It’s been easy to pick on Revolution for its failures of storytelling and characterization over the course of this season, but there is one thing that the show has done a consistently good job of: bringing across the damage that living in a post-apocalyptic world would do to a person. In a world devoid of modern comforts, where resources are at a premium and a form of social Darwinism takes over, no one escapes without some form of emotional scarring. Miles is haunted on a daily basis by what the militia he headed turned into, and by his oldest friend becoming his deepest enemy. Aaron can’t forget the wife he abandoned for what he thought was her own good, and Nora can’t forget the child she lost. Even Charlie, too young to clearly remember what the world was like before, lives with the pain from when her mother walked away to look for supplies and never came back.
All of these characters keep their damage mostly under wraps, as any world as harsh as this one leaves no room for weakness. “Kashmir” brings the damage to the surface, courtesy of an oxygen-deprived jaunt through the subway tunnels under Philadelphia. It’s an episode that’s both physically and mentally claustrophobic, and one that benefits from its tightened scope to get back to the things Revolution does best. There’s no moral choices or unnecessary flashbacks, the number of speeches is limited, and the show takes advantage of its ruins-of-civilization setting for some character set-pieces. After a rocky couple of weeks, in which the show’s early potential has flickered as much as a light taken away from the Magical Pendant, “Kashmir” puts the show back within striking distance.
And the developments come at just the right time for the show, as it’s almost closed the gap on its primary objective. Miles, Charlie and company have made it almost to Monroe’s headquarters of Philadelphia, which is now surrounded by a machine gun-studded wall 30 feet high, and the only option is to go underneath it. A local resistance cell is understandably reluctant to aid, given the presence of Miles, but after the latter promises to deliver Monroe’s “head on a plate”—following a few punches to the face—they lend a few of their soldiers to guide the group through an intact train tunnel.
Beyond the obvious savings to the production budget by shooting in the tunnels, the choice also gives Revolution a much more claustrophobic atmosphere than it’s had in recent weeks. Characters feel boxed in by their surroundings and have conversations to take their mind off it, which feels more relatable than finding random excuses to tell deep emotional stories. We even get a few details out of the result, such as the reveal that Miles’ desertion had the unpleasant detail of also containing an assassination attempt on Monroe. When Charlie steps on a mine midway through their journey, it leads to a reliably tense scene where Nora tries to disarm the explosive—as the others obviously refuse to abandon her—and provides the subsequent opportunity for the always classic “running away from an explosion” scene.
Though, it turns out that the mines may have killed them all anyway, as there’s no air flowing through the tunnels anymore, and the oxygen supply is slowly being eaten away. When I first read that “Kashmir” was going to feature the characters “having difficulty separating fantasy from reality,” I braced myself for some ridiculous contrivance to get the group there: Aaron eating the wrong mushrooms perhaps, or Charlie accidentally shooting a tank of chlorine gas. Thankfully, the cave-in makes the development organic, and once the question of whether or not oxygen deprivation would lead to such extreme hallucinations is discarded in Revolution’s bin of “don’t worry about it” science, it’s a decision that enhances the previous claustrophobic atmosphere. It even generates more of a horror movie feeling in the early goings: Miles glimpses a militia scout out of the corner of his eye only to find an empty closet, while Nora later thinks some form of sea creature is trying to drag her under. And from there, it grows into more personal, character-based delusions. Aaron thinks his wife is walking alongside him, and while the rational parts of his brain keep him moving straight ahead, the flat look on his face gives plenty of indication he’s spent a lot of time walking away from this particular ghost.
The central breakdown falls to Miles, who is so far gone in his own uncertainty that it leads him to have a full conversation with an imaginary Monroe. The history between Monroe and Miles has been a detail that’s been portrayed as central to the show’s history, but one that we’ve only seen demonstrated in the occasional flashback. Here, the two get to have their first real conversation, and the dynamic between Billy Burke and David Lyons goes a long way to making up the difference. Miles has been losing his cool with every passing week, and the notion that he’s tormented enough that he might view the militia as an easy way out raises doubts about just what resolution we’re heading towards. For his part Lyons continues to shed the black mark of The Cape, adding a wry honesty to the quiet menace of earlier episodes. (“Miles, you’re forgetting: This is not real. I’m in your head; I know what you’re thinking.”) It’s another indication that the show’s central plot of recovering Danny has long since taken a back seat to Miles’ own journey, and one that builds anticipation for when the actual reunion takes place.
But that reunion hasn’t taken place yet, as there’s still another stock villain to interfere this week. Turns out that Sergeant Wheatley of the resistance is in fact a double agent for the militia, and he decides that Miles is a prize worth breaking cover for. It’s played as a dramatic reveal, though between the fact that Wheatley talks at length about “playing the odds” (and that he’s played by Reed Diamond, Lawrence Dominic from Dollhouse) his sudden but inevitable betrayal is telegraphed five minutes in. Still, he fits the mold of the show’s enjoyably unapologetic villains, boasting of his deceptive feats, gunning down his “fellow” rebels, and once again raising the question of how invincible Miles really is. Charlie, in her most badass moment in weeks, gives him a memorable out by planting a crossbow bolt in his chest—a short-lived victory as he gets off one last shot that wings her in the head.
Once the cheers subside, it becomes clear that Charlie’s not dead, but merely sent to her own hallucination, hanging between worlds Inception-style. At the same time Miles is begging her to open her eyes, she’s caught in a dream version of her old house, where her father’s still alive and encouraging her to get ready for dinner with Maggie and Danny. By the character’s very nature, this is the weakest of the hallucinatory scenes, one that gives Tim Guinee a chance to interact with a member of the cast outside of flashbacks and gives Charlie a chance to once again reaffirm her goal, and not much else. I’d like to hope a near-death experience will push Charlie into a more interesting worldview, but after nine episodes that’s starting to feel like a pipe dream.
Then again, these continual brushes with death appear to have instilled something of a fatalistic approach in the entire group. Witness Miles and Charlie’s final interaction before they open the door to Philadelphia: “You ready to do this?” “Are you?” “No. But what the hell, huh?” Revolution can convey the damage this world does to you, and installments like “Kashmir” prove it’s also a show that never fully abandons the need to push on.
- So, those Led Zeppelin songs NBC was so proud of licensing? Used surprisingly well! “Since I’ve Been Loving You” fits in organically as diegetic music playing on Rachel’s pendant-activated CD player, while the opening of “Kashmir” serves as the score leading into the peak of Miles’ hallucination. In both cases they add to the atmosphere rather than distracting from the action, a pleasant surprise given how heavily they were promoted.
- Speaking of Rachel, her plot lacked impact next to what occurred in the tunnels, but did provide the episode’s most shocking moment as she fatally stabs a former colleague to force Monroe to keep her alive.
- This week in Magical Pendant news: Rachel confirms the pendant only has a range of nine to 10 feet, but it can be amplified to up to half a mile. Allegedly of course, given Rachel’s been proved not to be trustworthy. If true though, it only amplifies some of my concerns about what this will do to Revolution’s universe.
- Matheson beatdowns this week: Miles takes the aforementioned punching from the rebellion leader before he’s allowed to lead the raid. And of course, Charlie gets shot in the head. (It’s sad how cheerful that phrase is.)
- Did one bother to check Wheatley’s wrists for a militia brand before taking him into the rebellion? I assumed those were standard issue for all soldiers.
- Miles on their chances: “Probably walking straight into a militia ambush.” Aaron: “Well, that’ll be par for the course at least.” Glad to see they’ve noticed the same trend I did last week.
- Mid-season finale next week. Will the writers give us a satisfying resolution, leave us on an irritating cliffhanger, or a mixture of the two? More importantly, will they give us a reason to come back after four months?