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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Revolution: “The Dark Tower”

Illustration for article titled Revolution: “The Dark Tower”
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Once upon a time, there was an optimistic young TV critic who was excited to be assigned a regular show for the 2012 season, a show with a strong creative pedigree and intriguing concept. He was even more excited when the show seemed to be a legitimate hit for its network, promising the start of a long and beautiful friendship. But then something happened: The show began to slide downhill almost immediately, with badly written dialogue, uninteresting sideplots, and a focus on teenage characters who were so annoying the critic cheered every time one of them was beaten up. Talented guest stars were squandered, the world’s expansion was left unsatisfying, and science that was best explained as “A wizard did it” replaced what had previously been unique about the show’s concept. This downward slide continued for episode after episode, and every time the critic reached for a flicker of hope, it was slapped down in a series of gunfights and whinging expositional speeches.

And thus he was twisted into the pessimistic, prematurely aged, incurably cynical figure you see before you, forced to write about a finale that may have been the worst of the lot.

There’s a fair amount of hyperbole in the above statement, but it’s almost impossible to convey the level of aggravation I’m experiencing at the end of this season of Revolution. One of the best things about television as a storytelling medium is that it’s a continually evolving entity, which makes it doubly frustrating when that evolution turns into a dead-end approach. At multiple points this season Revolution threw away opportunities to become compelling or interesting, sacrificing character development for cheap action and failing to provide its promised sense of adventure for more than a scene or two at a time. Looking back, “mediocre” remains the only word that encapsulates the season as a whole—glimpses of potential buried in shoddy storytelling and botched performances, and a commitment to its premise that never got past the shallowness Todd identified at the start of the series.

And it’s not that “The Dark Tower” is qualitatively the worst episode of Revolution that’s aired—I can make a convincing case that “Home” or “The Children’s Crusade” were more tedious or painful to sit through. Rather, what “The Dark Tower” did was to cement every last complaint that I’ve had about the show, complaints that have turned my last few reviews into broken records as I found myself increasingly unwilling to swallow the course the show was taking. It was an episode of silly twists, speeches that didn’t land, and reveals that proved all the show could do was leap into something even more ridiculous in an effort to get us to pay attention.

So what went wrong? Well, let’s start with the opening scenes, that pick up on the cliffhanger of last week’s “Children Of Men.” Miles and Monroe are in a standoff with their gauss guns, prepared to shoot out their differences, only to be sabotaged and forced to flee when the Tower residents shoot at them. They fall into the drainage tunnels for the Tower, wash up on the shore, and then immediately get into a fistfight on the beach. It’s badly paced and jerkily shot, as what is supposed to be the major conflict between the show’s protagonist and antagonist feels without consequence in terms of what’s going on in the Tower. And even when the conflict is broken up—as one of Neville’s soldiers takes shots at Monroe and allows Miles a chance to escape—it goes back to schoolyard brawl status that even Miles doesn’t even have the patience for anymore.

Looking back at my old reviews, I officially revoke every statement I made about finding the Miles and Monroe dynamic compelling, because all the life has been sucked out of it by this point. A conflict between two men once as close as brothers became intolerable by the end of the season, dragging on as we were continually denied any legitimate context for what had twisted their relationship—this episode failed yet again with a superfluous flashback of the two of them commiserating over birthday memories—and their standoffs and fistfights came across increasingly as children playing soldiers and whining over who broke the other’s toys. And the interactions are sabotaged all the more by David Lyons’ performance, as what had previously been a decent portrayal of repressed psychosis twisted into hilariously over-the-top shouting: “DON’T YOU WALK AWAY FROM ME! YOU’RE THE ONE WHO TRIED TO KILL ME! ALL OF THIS I DID FOR YOU!”


Small wonder, then, that once Monroe is captured by his turncoat soldiers, it’s a dismissal of his leadership qualities by Neville that delivers the episode’s best line: “Sir, I could never say this under your employ, but you have become foolish and erratic and you have a borderline erotic fixation on Miles Matheson. There, I said it. I feel better.” And here lies one of the real tragedies of Revolution, as Giancarlo Esposito—an actor coming off an all-time great performance on Breaking Badhas been slumming it for an entire season here. If there have been legitimately dramatic moments this season, they’ve come from him, as he’s made Neville a cold and calculating opportunist who can shift the balance of power by virtue of his allegiance. His efforts to seize control of the Republic came far too late, as the show forced him into an uneasy alliance with the rebels and fixated on his complicated relationship with Jason. He found his way back to an interesting gear in these last two episodes—particularly this week as he seemingly offers a defector a way out before staging his execution—but at this point, it’s just not enough.

Things aren’t much better inside the Tower, as last week’s threat that reactivating the power could set the entire world on fire falls on deaf ears as Rachel decides that whatever risk there is needs to be met, all to avenge Danny. I wanted so badly to think that killing Danny off in “The Stand” would save the problems the show had, and since then, his memory has remained a painful sliver Revolution can’t keep from pulling on and making us all cringe. It’s a reminder that detracts from Rachel’s refusal to acknowledge the fact that she might burn the entire world down, a craziness that has been the only thing keeping the character interesting. Though to her credit, she’s certainly a better character than her daughter—insulting Tracy Spiridakos’ performance has turned into one of the more popular games of the season, and the show seems to recognize this as she barely says two sentences for the entire course of the finale. It’s Rachel and Aaron who provide the narrative drive, the former drugging Grace and the latter using the knowledge that he developed the Tower’s core codes to lead the charge to level 12.


Revolution at least remains invested in the Matheson women, which is more than can be said of its commitment to Nora. I cut the show some slack on Nora early in its run as she was a post-pilot addition to the cast, but beyond some attempts in the early going—the woeful attempt to give her a back-story in “Ties That Bind” comes to mind—she never connected beyond being Miles’ ex-girlfriend and someone who could rig up explosives when it was convenient. In her scenes with Rachel, her acknowledgment that Rachel and Miles are in love with each other lacked any sort of genuine commitment, as if Danielle Alonso was handed plot cards that her romance arc was over and she should just go with it.

And the next cards she was handed apparently said that her time on the show was over as well, as a series of explosives set to kill off the Tower’s defenders also mortally wounded Nora, which produced the show’s more overwrought moments as a gentle piano plays over her dying and the strings come in once Miles realizes this. The amount of time spent lingering on Billy Burke’s expression as he went through all the stages of grief in the span of minutes only served to highlight how little of that grief was felt by the audience, feeling bad not for the character but for Burke having to deliver this material. Of the Revolution cast Burke’s been the most pleasant surprise, capable of carrying both the action scenes and the sardonic damaged warrior persona, and it’s a true disappointment that the writers lost the thread of that character at the same time they stopped giving him swordfights to engage in.


The characters all convene in another stock shootout outside the door to Level 12’s control room, our heroes enter the room and seal Neville and his troops out there, and in a series of keystrokes Aaron issues the command to restore power. Sadly, other than a few imposing lightning storms the world does not get set on fire, and the finale does deliver on the one thing the show decided was the most important thing: power spreading across the entire world in an inverse of the pilot’s blackout. There’s a glimpse of what I once considered a Revolution strong point—the ability to depict the fascination and joy people saw at the return of power long forgotten, demonstrated here by quick glimpses of Neville and Aaron’s wives as their appliances spring to life—but it’s sabotaged as quickly as it starts thanks to President Foster. After a second of reflection, she doesn’t even blink as she dispatches her staff to prepare helicopters for an attack on Philadelphia, accepting the new status quo without question. (Yeah, apparently Georgia had a fleet of helicopters on standby just in case this happened.)

Those helicopters are swiftly proven irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, as Randall emerges from hiding in the master control room, revealing his true desires: not to take control of the world by reactivating the power, but burning it all to the ground. He launches ICBM missiles at Atlanta and Philadelphia, offers a grand speech about uniting this great nation, and then puts an exclamation point on it by blowing his brains out. It’s meant to send the character out with a bang, but there’s too much of a whimper to it as it goes against what we’d previously been led to believe about Randall, turning him from an anarchist into a patriot in the blink of an eye. (At least it offers Colm Feore creative freedom once again, hopefully to grow his beard back and return for a fourth season of The Borgias.)


And just in case missiles wiping out the show’s two most familiar locations and the death of one of its few interesting characters wasn’t enough, there’s the shudder-inducing final act. Given the series of “shocking twists” the last few episodes have ended with, I suppose that we shouldn’t have expected a satisfying close, but even in the library of ludicrous twists this one deserves a special prize. The action cuts to a hand turning a lamp on and off as if in fascination, and a man in a suit enters the darkened room to say Randall’s mission was a success with this statement: “Mr. President, it’s time to go home.” Pan out to what turns out to be an entire fortified location, complete with radio towers and honest-to-god 17th century-style sailing ships. The caption reveals “United States Colony: Guantanamo Bay, Cuba”… and the episode cuts to black.

I can only hope that this ending was conceived after they knew that the show was going to be renewed, because had this been the series finale there would be pitchforks and torches in the streets over how the show ended. In a stroke, the show twists its mythology into something new altogether, wiping away the inter-republic conflicts in favor of a shadow government structure cribbed from the last act of Fallout 2. And that’s typical of what the show has done all season, refusing to take the time to fix its core plot problems and simply pasting over them with nanomachines and surprise betrayals in the hopes you’d forget about what got us here in the first place. It’s supposed to be a twist that promises a new start, and instead it’s so far out there that it makes one slam their head against a desk and groan.


I began this season hoping against hope that Revolution would break free of the track record of serialized network sci-fi programming that spiraled out of control, and now I’m content to hurl it on the woodpile alongside The Event, FlashForward, Terra Nova and all the rest. What was once an interesting world is now just a hodgepodge of loose elements, inconsistent characterization, and a central narrative structure that’s so twisted up it makes one want to cut it to ribbons. You say you want more Revolution, NBC? Don’t you know that you can count me out.

Episode grade: D+
Season grade: C

Stray observations:

  • In the midst of all this drudgery, there is one promising sign for the future, as Eric Kripke’s long-time Supernatural collaborator Ben Edlund is leaving that show to join Rockne O’Bannon as part of Revolution’s expanded season two writing staff. Both Edlund and O’Bannon are talented writers, but short of complete reinvention, the earth on this show feels too salted to be redeemed.
  • Amendment to last week’s review: commenter Kumagoro pointed out that the weapons used by the Tower residents weren’t actually grenade launchers but gauss weapons. The comment also drew an interesting parallel comparing Revolution’s weapon evolution to a first-person shooter, weaponry gradually growing more sophisticated as the levels progress. (Though now I’m disappointed Miles didn’t acquire a BFG9000 on Level 12.)
  • One last Matheson beatdown: Charlie nearly has the life choked out of her by one of Neville’s soldiers until Miles drives a dagger deep through his throat.
  • Miles’ capabilities as a human weapon have, along with the rest of the show, crossed the threshold into ridiculous. In any fight he’s in, he only needs one bullet to kill anyone, and no one seems capable of hitting him.
  • At this point, the only way Monroe can be made interesting again is if he’s struck by lightning in the middle of the field we leave him in and has a spiritual awakening, deciding to become a costumed vigilante with a silly voice.
  • And with that, our coverage of Revolution season one draws to a close. This will be in all likelihood the last time I write about this show—after 20 episodes I’ve exhausted all I have to say, and barring a complete season two reinvention I don’t see that changing. It’s been a frustrating and often hilariously bad journey this season, but you all helped keep it entertaining, and I thank you for your comments and your readership. Last one out, hit the lights.