hierarchy takes another step forward with the introduction of Allenford’s husband Roger (David Aaron Baker, who played Nucky and Rothstein’s lawyer Fallon on Boardwalk Empire). Once again, while Neville could probably find a way to kill the man that’s too easy for him, and he worms his way into an audience using Allenford’s engagement ring. Neville’s strategic mind has thought ahead on all of the possible options that Roger could take, leading to some fine work from Giancarlo Esposito as he points out just how bad a seditious wife makes the other man look to Patriot high command. The moment in the woods when Roger pulls a gun on him is a particular treat as he doesn’t bat an eye at hearing it cocked, only turning around easily to say “I thought something like this might happen.”
What makes the story so engrossing is, oddly enough, its parallels to the first season—every action Neville takes he does so based on his own experience. Lest we forget, last season he too was in the position of having superiors who questioned his loyalty, he also got in trouble over conflicted feelings with his son, and he too found himself fleeing with his wife into unknown territory. He knows exactly how unpleasant all of these options seem, and the buttons to push to make them sound even worse until Roger’s so desperate he shoots Allenford in the chest and departs grief-stricken. That’s the one line the Neville we know would never cross himself, and the cold way he regards the recent widower implies Roger’s earned his wrath in a particularly personal way. (No plan on this show is perfect however, and Allenford’s death means Neville doesn’t get to learn that Jason’s still caught up in Patriot conditioning.)
At the end of the “Come Blow Your Horn,” there’s a lot of events that are left up in the air with potentially fatal consequences—a gun to Gene’s head, a knife in Cynthia’s abdomen, and a scream from Aaron that sets all the torches ablaze before cutting to black. Regardless if some, none or all of these people are still standing at the end of next week, this is an episode that proves how volatile and uncertain the world these characters are operating in remains. Here’s hoping O’Bannon and company know how to build off this as we head for the midseason mark.
- Miles doesn’t get a lot to do this episode—a regretful trend in recent weeks—but he’s showing a more physical loss of control. That broken hand has an infection gradually spreading up the arm, staining his veins in a fashion that looks like he may have taken a vacation in Roanoke. Given that Miles has ceded his narrative drive to Rachel and Monroe, this potential loss of his combat abilities should hopefully force some conflicted moments out of the character, or share Horn’s investment in Aaron’s curative powers.
- Part of me is holding out hope that Allenford may have survived the gunshot and this is another stage in Neville’s plan, as Nicole Ari Parker worked well with Esposito and introduced a new angle to the Patriots as someone who’d grown disenchanted with this grand new America. If not, RIP. You served your show well.
- This week’s flashbacks provide further backstory for Dr. Horn, showing that his mother died due to his father’s insistence on the power of faith healing, instilling a total lack of belief in God. It helps shade the character’s now-ironic faith in the nanomachines, even though learning he was a creepy child who grew into a creepy adult isn’t a particularly interesting detail.
- Further proof that Monroe’s an asshole: he clearly drained Aaron’s flask. Not cool, bro.
- First “Goddamnit Charlie” moment in a while, when she insists they’re not going to leave without Gene. Goddamnit Charlie, I’ve started to like you. Don’t be like that.
- Rachel and Charlie preparing bombs together leads to the episode’s funniest line: “I always dreamed of cooking with my daughter. Just not like this.”
- “It’s like Epcot East Berlin out there. They have dogs. Where’d they get dogs?” Good question Miles. What happened to all the dogs?
- “This room may not be the safest place to be right now.” Seriously, every line of Ivanek’s is golden.