Revolution: “Soul Train”
C+

Revolution: “Soul Train”

C+

Revolution

“Soul Train”

Season 1, Episode 5

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Say what you will about Revolution—and based on the comments section for the last few weeks, most of you don’t have the nicest things to say about it—but it’s certainly a show that lives up to its title in terms of momentum. While the overarching plot of why the lights went out remains in the dark (pun intended), there’s been no shortage of other reveals and twists interjected into the weekly action. In four episodes, Eric Kripke and company have unveiled the survival of characters thought long dead, exposed its main hero as the Monroe Republic’s former commanding general, and killed off a character assumed to be part of the main cast. It doesn’t always work—I was particularly annoyed by the effort to force dual reveals at the end of “Chained Heat”—but it does mean there’s always something going on, and the odds are good that plot points that don’t work will be moved past in favor of ones that do.

That sense of momentum is unfortunately what derails “Soul Train,” an episode which was, up until the last few minutes, close to being my favorite episode yet. For the majority of the episode, the action seemed to finally build to the recovery of Danny, with Charlie and Miles making their way to the settlement of Noblesville, Indiana, where the Republic has somehow managed to resurrect an old steam locomotive. Beyond the reveal that not all technologies are dead to the world (another fairly regular gripe about the show’s universe) this is simply an exciting opportunity for the show. I think trains are awesome in general—I’ll admit to bias here as my grandfather was an engineer—and they’ve gotten decent to great mileage on TV recently as mobile objectives or metaphors for progress. Here we get both, as the train’s headed for the Republic capital Philadelphia with Danny in tow, and enough ranking officers on board to make it a prime target for Nora’s explosive talents.

And it doesn’t disappoint on that regard, as the action of the second half turns into a race against time to get Danny off before the bomb winds up in the fire. Miles and Charlie have to steal horses and gallop toward the train at top speed, Miles leaps across the train car roofs to get to the bomb hidden among the logs, and Charlie finally sees her brother for the first time and takes on Neville himself in hand-to-hand combat. It’s legitimately tense action of the kind Revolution provides steadily, and the last-minute insertion of Nate tips the odds to Neville, showing a potentially bleak turn of events.

And what happens? Nate disobeys Neville’s orders and hurls Charlie from the train, Miles throws the bomb out to save his nephew and jumps off himself. The train keeps going to Philadelphia, and we’re back to square one.

Granted, this frustration is likely the point—a method to further focus Charlie on the search, and put enough distance between the siblings to make it harder on them—but far more frustrating is the lost opportunity Revolution has to reorient itself in the early going. The search for Danny is intrinsically limiting because it means that every episode has to revolve around that search in some way, and characters aren’t allowed to follow new avenues because that search takes precedence. (Something similar happened early on in Falling Skies, where the search for Ben meant half that first season kept the show spinning its wheels.) Had Danny been rescued, or had Charlie been captured as well, we’d have a new status quo that could focus the story more on the war between the Republic and the rebellion—an angle that feels like it has potential and so far is limited to anemic plots like Nora’s last-minute decision not to blow up the train and getting stabbed for her efforts. All the show does is hit the reset button, and that’s not a good sign this early on.

The storytelling frustrations are all the more pronounced because this is the most screen time Giancarlo Esposito’s had in a single episode, which should by definition make it the best episode. It’s Neville’s turn to get the flashback treatment, where we see he was telling the truth about being an insurance adjuster in his past life, and a pretty bad one to boot. (“How many times have we had a conversation like this?” his supervisor wearily says of a smoke damage claim right before sacking him.) Neville was a man who wasn’t respected or feared in the old world, taking out his frustrations on a basement punching bag; and the blackout forced him to let out all of those frustrations and give his darker impulses free reign. It’s the other side of the coin: Previous reveals showed Maggie and Aaron lost everything because of the blackout, and it’s Neville who wound up gaining far more, building a new identity for himself over the body of a neighbor he beat to death with his bare hands.

This look into Neville’s past grants Esposito the chance to play multiple versions of a character, which is something he always excels at. “Hermanos” was one of the best episodes of Breaking Bad’s fourth season because it showed all flavors of Gus Fring—naïve young man, placid businessman, and ruthless drug lord—and he’s able to tap into that vein again here. In the past he’s unable to get his neighbor’s attention enough to turn the music down, and in the present he’s cowing his officers with a few carefully chosen words, and he convincingly sells both versions as the same man. If there’s any complaints here, they’re chiefly structural, given Revolution’s still working out the balance of how many flashbacks it can use per episode. While this and “The Plague Dogs” indicate the writers are getting closer, Neville’s is a case where one or two more scenes would have been welcome to let the transition play out more gradually.

It’s also welcome to see Neville finally interacting with more members of the regular cast—though he’s still spending time with Danny and even beating him senseless in a bare-knuckle brawl, a scene I cheered at far more than was probably healthy. The much-anticipated first meeting between Miles and Neville is as charismatic as expected from the show’s two best actors, and Billy Burke and Esposito are clearly having fun sparring with their knives and establishing their history. (“How’s the wife?” “Julia’s good. Haven’t seen her in about a year. Been out looking for you.”) And in his first meeting with Charlie, he gets to display his Southern charm, when she’s able to convince him that she’s looking for a cheating boyfriend in a rare moment of inspiration.

Of course, Charlie almost immediately botches it by following him down an alley and being pinned against the wall, in a move that comes as no surprise to any regular viewer. This is clearly the biggest gripe people have with the show, and while I’ve been trying to give her the benefit of the doubt it’s more and more apparent that Charlie is the weakest link in the show. It’s unclear if the blame falls on Tracy Spiridakos or the writers, but this is another week where she spends the majority of the episode as an irritant: whining about her brother, trying to appeal to Miles’ buried humanity, or pleading with Nate to give them some information. By the end of the episode she seems to be projecting a new resolve and attempting to take on a leadership role, but I haven’t seen any evidence she’s going to keep to that. She’s interesting when she’s Katnissing it up with her crossbow—and sadly that’s about it.

I’ve gotten the unmistakable feeling few of you in the comments are as optimistic as I am about Revolution’s long-term future, and episodes like “Soul Train” are frustrating in that they provide plenty of arguments for my optimism and almost as many for not having it. As much as I enjoyed Esposito’s work and the thrill of the train chase, the show stepping back and moving its different pieces even farther away was so annoying it dimmed enjoyment considerably. Charlie’s party has a longer way to go to reach its destination, and it feels like Revolution’s taken a similar step back.

Stray observations:

  • Having an Esposito-centric episode also reminds me how pleased I am he’s free from the quagmire of Once Upon A Time. His spotlight episode “Fruit Of The Poisonous Tree” was an utterly wretched installment, though it did once again allow him to play multiple versions of a character—a genie and a reporter in that instance.
  • So, “Nate” is in fact Neville’s son Jason. In terms of reveals this one’s not even close to surprising—we knew from “The Plague Dogs” Neville had a son, and his few seconds of hesitation when Miles describes his prisoner are a dead giveaway. However, it is the most interesting that character’s been all series, and with the family reunited in Philadelphia, Esposito will hopefully get to make JD Pardo look better by association.
  • Also in family reunion news, we’re introduced to Neville’s wife Julia, played by Kim Raver, better known as Audrey Raines from 24 or Teddy Altman from Grey’s Anatomy.
  • In terms of world building, Monroe’s map reveals that the Monroe Republic is just one of many empires carving up the United States, with the Georgia Federation and the Plains Nation bordering to the south and west respectively.
  • Aaron not only kept Maggie’s phone, but he’s also looking at the Magical Pendant in clear view of Nate/Jason. “Dumbass” is pretty much the first word that comes to mind.
  • Nora’s rebellion password: “I’m looking for a biography of Joe Biden.” Makes sense for a train-centric episode.
  • This week in Magical Pendant news: Apparently Ben and Rachel were part of some sort of development project that created the pendants, and 12 of them exist. With Ben, Grace, and the mysterious Randall accounted for, that leaves nine scattered across the world. McGuffin search, away!
  • No new episode next week, so I’ll see you on October 29th for “Sex And Drugs.” I’m going to assume it’s a Halloween episode where both these things are on display at a post-blackout costume party Neville will try to shut down.

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