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Revolution: "Ghosts"

Illustration for article titled iRevolution/i: Ghosts
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Based on the comments from last week’s review, I was not alone in my appreciation of Revolution’s decision to kill off Danny Matheson, as virtually all of you came out to pop champagne corks at the end of his whinging performance and McGuffin existence. In the days since then, however, I’ve read a few other reviews and comment sections that were dissatisfied with the show’s decision to kill him off—not so much because they liked the character, but because killing him essentially invalidated the previous 10 episodes we’d spent watching the quest to get him back. And I can see the merits to that argument, particularly for a serialized drama that’s proven itself committed to establishing a universe and mythology.

But at the same time, I can’t get worked up over the ending of a story arc that I never cared about for one moment. The better moments of Revolution’s first half came largely from scenes that were unconnected to what was going on with Danny, as the show got deeper into Miles’ past with the militia and expanded on the power dynamic within the Monroe Republic. Ending that central quest, regardless of the means by which the series ended it, means that the show can focus on those elements and rearrange its players in a manner more befitting their talents. And given how many problems the show had in the early going, that’s a freedom it desperately needed. “Ghosts” is yet more evidence that moving onto a new story is to Revolution’s benefit, as our first episode in a post-Danny world proves it a much more exciting, bloodier world than the one we’ve left behind.


Not that Danny’s entirely gone, as the shock of his violent death is resonating through the survivors. Miles, for his part, has moved away from the more empathetic side Charlie brought out in him and fallen back on his sardonic asshole persona, casually telling the rebel fighters that “Your business is losing” and that they lack the resources and drive to do what needs to be done to Monroe. And he knows where to get both: As the Enemies of the State miniseries revealed, Miles’ assassination attempt on Monroe was carried out with the support of like-minded officers in the militia, and after he failed to go through with it, they scattered to the wind. He and Nora split off from the main militia camp to go searching for the most feared member of the group, Jim Hudson, a man Nora points out they may not be able to find or who may want to kill him. Miles’ response: “I can find him. Not sure about the second part.”

The idea of Miles assembling his team of killers like a post-apocalyptic Danny Ocean is a promising arc for Revolution to pursue, especially if they’re all going to be as welcome of additions to the cast as Malik Yoba is. Yoba brought a solid balance of authority and barely restrained tension to his performance on Alphas, and he’s similarly good here as Hudson, a man who’s as much a human weapon as Miles but one who’s also incredibly weary of the bloodshed and wants to keep the quiet life he’s established. It’s a performance that plays well off the increasingly tense Miles, who points out that the skills they have and the things they’ve done can’t be denied. The dialogue in this argument is at Revolution’s typical level—that is to say, average with forays into unintentionally humorous—but there’s a definite passion and degree of self-loathing to both men’s performances, Billy Burke especially. Miles isn’t just trying to convince Hudson that he’s fooling himself; he’s beating himself up for ever hiding behind similar delusions, as he was at the point where Charlie found him, and holding those delusions partly accountable for his nephew’s death.

And when a militia “kill squad” makes its way to Culpeper, Miles proves his words right as the three of them are able to dispatch the entire squad without a single wound. It’s always fun to see just how utterly capable Miles is in these circumstances—his statement “Might just wanna surrender, Captain” comes without any hint of ego or intimidation—and it’s even more fun to see what he’s capable of when he’s got a partner, even a reluctant one. Hudson’s final decision to join the group isn’t a surprise—once his wife was introduced you could see her rejection of Hudson once she learned the truth coming from a mile away—but what works is the mix of resignation and contempt that Hudson projects toward Miles over having to even make the decision at all.

On the other side of the plot, Charlie, Rachel and Aaron join the rebels at one of their bases, where the rift between the two surviving Mathesons is growing exponentially. Charlie refuses to even hold her mother’s hand at the funeral, and once they arrive at the base, she volunteers for every single scouting mission available, coming back covered in blood that she dismisses by saying “It’s not mine.” I talked last week about how I was hopeful her brother’s death would harden Charlie up and make her a more tolerable character, and “Ghosts” proved that may not be a pipe dream after all. This is probably the most I’ve liked Tracy Spiridakos on the show to date, as it turns out she’s better suited toward playing a reserved and angry individual than she is a family-obsessed angsty teenager. Her fight with Rachel has some legitimate anger, both over Danny’s death and her long-ago abandonment, to the point that when her mother slapped her I didn’t even think to add it to my list of Matheson beatdowns that gave me so much pleasure last year.


That conflict is put on hold temporarily though, when the two pendants in Rachel’s possession flare to life seemingly at random. It turns out that this ability—seen in both “No Quarter” and “The Children’s Crusade”—isn’t random at all, but a trick of the mysterious Randall Flynn. Randall, now allied with the Monroe Republic and lending his full technical support, periodically turns the pendants on and off to see exactly where they are, and now that two of them are in the same place, he commands a militia team to retrieve both them and Rachel. What follows is a nicely claustrophobic series of events as Charlie and company duck through the hallways of the hospital where the base is located, Charlie getting to channel her inner Daryl Dixon by shooting down a couple militia guards with her crossbow—even, in a surprisingly badass moment, stabbing one directly in the heart when she can’t get it loaded in time.

That’s not enough to elude Randall however, who—like Miles—is rounding up his own team of experts and considers Rachel his prime objective. Of the many adjustments made to Revolution since the hiatus, tying Randall more closely to the story is the best choice the writers made. I’ve come around to liking David Lyons more and more as the season’s gone on, but Colm Feore absolutely schools him in the villain department, making Monroe seem like a petulant child with such observations as how he waited to contact the Republic until he could determine “whether you were worthy or had your head deeply up your own ass.” “Most people don’t talk to me like that,” Monroe threatens. “Most people can’t hand you a continent,” Randall says without hesitation. He projects an air of authority that Lyons simply doesn’t, marching at the head of a militia detachment looking every inch the man in control.


As such, I’m less excited by the show’s decision to flesh out his character in the flashback. We learn in this episode that he lost his son in Afghanistan, and that his involvement in whatever project Ben and Rachel were involved in (that presumably, led to the blackout) was driven by a desire to end the conflict by any means necessary. This should be the only context we’re given going forward, as like the Stephen King character whose name he bears, so much of what makes Randall intriguing is the air of mystery and power surrounding him. What’s far more interesting is the zealotry he conveys, talking about how the blackout “wiped the world clean” and his vision of a new society that keeps power in the hands of a few. It’s over-the-top villainy to be sure, but in the context of the show, it works.

Thankfully, Charlie manages to ambush him and free her mother, sparing us yet another arduous rescue mission spanning several episodes. Not that Rachel’s turning out to be as valuable to the group as you’d think—I know that Elizabeth Mitchell has a lot of residual affection from Lost fans, but I’m continually underwhelmed by everything the character does. Her decision to destroy the pendants with a combination of acids is a mind-numbingly stupid one, and one that goes back to my earlier gripe about the show’s inability to portray what the return of power means to this world. Yes, Randall can track them, but these are also your only way of turning on freaking cars and rocket launchers. To arbitrarily make that decision deprives the group of a key advantage and simply makes Rachel look short-sighted and overly emotional, character traits I’d hoped would be in shorter supply for the group.


Then again, this is a character who just lost her son—and had to cut something of unknown origin out of him right afterward—so perhaps, as with Miles and Charlie, a bit of PTSD can be blamed for it. And once she has her moment of catharsis with Charlie, she does seem to be more open to sharing information, even agreeing to open up to Aaron about the mysterious “Tower” Randall’s gained access to, and presumably the definitive explanation for the blackout. That’s still the big card the show has yet to play, and given the results they’ve had by burning through old story to get to new ones, I’m hoping they play it sooner rather than later.

Stray observations:

  • NBC’s decision to hold Revolution until the return of The Voice turned out to be to the show’s benefit, as it returned last week to over 7 million viewers and a 2.7 in the 18-to-49 demo. That’s what the show was doing on average for the last few weeks of its run, so I’m sure there are a few network executives letting out a deep breath.
  • Props to the set designers this week, as both the colonial atmosphere of Culpeper and the claustrophobic nature of the hospital go a long way toward setting the mood in both locations.
  • Two weeks in a row without the annoyance of the opening narration. Our prayers may be answered, people.
  • I missed this last week, but Randall’s twitchy scientist associate John is played by noted character actor Leland Orser, recognizable as ER’s Chief of Surgery Dr. Lucien Dubenko. Between him and Yoba, I am glad to see the show continues to round up a strong bench.
  • Those references to The Stand I mentioned last week? The creative team isn’t even trying to be subtle with them anymore, as Hudson’s library has a full Stephen King section and that’s one of the books he checks out to a patron, telling them straight away that it’s about the end of the world. There is no sarcastic “I see what you did there” gesture big enough. (Better reference: Hudson’s alias in Culpeper is Henry Bemis, the same name as the bookish protagonist of The Twilight Zone’s “Time Enough At Last.”)
  • Lots of good Miles moments this week. I particularly liked his disbelieving reaction to Hudson’s new pacifistic attitude: “So, you’re what… Conan the librarian?”
  • The scene where Charlie cleans her wound came painstakingly close to a sideboob sighting. Don’t tease us like that, Revolution! The people cry out for sideboob!

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