Last week, in the wake of the horrific events at the Boston Marathon, NBC opted not to air tonight’s episode of Revolution, removing it from the schedule in favor of an NBC Nightly News special. This was the right decision, both because the events demanded respectful attention and because the subject matter of the episode—an explosive hidden in a major city—would certainly be taken as too close to home for many people. I wondered at the time if the network would be skittish enough to pull the episode indefinitely, especially after Bryan Fuller made the independent decision to pull the fourth episode of Hannibal and jump ahead to the fifth episode, and what that move would do to a largely serialized drama that has made a particular point of not airing its episodes out of order.
NBC opted not to take that course of action with Revolution, and “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia” aired tonight. As my colleague Donna Bowman pointed out in her review of last week’s How I Met Your Mother, the job of making programming decisions in the wake of a tragedy is a wholly unenviable one, and like her, I have a lot of respect for the people who have to make the decision. And as Donna said so well last week, I hope that both the episode and this review will be taken for the entertainment they are intended, and that those watching understand that no one involved means to make light of real-world events.
Okay, serious disclaimer over, let’s talk plot developments. It’s a shame that this episode had to be caught up in the real-world maelstrom, because after viewing the previews, I was looking forward to discussing “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia.” Something I’ve appreciated about this first season of Revolution has been the way that it has been gradually doling out details of the post-blackout world outside the Monroe Republic, with reveals like Monroe’s skirmishes with the Plains Nation and Randall’s smooth insinuation he could have allied with players such as the California Commonwealth. And as the title promises, this episode features our first venture into the outside world, as the nuclear device Monroe procured in “The Song Remains The Same” is bound for the Georgia Federation’s capital of Atlanta for use as a bargaining chip for their unconditional surrender.
The show spent the entirety of the first season building up the Monroe Republic as the dominant power in the show’s immediate universe, and the introduction of Georgia is clearly intended to be a culture shock, both to Charlie and to us. It also makes for an interesting exploration of what’s more valuable in a post-power economy: Georgia’s southern climate means they can grow crops year-round, giving them a House Tyrell-style advantage and allowing them to build up reserves that the more thinly-spread Monroe Republic can’t match. They can experiment with steam-powered technology, which allows them to open trade routes with European nations, and consequently build even more reserves. (It may do the job too well, as the more contemporary look of the Georgians’ dress and storefronts come across as too clean, and have the feel of the show cheating on its costume and set design budget.)
Fitting with Revolution’s narrative style, the personal scale turns out to be more interesting than the big picture, and Miles’ sighting of an old heirloom knife of his amongst a slaughtered guard detachment sets off a series of bad memories. It turns out that the head of the scout team is Miles’ old protege Alec (Dayo Okeniyi, Thresh from The Hunger Games), and things weren’t left well between the two of them. More specifically, Miles handed Alec over to the Texas government following a botched assassination attempt, and the younger man has never forgiven his mentor for this betrayal. What follows is some messy close-quarter brawling in alleyways—reminiscent of Miles’ fight with Neville in “Soul Train”—and a clever feint that sees Miles under arrest for allegedly murdering a police officer.
The relationship between Miles and Alec allows Revolution to further explore one of its darker themes that’s been creeping into the show more and more in the second half: namely, that Miles is a cold-hearted bastard. It’s not new information by any stretch as that’s always been part of his character: we knew as early as “No Quarter” that he’d made ruthlessness lesson number one in militia training, and we saw in “Ghosts” that his failure to kill Monroe was also a selfish choice as it left several of his cohorts scattered to the wind. And now, it’s getting into even more personal and uncomfortable territory with his past, both with Alec’s suggestion to Charlie to ask Miles about what he did to Rachel, and Georgia President Kelly Foster (Leslie Hope, 24’s Teri Bauer) saying she’d be well within her rights to cut him open for some past transgression.
And that ambiguity in whether or not Miles is past salvation makes the stakes all the more interesting. We want to root for Miles because he’s a straight-talking cynical badass cut from the Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds cloth, able to kick ass and quip with ease—his calling Charlie a hick for taking a moment to consider leaving the Republic for the first time was a delight. However, the show continues to present that he’s done things wherein most societies would have every right to try him as a war criminal, and he’s long past the point of even trying to admit otherwise. Billy Burke does fine work with the world-weariness of the character, particularly when Charlie pushes him for answers: “People count on me, and they get hurt. Wanna know why? Because I hurt them. And I don’t even think twice about it.”
The climax and denouement of the episode doesn’t allow any odds that he’ll be moving past a future of hurting people anytime soon. He tracks down Alec in a dimly lit warehouse preparing to ignite the bomb, and after a few tense words –Miles trying to admit blame, Alec incapable of reversing his hard-fought conclusions—a second brawl ends with Miles returning his heirloom knife blade-first in Alec’s chest. And President Foster proves herself no shrinking violet in reacting to her city nearly being nuked, responding to Monroe’s aggression with a promise to bury his “Third World ass” and asking Miles to lead 200 of her men into the Republic to wage a two-front war. Miles spent so much time trying to prevent war and lost Alec as a result; now, it looks as if washing blood off his hands is pointless as even more is to come.
On the other side of the plot, Rachel’s digging up some of her own past as she goes to meet with another of the legion of scientific cohorts she apparently has stashed over the entire continent, this one Dr. Jane Warren (Kate Burton, most recently Vice President Langston from Scandal). While Rachel has some idea of where the Tower is, accessing it poses a problem, and Warren evidently has the means to bypass its defenses. Revolution’s getting increasingly good at throwing out “what the fuck” moments to keep the action going, and Warren’s introduction certainly ranks as one of its more memorable instances: using a portable microwave device to boil two Monroe Republic sentries in their own skin, setting the grass alight as they writhe and bubble. Rachel and Aaron are understandably horrified by the sight, and moreso by Warren’s cheerful invitation: “Come back to the house, we’ve got sandwiches!”
Rachel pleads with Warren for her intelligence, but the latter refuses on the grounds that deactivating the nanomachines has personal ramifications. Time for the second annoying reveal in as many weeks: It turns out that they aren’t just the devices that are keeping the power off; they apparently have cancer-suppression abilities, and the device that Rachel cut out of Danny in “The Stand” is connected to that ability. I’m prepared to suspend my disbelief in the nanomachines being the cause of the blackout—hard as it is for me to move past something I still think is stupid—but expecting me to believe they also have magic healing powers is straining that credibility even further. At this point, I’m worried the machines are turning into an all-purpose plot spackle, able to do whatever Eric Kripke or J.J. Abrams want them to, draining the mystery from the show in each successive appearance. (Next thing you know, they’ll be throwing their own circuses or attempting to unionize.)
Once again, it’s the human dimension of the conflict that pulls it away from the more problematic dimensions, as Warren’s reluctance—and her eventual acquiescence—comes from her own personal reasons as her partner is being kept alive by those same machines. She asks Rachel whether she wouldn’t make the same call to keep Danny alive, and Rachel finally admits what she’s certainly been lying to herself about for years: One boy’s life wasn’t worth the decade-and-a-half of suffering the rest of the world went through, and it wasn’t her place to play god in these circumstances. Sarcasm about Danny’s value aside, that’s an emotional moment played well by Elizabeth Mitchell, and a necessary step in making that character viable again.
“The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia” isn’t a perfect episode of Revolution—Georgia’s a bit too alien in the context of the show and the nanomachines still feel like a slippery slope—but it does work to further orient the action around the poles of the tormented Mathesons at the center of the story. Miles and Rachel have caused a lot of pain and bloodshed through their actions, and they’re clearly fighting for some sort of absolution. And the more Revolution gets into what they’ve done and what they may yet do, absolution seems like it won’t come easy if at all.
- Between Miles’ fear of Texas obtaining power from last week and Alec’s clear fear of being handed over alive this week, the show’s not shy about painting the post-blackout Texas as a bunch of trigger-happy lunatics. Just like in real life! (Apologies to our Texas readership.)
- Speaking of other governments, many of you cracked jokes about the identity of President Affleck of the California Commonwealth after “Ghosts.” J.J. Abrams has to have Jennifer Garner’s number in his Rolodex, I’m holding out hope he can call in a favor from his former Alias leading lady and have her husband (or brother-in-law) stop by for even one episode.
- Much better use of flashbacks this episode to illustrate the shared history of characters, rather than giving us more superfluous pre-blackout backstory.
- Monroe continues his slide into insanity, as the news that Neville has disappeared and Jason is with the rebels causes him to decide he’s been “too trusting” and executes one of his officers in cold blood. Since Randall and Neville have been eclipsing him in terms of effective scheming, instability is probably the right course of action for the character.
- So, now that Rachel’s not with the group any more, is Miles going to destroy the pendant he has so Randall doesn’t track it or keep it as a resource? I’m so annoyed by what’s happened with the pendants over the last few weeks I don’t even care anymore. (Though on that subject, neat trick on Miles’ part to use flashlights as impromptu pendant detectors.)
- During Charlie and Alec’s confrontation, I can’t have been the only one who half-expected him to pause and say “You remind me of someone.”
- “Give this chubby gentleman some lunch.” Why the hell is Aaron still on this show?
- Miles Matheson, uncle of the year: “Your mom told me to take care of you, so I figured I’d drag you in front of a nuclear weapon.”