This show, you guys. This fucking show.
That sentence probably sounds familiar to at least a few of you, because it’s the same sentence that my friend and colleague Ryan McGee used to open his review of the terrific Scandal season finale. And it certainly illustrates the diversity of the word—as Boondock Saints would put it—that both of us can use the same sentence and have a completely different feeling towards our respective shows. In Ryan’s case it was spoken from a place of breathless excitement, praising a show whose storytelling was best equated with “manic, maddening, majestic, malevolent music.” In my case however, it’s spoken in a tone of disdain bordering on loathing, that of someone who has spent a whole season seeing ways the show could be good, only to have them hammered back down in 18 rounds of emotional Whac-A-Mole.
What happened? I’ve been asking myself that question as we head towards the season finale, and I’ve been unable to find an answer other than to say that no one on the show seems to have any idea what the show’s strengths and weaknesses are—the fact that a romance between Charlie and Jason has taken center stage in the story is a prime piece of evidence for that. Any of the specialness of a post-power world has been stripped away as now everyone seems to have guns, helicopters and drones, and the question of what caused the blackout has sucked the life out of the narrative as surely as the show’s magical nanomachines sucked the power from the world. It’s spiraled into the mediocre sci-fi show everyone feared it would be, and doesn’t even seem to regret the decision.
And I could forgive all of that, if the story it was turning into was at least entertaining, and it isn’t. Ironically, an episode called “Clue” only serves to illustrate that’s the one thing no one on this creative team has, accelerating the plot in frustrating directions and sabotaging resources the show should feel lucky to have. It’s not the worst episode the show has ever done, but it’s yet another sidequest deviation in a season that’s had enough of those, a season that in its closing hours increasingly inspires flames on the side of my face.
True to frustrating form, “Clue” starts off in a somewhat promising direction as Nora is now in the custody of Monroe, trying to catch flies with honey by asking nicely about the locations of Miles and Rachel. If ever there was a moment for the show to use its flashbacks, this feels like it. Scenes of Miles and Nora first meeting would give us more context to that relationship, different sides of both characters, and maybe even more illustration of the fraying Miles/Monroe friendship—certainly more than “Home” ever did. Instead, Nora tries to attack him—leaving me inconsolable as a bottle of Scotch is destroyed—and she earns three weeks of torture in the process.
This isn’t intrinsically a bad thing for the show—Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress wrote a terrific essay on the evolution of torture in pop culture to show what it means to all involved parties, citing Scandal and Homeland as key examples where it’s treated with necessary gravitas. That is not however where this scene goes, as while it doesn’t go in the opposite direction to be as gratuitous as some other shows featuring violence against women have been, it does nothing meaningful other than smack Danielle Alonso around for a few moments in some disjointed scenes (in what I assume is the creative team working out some frustration for her part in season two of Friday Night Lights). It also reintroduces Randall’s pet scientist Seaborn, who pumps her full of truth drugs to get the final intel. She gives him the news that Miles is in Atlanta and Neville has joined Georgia—all intel Monroe honestly should have had by now—and more importantly, reveals that Rachel is bound for the Tower.
Understandably, Monroe is more than a little miffed that Randall kept this information from him, and after picking Seaborn’s brain for information he decides that Randall isn’t valuable any more. And here the show continues to prove its myopia in how much it has squandered Colm Feore. Randall was set up in the early episodes as this evil genius, the man holding all the cards in a post-apocalyptic world, and he’s been defanged to distressing extent since his spotlight episode in “Ghosts.” A character ostensibly set up with this much power should not be losing out to someone playing solider like Monroe—David Lyons continuing to sabotage whatever promising development he had early in the season by yelling “I DON’T LIKE YOU!” as an excuse—and should not be forced to yield his position by disclosing the location of the Tower, which Monroe immediately turns into his primary objective.
Seaborn has an attack of conscience and liberates Nora, taking her to Atlanta in the back of his car—which nobody really notices, in the umpteenth instance of the show not caring anymore about the specialness of power in a world without—and reveals this to Miles, who decides that with the war almost lost they need to try something new and beat Monroe to the Tower. And anyone who’s joined me in complaining about how much ground everyone seems to cover on foot no longer needs to worry, as the resistance now has a pendant and a helicopter all their own, and stocks it with our main cast and change. It’s an excuse for everyone to rattle off their reasons for being part of this doomed push, and doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. (Though this also does have a legitimately funny moment as Hudson angrily points out that Miles cost him his wife—“Better put on a dress, because you’re all I have”—and Neville proves his perfect timing by strolling up to say “Ladies!”)
Why cram so many people into the helicopter? Well, because it turns out Revolution wants to try its hand at a closed-door mystery, except this one takes place in an abandoned Air Force base once they need to refuel the helicopter. Once they land things go from bad to worse as the pilot’s throat is cut, the chopper is sabotaged, and the resistance general who accompanied them for no good reason is also killed off and indicates with his dying gestures that someone in the group did it. The setup feels contrived from the start, though to the show’s credit, it does manage to play up the tensions between the group members in ways that don’t feel forced. Given the fact that over half of them have been thrown into the resistance not by choice but by circumstance, and everyone there has tried to kill at least one of the other people in the group at least once, it’s only natural they’d be at each others’ throats with little compunction. And it keeps the identity of the traitor from being obvious by throwing in several details—Nora’s shaking off Seaborn’s drugs, Jason was approached by a militia spy, and Seaborn has no real reason to be trusted in general.
But the reveal of the traitor only turns out to be yet another frustration, as it wastes not one but two characters the show could have done so much more with. Seaborn reveals the bloodied knife is of Maryland make, which implicates Hudson—an implication rendered fact once the latter guns Seaborn down and reveals his wife is now a hostage, and only bringing down the resistance leaders will earn her freedom. Miles and Hudson share a bloody fight in response, a fight that seems like it will end in Miles’ death until Jason steps in and empties half a clip into Hudson’s back. The moment is supposed to be meaningful, but all I get from it is frustration. Malik Yoba and Leland Orser are valuable assets to any show, and neither one had nearly enough to do as the show seemed to forget they were around for a few episodes. As with Mark Pellegrino last week, the show continues to squander its resources and fails to remove them in a way that feels narratively satisfying.
The group gets back on the chopper with its numbers cut almost in half and heads to the Tower—right behind Rachel and Aaron, who are surveying Monroe’s encampment right outside the bunker door to the Tower that Randall has inexplicably been unable to open. At this point I’m only paying attention to Rachel because she’s doing increasingly crazy things that stand out against the dullness of the rest of the plots, and we get a bit of that as she promises to undertake a suicide mission to kill Monroe so Aaron can enter the tower and then strangling a guard to earn a disguise. From there, she strides right into his tent, pulling the pin from a grenade and staring straight at Monroe with a thousand-yard stare.
The episode leaves us on a cliffhanger as Rachel’s fingers gently ease off the grenade’s safety lever, and I have a hard time thinking it’s going to go the way she expects given the number of unanswered questions between Miles, Monroe, and Rachel Revolution seems to expect us to care about. But should she pull the pin and eradicate both herself and Monroe, that would at least free up Randall to take center stage and remove the question of what she means to Miles. And maybe we’ll be lucky and the explosion will be large enough to blow up the show’s more annoying half in the process. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?
- We finally get a glimpse inside the Tower, as it appears a large group of people are watching Monroe and Randall through the security cameras. My money’s on nanomachine zombies at this point because I don’t think they’re creative enough to try anything else. Hopefully it’ll have the good sense to rip off Left 4 Dead and introduce some special zombies for variety.
- Since NCIS: Red didn’t get picked up by CBS, looks like the show may not have to kill Kim Raver’s Julia off after all. Maybe they’ll now return to the promising Lady Macbeth well they seemed to be taking the character to earlier this season, but given how many other promising elements they’ve abandoned I’m not betting on it.
- “I quit drinking.” “But you were so good at it.” Again, how hard would it be to have just a few flashbacks for some history between these two characters?
- Hudson’s description of Rachel as Miles’ “MILFy sister-in-law” goes right alongside Neville’s “And you can go back to being general of my nuts” as lines that earn a comedic pass for unintentional badness.
- NBC will be airing a new episode of Revolution next Monday, because evidently it hates me and wants to sabotage my three-day weekend. I’ll be here for those of you who leave the barbeques early and need a distraction.