It’s a safe bet that over the last few weeks, NBC has been sacrificing all manner of goats in the hope that Revolution would return as strong as it was when it premièred. This has been, by any definition of the word, a disastrous last few months for the network, as it went from coming out in quasi-triumph at the Television Critics Association winter press tour to an embarrassing series of failures. Deception and 1600 Penn were largely ignored, Do No Harm cratered out of the gate and was swiftly euthanized, and Smash was exiled to the Saturday gulag after failing to even retain its hate-watchers. At the time I questioned NBC’s decision to hold back its first legitimate hit in years, but in hindsight it now looks like a smart move to bench Revolution until it could return with The Voice lead-in, given that Go On and The New Normal have diminished without its security blanket.
We won’t know until tomorrow whether that decision worked out for the beleaguered network, so let’s talk about Revolution from a qualitative standpoint. In the first half of the season, Revolution was a woefully inconsistent show, with an interesting concept and strong actors in Billy Burke and Giancarlo Esposito offset by irritating plotting and some truly awful teenage characters. In the four months since the show was last on the air, showrunners Eric Kripke and J.J. Abrams have been doing the standard song and dance about the first season’s growing pains at TCA press tour and Paleyfest, talking about how the hiatus gave them time to weigh what was and wasn’t working and make the necessary adjustments. Kripke even went farther than that in an interview with TV Guide, stating that the events of the midseason finale led to “a seismic shift for our show,” and the return episode was “almost like we’ve shot a new pilot.”
So in that context, is “The Stand” Revolution 2.0? Well, at this point I’m only going willing to call it Revolution 1.5. It’s not a dramatic reinvention of the show’s core mechanics, and anyone who found problems with the first half of the season will find plenty of those problems still there. At the same time, there is certainly a sense of a show that’s figured out what its strengths are and devotes more time to them, clunky plotting mostly pushed aside in favor of kinetic action and life-or-death stakes. And to those who complained the show was wasting its more talented cast members in favor of teenage angst, the ratio’s still not where it needs to be, but there’s some incredibly satisfying and irrevocable moves made that speak well of things to come.
From the beginning there’s a clear effort to keep the momentum of the last few episodes going, as “The Stand” picks up immediately after the events of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” Our ragtag group of heroes rescued Danny and (unexpectedly) Rachel from Monroe’s fortress, only for the victory to be rendered hollow by Rachel’s amplifier successfully restoring Monroe’s arsenal to fighting condition. The helicopter fails to pick them off—though it does take out a restaurant in a fairly impressive explosion—but Monroe apparently decides that with his power restored, the group’s existence is irrelevant, and he dispatches his fleet to start eradicating known resistance camps with extreme prejudice.
This decision leads to plenty of well-rendered scenes—the show’s status as NBC’s only legitimate hit definitely qualifies it for a bigger budget, and the helicopter scenes have enough punch and explosions that they’re only asking for “Ride Of The Valkyries” or the Airwolf theme to add an extra layer. The problem though is that the excitement remains a surface engagement only, showing us the results of the returned power without any expansion on how anyone feels about it. This is a world where the power has been inexplicably unplugged for 15 years, and now that it’s returned there’s not a single scene of anyone, either on the militia side or the resistance side, freaking out about it. Granted, the immediate threat of the helicopters takes precedence over the big picture, but at least one person asking questions about this would have made the whole scenario more human.
It’s only a surface take on the material, but Revolution does at least have the decency to provide a flashy surface. With Monroe’s choppers sweeping across the landscape, the party goes searching for new allies, as Charlie takes the group to meet up with resistance HQ and Miles and Rachel go to meet up with yet another of Rachel’s scientist friends, this one a tinkerer who’s gathered everything from rocket launchers to homemade sonic cannons. There’s a sense of energy to the conflict that was missing in previous episodes, more of a sense that the action is part of something larger rather than just killing time between the next step to recovering Danny.
And speaking of the show’s most maligned character, this is the first episode featuring Danny where he’s not either imprisoned or beaten to a pulp. He stands up to Charlie when she tries to keep him out of harm’s way, is on the front lines of the battle when the helicopters come, and when Miles is taken out of commission, he takes up the RPG and blows the helicopter containing the amplifier out of the sky. Could this be the grand realignment the show promised, and Danny’s about to make the transition from mopey teenager to dynamic hero?
Turns out, no it isn’t: The second helicopter gets one burst off before crashing, pouring multiple bullets into Danny and killing him instantly. As someone who spent the season to date eagerly annotating each of the moments where someone beat up Danny, this is a moment that’s wholly satisfying from both a perspective of character and storytelling. This removes the weakest link in the cast— Graham Rogers was irritating and whiny from day one and didn’t show any signs of improvement—and adds a shell-shocked dimension to the survivors that soon turns into a desire for revenge. (Sorry… for REVENGE.) Charlie and Miles pursuing a relative across the country lacked for commitment—but Charlie and Miles hardened by the loss of yet another relative, with the the single goal of bringing down Monroe? That’s a narrative I can get behind.
And with Danny gone, it opens up the room for better supporting characters to move into first position. Monroe’s plans for world domination are apparently shut down by the destruction of the amplifier, but new life is breathed into them as the mysterious Randall Flynn makes a grand entrance to Philadelphia, pulling up in a Cutlass Ciera and smoothly asking what he can do for the general. Up until this point Randall’s been solely a shadowy figure, offering hints of a pre-blackout conspiracy that had little or nothing to do with the central action, so aligning him with Monroe is entirely the right move for the character. (It also promises another interesting complication in the Monroe/Neville power dynamic, already on shaky ground given that Neville’s lying about Jason’s survival.) Plus, as his arc on season two of The Borgias proved, any time you give Colm Feore a more prominent role as a show’s antagonist, it’s to that show’s benefit.
On the other side of the fence, Rachel taking the place of Danny as the second Matheson on our team is an entirely welcome change. I haven’t been enamored of Elizabeth Mitchell’s work to date on the series, as she’s largely been rendered to flailing impotently against Monroe’s advances or displaying where Charlie got her tendency to whine. She’s still not getting the best material as she spends most of the episode promising an explanation and not delivering, and her refusal to identify Randall to anyone in the group makes yet another annoying circumstance where a character stupidly withholds information for the sake of dragging out the story. That said, Mitchell has a promising chemistry with Billy Burke, and their scenes speak to an ugly history between the two that pays dividends even in the early going.
And while it’s almost impossible to share in her mourning for Danny, it does produce the episode’s most unexpected moments. Danny, whose sole purpose in life was to be a plot device, apparently has one final McGuffin to deliver from beyond the grave, as Rachel cuts into a scar left over from a childhood operation, and removes from her own son a blinking device of unknown origin. This scene is so unexpected and so graphic that I had to laugh at the show’s audacity, and it makes me hope it pushes to include additional loopier scenes like this.
Again, it remains to be seen whether or not Revolution will provide NBC with a desperately needed lifeline, but qualitatively it does seem to have a sense of where it’s going. Revolution doesn’t want to be deep, but it needs to be entertaining, and “The Stand” has enough excitement and moving pieces that I can entirely believe the second half of the season will be a marked improvement over the first.
- Great to be back discussing this show with you all after a four-month break. I’ll be curious to see if the hate-watchers have moved on after four months, if the desire to mock Tracy Spiridakos’ performance is strong enough to keep them on, or if there’s still a subset of people who think the show’s getting better.
- The intro about how “we’re hoping someone will come along and light the way” was absent on my screener. I’m praying this means the creative team has finally realized it’s annoying and unnecessary.
- In the four months between episodes, NBC released a five-part miniseries called Enemies Of The State, depicting the fallout of Miles’ first attempt to kill Monroe. Mostly it’s an excuse to let Lyons and Esposito be menacing for a few minutes at a time, but it does allude to a even greater store of weapons Monroe’s been hoarding that Randall could make good use of.
- The title of the episode is an obvious reference to the Stephen King book of the same name, which the show has referenced a few times already—Randall is named after the book’s villain, while Miles and Charlie borrowed the protagonists’ names as an alias early in the show’s run. Sadly, I haven’t read The Stand myself, so I’ll leave it to the commenters to point out any other tie-ins I miss. (Though John’s mention of “the Tower” as something Randall’s gained access to is a glaringly obvious reference to another King work.)
- A less promising plot development is the fact that Jason, disgusted by the butchery, refuses to play along and is kicked out of the militia by his father. This means he’s now likely to spend more time in proximity with Spiridakos than Giancarlo Esposito, and I can’t see that further endearing his character to me in the short term.
- Charlie’s militia brand from “The Children’s Crusade” comes in handy, providing a +5 bonus to her Bluff check that lets the group escape Philadelphia.
- “It’ll be the Monroe Republic, from sea to shining sea.” I appreciate the irony of Monroe quoting “America The Beautiful” and then sending his forces to massacre the rebels fighting under the American flag.
- The use of the helicopters here makes me wonder how, with its storied history of terrible remakes, NBC never tried pursuing a remake of Airwolf. With the way things are going for the network, maybe that’s not far off.