For all its fire-starting looniness, close-quarters sword fights and inclusion of war clans and young adult killing machines, a few concerns are starting to come up about the second season of Revolution. Last week, my colleague Phil talked about how the show feels like it’s lost the hero and center as the season’s progressed, and in addition to that the show has also felt like it’s losing a sense of narrative urgency. The first season, for all its frustrations, had a sense of narrative propulsion that forgave its sins for some time—rescue Danny in part one, overthrow Monroe or get to the Tower in part two—and despite the threat of a Patriot invasion that propulsion has slowed down considerably this year. Most of what Miles and company do has been reactive as opposed to active, waiting to see who comes into their orbit and figuring out whether to co-opt or rescue them.
Part of that may stem from the fact that the vast majority of this season has centered around the small town of Willoughby. Early parts of the season gave it a sense of grand exploration spanning Texas and the Plains Nation, but since the Patriots came to town and sealed the gates the show’s lost some of that vastness (terrific location shooting around the area aside). Every episode’s plot seems to involve people trying to get in or out of town, and whatever resistance Miles and Rachel seem to have in mind hasn’t come close to moving past four people. It’s also strained some narrative credulity, given that the town where our main characters sought refuge and have family ties to just happens to be a location so important the Patriots would enlist a war clan to lay siege to it and sign a treaty with Texas to secure it.
“The Patriot Act” is another episode revolving around people getting out of Willoughby, this time turning to the show’s most volatile element. It was only a matter of time before Aaron’s manifestation of superpowers attracted interested parties, and since it’s unlikely that any agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are operating in this post-power dystopia that responsibility falls to Zeljko Ivanek. The latest character actor to join Revolution’s plethora of deliciously evil villains, Ivanek plays Patriot scientist Dr. Calvin Horn, a former peer of Rachel’s and Randall’s who’s climbed up the ladder to presidential advisor. Ivanek could play a role like this in his sleep, and every one of his lines bears a creepy coldness that implies a serious disconnect from humanity—especially when he’s talking to or about Rachel, oddly fixated on if she remembers him, coming off as the kid who grew up an outcast and let that sense of rejection warp the adult they grew into.
Creepy or not, his interest in the resurrected Aaron sparks the team into action, coming so soon off another resurrection. The opening scenes reveal Rachel took a page from Simon Tam’s playbook and gave Monroe enough drugs to simulate temporary death, stashing the latter in a farmhouse. (Here’s another instance of the show coming across as too passive, as none of the characters who seemed genuinely moved by his apparent death last week show a bit of surprise, Revolution opting to skip over any reveals or explanation of who knows what.) Aaron, so eager to take off a couple episodes ago, now can’t stand the idea of leaving, and only agrees to get out if Cynthia’s brought with him—his concern over her well-being trumping hers, particularly after a building is blown up in an implied Patriot misdirect to keep the town locked down.
The walls have ears though, or at least ventilation ducts, and Rachel’s father winds up hearing this scheme—bad news for all involved. Last week revealed that Gene’s been one of the Patriot plants in Willoughby, and this week a series of flashbacks show the seeds of that alliance. An agent offered a supply line of vaccines in the wake of his wife’s death in a cholera outbreak, and proceeded to make him complicit in a series of interrogations. So far this season Stephen Collins has been asked to play Gene Porter with a lot of stock parental disapproval, which he’s done to the best of his considerable ability, and the reveal that he’s been enlisted by the Patriots has given him more interesting material to play. There’s genuine emotion on his face in both the flashbacks and the present-day as he evaluates the devil’s bargain he’s made, even managing to overcome some heavy-handedness in expressing it. (Seriously, waterboarding in a doll factory full of faceless imagery? We know the Patriots are the bad guys, Revolution, you can be more subtle about it.)
Gene’s efforts to break free of the Patriot hold over him aren’t successful for long—Horn being a repository of threats, promising to execute everyone in town and end with Charlie—and the escape attempt winds up co-opted. Thankfully, Miles is back on the ball after a couple rocky weeks, and his own guilty conscience lets him spot the half-truths in the older man’s eyes. He sends Aaron and Cynthia through the sewers, only to be cut off at the rendezvous point by Patriot gunmen. Surprisingly, give Cynthia’s earlier statement about how home is wherever she and Aaron are, she does not fall victim to the narrative target that’s now on her back and is saved by Aaron once again setting two Patriots on fire with the power of his mind (never not fun to say) and Monroe slicing his way through four more. It leaves everyone safe for the moment; or at least as safe as they can be given Horn’s obvious obsession with nanotech and Rachel in equal measure.
The status quo is left largely unshaken at the end of the episode, as once again the developments made opt for character repercussions. Monroe’s quietly impressed by Aaron’s power while Cynthia’s overcome with fear—she called Aaron’s resurrection a miracle some time ago, but she’s almost certainly wondering if that power comes from an opposite source. And while Rachel puts on a stoic face over her father’s betrayal that doesn’t last long as she has the most convincing emotional breakdown she’s had in the entire series, even coaxing the first steps of reconciliation from Charlie. (Hopefully she cries it out and moves to cold efficiency soon, as Rachel being numb with guilt wore out its welcome some time ago.)
Tellingly, the most active character in the cast is Neville, and he’s a good thousand-plus miles away from the rest of the action. With Jason still fighting off whatever effects the black ops conditioning had over him and Allenford insisting that the conditioning cannot be broken, Neville’s escorting an uneasy trio through the Georgia wilds, and one he can’t hold together for long in the face of more Patriot gunmen. Jason offers surrender and quietly moves into the room where they are, only to call his father over a minute later and show him two corpses he made while his hands were bound. The soulless look in JD Pardo’s eyes is worlds more interesting than whatever moony-eyed attraction or sullen teenage rebellion he’s sported in the past—becoming a hardened killer worked wonders for Tracy Spiridakos, so it’s nice to see the writers repeating the process on another weak link. (And it’s hard not to imagine a flicker of pride in Neville’s eyes to see his blood-splattered son wield a knife the way he wielded a blade in another life.)
It’s a development that also awakens hope in Allenford, who thinks her own son may not be past salvation and makes grand plans to reunite with him—at least until she passes out from a swig of Neville’s drugged flask. (Lesson here, kids: you never, ever accept a drink from a Giancarlo Esposito character.) “You were so worried about trusting my son that you should have been worried about trusting me,” Neville sneers, another twist in a relationship been a pleasant surprise of the season and has gone a long way toward keeping me invested in a storyline that’s noticeably disconnected from the rest of the season. And that Neville’s marking her Patriot high command husband as the next step up the ladder to goring the whole enterprise, it’s a relationship that still has a lot to offer this show.
“The Patriot Act” is, on the whole, a satisfactory episode of Revolution, continuing to display the improved quality of the second season and offering a few fun moments of bloodshed and pyrotechnics. However, it’s also an episode that it doesn’t provide enough evidence that the second act of the season is heading for the propulsion it’s promised at the end of various episodes—a propulsion I was hoping would be an acceptable tradeoff for killing off Jim Beaver after only one appearance. It’s still not in danger of falling back into bad habits, but it does prove the show should be careful which definition of its title it adheres to the closest. More overthrow, less going around and around, please.
- Of course Ivanek is convincing as a psychotic physician. Lest we forget, he was a doctor for the mob! (Or part of a mob made up of doctors. Or something. I fell asleep halfway through that pilot.)
- David Lyons a surprising source of comedic relief this week, between his slurred “I love you man” conversation with Miles, his sleepy “I need to sit down” after he cuts two mens’ throats and his admiration for Aaron’s superpowers: “Aaron, you have got to tell me how you do that.”
- I forgot to comment on this a few weeks ago, but thumbs up to Neville’s new shades. His round gold rims from last season gave him a quiet menace, these project more of an air of authority.
- Matheson verbal beatdown this week, as Charlie’s the latest character to tell Rachel that she’s self-centered and delusional. If the show can’t make me like Rachel except for the moments where she’s proactively stabbing men in the chest, I do appreciate it acknowledges regularly that no one else seems to like her much either.
- Horne on Aaron’s resurrection: “So is he Jesus? Let’s assume for arguments’ sake that he’s not Jesus.”
- Thanks to Phil for so ably filling in for me last week while I was otherwise occupied. Great to have another set of eyes breaking down the show for a change.