How times have changed. Early in Revolution’s first season we (by that I mean me and a few other critics) were all asking questions as to why the show was a success and what made it better than other network sci-fi shows that flamed out in the last few years. Cut to a few months later, and the show’s no longer a success by any standards other than NBC’s, being shuffled off to early Wednesday evenings to try to eke out a living as a “family show.” What was once my optimistic position on its quality has turned into a feeling of boredom mixed with disdain, as promising plot points were left starving by the wayside as the show decided to get drunk on its Tower mythos.
And if I had to point to one reason why the show has gone off the rails for me along with the many, many other ones I’ve speculated on in recent weeks, it would be the focus on what’s going on with the Tower. After removing the quest to rescue Danny from the plot—and more promisingly removing Danny from the show entirely—the show turned into another destination-centric quest, with the question of the war between the Monroe Republic and the rebels gradually supplanted by the implications of turning the power back on. The promo department for NBC certainly didn’t help, by asking “What’s in the Tower?” about as frequently as they asked “What is the Event?” and only calling into focus the fact that there wasn’t a clear idea on anyone’s part what either one was.
“Children Of Men” finally puts our central cast within the mysterious Tower, as Rachel proves to be the world’s worst assassin by not killing anyone with her grenade. Instead she gets captured by Monroe, who uses her handprint to get himself, Randall, and his bodyguards in. Randall reveals that with the power of “the crown jewel of the U.S. military” he can provide the full surveillance and destructive capability of the government’s network, once they can reach the mysterious Level 12. Right behind them though are Miles, Charlie, and company—newly reunited with Aaron—who use Dr. Warren’s notes to override the security console and follow them, ducking an intense firefight that cuts the Nevilles off from the rest of the party.
The firefight turns out to be a positive sign for where the rest of the episode goes. To the show’s credit, “Children Of Men” is certainly the most entertained by an episode I’ve been in recent weeks, as it makes the wise choice to emphasize the action scenes that, unlike the plotting and dialogue, I’ve had few complaints about. Monroe’s expedition into the Tower is derailed by a series of grenade launches that tear his troops to shreds, and when Miles and company descend they’re quickly forced to run for cover from the mysterious people firing the grenades and attempt to obtain a weapon. The interior of the Tower is shot in a dark and claustrophobic manner, filled with tense leaps for cover, moving through ventilation ducts and taking to the rafters. It’s a welcome change to see them act as opposed to making excuses, especially once Miles gets up close with one of the guards. (That being said, once Aaron revealed that the weapons were in fact electromagnetic grenade launchers I let out a heavy sigh, once again remembering the early days of the show where the fact that characters fought with swords and crossbows was what made it special.)
The conversations on the show aren’t even all that bad this week as we get some interesting movement on the show’s “revolution” front, as Neville and Jason fail to make it inside the Tower and are taken captive by the militia’s soldiers. Here, Neville gets to use those persuasion skills that allowed him to worm his way into the highest echelons of Georgia government, pointing out that Monroe’s been cutting a swath through his officers and that their newly promoted replacements are in no position to help. Here is the use of Giancarlo Esposito I’ve been hoping to see, as he’s in his best mode trying to convince and threaten his way out of situations rather than play nice. The introduction of him into the main party always felt shoehorned in, and placing him—and Jason by extension—back in the militia as potential antagonists feels much more natural. (And seriously, if you have to choose between Gus Fring and The Cape to lead your country, there’s no contest.)
Less impressive in terms of captivity and conversation are Monroe and Rachel, who survive the grenade slaughter and take refuge in a room that turns out to be the vice presidential bunker. (Rachel’s wry comment: “Cheney used it. It was his undisclosed location.”) These are both problematic characters for the show, as I continue to go back and forth on whether or not David Lyons and Elizabeth Mitchell are bad actors or actors simply being given material that doesn’t play to their strengths. And being trapped together doesn’t give me any guidance on the matter, as both have some good moments and bad ones in the dialogue, as they offer brief monologues about where events have taken them and snipe at each other. (Rachel: “I want you to die.” Monroe: “So much that you want to die too.” Rachel “I haven’t made it clear?”) We then see a return to the show’s abandoned well of annoyance—characters making bad choices for family members—as a security camera gives her a glimpse of Charlie, and Monroe uses that to get her to open a weapons case.
Again though, this serves to take the characters back into the action, which turns out to have an unexpected payoff when Charlie is saved from one of the mysterious men. Monroe is rarely a character given any moments of being awesome, but the moment where he strides up over the corpse with his grenade launcher still smoking is pretty fantastic, especially when he greets her with a calm one-liner before striding off: “Hello Charlotte. A thank you would be nice.” And he finds his one-time brother, returning us to the fruitful territory of a standoff between Miles and Monroe, played well the last time it happened in “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”
Miles and Monroe are left in standoff mode, whereas Charlie, Rachel, and Aaron are finally given some answers as they’re taken by these mysterious adversaries and go deeper into the Tower. It turns out that our speculation about horrible nanomachine zombies and homicidal cyborg bicycles was all for naught, as the only thing special about Level 12 is that it’s where the button is located to turn the power back on. The real threat comes from what goes up to 11, as the original support staff of the Tower has taken over the installation and sealed it off since the blackout. The installation commander Dan reveals they have become near-fanatical about it, remaining underground to keep the power from coming back on. It’s convincing zeal, particularly as Dan is played by respected character actor Glenn Morshower and invests his words with the emphasis of a true believer: “I can’t remember the last time I felt sunlight, or rain. But we kept Level 12 safe.”
This of course raises another question, which Aaron and Rachel keep asking as Dr. Warren’s notebook is set alight: Why would anyone want to keep the power off when it could do so much good? Well, in the closing minutes it turns out there’s a dark twist to these nanomachines. Not only can they drain the power from everything and have magical healing powers, but they can—just maybe—set the entire world on fire. At this point two of my critical instincts go to war: I’ve been one of the harshest critics of the nanomachine twist, but I’ve also loudly applauded the show when it throws up its hands and goes nuts because that at least keeps my attention. And it’s the latter that wins out in this case, because the possibility is so over-the-top ludicrous that I can’t help but want to see what form this would take.
So go ahead Revolution. You managed to awaken some vestige of my interest, and you’ve got one more hour left to earn more of it. And if that’s what it takes, by all means, set the world on fire.
- The title is likely supposed to allude to the descendents of the original Tower staff who will continue to protect it, but all it makes me think of is the 2006 film Children Of Men, which did a far, far better job of showing how the world would devolve into dystopia once something major changed.
- Morshower now joins Kim Raver, Leslie Hope, Reed Diamond, Annie Wersching, Colm Feore, and a few others I’m sure I’ve forgotten in the long list of 24 cast members who have wound up on Revolution. With Happy Endings canceled, season two better feature Elisha Cuthbert as a feral woman who has trained cougars to hunt and kill on her behalf.
- Randall vanishes after the initial grenade salvo, and Rachel hopes he’s dead. I’m hoping not, because wasting an actor like Feore to the degree they have would earn this show the blackest of black marks from me.
- Great interaction between Neville and Aaron. “Can you get inside there?” “With this book I can, you dick.”
- Flashbacks with Rachel and Ben where we learn that in addition to feeling guilty about their involvement in the project they had marital trouble. That was a thing that happened this episode.
- Miles looked really haggard this week. Respect to the makeup department.
- Season finale next week. While I hope for the world on fire, most likely Miles will say something sarcastic and kill a bunch of people while everyone else pouts off to the side.