When Revolution debuted last year, one of the central selling points in the marketing leading up to the premiere was the air of mystery surrounding the origins of the blackout, the fact that all the lights had turned off and not a single person seemed to have the answer why. As the show progressed, it became more and more obvious that the crisis was human-manufactured as opposed to a freak accident, and that it might be possible to reactivate the power in limited or even full measure. The arc of the show’s plot began to bend more and more toward this objective, as Monroe’s desire for figurative and literal power dominated the show and Charlie and Miles’ quest became as much about stopping him as it was recovering Danny.
Personally, I’ve never felt that this was the right direction for the show to take, as we’ve seen what happens to shows that overly fixate on their high concept or central unexplained phenomenon (FlashForward, The Event, etc.). This focus means that everything that happens has to happen in service to that mystery, which tends to come at the sacrifice of interesting characters or storylines because the show’s too invested in both answering the question and delaying delivery of that answer until the writers feel it’s the right moment. More than once, I’ve argued that it wasn’t necessary for us to ever know why the lights went out, as long as the show could tell an entertaining story set in this universe and find interesting ways to display how a society previously dependent on power would evolve after a decade and a half without it.
But now “The Song Remains The Same” takes that approach away from us for good, as Rachel follows through on her promise from “Ghosts” and tells Aaron the truth about what happened. It turns out that the source of the blackout is a self-replicating, microscopic machine that absorbs the electricity from the air around it, and has since duplicated to uncountable numbers covering the globe. They only have two settings—on and off—are controlled from the mysterious Tower that Randall has apparently gained access to, and malfunctioned in a way not even Rachel can explain.
Anyone still watching Revolution at this point has learned to take a lot of what happens on the show with a grain of salt—the weekly comments complaining about how everyone still has access to makeup and conditioner after 15 years are proof of that—but I wonder if this is going to strain credulity past the breaking point for some. (It’s probably not a good sign that the first thing I thought of when Rachel described the jamming devices was midichlorians from The Phantom Menace.) After all this buildup, the explanation is essentially the technobabble equivalent of “A wizard did it,” a solution that was unconvincing at first hearing and now seems even worse as I’m writing it down. And even more baffling, the reveal comes right at the start of the episode, is delivered with little to no fanfare, and limited only to Aaron and Rachel. Aaron excitedly argues for turning the power back on, but Rachel says that she’s sacrificed enough for this and that taking care of Charlie is all that matters now. (Stupid decision made for the sake of family: Take a shot!)
And yet, despite all of that? I didn’t hate this episode, oddly enough because of how little time was spent on the big reveal. The bulk of the action in “The Song Remains The Same” is focused on the more immediate conflict between the rebels and the militia, the former of whom scores a high prize in Major Tom Neville. Hudson’s brought a network of scouts along with him to the resistance, and they manage to sight Neville’s convoy on its way to a rendezvous. And given that his vehicle is carrying 30 pounds of diamonds, it’s clearly a rendezvous for something they’d rather the Republic not have.
I’ve been praising Colm Feore’s performance over the last couple of weeks, but the actor everyone was watching when Revolution premiered was Giancarlo Esposito. He’s a valuable resource for anyone to have, and while the writers never forgot he was on the show, his profile has diminished as the Miles/Monroe conflict and Randall conspiracy became more central to the action. “The Song Remains The Same” puts him in the spotlight in a way he hasn’t been since “Soul Train,” and it reminds us why he was an early reason to watch the show. Neville’s seething over Randall’s closeness to Monroe, and the resulting glances at the interloper are vintage Gus Fring, as is the bile in his voice when he dismisses the other man as “a civilian with a smug smile and a cheap suit.” And when he’s bound to a chair by Miles and his only weapon is his voice, he deploys it well by needling Miles about his inability to save Danny, driving the other man to savagely beat him.
The increased presence of Esposito also helps focus some characters who have been more problematic in recent weeks. Rachel, confronted with the presence of the man who killed her husband, ignores the military value in keeping him alive and moves to even the score. I like Rachel best when she’s making incredibly erratic decisions rather than concealing the truth from people, and certainly knocking out a guard to kill a man ranks up there. Less impressive is the scene where Charlie intervenes and promises to kill him herself, in another piece of evidence that while Elizabeth Mitchell and Tracy Spiridakos look remarkably alike, they don’t play off each other well at all and may even be making it worse. (I wonder if Rachel’s tearful confession to Miles “In what world does it turn out that you’re better for Charlie than I am?” has any meta context.)
Rachel can’t get in to see Neville, but someone else does: his son Jason. After Charlie sent him on his way in “The Stand,” he met up with another group of rebels and joined the resistance on his own terms. Staying with parent-child acting interactions, I’m still worried about whether or not JD Pardo can stand up on his own without Esposito around, but while still in proximity, the two share a scene with several good beats, particularly as Neville confesses his pride in his son and Jason immediately recognizes it as a ruse, a move that pushes Neville back to a state of cold rage. Once he switches tactics and says Monroe’s likely to execute Julia for this, I was entirely prepared for Jason to release his father in keeping with the show’s annoying trend of family first choices. However, I give them credit for playing against my expectations, as the show pulled an effective bait-and-switch by turning the entire scene into a ruse to get Neville to reveal the location.
From this reveal, we move to a pair of fight scenes that continue Revolution’s trend of delivering competent action scenes on both the broad and up-close-and-personal scale. Miles leads an assault on the deal, only to be outgunned by Randall’s men, which allows for a few fancy feats of archery by Jason and some sharpshooting that fails to prevent their escape. (I continue to be entertained by the manner Billy Burke sums up Miles’ annoyance in a few choice words, and then go from that to murdering everyone around him without breaking a sweat.) And after a few failed escape attempts, Neville finally manages to break free of his cuffs, graphically cutting his way through two rebels—Esposito being as good with a machete as he is with a box cutter—and travels back to Philadelphia at apparently supersonic speed to collect Julia and flee the Republic.
The events of these battles leave the characters in a more fractured state than they’ve been at any point since the series started. Monroe’s purchase turns out to be a nuclear weapon—because apparently being the only government with helicopters and Hummers wasn’t good enough for him—bumping up the timetable for Miles and Charlie to take action. Rachel decides that after all of this, getting to the Tower might be their only course of action, and Aaron tags along because he has nothing else to do otherwise. And now Neville’s on the run, no friends in either the militia or the republic—a move that could further marginalize Esposito, or turn him into a wild card that could tip the balance in either direction.
That puts a lot of things up in the air, not all of which I’m convinced the show does a great job setting up, or seems to have an idea about where it’s going. Revolution’s been a more consistently entertaining show since it returned from its midseason hiatus, but its structure remains problematic at best. We’ll see if having multiple objectives, and not having the pressure of answering the big question about the blackout anymore, helps it get to a stronger point.
- My gripes about the show’s take on its big picture are compounded by how much I enjoy it on the micro level, highlighting the shifts between a world pre- and post-blackout. Witness Neville’s clear joy at the previously mundane action of listening to a Lionel Ritchie song in the car, or Jason’s confusion at Miles’ threat to “bash his little boy band face in.”
- Charlie claims another Magical Pendant from the wreck of Neville’s Humvee, which Rachel swiftly disintegrates in acid. At this point whatever specialness the pendants had is long gone, and I’m just going to assume Randall’s got a vending machine somewhere full of them.
- I try not to let my knowledge of real world casting moves bleed into my experience watching shows, but ever since Kim Raver joined in the backdoor pilot for NCIS: Red, I’m treating Julia as essentially marked for death. We’ll have to see how many episodes on the road it takes before her number’s up, or if they find a place for the character to hide so she can be around in reduced capacity.
- Week three with no opening narration, and now no flashbacks in the episode either. Both positive structural signs.
- Neville, trying to goad Miles: “Danny was a good kid, smart.” He must be referring to some other Danny. (Similarly, I am reduced to hysterics at the fact that Danny has apparently become a martyr and his sacrifice in “The Stand” has inspired others to fight back.)
- Miles considers the restoration of power to the other republics a bad idea: “Georgia, California, Texas... Oh God, Texas?!”
- Some of you last week thought that I was wrong in liking Miles’ “Conan the Librarian” line. Clearly you lacked this connection with the moniker.