One step forward, one step back. That’s about the best way I can find to describe the action of tonight’s Revolution, an installment that despite being penned by new executive producers Rockne O’Bannon and Ben Edlund felt at times like an exercise of some of the show’s worst instincts. On the positive side of things, there was a lot of movement in new and interesting directions for the show: a typhus plague forcing an uneasy truce between our group and the Patriots, Aaron’s reunion with not only Grace but his lost wife as well, a hitch in the Nevilles’ careful scheming. On the other hand, there’s also a lot of the same stuff that drove me crazy in the first season: bad decisions made for family members, characters behaving in illogical ways because that’s what keeps the plot moving forward, and a nearly endless string of rescue missions.
It’s the latter fact that’s been the most annoying. Last week, I expressed my appreciation for how the show’s constant motion keeps it in a state of reinvention, but the other side of that coin is the fact that Revolution living up to its name means that it tends to cover a lot of the same territory. Out of curiosity I went back over my past reviews and discovered that of the 30 episodes that have aired so far, at least 18 of them—60 percent of the show—have involved some variation of a plot where someone was captured and a rescue attempt needed to be mounted. Yes, those stories are an old reliable of the adventure serials that are woven into Revolution’s creative DNA, but there’s a very fine line between tradition and “seen it all before” territory, and that line’s starting to show serious wear and tear.
“Mi Dos Padres” centers on one of those rescue missions, as Connor’s taking his long-lost father to see his cartel boss Mr. Nuñez in his lavish hacienda. It’s an estate that brings up more than a few parallels to Atlanta in “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia,” proving that in this post-apocalyptic world the more wealth you have the closer you can get to the way it was before. (“It’s like Donald Trump threw up on Scarface,” Monroe muses to the blank stare of Connor, who’s clearly never heard of either.) Nuñez sees Monroe as an opportunity, both to make money from the highest bidder and to secure the loyalty of his surrogate son; while Monroe points out to Connor he’s seen men like Nunez a hundred times and knows that their affections are mercurial at best.
Now, Revolution’s focus/obsession on family ties is nothing new—from the very beginning it’s been grounded on the idea that you have to do whatever you can for family. Unfortunately, that historically means you wind up doing things that make you look dumb as a character, as happens yet again here. Miles sneaks into the estate to cut Monroe loose, Monroe won’t go because he knows Connor will have to ride the rap for him, and he winds up letting Connor look like a hero for stopping the escape. And the move earns Miles a beating and a new position as Monroe’s cellmate, a move that leaves him with only one thing to say: “You’re a dick.” Yes, Monroe’s right that he doesn’t have much else to offer in his life, but that doesn’t make another version of this decision any less infuriating, especially given that it earns him thirty lashes in front of the party guests.
In a pleasant turn of events it’s Rachel who winds up being the savior, using her feminine charms (for the second week in a row) to secure an invite to Nuñez’s party and then buying the right distractions to get into the house. Connor thinks he sees an easy way out by allowing Rachel to take the blame for the escape, but Nuñez sees through that deceit easily and opts to have them all executed—except that it turns out Connor inherited his father’s skill with a blade and breaks loose. The sword fights were absent last week, but they make a triumphant return as Miles and Monroe hack their way through a dozen cartel thugs, Rachel helping to thin the herd by way of a mixing bowl and a well-placed kick. They escape Mexico with Connor in tow, held along by the promise of reuniting the Monroe Republic—a promise that looks like it may not be the empty one it seemed at first.
Another rescue mission’s taking place back in Texas, as Gene’s spied the Patriots erecting a new camp outside Willoughby in a hell of a hurry, a camp where an old friend of his is evidently being held hostage. He opts to break him out, while Charlie urges them to wait for Miles, a solution he clearly doesn’t prefer. Gene and Charlie make an interesting pairing, as the older man’s reactions to Charlie help illustrate how far the character’s come, her emotionless killer vibe stunning both to him and to viewers who remember just how badly that character started out. (Gene even threatens the return of the Matheson beatdown: “I’m not too old to smack a little respect into you.”) And the clear stubbornness that he passed down to Rachel and by extension to Charlie lets the latter work our some of her frustrations with her mother, yet directed at a target with far less history.
Given what we know about the characters, what happens next is fairly predictable: Gene ignores her warnings and sneaks into the camp to find his friend dead, Charlie knows he’s going to ignore her warning and sneak attacks his captor dead, and they both wind up taken captive by the Patriots. Where things get interesting is when Truman shows up, not to kill them but show them the real reason for the camp: a typhus outbreak that’s spreading through Willoughby they need help with. It adds an additional level of mystery to the proceedings: is this really a typhus outbreak they can’t deal with, an unexpected side effect of the oranges they were dosing, or a long con to get the good doctor back on their side? Either way, the fact that Truman’s making this offer to a man he held at gunpoint indicates the Patriots may not have everything as tightly under control as they like to project.
Over in Washington, the Patriots remain more firmly in control to the frustration of the Nevilles, whose alliance is starting to show more and more cracks. What seemed at first like a carefully considered coup is turning ugly, as Neville thinks Julia’s hedging her bets between two husbands and Julia thinks he’s pushing too hard too fast. It gets even worse once the intel gets out that her new husband Doyle is responsible for expanding the Patriot brainwashing camps, the results of which Neville’s had to fight off and isn’t keen to see more of. Caution’s advised, but the look behind each of their eyes suggests less of a partnership and more a pair of caged animals wondering if they should bolt for the exit.
Ultimately, as has happened many times over on this show, the children wind up screwing things up for their parents: Jason’s got more outraged feelings than Machiavellian ones and is willing to raid Doyle’s files where they’re not, getting himself taken into Patriot custody for his efforts. (Probably also risking his mother’s cover, given how many people keep seeing Neville and Julia together when they shouldn’t be.) Jason has yet to become an active part of his family conspiracy, and too often seems to be either a pawn or an objective for his father, so it’s a positive step to see him try to accelerate his parents’ timetable. Hopefully whatever plan they strike up, it’ll be more inventive than yet another jailbreak.
The most original action of the episode takes place back in Spring City, where we last left Aaron at the barrel of Grace’s shotgun, both equally stunned to see the other. Though not more stunned than Aaron is once Grace reveals she has a second houseguest, this one passed out from dehydration—and who happens to be none other than Aaron’s long-lost wife Priscilla. Along with Connor, Priscilla was another holdout from the dismal “Home” last season that I wished the show simply forgot about, and have reemerged as key plot points. Connor had the advantage of being a total unknown, but we’ve seen Priscilla a couple of times now, and the writers do serious retcon work on the character. Now she’s not just Aaron’s ex-wife, she’s also someone who helped him develop the code used on the nanite brains, and someone who’s experiencing nanite visions of her own that alienated her husband and children all the way off to Mandyville.
Turns out that Grace is far less surprised at their talk of visions than you’d expect: the idea the nanites would become sentient and form a “nanobrain” is a theory they always worried might happen. It’s fitting that O’Bannon and his Farscape-honed sense of grandeur and weirdness is the one approaching the question, because the show is essentially moving toward fulfillment of Voltaire’s prophecy: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” There’s not only a sense of weight to their conversations, there’s the gradually creeping in understanding that the old rules of the world may no longer apply. Asking more questions and exploring what this means for the world of Revolution is the question that I’d like to see the show address in full, rather than continuing to run on the rails it’s crashed on so many times before.
- Diverse batch of songs appropriated by the house band at Nuñez’s estate: “Born To Be Wild,” “Black Betty” and “Living After Midnight.” The rock music as folk ballad trait of Revolution has been absent for the last few weeks, so it’s nice to see it make a comeback. (And given one possible origin of “Black Betty,” an amusing foreshadowing of Monroe’s looming torture.)
- This week in It’s That Guy Theater: Nuñez is played by Portuguese-American actor Joaquim de Alameda, who you may recognize as the antagonist from such films as Clear And Present Danger, Desperado and Fast Five. And given he’s still alive at the end of the episode and has certain attitudes about power, odds are good he’ll be cycled into a recurring villain role.
- Speaking of Jason and the reeducation program, it’s been three weeks since he shown any signs of potentially psychotic behavior. Looks like the drugs have washed out of his system and that potentially interesting bit of unpredictability is swept under the rug.
- Terrific comedic moments from Billy Burke this week as Miles gets to be incredibly frustrated yet again: “I can’t believe the first selfless act of your entire life is the one that screws me.” And Monroe’s response that he’d do the same for Charlie is just more fuel for my theory that we’ll find out he’s her real father by the end of the season.
- Julia says she doesn’t think she can protect Neville if he tries robbing Doyle. Neville: “Can’t, or won’t?” Shades of Archer, I desperately wanted her to say “...Either?”
- “This poker face is my face.”