A good television show has to be able to surprise you. I’m not talking about being able to startle you with a jump-out scare or leave you taken aback when a character dies out of nowhere; I’m talking about being able to leave you genuinely stunned at the way the storytelling pans out. You legitimately want to say “I did not see that coming,” because it implies that the writers are clever enough to know the show that they’re making, the way that the show is being viewed by audiences, and the way they can subvert those expectations in a positive way.
For the longest time, Revolution didn’t seem like it was ever going to be that kind of show—indeed, the real surprise was why anyone was still watching after the first few episodes. For being a story that promised an epic adventure saga, the narrative wound up being more plodding than exciting, every single character counted on to make bad decisions with surprising regularity. Twists that came in, like the reveal that Monroe had a son or that Neville had defected to Georgia, gave no reason to care and never felt like they had grown organically, thrown in because the writers needed to do something new that week.
I know I’ve flogged the dead horse of the show’s mediocrity too many times, but I bring it up again because this season Revolution did the one thing I didn’t think it could: surprise me. Not only did the show become more watchable, it became more legitimately interesting and exciting, rolling out characters I was invested in and mysteries I wanted to know the answer to. It looked and felt like a real post-apocalyptic powerless world, and a world that was being groomed for something larger in a gradual way—as if someone actually knew what they were doing and wanted to get there later rather than sooner. Believe me, looking back on some of the nasty things I said about the show in season one, no one is more surprised than I am to be granting an episode of Revolution the highest grade I can, or more surprised that the show put in the work to earn an episode like this.
Fittingly, “Everyone Says I Love You” is an episode packed with surprises. They start immediately, as the opening scene appears to be gearing up for another of those sword/gun battles the show’s gotten progressively good at executing. Rachel, Charlie and Miles—the latter’s health growing increasingly worse from his infected hand—prep their weapons for a near-suicide mission on Patriot HQ to rescue Aaron and Gene, only for Miles to pull up in confusion. Turns out there’s no need for violence, as every single Patriot guard, dog, and attendant crow has been knocked unconscious by a mysterious force and they get to just stroll inside. Moving through the eerily quiet building, they see that Aaron has apparently gotten up and walked away through a hidden tunnel, and they follow his tracks outside the walls of Willoughby.
“Eerie” is the right word for it, because while there’s still plenty of recognizable Revolution elements, this episode feels decidedly different from what’s come before. After a season spent building an atmosphere of mystery and adventure, everything is shaded like a horror movie—camera angles and musical cues structured to put a viewer at unease. The entire outskirts of Willoughby are surrounded by a thick mist—Revolution once again borrowing themes from a Stephen King tale—and both heroes and villains are rendered into faint silhouettes half the time. The disorientation and unease generated is in keeping with the confusion of where Aaron’s gone and what he can do, leaving all of our heroes feeling—as Miles so succinctly puts it—“Totally out of my depth here.” On the Patriot side, the disorientation is helped along thanks to Dr. Horn’s instability, as the seriousness of his tumor has broken his Scorpius-level calm and is pushing him to increasingly more desperate lengths.
It’s not all serious horror, though, as Monroe brings his fighting skills back to the group—rejoining them by cutting two guards apart and turning to the trio to proclaim his return: “I’m Batman.” Here’s another big surprise of the season, as David Lyons has gone from being a largely ineffectual antagonist to working incredibly well as an untrustworthy member of our central adventuring party. His sense of self-preservation makes him more unpredictable, while his unlikely partnership with Charlie has similarly made that character more interesting—the silent conversation the two share while dodging Patriot patrols is an episode highlight. Similarly, the relationship with Miles has moved past the “borderline erotic fixation” it suffered from last season, thanks to the tension of Monroe’s missing son and the fact that neither man has an ounce of moral or military superiority left to call on.
Once all parties converge on the abandoned elementary school where Aaron and Cynthia are holed up, the horror and action elements converge perfectly. Moving from North Carolina to Texas has done wonders for the show’s aesthetic in the second season, and kudos to the Austin location scouts for tracking down this abandoned school. It’s possibly the best set piece Revolution’s had a chance to construct, the claustrophobic setting of the hallways allowing for both moments of survival horror and enthusiastic gunplay. Patriot soldiers slink through the hallways, Monroe and Charlie get to dart through the hallways and leap over debris, and Rachel barricades doors and fires under cover. The action of the conflict doesn’t yield, but it doesn’t feel blown out of proportion, either, as it heads to its fiery climax.
I’ll get to the resolution of that conflict in a bit, because that surprise isn’t even the biggest one of the week. The Neville plot continues to chug along, as father and son are bound for Washington D.C., Roger Allenford having taken them into his security detail as payment for keeping his wife’s death a secret. Neville’s goal of gutting the Patriot command is in sight, until he glances out the window to see a vision of the past: his wife Julia, very much alive and on the arm of a Patriot politician. Julia has been thought dead all season—and was pegged for death by me long before that when NCIS: Red was in development—so it’s a return that never seemed to even be possible. (Kudos to the production team for keeping it under wraps, removing Kim Raver from the opening credits I scour closely every week.) And it’s a surprise to a plot that could use it: Not once in his quest this season has Neville shown a sign of flagging or faltering, and the stunned look on his face at glimpsing his beloved wife is all the more jarring in contrast. Similarly, any thoughts that it might be a case of mistaken identity are dismissed when she looks up from her meal to see him walking past, the blood drains from her face, and she quickly excuses herself to enjoy a reunion quickie in the baggage room.
Julia’s reappearance is explained away quickly—turns out she fled from Atlanta before the missiles were fired—and both characters get down to business, Neville uttering a line destined to become a classic: “Who is this ass-clown you’re with?” She reveals she’s married into the Patriots for protection, Neville reveals he’s infiltrated them for revenge, and the two exchange a glance that’s deliciously familiar. One of the promising details of season one that never came to fruition was how much of a power couple the Nevilles were in Philadelphia, and how much Julia drove her husband’s political ambitions. That plot was largely sidelined, but now that Raver’s ability to appear on Revolution isn’t hindered by a possible NCIS spinoff, it’s ready to be nurtured into something special. The Neville family, back together at last, and ready to scale their way into the Oval Office.
Political power may turn out to be meaningless, however, as the true nature of the power Aaron can wield finally comes out. Waking up after his freakout in Horn’s dungeon, he strikes up a conversation with a young boy in the school library, a boy who’s already unsettling in this environment and gets worse once Cynthia says she can’t see him. It turns out that the boy is an image of Aaron’s best friend from childhood, Kevin—a fitting name, because we need to talk about him—and he’s a projection of something larger. Aaron’s actions in activating the Tower commands in the season finale didn’t turn the power back on for good, nor did it set the entire world on fire: They created life. The lightning strikes surrounding the Tower weren’t merely a consequence of power, they were the birth throes of a spontaneous artificial intelligence, the nanomachines uniting into one consciousness.
Now, no one was more critical of the nanomachine explanation in the first season than I was: I considered it a silly answer to a question I never needed an answer to. In this context though, in the universe the show’s created? I’m okay with it. All season Revolution has been building to a sense of something wrong with this world, from resurrection to immolation to regeneration, and intuition seems a reasonable next step. And “Kevin” works well in the horror atmosphere the episode’s generating—creepy cryptic children being one of the genre’s most effective tropes—as it’s nowhere close to HAL superiority, instead talking nonchalantly about killing because Aaron thinks it and referencing Spring City, Oklahoma and the second-largest ball of twine in the world. (True, it’s not the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota, but I’m sure it’s still impressive in its own right.)
“Kevin” even gets one of the prerequisite horror lines with the arrival of the Patriots, offering “They’re here” and sending Aaron and Cynthia running through the halls right into the arms of Dr. Horn. Horn begs Aaron for help, Aaron begs for more time, and in the end it’s Cynthia who pays the price, taking a bullet in the middle of the chest. It’s in the wake of this tragedy “Everyone Says I Love You” proves its maturity: All episode, the emphasis has been on keeping the momentum and the mood together, and suddenly everything just stops. There’s no background music or any other sound save Aaron’s breathing, no camera movement off of Zak Orth’s half-shaded face. There’s nothing for what’s less than a minute, but feels like five times that length, until Aaron looks up and looks certain for the first time all season to issue “Kevin” a direction:
“Burn him. Burn them all.”
And burn them he does, the gunfire replaced with actual fire and stunned stares as Horn and the entire Patriot contingent are reduced to ashen husks. Flames are reflected in Aaron’s glasses, and the eyes behind them don’t even blink once.
After his “Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been...” moment, he looks up and asks “Kevin” to heal Cynthia, only for his pleas to be dismissed. And here the nanomachines reveal their omniscience isn’t even close to that. Yes, they possess powers beyond the ken of humanity, but their understanding of logic and morality is every bit that of the child form they’ve opted to take, and Aaron’s uncertainty and constant shifting leaves them unable to rely on him as a father figure. “Kevin” disappears—most likely heading off to be on a spaceship with George Takei—and Aaron’s left holding a corpse in his lap, alone again and staring into a bleak and uncertain future.
And similarly, Revolution itself faces an uncertain future, as the uptick in quality hasn’t been answered with an uptick in ratings. At the time of the season premiere I discussed how it was inheriting a salted-earth timeslot, and so far the numbers have continued the show’s slide from a bona fide success to a show airing on NBC. As with so many other shows in the network’s recent history, its survival is now dependent on everything else around it failing, and while such a fate seemed deserved at the end of last season, it now seems unkind to the show it has the potential to be. If more episodes of season one had been like “Everyone Says I Love You,” people would see Revolution in a vastly different light.
- I gave credit to the new executive producers last week for the way the show righted itself between seasons, but credit should be shared with the whole writing team. Tonight’s episode was co-written by Trey Callaway and Paul Grellong, the latter of whom wrote or co-wrote three of the season’s episodes (and who also penned season one’s “Soul Train” and “The Stand.”) Props to them and to their peers for being able to course-correct.
- All praise aside, one thing that’s still not working for me is the Miles/Rachel relationship. I keep hoping, but I’ve grown to dislike Rachel so much as a character and agree with every insult heaped her way. (The latest from a dying Miles no less: “Your dad could help. All you can do is act like an idiot.”) Your mileage may vary, but for me, those scenes continue to fall flat.
- On a related note, this week’s flashback confirms bangs-sporting Rachel was cheating on Ben with Miles. I know they’ll try playing it as a surprise reveal down the road, but it’s been discussed for months in the comments and with this timeframe of six years before the blackout we can all agree: Charlie is 100 percent Miles’s daughter.
- Still up in the air: the fates of Ed Truman and Gene Porter, last glimpsed with the former holding a gun to the latter’s head. I’m sure we’ll see both alive in the near future, given how much the show likes to give Rachel conflicted choices.
- Also on that note, RIP to Justine Allenford. I liked the character enough that I hoped last week’s events were a misdirect on Neville’s part, but apparently any affection or mutual respect the two shared was an illusion and she was far more useful to him in a shallow grave. Kudos to Nicole Ari Parker for making her a supporting character who’ll be missed, and regrets we won’t get to see a Neville-Julia-Allenford triangle unless the nanomachines bring her back too.
- Another obvious Stephen King homage as the camera lingers on a poster of him in the library a couple seconds longer than it needs to.
- “That ass-clown” Julia is married to is played by none other than Ted Beneke himself, Christopher Cousins, giving us our second Breaking Bad reunion this season after Jim Beaver stopped by. I heartily endorse this trend in casting and would like to petition they enlist Bryan Cranston as the heretofore unseen Patriot president.
- “I’m Batman.” Repeating this because it made me have to pause the episode I was laughing so hard. And genuine laughter too, not mocking!
- “I was on my way to the White House to kill the President for you.” Aww, true love.
- Once again, thanks to everyone who’s followed Revolution to its new night and followed these reviews along with it. I wasn’t expecting much from the show this round, and have been incredibly pleased to be proven wrong. I’m not sure if we’ll be back regularly next year—readership having declined alongside ratings—but I’ll definitely check in at least a few times.