I’ve mentioned once or twice over the course of these reviews—usually when characters borrow aliases from its pages or when an episode borrows its title—that I’ve never read Stephen King’s classic post-apocalyptic novel The Stand. Recently, buoyed by curiosity at what other references I was missing and encouragement from various people on Twitter, I picked up a copy of the complete uncut version and have been reading it eagerly. That is, when I’m not forcing myself to put it down because its depiction of a virus cutting through the entire global population is completely unnerving, entire towns and cities struck down with a cough as a mysterious dark man walks alone on the roads. In fact, I’ve been enjoying it so much part of me wishes Revolution had taken more pages from The Stand and set its action at the beginning of the blackout, depicting the sudden downfall of society and showing us how new factions came into being, rather than doling that information out in flashback form.
This desire for a different approach could also come from the fact that I’ve been thinking about what Revolution’s trying to do this season, and I came to the realization I don’t have any idea. More to the point, I’m growing increasingly aware that the writers don’t seem to have any idea either. While individual episodes have been at times enjoyable on their own, fitting them together is like building a shoddy jigsaw puzzle, nothing exactly fitting together and the picture increasingly obscure. The show’s ostensible goal of a resistance overthrowing an evil empire—the goal stated outright in its title no less—has been obscured under a mountain of side quests and divergences, characters and plot threads cast aside in favor of throwing something else out there.
I’ve probably been more generous in these reviews than I should be, as each week I can usually find enough in the performances and action to convince me the show is worth my time, but in going over some of my old reviews I’ve realized nothing I expected to pan out has panned out. In the first few midseason episodes I assumed the show was establishing a potential love triangle between Miles, Rachel, and Nora, but Rachel’s been cut off from the group for several episodes and Nora lacks both serious context with Miles and a personality. After “Ghosts” I assumed the show would spend time trying to find Miles’ own cohorts, but beyond underutilizing Malik Yoba it hasn’t touched any of that material since. I’m all for a show throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, but I expect them to come back to see what’s working, not to keep splattering over them to the point of near-meaninglessness.
The events of “The Love Boat” don’t do anything to dissuade me of these concerns, largely because they’re built around another contrivance: last week’s reveal that Neville has thrown in his lot with the Georgia Federation, and President Foster has deployed him as her agent in Miles’ army. While from a certain narrative standpoint it makes sense that Neville would make himself useful to Foster—and that Foster would welcome the chance to unnerve Miles—nothing about the decision is organic. It all feels as if the writers suddenly remembered those one or two episodes earlier in the season where Giancarlo Esposito and Billy Burke enjoyed a tense chemistry, and decided to contrive an excuse to put the two back together. I would certainly take more Esposito over the alternative, but the introduction is so awkwardly handled that the well is poisoned from the start, regardless of how many sneering threats Neville throws at the resistance members.
While Neville doesn’t earn their trust, he manages to get their attention by revealing that Monroe’s failure to succeed with a nuclear weapon has led him to start practicing biological warfare, with a captive scientist Dr. Stephen Camp working to weaponize anthrax. As such, our merry band of heroes is sent off on another mission, this time to abduct Dr. Camp and bring him back to Georgia. The actual job plays out well using their various skill sets—Nora sets charges, Miles slits throats, Charlie and Jason keep their mouths shut—but it plays out a little too quickly. It also doesn’t help that the episode’s structure places the abduction at the beginning of the episode, then cuts to a “two days earlier” title card, and then goes back to the abduction with more than half of the episode to go. It’s a sloppy editing move, one clearly made for the purpose of starting the episode off on a more kinetic level.
Better off structurally is the episode’s decision to place the majority of this action within the confines of the Georgia Federation steamboat hired to take the team in and out. Besides the fact that the location scouts found some excellent waterfronts to use as backdrops, the confines of the boat mean people are forced to have conversations. Miles goes along with Neville’s plan to take the scientist’s family hostage to further guarantee his loyalty, wherein both Nora and Charlie judge him harshly, and he gets drunk and tells them to piss off. Neville tries to bury the hatchet with Jason, only to have Jason call him out for his own shifting loyalties. (The latter is mostly welcome because it lets Esposito hiss the line “You selfish little prick.”) And Charlie decides that it’s time to take matters into her own hands, teaming up to imprison both the senior officers and get the scientist to safety. None of this is written or delivered particularly well, but it’s at least trying harder than in the various episodes where people walk a thousand miles and apparently never say anything to each other.
And at the very least, it does afford for some more action to close the episode out. In the most obvious of outcomes ever Charlie’s plan doesn’t go as well as she’d hoped when Neville escapes, but it shakes Miles out of his funk enough to leap into a series of standoffs and then stage a narrow escape from a militia blockade. He gets to abandon Neville to the blockade in a deliciously cold decision, and then when Neville finally makes it back to camp two days later—another jump around in time that feels more distracting than anything else— Miles experiences some newfound confidence as he reduces Neville’s threats to empty ones with his track record against Monroe. And we finally get some movement on the Miles/Nora front as she warms to his change of heart, and in his vulnerable moment any thoughts of Rachel are thrown out the window.
Speaking of Rachel, she and Aaron venture further into the Plains Nation this episode, which affords us a more expansive view of the region: a tent settlement stretching out as far as the eye can see and a more hard-bitten population that doesn’t take kindly to strangers. Desperate straits lead both of them to steal food, a rare commodity in the region, and be slated for execution, a move which lets Rachel pull out her patented unexpectedly-kill-a-guy powers and shoot the frontiersman in the chest. What follows is a frantic course of events that sees Rachel crack her leg open, Aaron carrying her to safety, and then the two teaming up in a neat little feint to kill two other frontiersmen and take their horses.
The arc seems like the sort of thing that would help develop bonds between the two characters, given the utter lack of context for how Aaron met up with Ben’s group—I’ve looked over the timeline and I’m still confused that he apparently met Rachel before her disappearance. Only that aspect is brushed over by the reveal that Rachel’s journal of Tower secrets holds clippings of Aaron’s MIT graduate work, indicating he may well be bound up in the DNA of the blackout. I spent a good chunk of last week’s review arguing that I didn’t know what purpose Aaron continued to serve on this show, and while I see the idea behind giving him a purpose, this twist feels even more contrived than forcing Neville into the resistance. Are we supposed to assume that Ben purposely sought Aaron out after the blackout, and he didn’t randomly join the group? Again, given that the show still has yet to establish any of the history between Aaron and the Mathesons, it’s yet another twist that feels like it’s there because someone wants to try it out.
Then again, it can’t be any more out of left field than what happens in the closing minutes of the show, as we cut back to the Tower for the first time since the midseason premiere, and Grace finally gets the elevator doors open to the mysterious “Level 12.” Randall’s henchman swaggers down the elevator to take a look as Grace desperately tries to free herself, only for the elevator to stop at the seventh floor. Here’s where I was hoping the show would take an opportunity to have her show some steel—or anything past what she’s done in the less than ten minutes of screen time she’s had all season—and drop his elevator to the bottom of the shaft, or trap him and let him gradually starve.
Instead, we get the elevator going back up, the doors opening to reveal blood splattered all over the place, and a horrified look across Maria Howell’s face as we cut to black. And if I had any faith in the show to ever approach any sort of gritty realism again, this Zero Hour-style twist shattered it. I thought the power-sucking cancer-suppressing nanomachines were straining credibility, and now you expect us to believe that there is apparently something smart enough to cut a camera’s transmission and strong enough to tear a man apart? How does that in any way fit into this show’s universe?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s just reviewer fatigue after 16 installments, or maybe the long game that the writing team are playing is so well done that the big picture remains cleverly concealed until the season finale. But to my eyes, the path Revolution’s on increasingly suggests a show that doesn’t have any goddamned idea what it’s doing.
- Triumphant return of the Matheson beatdown: Neville cracks Charlie across the face for daring to hold a gun to his head.
- Randall shows up for a brief scene to caution Monroe against his increasingly extreme measures, only for Monroe to dismiss him as “my IT guy” and threaten to rip his throat out. As with Yoba, the show is wasting Colm Feore’s potential. (And it doesn’t help that his presence is increasingly missed this season over at The Borgias, and if this is the reason he’s not there now, Feore has chosen poorly.)
- It’s Mad Men’s Paul Kinsey, now a customs officer in the Monroe Republic! Always nice to see Michael Gladis on TV—my second time seeing him this year after his brief Justified stint—even if he’s sadly without Kinsey’s beard or Hare Krishna haircut.
- Award for most clumsily delivered exposition: Neville explains to Jason that his mother got hypothermia and nearly died during their trek to Georgia. I don’t know if they’re working around Kim Raver’s availability or lack thereof, but this is yet another instance where one or two episodes of seeing the Nevilles on the run would have gone a long way toward establishing context or making us care.
- Some good Miles moments this episode, including his interrogation of a captured militia soldier and his drunkenly lashing out at Charlie for bringing him back into his life—even though they're all beats we’ve seen before, Burke still plays them well. I especially enjoyed his mix of disbelief and matter-of-fact tone at seeing Neville stroll into his tent: “Tom, I’m gonna kill you.”
- Tom Neville, speaking to Charlie on behalf of the entire Revolution audience: “You are the most irritable pain in the ass I have ever known.”
- All right, go to it commenters: What’s on Level 12? Is it werewolves? Cyberdemons? Smoke monsters? Xenomorphs? Cyber-xeno-were-smoke-demons? Throw out your suggestions and I’ll acknowledge my favorites next week. I’ll bet money it’s better than whatever the writers are doodling in the margins of their whiteboards.