Before getting to the details of this week’s Revolution episode, I’m going to take a minute and propose a new commandment for serialized dramas: Thou shalt not begin thy episode in medias res when your show structure already relies on flashbacks. Tonight’s episode opened with a scene of Charlie being held down by a group of militia soldiers, with the commanding officer Slotnick (played by Joshua Cox, Lieutenant Corwin from Babylon 5) smugly explaining how “soldiers aren’t born, we make them” and branding her wrist with the distinctive Monroe Republic insignia. And then, whoosh—it cuts to “two days earlier” as the party is spying on a militia wagon train. It’s a move designed to build anticipation for the event in question, but in a show that’s already built on a fractured time structure, it’s simply another level of disjointedness that disengages a viewer from whatever comes in between.
That opening would be enough to dock the show down a few points on its own, but unfortunately that was just the tip of the irritation iceberg that was “The Children’s Crusade.” Many of you in the comments have been taking me to task for being too easy on the show (those of you who weren’t distracted by Spiridakos’ sideboob last week that is), and I’m willing to acknowledge that I’ve been adjusting my expectations for the show as it tries to find itself or hones its weekly adventure approach. This week however, even adjusted expectations didn’t manage to redeem an episode that for the second week in a row chose to forgo main plot progression in favor of a side quest. This is not an inherently doomed idea, but it is an idea that offered nothing beyond beats we’d already seen in “Sex And Drugs” and “Chained Heat,” and a step forward in the Magical Pendant mystery.
What strikes me as oddest about “The Children’s Crusade” is that it reflects an almost tone-deaf attitude to some of the problems the show has. The writers’ room evidently decided that with many people complaining about the teenage characters at the center of the show, what it needed was... more teenage characters. In fact, there is an entire settlement of teenagers and children, orphaned by a militia purge years ago. The group’s leader, Peter, has been taken by the militia, and Charlie—more than a little moved by Peter’s resemblance to her brother—states they’ll undertake a rescue operation. Aaron can’t see the logic in that, off-put by the whole atmosphere (“Yeah, this is not totally creepy”) but is outvoted by Miles, carrying guilt over organizing more than a few similar purges back in the day.
There are some interesting ideas touched on with the group of kids, particularly their ignorance of the militia—it raises the possibility that without a communications network, there could be entire pockets of civilization within the Monroe Republic who don’t even know it exists. Unfortunately, if these ideas exist, they’re being shelved for a later date, opting instead to focus on the conditioning of the captured children into Republic soldiers on an anchored cargo ship. Imagery of the ship’s claustrophobic conditions aside, the conditioning is mostly stock abuse, Slotnick offering recruits a chance to leave and then savagely swinging a baton on his legs. His preaching opts to center mainly on the “filth and corruption of the United States,” a tactic that doesn’t seem relevant given the fact that the government has been down for 15 years and most of the recruits are too young to even remember it. A little more time with Nora’s rebellion is almost certainly in order for future episodes, if Revolution intends to continue the Republic’s demonization of the old government.
Getting to the boat appears to be an impossible task, but of course Charlie remains undeterred, and has a plan to set him free—or rather, the only plan she can ever come up with, playing the helpless young girl and being invited into the belly of the best. This is the third or fourth time we’ve seen the show play this card, and beyond feeling repetitive it also fails to make Charlie seem any smarter, given her poor track record at steering the plots. Of course she fails to obtain the key, of course Slotnick sees through her deceit, and of course she’s branded as militia property for her troubles. What’s even more baffling about this is that after her attempt fails and Miles decides to help her, he is instantly more effective at mounting a rescue operation: infiltrating the boat, racking up some stealth kills, and raising the logical question of why he didn’t just do that in the first place and save everyone the trouble.
Then again, Miles’ plan isn’t any more effective as the entire rescue operation is nearly thwarted by—surprise, surprise—one of the kids taking matters into their own hands, and subsequently taken hostage. They’re saved only by a literal deus ex machina, as the Magical Pendant once again proves it’s powered by a proximity to dramatically convenient moments and switches on the lighthouse, distracting the guards and allowing Miles to regain his human weapon capacity. It’s a reveal that establishes the Magical Pendant as an unpredictable force, and one that increases the tension between the group members, but it’s also one that drains any of the sense of accomplishment out of the side quest and makes the group seem a lot less competent than they had before. If the show is serious about following this group’s adventures, it’d be nice to see them earn a win once in a while.
Speaking of the Magical Pendants—and given that Monroe himself calls them that I’m treating that term as canonical going forward—“The Children’s Crusade” flashbacks offer the most information to date about the technology behind the blackout. Originally developed by a University of Chicago research team that included Ben, Grace, and a heavily pregnant Rachel, it was conceived of as a low-cost source of power but wound up doing the exact opposite and shutting devices down. A Department of Defense official named Flynn (the always welcome Colm Feore) is more intrigued by their failure than he is by their success, offering the team a lucrative contract to expand the technology. Rachel is put off by the possibility the technology could be adapted into a weapon, though Flynn offers a fairly large incentive when life-threatning complications interfere with her pregnancy. (Danny Matheson, driving his family to desperate means even from the womb.)
Back in the present day, Monroe’s identified another member of Ben’s team, a Dr. Bradley Jaffee, and manipulates Rachel into getting the location of a pendant from him. This is the most we’ve seen of Rachel all season, and—at the risk of being crucified by the Lost fans among you—Elizabeth Mitchell didn’t do a thing to justify giving that character any more screen time. To be fair, I blame the writing more than Mitchell, as she’s given a long list of unconvincing lines to deliver as she tries to spare Jaffee’s life (“I’ll talk to him, just leave him alone”) or pretending to be a captive like him to coax the location of the pendant (“If you tell me where it is, the rebels can go and get it. They can keep it safe”). At her worst point, she winds up pleading with Jaffee to give it up for her son’s benefit, and in that moment it’s abundantly clear who Charlie inherited the whining gene from. Her Stockholm syndrome-influenced dynamic with Monroe isn’t yielding dividends either, as while David Lyons can play the detached villain he’s not so convincing at conveying any level of emotion.
The only positive thing I can say for this episode is the reveal that Flynn and the mysterious “Randall” are one and the same manages to redeem that character’s cryptic introduction in the second episode, as any character played by Colm Feore gets a pass in the early stages. Feore did some excellent work on The Borgias last season, and despite not retaining his beard from that show, he’s still a welcome addition to the show’s stocked bench of recurring villains. Unfortunately, if the plots of upcoming episodes follow in the vein of “The Children’s Crusade,” it’ll further my growing dread that bench is the best thing the show has going for it.
- NBC’s midseason schedule was announced last week, which in addition to returning all hope and goodness to the world by giving Community a return date also revealed that Revolution’s midseason hiatus will last until March 25th, so the network can pair their new drama Deception with The Biggest Loser. If any of you have an explanation why NBC would shelve their biggest hit for four straight months, I’d welcome it because this makes no sense to me. My only theory is that the network’s terrified of what the show would do without The Voice as a lead-in.
- Seriously, Colm Feore needs to grow back his beard. Considering the leap his character made between a beardless season one and a bearded season two of The Borgias, there’s a clear correlation in what his facial hair does for the show around him.
- Given the obvious Peter Pan parallels with the group of kids, I’m legitimately puzzled the creative team didn’t name this episode “The Lost Boys.”
- Matheson beatdowns this week: two punches in the face for Charlie, plus the aforementioned wrist branding.
- Sideboob count this week: zero.
- Miles serving as audience surrogate, when several young members of the settlement tag along with the group after being told not to: “It’s irritating when a dumb kid tells you what to do, isn’t it?”
- Ben explains the team’s cash flow problem to Rachel: “In another month, we won’t be able to keep the lights on.” Heh.