Revolution just finished its freshman season, and I think it’s fair to say it was a bit of a mess, but a mess with potential. Created by Eric Kripke (Supernatural), Revolution tells the story of what would happen to the world if all electrical devices stopped working. The series takes place 15 years after the blackout, and gives us a somewhat different take on the standard post-apocalyptic world. The first season followed the adventures of the Matheson family, first in their quest to rescue one of their members, and then in a quest to restore the power. Season 1 almost felt like two, shorter seasons, due to an unusually long break between the fall and the spring episodes, and this aspect both helped and hurt the show.
Revolution gave us a world without power, but more specifically gave us a world far removed from power. True, we got flashbacks to the first fateful days after the blackout, but the primary action of the show takes place 15 years later. This allowed Revolution to skip the apocalypse and go straight to the post-apocalypse. It’s a similar strategy that Falling Skies has used, opting not to show the alien invasion but instead to pick up the action a while later. It’s also interesting that the “apocalypse” of this world wasn’t particularly destructive. Sure, airplanes fell from the sky, and utilities stopped working, but buildings are still standing.
So we meet part of the Matheson family living in a community amongst the suburbs, when out of nowhere a group of militia soldiers from the Monroe Republic appears to capture Ben Matheson. In the confusion, Ben is killed and his son, Danny, is captured, and as Ben dies, he tells his daughter Charlie to go look for her uncle, Miles, in Chicago. She sets off, hoping to find Miles and rescue Danny, and is accompanied by Aaron, a portly geek. But Aaron has a secret: before Ben died he entrusted Aaron with a mysterious pendant for safekeeping. They meet up with Miles, who happens to be a former soldier from the Monroe Militia, and set off to find Danny together.
The quest to rescue Danny made up the first half of the season, and along the way we were introduced to General Monroe and one of his officers, Neville. The first half of the season had its fair share of mysteries, as Aaron discovered that the pendant could briefly restore electricity to the surrounding area. We learned of Miles’ violent history as Monroe’s right hand man, before he sickened of what he was doing. We got good character development, particularly the relationship between Miles and Charlie, who never knew each other. The characters also showed a unique dynamic that was one of Revolution’s strengths, the generation gap meant that some of the group were old enough to remember electricity, and some weren’t, which provided much of the show’s humor.
The world grew more interesting and complex, as we saw how people had adapted to life without power. Guns became less useful as ammunition became rarer, so bows and swords took their place. Unfortunately this idea was pretty much abandoned in the 2nd half of the season, as the show turned into gunfight-o-rama. Revolution also seemed to borrow a lot, in terms of both style and substance, from The Postman, especially it’s revolutionary freedom fighters use of the American flag. The quest to free Danny gave the characters a mission and gave the story a sense of drive, but often the first felt like they were spinning their wheels. Danny wasn’t an interesting enough character for the show to be spending so much time on.
The cast impressed me, however. Billy Burke as Miles is both charming and dangerous, and he does a great job of showing his conflict without hitting the audience over the head with it. He also has a great delivery for Miles’ witty remarks. Tracy Spiridakos got a lot of criticism for her performance as Charlie, but I thought she did a solid job considering how inconsistently her part was written. The supporting heroes, Zak Orth as Aaron and Daniella Alonso as Nora the rebel, did a good job with their moments, particularly Orth with the way he played Aaron’s skepticism and conscience.
The villains were a bit more problematic. Giancarlo Esposito is a fantastic actor, but as Neville he wasn’t given enough to do other than throw insults and fight with his son. David Lyons’ Monroe was at times genuinely disturbing, giving glimpses of the paranoia that all dictators must feel, but his character got a bit tired after hitting the same notes again and again. It’s one thing to see him brutally murder someone, it’s another to see it again and again. Monroe looks to have some interesting choices ahead of him in season 2, so I’m hopeful for the development of the character.
Perhaps the most interesting character was Rachel Matheson (Elizabeth Mitchell), Charlie’s mother, who abandoned the family for mysterious reasons and was assumed dead. Her character came into prominence in the second half of the season, after she was discovered to be a prisoner of Monroe. It turned out that she and her husband had been scientists working for the government and were responsible on some level for the power outage. She also knew how to turn the power back on. The second half of the season started with Danny killed (after just having been rescued) and the Monroe Republic with a limited amount of power, allowing them to use the machines of war that had been sitting idly for years.
The idea of a war between one group with vastly superior technology and another without it could have been very interesting (just look at Falling Skies), but Revolution squandered it. Miles and the crew joined up with the Georgia Federation, fighting a seemingly endless amount of battles against Monroe’s new weapon of the week. Charlie was basically shoved aside for tedious gunfights, while Neville switched sides and teamed up with Miles.
The interesting part of the second half of the season involved Rachel and Aaron setting off to Colorado to a mysterious government installation known as “The Tower” in order to turn the power back on for everyone. It was the only way to level the playing field against Monroe, who gained a mysterious ally who happened to be Rachel’s former boss. I’ll give Revolution credit; they answered a lot of questions very quickly. We discovered that the blackout was caused by nanites, designed by scientists for positive purposes and corrupted by the government into a weapon. The nanites malfunctioned when activated, causing the blackout. Their original purpose is revealed when Rachel breaks her leg and Aaron is able to reprogram the nanites in her body to repair it for her. It was a genuinely cool (if gross) scene, and it’s a shame that so much of the last 10 episodes were spent on pointless battles.
Both sides of the war ended up at The Tower, where they found a group of scientists protecting it, refusing to allow anyone to switch the power back on for fear that the nanites might destroy the planet. This could have provided an interesting dynamic for season 2, but unfortunately most of them were killed in the final episode and Rachel turned the power back on. In a twist ending in the final scene, her former boss reveals that he wanted her to do that in order to nuke the Monroe Republic and the Georgia Federation so that the exiled US government could return, which he proceeds to do before killing himself.
So we’re left with an interesting prospect for season 2. We still have an interesting group of characters, with some fine actors behind them. We still have a fascinating set up, where the world went for 15 years without power only for it to suddenly reappear. The nukes (assuming they were successfully launched) have basically wiped the slate clean, opening up the US for the taking. And there are still the nanites, which have much potential for both positive and harmful purposes.
However, I’m afraid that we’ll get more of the same, with endless shootouts between Miles and whoever he happens to be fighting this week. Even the action in the first half of the season was better, with exciting swordfights in place of mindless gun violence. I hope Revolution can find some new and interesting things to do with itself, and allow the characters the chance to breathe and grow. (And I’m cautiously optimistic considering the rumor that Ben Edlund from Supernatural has joined the writing staff). Revolution has such good building blocks and it would be a shame to see them go to waste.
What do you think? Did you enjoy the first season of Revolution? What would you like to see in season 2? Let me know in the comments!