At the start of this season—as any self-respecting TV critic would do—I made fun of NBC for its terrible ratings, ill-conceived shows, and the idiotic scheduling choices that got them into this mess into the first place. Well, a few months later, the tables have turned, as NBC made some smart choices and is officially no longer a failure, finishing out the 2013-2014 TV season in first place among the 18-49 demo. And with that success comes the spring cleaning Robert Greenblatt has been waiting to undertake since he took office, the chance to shed the remnants of its low-rated past. This is no longer the NBC that allowed Chuck and Community to go on for years with low but steady numbers, this NBC is ready to put performers like Parks And Recreation and Parenthood out to pasture—though it’s at least giving them the courtesy of one final season to tie up all loose ends.
One show that won’t be receiving that courtesy, however, is Revolution, the show that just last year seemed like it would be a building block for a newer and better NBC. That role went to The Blacklist, which claimed the post-Voice time slot and shunted Revolution off to the much less glamorous position of Wednesdays at 8, where it was expected only to serve as a bulwark in a timeslot that’s reliably depended upon to kill the shows it hosts. Revolution managed to hold the line, and free from the pressures of its original position, it pulled off the welcome trick of transforming into a better show. Thanks to a refreshed creative team, the frustrating and aimless plots of the first season began to coalesce into a leaner, tighter narrative, redeeming some of its more hopeless characters and reliably delivering entertaining action scenes. Revolution finally entered the position it deserved to be in, becoming a solid adventure serial with well-deployed sci-fi and political thriller elements.
This, of course, makes NBC’s decision to cancel the show more frustrating, given that it had both done what it was asked to do and managed to get better along the way. And as always happens when a show gets cut off before it’s reached its hopeful life span, the question must be asked: Does the season finale function as an unintentional series finale? Unfortunately, “Declaration Of Independence” comes up short on that count. It’s not any fault of its own as it showcases a lot of the various improvements Revolution made over its second season, but it fails as a satisfying close because it proves that the writers were in a position to fix the remaining narrative stumbling blocks in their path.
We’ll get to those stumbling blocks later, though, and focus on what the show did well since we last visited it in “Fear And Loathing.” Over the last few weeks, the scale of the Patriot plans, spearheaded by President Jack Davis and Commander Ed Truman, escalated to the point that the two were going to murder the president of Texas and an entire town’s population to spark a war with California. The Patriots served as a much better antagonist than the Monroe Republic this season. They were an entity that wanted to burn the new world to the ground and rebuild it in their own twisted image of what America should be. Both Cotter Smith and Steven Culp carried themselves well as ruthless figures at the heart of the conspiracy, willing to sacrifice whoever and whatever was in their way. Case in point: Once Miles and Monroe thwart the mustard gas “terrorist” attack cliffhanger, Truman manages to improvise a Plan B immediately, gunning down Carver and painting Davis as the survivor of a deadly shooting.
With war coming despite the best efforts of Miles and his ragtag resistance, only one last-chance option is available to them: Kidnap the President and drag the truth out from him. This triggers a series of arguments between Miles and Monroe, arguments that unfortunately at this point are repetitive bordering on tedious. A problem that persisted in Revolution’s second season was that as the ensemble reorganized along new alliances, logic continued to dictate that these alliances made no sense. Every other week, someone would betray the other party, undercut the effectiveness of a plan, or prepare an elaborate double-cross that left next to no trust between anyone. Giancarlo Esposito’s Neville, for instance, turned on so many different people over the course of the season that it strains credibility even more than the existence of the nanotech as to why anyone would let this guy near him. (And by the end, he had no scheming left, the loss of his wife and son whittling him to only an icy core of revenge.)
Thankfully, “Declaration Of Independence” keeps things moving at enough of a clip that it’s able to move past some of that attendant annoyance. Revolution has always been at its best when it let characters stop talking and let them do things, and there’s plenty of great action this week: Charlie finally returning to her crossbow and putting down Patriot sentries, Miles chopping his way through a locked door and guard and yelling “Run you idiots!” or the whole group facing off Butch and Sundance-style against an approaching Patriot platoon. Even when everything was falling apart around it, action scenes were always the show’s saving grace, striking the right balance of close combat and firefights, and taking advantage of the setting around them. (Once again, thumbs up to the location scouts for finding excellent Texas locations to simulate 15 years of post-apocalyptic overgrowth.)
Miles takes a big gamble by passing Davis off to Monroe, wearily admitting he thinks it’s time to have a little faith for once. If Revolution can boast a legitimate success over the course of two seasons, it’s the redemption of David Lyons as an actor after the fracas of The Cape, to the point that (as I discussed in “Fear And Loathing”) it oriented him as one of the show’s emotional cores. His confrontation with Connor as the latter tries to persuade him to let Texas and California chew each other up is a key illustration of that and forms an interesting parallel to the season one finale “The Dark Tower.” Unlike that terrible interaction when Monroe screamed at Miles for abandoning the Republic, now it’s Monroe cast in the position of betrayer, and the more subdued reaction from both parties is a vast improvement.
Monroe keeping his word to Miles allows for a final confrontation between our heroes and villain, with Davis brought to an abandoned church. Rachel gets to have some words at his expense—words that unfortunately reinforce Monroe’s and my perception of that character as a colossal buzzkill who would not be missed—and then a group of Patriots allows Davis to turn it around back on her and arrogantly assert that America is what he says it is. The moment is atmospheric and tense, a suitable final confrontation for all parties, particularly when it’s revealed that this is the one plan working out for the party we’re rooting for. Gene brought former Texas President Blanchard (the always welcome M.C. Gainey) where he could hear every last megalomaniacal word out of Davis’s mouth, and subsequently declare open season on Patriots in Texas.
This resolution to the Patriot arc is the closest Revolution can get to a satisfying series finale. It’s a reasonably happy ending for our heroes, who had essentially been beaten down to have the look of men and women waiting to die all season, a flash of optimism in contrast to much of the fatalistic gloom. Miles gets a chance to be happy with Rachel, getting Charlie’s genuine blessing and hope for a more peaceful life. Rachel tells her old boss off one last time in an effort to shake off her guilt, and Gene gets a chance for redemption by cleaning the Patriots out of Willoughby. Monroe’s plans to get the Republic back are still in the ether, but his thirst for vengeance is slaked by the execution of Patriot commanders. The battle’s won, and the war can’t be far behind—it’s a moment that would have made a solid close to the Revolution narrative on its own.
However, all of this forgets the fact that there’s still a vast artificial intelligence blanketing the globe in microscopic nanomachines—something the characters would find easy to forget given how little involvement they had with it. The biggest issue with the back half of Revolution’s second season was the way it handled the nanite story, as it eventually became so disconnected from everything that was happening with Willoughby and the Patriots that it practically set up shop as a completely different show. This had the unfortunate side effect of unplugging Zak Orth from almost everything else going on, as Aaron went from unintentional pyromancer to nanite hostage, cast so far afield that the writers had to contrive an entire dream episode to give him any substantive interaction with the rest of the cast.
This disconnect was unfortunate, because there were a lot of interesting ideas brought up as the nanites began to move deeper into exploring their own sentience. Maureen Sebastian became far more engaging once Priscilla was allowed to play a villainous character (similar to Brett Dalton on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.), as her fascination with human nature turned into a dangerous obsession with its problems. And this also led to some of the show’s most disturbing imagery to date as she decided to play dollhouse with various people she’d found on the road, propping them up as bloody mannequins combing the flesh right from their scalps. It tapped into the vein of horror I’d expect to see from the creator of Supernatural, even if it felt like it had little to no place in the machinations between the Patriots and the Texas Republic.
Here’s where the cancellation of Revolution truly rankles, because in the closing scenes it looked like the series had finally found a way to grow connective tissue between these stories. Failing to convince its erstwhile creators that its choices were the right ones, the superintelligence left Rachel and Aaron to their fates, departing Priscilla’s mind with one last flash of its plans. After spending half the season detatched from the war, it now inserts itself headlong into it, appearing to the season’s scattered villains in the guise of loved ones—Davis’ father, Truman’s fiancee, Neville’s son—and offering directions to another of those small towns the nanites love so much with the promise of a “higher calling.”
We then pan to Bradbury, Idaho, a small town suddenly sparking to life, and we close the series with one final allusion to The Stand: a mass of people drawn to a gleaming settlement in the wasteland by dreams and the image of a grinning man. True, the grinning man in question has more in common with Pennywise than with Randall Flagg, but that doesn’t change the genuine creepiness of that final shot, the idea of an otherworldly threat rearing its head after everyone’s been worn down to the bone fighting the corporeal one. Disappointingly, it sets the stage for a war that we’ll never get to see the results of, and it leaves the sad impression that roughly half of this season was intended as buildup to a far more interesting and freaky narrative.
It’s remarkable to feel the difference that a year can make for a show. After the awful first season finale, a Revolution cancellation would have felt like a mercy killing, and now, it’s a frustration because the show had finally managed to right itself and found untapped ground. It was never going to be a perfect show—there was always an inherent messiness to its plotting that even this second season was unable to remedy—but in managing to become fun, it remedied its biggest problem. Revolution will no longer be televised, but in its passing, it pulled off a trick that I never would have dreamed possible a year ago: I’ll miss it now that it’s gone.
Episode grade: B+
Season grade: B
Series grade: B
- Some standout moments from the unreviewed episodes: the jarring tonal shift of the “Dreamcatcher” alternate reality, the shock of Jason’s death via Charlie and the subsequent display of grief from Esposito, Miles’ long dark night of the soul when he was trapped in the cellar in “$#!& Happens.” (The latter of which finally explained why Miles burned down that shed back in the season premiere, a consequence of the nanites’ experimentation.)
- Re: my comment about the redemption of David Lyons: What I suppose I’m really saying is that NBC needs to bring back The Cape. Seriously, bring it back as a limited event miniseries and pair it with the Heroes reboot, just to see what would happen! Keith David is also (sadly) available these days.
- More seriously, there were some good performers in the cast who will hopefully move onto better things. Billy Burke made for a convincing world-weary action hero, Esposito revealed himself capable of more depths of grief than even Breaking Bad allowed him, and even Tracy Spiridakos proved herself not a lost cause.
- “We’re doing this for Marion, and for Jason, and for everyone else those sons of bitches took.” “You know who makes speeches like that? People about to die.” “Good point.”
- “I still get to cut your throat and watch you bleed out. So speaking as one leader to another, that is one hell of a consolation prize.”
- “What happens when summer’s over?” “Uh, we win.”
- Thanks to everyone for reading, particularly those of you who followed me over the season-and-a-half of regular coverage. I’m glad I had the chance to come back for one last hurrah, and sorry I won’t get a chance to embark on what could have been a loopy third season. RIP, Revolution, it was fun to bury and praise you at various times.