Revolution: “Fear And Loathing”
B+

Revolution: “Fear And Loathing”

A savage journey to the heart of the nanotech dream.

B+

Revolution

"Fear And Loathing"

Season 2, Episode 14

One of the more endearing qualities of Revolution is that, at its heart, it’s a fundamentally messy show. Between the narrative wrangling that was required to move past the problems of the first season, the fact that every episode is split between at least three different plots and locations, and the show’s love of bringing in an assortment of colorful guest actors for a few episodes and then disposing of them, there’s always a hell of a lot going on at any given time. Sometimes, that’s a frustrating thing—I’ve often thought that the show would be better suited by picking one location and staying there for a full episode—but more often than not it seems like that messiness leads to a lot of improvisation. It likes to back characters into corners and see how it can contrive a way for them to get out of it, and the bigger the problem, the more explosive the solution turns out to be.

Certainly that’s the case in “Fear And Loathing,” an episode that sees most of the central characters in uncertain circumstances after the events of “Happy Endings” and scrambling for a way out. Monroe and Connor are in the worst position, as after the disastrous conclusion of their casino heist, father and son are at the mercy of the casino owner Gould. That mercy, unreliable to begin with, is even worse now that he’s deduced their true identities. Smelling an opportunity for profit, he proposes a no-holds-barred fight between the two: The victor gets to walk out of the camp in one piece, and the loser doesn’t get to walk anywhere ever again.

I remain annoyed with the show’s continued fondness for captivity plots, but occasionally, the writers are able to draw out an interesting detail—and this one uncovers the surprising fact that General Sebastian Monroe has become Revolution’s tragic hero. Last season, that role fell to Miles with his conflicted feelings about coming out of hiding and reconnecting with his family, but this season all it feels like he’s done is offer occasional snarky comments and dance around Rachel. (An issue my colleague Phil brought up in his review of “Dead Man Walking,” and that hasn’t gotten any better since.) Monroe, by comparison, has driven the majority of this season’s plots: hiding out incognito as a pit fighter, rebounding from his own “execution,” leading an excursion to Mexico to recover his long-lost son. He’s gone from being the show’s Big Bad to the character with the most complicated past, a remarkable result of the narrative’s constant reinvention.

This fact is most apparent in his interactions with Connor. Rather then developing a detailed escape plan, Monroe states that he needs to train his son how to kill him and make it look good, even goading him with the truth of how his mother died to coax a fiercer beating. A lot of post-apocalyptic stories ask how long the characters can keep functioning in this world, and David Lyons makes it painfully clear that Monroe’s tired of fighting the good fight. Miles and Rachel may wearily plod along because part of them thinks they need to keep going, but Monroe’s burned out virtually every one of those instincts. Even his earlier claims of reviving the Monroe Republic turn out to be little more than an half-hearted stab at redemption, wanting to hand over power to Connor in the hope he’ll make something more of it.

If Monroe’s taken the role of tragic hero away from Miles, it’s even more surprising that Charlie’s now rivaling Miles as the show’s consummate badass. In my “Happy Endings” review, I discussed how the Revolution creative team has managed to save a character previously thought unsalvageable, limiting what she had to do and steering into the skid of her more emotionless performance. And while she’s explained her long-term viewpoint is a largely fatalistic one, her short-term attitudes tend to be more direct: Monroe and Connor are in jail, so she’s going to rescue them, and if she can’t do it herself she’ll go back and get help from the likeliest possible ally in Duncan. Unfortunately, while she approaches it in a smarter way than she would have in the past—appealing to some past connection Duncan has with Monroe rather than basic human decency—she still proves herself a terrible negotiator and winds up traded to Gould. You can see the blankness come over Charlie’s features as she’s carted away, only it’s no longer viewed as a fatal lack of expressiveness but survival mode: She’s shutting down against whatever’s to come and waiting for just the right opportunity to strike back.

The two plots come together in electric fashion, as the duel between Monroe and Connor cross-cuts (pun intended) to Charlie getting the drop on one of Gould’s thugs and pulling a Leia vs. Jabba by strangling him with her chains. From there, it’s an exciting series of events made notable by the way the action keeps yanking back from climactic moments at the last instant. An assassin creeps closer and closer to Duncan to shiv her in the back, only for Charlie to be quicker on the draw and express to a dumbfounded Duncan “I just saved your life, bitch. You owe me.” The action then goes right back to the cage where Connor get an advantage over his father and is about to drive the blade through Monroe’s throat—shared expressions between the two indicating they both accept this decision—and that moment is snatched away as Duncan reacts to the treachery. She cuts down Gould’s men and blows his head off, and Monroe has to eat his words about “Minnie Mouse” when Charlie shoots open the lock and impatiently tells them “Come on!” It’s a great resolution to the problem, made even better by the fact that Duncan hands over her mercenaries but assigns them to Charlie instead of Monroe, resulting in a rare honest smile from the former.

Back in Texas, the action is more routine, as now that Miles and Neville are back to being on the same team, they’ve fallen into old patterns. (Neville: “Gotta admit, quite a team.” Miles: “No I don’t. I never liked you and I’m sure the feeling is mutual.”) However, things get ugly when Patriot executive Doyle shows up outside of Willoughby to head up construction of a new camp that Jason immediately recognizes as a reeducation center for new Patriot recruits. It’s a move that ups the emotional stakes of whatever Neville’s planning, given there’s no Patriot he’d like to gut more than his wife’s ass-clown of a second husband. Will he risk his position by giving into the need for personal revenge, or will Doyle give him away unintentionally if Miles and Rachel follow through with their plan to take him prisoner?

It turns out, surprisingly, that neither one is correct, as the ambush is meant to be a double-cross from the start: Doyle’s caravan is loaded down with armed troops who’ll take Miles the instant he tries anything. But Miles Matheson is no Ned Stark and knows not to trust a word Neville says (“Still pulling the knife out of my back from the last time Tom put it there”), putting his rifle to Neville’s head instead of initiating the ambush. From there, it’s a domino effect of standoffs, as Jason tries to rescue his father and Rachel winds up stopping him as of course she ignored Miles’s instructions to stay back. (I honestly don’t get why at this point anyone bothers telling her to do anything.) It’s a good acceleration of Neville’s reintroduction to this world, and a reminder that for ostensibly being the last bastion against the Patriots, most of our main characters despise each other. God only knows what’ll happen once Monroe and Charlie walk back into this, as if they haven’t cleared up their differences by then that meeting could go into a six-way standoff that lasts for a good two weeks.

And what of the member of this group who chose to run away from all the backstabbing in search of something more? Aaron’s still in Lubbock with his old coding partners Priscilla and Peter, and the nanites have finally come forward with the reason they got the band back together: “We’re dying.” It turns out there’s a flaw buried in the nanite code, and their self-replicating nature means it’s proliferating through them like a cancer. Peter, swept up in his faith (“This is a new age, this is a new God”) claims they need to fix it, while Priscilla is horrified by the scope of the thing and wants it shut down immediately.

Once again, there’s a lot of interesting questions floating around the idea of nanite sentience, but unfortunately, they’re more interesting in theory than in execution. Despite ostensibly being his old friend and wife, respectively, neither Peter or Priscilla feel fleshed out as characters, existing in this case as the opposing ends of the decision Aaron needs to make—about as substantial as the ghostly image of Cynthia that keeps popping up. Aaron’s own feelings about the nanite complex and what role he’s played in unleashing this upon the world remain largely mysterious, as he’s motivated chiefly by fear for the storms they generate rather than any sense of obligation or curiosity. There’s part of me that wishes, rather than being dragged into his past history, he’d continued on a solitary part, drawing up his entire A Beautiful Mind sequence of trying to solve the code with only the voices in his head for company as opposed to characters I’m not overly invested in.

Then again, we may not be far off from that reality, as Aaron’s decision to write a virus into the nanite code apparently sparks some sort of chain reaction that leads to him waking up in his old pre-blackout bed, an adjustment to say the least. Was this really all just a dream? Have the nanites fried his brain in retribution for his deadly keystrokes? Did he get his hands on some adrenochrome prior to writing that code and is he riding out the initial wave of hallucinations? Either way, it looks like Aaron’s got a long ways to go before he gets back to the mess that his former allies are making in Texas.

Stray observations:

  • So many great dumbfounded looks this week. I can’t tell if I prefer Monroe’s expression when Duncan tells him Charlie’s controlling the mercenaries or Neville’s look once Miles puts the rifle to his head.
  • I swear that the trailer Charlie’s chained up is the exact same trailer Jaye Tyler owned in Wonderfalls.
  • It seems like a fairly stupid move for Doyle to be walking around in a suit amongst the Patriot khaki uniforms. It screams “target” to any approaching snipers.
  • The announcer at the pit fight lists Monroe’s various honorifics as the “Terror of Toledo” and the “Scourge of Scranton.” I wonder if Dunder Mifflin or Schrute Farms were hotbeds for the rebellion back in the day.
  • Neville: “Oh, by the way, glad you finally got together with your sister-in-law. Thanksgiving get weird?” Miles: “God, you’re a dick.”
  • “Find yourself a girl. … Not Charlie.” Good advice, Monroe.
  • “Are you that blinded for your man-love for that sonovabitch?” I will never not enjoy how Neville’s the only one calling out the overtones of the Miles/Monroe friendship.
  • Yes, the reports were true: this will be the last weekly Revolution review on The A.V. Club. Your interest kept it going longer than I expected, but at the end it just wasn’t enough to support further regular coverage. I want to thank everyone for sticking with these reviews—your comments and conversation kept me going and pushed me to dig deeper into the show every week. I hope to be back in the event of a particularly good episode or the season (series?) finale. 

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