When I reviewed the first season of Revolution, I said a lot of mean things about the way the show conducted itself. The science sounded increasingly ridiculous the more you tried to explain it, none of the characters were interesting past a surface level (and frequently not even then), the plot implied the writers had zero idea what they were doing, et cetera ad infinitum. All of those were legitimate complaints, but they were also complaints that the show could have worked around had it remedied its biggest problem: it wasn’t much fun to watch. A show with this premise, set in this universe, should have a sense of excitement and narrative energy, whereas most of the first season’s episodes were dead ends—and ones you could almost always tell were dead ends right away. Excitement came in small doses, whether it was storming a train or two men outfighting an entire regiment of soldiers, and didn’t last long enough to make the rest of what was going on worth it.
So when I say that the best thing about Revolution’s second season so far is that it’s fun, I want you to know that’s some of the highest praise I can give it. Last week I praised the show for going deeper into its serialized structure as opposed to episodic sidequest extravaganza, and “Love Story” continues that trend while also delivering a full-scale siege and invasion alongside a shadow government conspiracy. It’s a busy affair packed with action, action that for the first time in a long while feels central to the show rather than superfluous.
The narrative propulsion continues as “Love Story” once again picks up right on “There Will Be Blood’s” cliffhanger, with the mystery woman behind the red door. Turns out that she’s Titus’s wife Jessica, laid low with renal failure from diabetes, and a large part of the war clan’s raids is to track down O-negative blood types for regular transfusions. There’s some creepy imagery to get us into the mood—the prerequisite music box and pristine white nightgown juxtaposed with the archaic dialysis machine—and it also brings us back to the show’s more primitive side. While it’s easy to fixate on elements like pop culture turned into fables, there’s also the loss of the quality of life and health that technology permits, and this is an ugly reminder of what world we find ourselves in.
Jessica also provides Miles with his latest clever/desperate trick, as once Rachel and her father find a way into the steel mill to rescue him, he proposes bringing her with him to get Titus’s attention. It certainly meets that objective, as he unites his war clan to move in on Willoughby, the early sense of dread only growing larger as the ragtag group surrounds the small town. If the early glimpses of the war clan helped to create the impression of a bestial enemy, this seals the deal, the camera panning over their weapons and scars in a manner reminiscent of a zombie horde or an Uruk-hai army. And Titus himself is changed by the circumstances, his lofty talk last week about anarchy and family replaced with a white-hot rage at losing a wife who he views as a prized possession. The abstract has become personal, and it’s entirely clear who’s outmatched in this scenario.
The best that Miles can do with these circumstances is buy some time, and he’s clearly aware of this. Once again forced into the role of commanding officer—a role he seems more comfortable in each time it happens, regardless of the world-weary expression he gets—he negotiates for the exodus of Willoughby’s citizens, trading himself and Jessica for their safety. It’s a plan thrown into chaos when Jessica slashes her wrists open, and Miles realizes just how much bluffing he’s going to have to do to survive, getting as many people out of the city as possible. He has to remain a center of calm in an increasingly anarchic place, and the tension builds largely due to the fact that the city around him feels alive. The sense of place that they’ve built in the early episodes works to the show’s advantage, with people piling possessions into carts and throwing tarps over market stalls they may never come back to.
The fact that the world of Willoughby feels alive makes it all the more resonant when Titus learns of Jessica’s death, courtesy of a scar-faced parkour expert member of his clan, and he voids the deal by opening fire on the refugees. Here the show goes into open warfare, and unlike the staid shootouts of last season this is a brutal affair full of memorable moments. Gene gets to channel his inner Herschel and blow away a few war clan members with a shotgun (no word on whether ammo was unlimited), and even Aaron gets to fire off a few rounds and barricade the door against an axe-wielding lunatic. And for all his comments about being unable to protect anyone Miles still has the ability to fight off a whole pack of killers one-handed, with Rachel getting her hands dirty until a crossbow bolt lays her low. It’s high-energy, it’s well-executed and has more than one moment where I found myself holding my breath as it seemed like someone was going in for the kill.
And the breath finally goes out thanks to a deus ex America as agents of the Patriots come into town and gun down Titus’s clan in a sea of assault rifle rounds. (Titus himself is taken captive by his second-in-command, now revealed to be a Patriot agent using the clan to stir up trouble.) The unexpected ending leaves Miles stunned into silence, witnessing uniformed troops marching in and the American flag waving over the Willoughby town hall. It’s his first interaction with the Patriots, and even with his shock it’s clear that his veteran eyes can tell what this is: an occupation wearing the mask of liberation, trading one threat for another.
This duplicity is already clear to Neville, who’s earned a place for himself and Jason—or rather, Edgar and Nathaniel Crane—in the ranks of the Patriots. The Nevilles are prepared to go to any lengths to slaughter the government’s inner circle, even if it involves slinging chow to fellow refugees or burning the last remaining photo of their beloved wife and mother. That slow climb up the ranks is interrupted shortly thereafter, as three men beat them unconscious and drag them to an undisclosed location. While it could make them seem unprepared, the end result shows they make an effective father and son team: Jason’s quick enough to get one man’s gun away, and Neville can see from relocation and fingernails why this isn’t a simple mugging.
Unfortunately, all of their skills can’t hide the fact that the Patriots have pegged their real identities as soldiers of the Monroe Republic, forcing Neville to adopt a different tactic of near-honesty. His speech about reliving his wife’s final moments in a nuclear blast is the most emotion we’ve ever seen the character show, not having to fake the grief at feeling he failed to protect her or the raw hate he feels at who was responsible—he’s simply clever enough to redirect that hate to Monroe rather than the man standing in front of him. It’s a spectacular acting moment for Giancarlo Esposito, and a fine narrative moment to as it removes a potentially ruinous parts of Neville’s infiltration of the Patriots. Were Neville’s identity to remain hidden it would be an open question every week as to whether or not he’d be exposed, but now he and Secretary Allford know each other and establish a detente. Watching Neville lie his way to the top isn’t inherently interesting, watching a mutually untrustworthy partnership is.
Speaking of uneasy partnerships, Charlie’s vendetta hasn’t let up yet as she’s back to tracking Monroe, this time in the company of the surviving generically handsome bounty hunter Adam. They find Monroe, or more accurately he lets himself be found, lying in wait to knock Adam unconscious and hold Charlie at gunpoint. Turns out that while rooting through the caravan, he found the wanted posters indicating that both he and Rachel have a bounty on their heads courtesy of the U.S. Government, marked with the Eye of Providence in the corner—the same symbol that he suddenly recalls Randall wore on his ring, a disappointingly glaring retcon for the show to make. It does its job at least, helping Monroe makes the same deduction Neville made weeks ago to connect his former partner and the ICBM launch with the rise of the Patriots.
As with Neville’s identity being revealed, this is a decision I’m glad they made sooner rather than later. Much as I’m skeptical about the show’s ability to redeem Monroe and Charlie—the holes those two characters dug are even deeper than the one the show dug as a whole—they couldn’t remain in the dark for much longer, and events had to draw them back to the other characters to keep things relevant. The show continues to dart around teaming them up officially, as Charlie rejects his offer to join their efforts against the Patriots, still holding the whole “He murdered half my family” grudge seriously though not enough to try taking the shotgun from him. Jury’s still out on if pairing the two worst characters from last year is a good idea, but who knows? Maybe the problem was not being teaming them up until now.
And the mere fact that I’m saying that as a possibility speaks to the good work Revolution has done in these early episodes to bring me back around. In the past two weeks, I’ve kept my praise for the show’s improvements measured because I didn’t want to be fooled the same way I was when Danny’s death seemed to upend the status quo. After “Love Story” my early doubts are fading away, as Revolution is proving itself a more assertive and confident entity than it did at any point in its first season. I don’t need every episode to be on this scale of action, but the energy that’s been captured here is one they’d do well to hold onto.
- One complaint about the developing narrative: I don’t buy the Miles/Rachel romance to the extent the show wants me to. The writers seem to see a tragic love component to the two, but all I see is two damaged individuals latching onto each other for no reason beyond a shared history. I’ve critiqued the continued use of flashbacks—of which there were none tonight—yet this is another case where they might come in handy given those connections were fairly botched in season one.
- Also withholding judgment on Aaron and Cynthia’s debate over the nature of his resurrection, given that this is the sort of move that could go wrong in a hurry if Cynthia becomes too preachy or Aaron too defensive. Other than coming back to life Aaron’s remained relatively marginalized this season, though I expect that to be short-term.
- I hope we haven’t seen the last of the scar-faced parkour expert war clan member, as he left an impression even in his brief appearance. And I hope if he returns they give him a name, as that’s a lot of words to type out.
- The image of Jessica’s blood-stained wrists is one of the more arresting images Revolution has done to date.
- Nice callback: Jason’s alias is “Nate,” which is the same name he used way back in the beginning of the show when he was trying to cozy up to Charlie and friends.
- Neville sure looks happy serving up stew in the chow line. I wonder if it’s slow-cooked to perfection using the old ways.
- Best frustrated Miles delivery of the night: “Who told you to shoot?”
- Best scary Neville delivery of the night: “We’ll bleed red, white, and blue until we climb to the top. And then we kill ’em all.”