In the first season of Revolution, the storytelling tended to be simple, direct, literal-minded, and more than a little plodding. It just went about its business, fleshing out the idea that if the power went out and stayed out, the balance of power in the world would change—and certain things would happen, most of which would suck. This kind of approach has its virtues, but I am not alone in thinking that, in this case, it made for a show that was uninspired and tedious more often than not. In its second season, the show has hit the reset button by taking the dorm-room bullshitting session approach of throwing anything that comes to mind at the wall to see if it’ll stick. It’s made for a show that has an unpredictability to it and holds attention a lot better, but some things that remain important to the show’s identity may be in danger of getting lost in the chaos.
Things like—who is the hero now, and what is the center of the show supposed to be? In the first season, the answer to both these questions seemed to be Miles. In the early episodes of this season, Miles has been acting as nobly and heroically as ever, while pretending to be “local nobody Stu Redman.” But his forced reunion with Monroe seems to have changed him, unless most of his brains and spine were located in his hand that got smashed. After having the only reasonable reaction to seeing Monroe again—i.e., announcing his desire to kill the son of a bitch—he gets right on board with Monroe’s crackpot plan to frame the Patriots for the murder of Jim Beaver’s Texas Ranger. (This is especially dismaying for the audience, since the quick exit of Beaver’s character isn’t just upsetting on a narrative level. Beaver’s few scenes at the beginning of last week’s episode really gave the proceedings a jolt—he somehow made it seem as if every single line he had to deliver, no matter how innocuous, had the subtext, “Don’t piss on my boot and tell me it’s raining.” I’m not sure that the genuine surprise of his murder was enough to make up for the loss of him.)
Miles is a disappointingly limp presence in this episode, hanging around waiting to see how his crazy ex-dictator friend’s plans work out. Then he looks remote and unreadable when the Texans, who haven’t been taken in by Monroe’s master scheme, return and, in league with the Patriots, capture Monroe, run him through a show trial, and sentence him to death? Maybe it’s a screenwriter’s ploy, designed to make the audience wonder if maybe it’s Miles who sold Monroe out. Or maybe the center is shifting to Rachel—which would be a bad idea, since Rachel spends most of this episode demonstrating that, as is so often the case with characters played by Elizabeth Mitchell, she does not need any excuse to come across as any smugger than she already does.
The present-day action in tonight’s episode is broken up with flashbacks to the period three years after the blackout, when Miles and Monroe began to exert themselves as leaders of what would become the new Republic. The show has always indicated that Miles used to be something of a son-of-a-bitch before his guilt got to him. Here, he’s seen telling Monroe that they should steal some cows from a neighboring group so their own people won’t go hungry when winter comes. Monroe demurs, but then he suffers A Tragic Loss. Something in him having apparently snapped, he conducts the raid, and apparently not only steals the cows but murders their owners. Miles finds out about it later and seems surprised that things went that way, but also seems prepared to make his peace with it. Is Miles being ret-conned into a nicer guy, someone who used to make rash suggestions, but never intended for anyone to be hurt? That would be dramatically disappointing. And, as these scenes inadvertently make clear, there may be no way to do that without making him seem like a more ineffectual guy as well.
Tom Neville appears in the flashbacks as well, though I’m not sure it adds anything to this story to show that, once upon a time, he and Miles had an encounter—Miles enlists his aid during a medical emergency—that didn’t come to much and that neither one probably remembers. In the present day, he goes looking for his son, with Secretary Allenford in tow. It turns out that Jason has been thoroughly transformed into some kind of wide-eyed zombie killing machine by the Patriots’ soul-destroying brainwashing process, which takes goodhearted young men and turns them into, in Tom’s words, “Hitler youth on meth.” This is the sequence where the writers really break out the hothouse flowers; Allenford, whose own son has been sacrificed to the program, says with a shudder, “Sure, he wears a convincing mask, smiles sometimes, pretending to be human.” In order to get Jason under control so he can deprogram him, Tom has to kill the two cadets he’s with, one of whom he defeats by means of the old throw-rug-over-the-hole-in-the-floor gag. (I believe this is taught at West Point as “the Richard Mulligan Stratagem.”)
Aaron does not play Firestarter at any point this week—which is fine, since that’s a development that I have mixed feelings about. He does, however, have the funniest moment of the episode, when he’s seen reading a Human Torch comic at the bar and explains that it’s “research.” His fellow barfly is a former Forbes magazine reporter who’s covering the capture of Monroe. Her dialogue suggests that somebody on the show really, really likes the way reporters used to talk in old movies like Ace In The Hole. She explains that the General in charge of the procession “caught his Bin Laden. That’ll keep him comfy, fellated, and in power for years.” She later confides to Aaron that Willoughby is set to become a “little old Guantanimo Bay, deep in the heart of Texas… all shiny and perfect, like a shellacked piece of crap.” She then takes her leave, surfing off on the line, “Truth isn’t my business.” I was happy to see her go; she was starting to look like a recurring character in the making. If she comes back and Jim Beaver stays dead, it’ll be defining proof that there’s a problem with the “throw your weirdness against the wall and pray” approach to series-building.
- In the end, Dr. Porter administers a “lethal injection” to Monroe, and the Rangers dump him coffin in a whole outside the city. But then, Rachel is seen digging him up, and there’s a glimpse of him looking as animated as ever in the “scenes from next week” montage, so I’d advise against splurging on any condolence telegrams just yet.
- Stephen Collins has some strong moments as Dr. Porter. After all these years of looking like Robert Redford’s body double, I suspect he’s enjoying the hell out of playing crotchety and letting his facial muscles sag in a role that actually requires him not to shampoo before reporting to the set.
- Ominous guest appearance of the week: No sooner has Monroe been (supposedly done away with) than Zeljko Ivanek, his Satanic pastiness himself, pulls up on a wagon and says, “Evening, friend.” It must have been tempting to have someone invite him into the bar, just so he could say, “I never drink… wine!”
- Les is otherwise occupied this evening but sends his regards, and will be back next week.