We’re now a couple of weeks into the official television season, and it looks like a reasonable bet that Revolution will be sticking around for a while. After opening to the highest numbers a network drama premiere’s seen in three years (as NBC’s promo department has been more than happy to force down our throats), the show kept momentum and was able to retain a respectable viewership last week against tougher competition. There’s still plenty of room for it to go downhill in the ratings—it remains on NBC after all, and the last dramas to do as well this early on were V and Bionic Woman—but it’s passed the first test, and assuming the numbers hold, it’s a likely candidate to get a full-season order.
Based on both last week and this, I’m starting to feel better about that prospect. For the second week in a row, Revolution feels like a show that’s in the process of finding itself, delivering reliable action scenes from its network budget and gradually increasing the effectiveness of its character moments. More promisingly, after throwing a bunch of “dramatic reveals” out in the closing minutes of last week’s episode, all of them are absent from the episode—no Rachel, Grace, or the mysterious “Randall”—and the big question of the power coming back on takes a backseat to day-to-day survival.
Following up from last week’s “Chained Heat,” Miles and Charlie accompany Nora to the makeshift headquarters of the revolutionaries opposing the Monroe Republic. It turns out that the opposition efforts aren’t going so well, as a militia group has decimated their ranks following a botched raid and likely taken one of their number hostage. Miles understandably doesn’t want anything to do with this, considering his job done and Nora’s services secured, but Charlie’s stubborn reluctance to abandon anyone in need keeps him from getting very far. Once again, Charlie’s commitment to doing the right thing pushes the character into being an irritant, but the show seems to realize this and is at least providing her more reasons to make the choices she does—in this instance having to watch wounded resistance members die in front of her. And thankfully, Billy Burke plays irritation very well, grumbling about “whiny-ass rebel friends” and warning them that the militia is right behind them.
Turns out he’s right to think so, as the militia commander known as Jeremy is busy torturing the hostage. Played by Mark Pellegrino (a veteran of both J.J. Abrams and Eric Kripke shows as Lost’s Jacob and Supernatural’s Lucifer), Jeremy fits neatly into the model Revolution’s established in men like Neville and Monroe, men whom the new world order made into sadists with a touch of the philosopher about them. He plays round after round of Russian roulette with the captive, musing about how it’s less of a game and more of a necessity: “Bullets are about as rare and precious as diamonds. That’s why I only put one bullet in there and why I would prefer not to use it.” And then once he gets the information, he chooses to waste the bullet anyway, a show less for the unfortunate hostage than the men whose respect he needs to command.
As expected, when Jeremy crosses paths with the equally determined Miles, it makes for an interesting interaction, and for more reasons than just being a clash of badasses. Jeremy addresses Miles as not just a wanted man to the Republic, but an old friend who taught him everything he knew in his former role as General Matheson of the Monroe Republic. Unlike last week’s reveal of Rachel’s survival, this isn’t thrown out there for dramatic effect—we saw in the pilot that Miles and Monroe had a history, and this episode’s flashbacks establish a deeper connection as both travel through the immediate post-blackout world. As such, it’s a reveal that works because it makes Miles less of a generic cynical badass, and adds a layer of complexity to the character. Forget the technical questions about how this world works, I want to know how he gets from the coldness of executing two men he sees as a threat (“We can’t call the cops, can’t put them in jail”) to the almost self-defeating point where he’s practically goading Charlie and Nora into making him reveal gory details.
On the other side of the story, Aaron and Maggie make their way over to Grace’s farm, and while they don’t find her, there they do find the ruins of her makeshift computer—ruins over which Aaron obsesses like a boy opening his new toy on Christmas. Miles is delivering the show’s dynamic action, but Aaron and Maggie are turning into a reliable source of Revolution’s quieter moments, the frustration that’s built up over just how much was lost. For Aaron, the blackout wasn’t just the loss of his money and private jet, but the loss of his sense of worth in the revelation that nerdy kid who made himself into a multimillionaire could have it all yanked away like some “enormous cosmic football.” Zak Orth plays the emotion of this loss very well, his hope at restarting the computer becoming ever more frantic before it finally gives way to desperation and near-gallows humor.
Those human reactions even manage to save the literal deus ex machina, when the amulet turns on mysteriously and reactivates the electronic devices in the room. Orth and Anna Lise Philips convincingly sell both the joy in this apparent miracle—the room flooded with Marvin Gaye, an image of Maggie’s children restored—and the incalculable disappointment at having it taken away again just as inexplicably. If Revolution wants to spend its time fixated on the hunt to get the power back on, it needs to keep providing these moments, demonstrations that fixing the problem isn’t just as simple as flipping a switch.
Miraculously, even Danny’s plot isn’t as disastrous as it could be, though this might be due to the fact he spends most of it getting beaten up courtesy of a guard played by Justified and Pan Am’s Michael Mosely. The guard’s a little touchy because his best friend was killed by Danny in the botched attempt to capture Ben, and he’s decided to test the limits of how many pieces Danny needs to be in before being handed over to Monroe. However, after a couple of beatings, Danny finds an opportunity, using a faux asthma attack as an distraction to bring the guard closer, and then throttling him within an inch of his life—in full view of Captain Neville. The look Neville gives him at the end is inscrutable (as most any long look from Giancarlo Esposito would be), but it seems for the first time to offer a hint of respect. I still have little confidence in Graham Rogers’ acting based on the early episodes, but if a character shows agency instead of just moping, that counts as progress.
I said last week that while I don’t need Revolution to ask the serious questions about the world it’s created, I do need it to tell entertaining stories in this world. “No Quarter” is a promising sign that the series might actually be able to follow through on that score—here’s hoping that cosmic football doesn’t get yanked away in the next few episodes.
- While for me action took a backseat to the character work this week, I was pleased with both the siege on the restaurant bunker and the explosive rescue of Miles (obviously fake CGI smoke in the latter aside). So far, the show’s still making it work on a network budget.
- I can’t emphasize how happy I am that Jeremy survives the episode to pursue Miles another day. Between Pellegrino, Esposito, and David Meunier’s cameo last week, Revolution’s quickly building a well-stocked bench of recurring villains.
- Neville’s reading material on the road is Iacocca: An Autobiography, about car executive Lee Iacocca, who was responsible for much of Chrysler’s success in the 1980s.
- Jeremy’s take on the rebellion’s disbelief over Miles’ past: “This is so dramatic. You guys remember One Life To Live?”
- “It’s easy to have a better idea than that because that idea is horrible.” Miles does not suffer fools well.
- Maggie’s iPhone turned on after 15 years of not working, evidently still with 11 percent charge. As with so many of the technical questions on this show, I’m trying very hard to file that under the Mystery Science Theater 3000 mantra of “It’s just a show, I should really just relax.”