It’s hard to tell what view of humanity Revolution has, if it even has one at all. It’s not as pessimistic a show about humanity’s ability to survive a disaster as The Walking Dead, which seems to take a perverse pleasure in building up its cast only to knock them down with a random herd of walkers. The show seems to have a genuine interest in the way that the world has developed and expanded over the last two decades without power, and in seeing how the ruins of the old can be converted to serve the new. I wouldn’t call it optimism exactly, more a sense of general pragmatism in how people as a whole are too stubborn to give up even when the odds are against them.
And yet, it’s not even close to being an optimistic show either, as there’s an undercurrent of hopelessness running through much of the story—which, if we’re being honest, has grown increasingly wearing as time’s gone on. I mentioned last week that I reread my past reviews to get a count of the endless hostage situations characters need to get out of, and another discovery I made is that I can’t remember the last time anything good happened to any of these people. Revolution doesn’t create conflict for the sake of conflict, but it hasn’t given anyone a reason to celebrate or even a pause for breath in a good long while. There’s always something new: allies betray you on a regular basis, old threats are beaten only to be replaced with new ones, and every problem sees you woefully outgunned and forced to improvise. And “Captain Trips” is a prime exhibit of that trend, all four branches of the story facing impossible situations and a total absence of easy answers that will get them out of this latest mess.
In all fairness, no one was expecting an episode named after the plague that eradicated 99.4 percent of all humanity in The Stand to be sunshine and rainbows, especially given the way things left off last week. The typhus outbreak seen at the end of last week has forced an uneasy truce between the Patriots and the Mathesons, as both groups have a vested interest in Willoughby’s survival. The mood of the plague tent is set immediately as Gene’s sent racing to a sickbed, desperately trying to force air into a patient’s lungs, only for the coughs to turn into a death rattle and the patient to turn into a corpse. And throughout it all the off-camera coughs never come to a stop, an ugly reminder that one person may die but there’s plenty more who are ready to die next.
This is the world that Rachel returns to—once again unable to abandon her family, leaving Miles, Monroe and Connor outside of town. Rachel’s been on something of an upswing these last few episodes as she’s had to be resourceful in the field, and now that she’s back in an scientific field t’s making her seem much more competent than before. She quickly deduces that the typhus strain isn’t obeying the normal rules of typhus, and more disturbingly it seems to be selective in who it’s affecting: the bipolar, the epileptic and the alcoholics. Last week, Jason hinted at how the Patriots had diabolical plans for the rest of the country, and if conspiring with war clans and brainwashing troops wasn’t enough the reveal that they’re practicing eugenics is about as horrifying as you can get. Revolution’s world has a lot of moral ambiguity to it—half the main cast can take blame for committing genocide after all—but this unquestionably draws a line for the show. Even Monroe planning to resurrect his dictatorship seems quaint next to this.
The evil cunning of the Patriots is also becoming more apparent to the Nevilles, who have been forced to shelve their plans for political domination with the imprisonment of Jason. Meeting secretly on the overgrown wreck of the National Mall—shots nicely evoking various present-day political thrillers set in Washington—the two try to pin down where their son might be located and how they can break him out. After a couple weeks where the two seemed to be as much at war with each other as they did with the hierarchy, tensions are thrown out the window by their clear distress at losing their closest connection. It’s particularly striking to see the raw pain on Julia’s face after two weeks of anger and placid calm being the only emotions, and how she’s the first one to suggest that she’d throw the whole enterprise on the fire if it would keep her son alive.
Such loyalty is apparently not a new thing to the Nevilles, as the flashback sequences return to show how they coped two years after the blackout. After Tom proves himself not tough enough to get supplies from another camp—taking an ugly beating in the process—Julia gets inside his head to point out that they’re going about all this the wrong way, and that it might be better to try a two-pronged attack. In this case, Julia tries a honeypot tactic to lure one man into the tent so Tom can open the other one’s throat, get his hands on a shotgun and splatter his blood all over the tent and his wife. Of all the characters the Nevilles remain the ones we know the least about—last seen in flashbacks all the way back in “Soul Train”—and this is the way the flashbacks should be used, telling us more about what made these people into who they are now.
And yet, that focus on how the Nevilles learned to outsmart their enemies is all rendered moot. Why? Because it turns out they’re not nearly as clever as they think. Tom sneaks up to a house to take Doyle prisoner, and it turns out he’s the one who winds up at gunpoint. (One of the best-looking scenes in the episode, with smooth diegetic music from the phonograph and a dozen men pointing guns at Neville amidst an upscale dining room.) Both Nevilles did a fairly poor job of hiding their attraction to each other, and it’s rewarding from a narrative standpoint to see that the political organization that spent years plotting their return to power pays enough attention to its newest members to notice that they may in fact be treasonous. As unenthusiastic as I am to see the show’s umpteenth prison scene, it was nice to see Christopher Cousins show off some righteous fury as opposed to being another bureaucrat, and for an external threat to force the Nevilles into more open warfare.
As for Aaron, he’s off on another MacGuffin hunt as the nanites have told him to go to Lubbock, Texas, “home of the world’s largest concrete cowboy.” (Either the nanites have a twisted sense of humor or they’re trying to get him to assemble a great collection of bumper stickers from tourist locations.) With Aaron’s second journey kicking off only two episodes after the first one started, it’s getting hard not to suspect that the meaning of the nanites hasn’t been hashed out yet in the writers’ room, and they’re just keeping things elongated until they figure out where to go next. The intentions of the nanotech remain the biggest mystery of the season, but whatever they want they’ve clearly decided to stop playing nice about it. First they adopt a new persona—appearing to Aaron in the guise of Cynthia—and when Priscilla says she won’t have any part of this they knock down a tree in front of her path. This isn’t a quest for either of them anymore, it’s an obligation.
It’s that feeling of hopelessness of “Captain Trips” that keeps the action from feeling as engaging as it’s managed to be in the past few weeks. Not a single person here seems to be even close to an advantage: Connor gets drafted to try recovering the vaccine and winds up facing off against a firing squad, Tom and Julia are heading off to assuredly horrific Patriot interrogations, Aaron’s being forced by fireflies back to Texas. Small wonder that in this bleakness the most meaningful moment of the entire episode is Gene, struck down by the mysterious typhus and recalling his beloved wife falling to a similar outbreak. Looking at all he’s had to deal with, and all that seems to lie ahead, he makes a sad amount of sense as he speaks to his daughter and granddaughter: “Honestly, a rest doesn’t sound so bad.”
- Also, Grace has disappeared again. Why did they bother bringing her back in the first place?
- I enjoy how Connor’s addition to the main group allows us to show off an outsider’s opinion on this group, which is the fact that their actions regularly make them look like idiots or lunatics. His annoyed stare is an amusing mirror of Miles and Monroe’s, and I wonder how long Monroe’s promises of handing him a republic to rule are going to hold out now that he sees what he’s going to have to deal with.
- How does neither Gene nor Charlie draw a connection between the cartfuls of oranges and the outbreak that started immediately after they arrived? I want to stop thinking these people are idiots, Revolution. Please help me.
- For all the bleakness, one fun moment when Truman tries to interrogate Rachel. “ How about you tell me where Miles is?” “I can do that. He’s right behind you.” WHAM.
- Did anyone catch what Tom said to Julia after killing those two men in the flashback? I rewound it about three times and couldn’t make out any of the words.
- “Let me reiterate, screw both of you. With something pointy.”