Revolution: “Ties That Bind” 
C+

Revolution: “Ties That Bind” 

While Revolution doesn’t subscribe to any obvious moral or political ideology—opting to gloss over serious questions of the Monroe Republic’s methods and laws—it does have a philosophical center in its clear commitment to family. With the safety net provided by electronic devices taken away, people reflexively cling more tightly to things that are real, the connections that don’t need a web browser or a phone signal to ask. And in that case, the family unit is a clear choice for preservation, offering a support system for surviving the day-to-day obstacles and something to fight for in the long term.

The problem with this philosophy on Revolution, however, is that because so many of the characters on the show make their decisions based on family, the justification for what they do feels weaker and weaker the more it happens, especially, as keeps happening, when many of those decisions come across as irrational at best and stupid at worst. Several other post-apocalyptic shows have had this same problem—Falling Skies and The Walking Dead both stumbled into bad family-oriented subplots more than once—but it’s sort of startling just how many times it’s happened here. Charlie’s willing to walk into danger time and time again to rescue her family, or as we saw last week, even someone else’s family. Rachel is giving Monroe the keys to the blackout to keep her son safe, consequences to the world be damned. Maggie walked cross-country trying to get to her children, and Aaron left his wife because he thought it was the right thing for her. Even Neville’s not immune, though his transition—becoming a stone-cold killer to protect his son—had the virtue of being to the viewer’s benefit.

So it stood to reason that eventually, even Nora would get her own family-oriented plot, which she does in the alternately entertaining and frustrating “Ties That Bind.” The group is attempting to cross the Susquehanna River to get to Philadelphia, a move complicated somewhat by the lack of bridges and even more because Sergeant Strausser’s team has finally traced the group. After an unsuccessful ambush on the bridge, Strausser calls Nora out specifically, offering an impossible choice. Either Nora surrenders Miles and the Magical Pendant, or his prisoner—her sister Mia—dies a slow and painful death.

As the only member of the main cast who wasn’t in the pilot, Nora’s been the least developed character to date, summed up in one phrase as “Miles’ explosive-savvy ex-girlfriend with a literal rebellious streak.” In what’s effectively her spotlight episode, the writers don’t do as good of a job of fleshing her out as they did Maggie or Aaron in weeks past, largely because it doesn’t come from anything we know about the character. She has a family member introduced because that’s the simplest way to humanize her, and Mia’s promise of a reunion with their father is little more than a way to introduce conflict between Nora and the group. When Mia betrays the group to Strausser, it’s a move that’s doesn’t come out of the blue, because we have no context for her motives—and revealing her as a bounty hunter immediately after rescue practically conditions one to expect moral ambiguity.

The lack of context also hurts Nora’s flashbacks, which are designed to illustrate the closeness between siblings but feel entirely disconnected from the main action. Revolution’s flashbacks, when they work, do so because they illustrate the difference between who someone was before the blackout and what the intervening 15 years did to them. Here, because we have no prior connection to Mia—and honestly not much of one to Nora—the flashbacks to Nora keeping her sister safe feel more like watching an entirely separate story with characters who just happen to share the same name. The fact that Nora and Mia are played by entirely different actors in flashback furthers the disconnect, even allowing for the fact there’s no way for Daniella Alonso to play herself 15 years ago. If they want to flesh out her past, her cryptic breakup with Miles seems far more fruitful ground.

Thankfully, Nora in present day gets her priorities in order and heads back to the exciting part of the show, where Strausser and his men have yet again ambushed the group and are opening fire with automatic weapons (in a manner that cheapens Jeremy’s comments from “Chained Heat” about the scarcity of ammunition). We get another welcome scene where Billy Burke plays off the the villain of the week, though this one lacks the shading of earlier episodes. As much as I enjoy David Meunier playing this character, the writers aren’t even trying to make Strausser anything beyond a cartoon villain, right down to his views on sociopathy: “Did you ever consider that society’s sick, not me?” Nora breaks up the debate with a few sneak attacks, and the group manages an escape, taking a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid leap into the river and swimming to the other side. Strausser lives to fight another day—because of course Miles’s rifle ran out of ammunition right when he had the other man in his sights—and returns to Philadelphia, placing the pendant in Monroe’s eager grasp.

Hopefully this means all the show’s action will be getting closer to Philadelphia soon, because there are far more interesting developments in the Republic’s capital. Jason is caught trying to uncover more information about Strausser’s mission, and an increasingly edgy Monroe orders him savagely beaten as a result. Neville protests the treatment as disproportionate to the crime, but Monroe considers the Magical Pendant retrieval priority alpha, and is prepared to send Jason off on a suicide mission to the California Commonwealth to remove the problem entirely. Giancarlo Esposito has always played quiet rage without equal, and his expression at the news indicates he’d cheerfully snap Monroe’s neck if anyone else was in front of him.

But violence turns out out to be just one option, as Julia has been keeping her ear to the ground while her husband and son were out on their mission. Her son may have developed a crush on the wrong girl, but their neighbor Colonel Faber has a more unfortunate secret, as his son is a rebel sympathizer. Kim Raver rises to the task of acting alongside Esposito in their first substantive scene, and the two share an admirable chemistry as they scheme together. “Can you just imagine what would happen if Monroe were to find out about this?” Julia speculates to her husband. “Oh, I think I can,” Neville replies—in what’s possibly his most delightfully evil delivery all season—and without hesitation serves up the Faber family for torture and execution, a demonstration of loyalty that earns Jason a pass from the fact-finding mission.

These developments offer glimpses of a new potential for Revolution, which hinted at friction in the militia’s ranks as far back as “Chained Heat” when Jeremy mused about what Miles’ desertion did to Monroe. While the secret of the Magical Pendants appears limited to Monroe’s inner circle, the potential of what can be done with that power is one that can’t stay quiet for too long if Rachel shows him how to use it, and one sure to raise questions about who should have control of it. Given how well-stocked the show’s bench of villains is, a civil war between them would be a welcome direction for the show to take in the second half of the season: Monroe and Strausser on one side, Neville and Jeremy on the other, with Miles and his group serving as the deciding element at the opportune moment.

At the very least, I’d be more confident in that plot than whatever’s brewing with Randall, as the last scenes reveal he possesses far more resources than a cattle prod. This is a potentially worrisome development, as, gripes with the storytelling aside, I’ve grown increasingly fond of the show’s universe, and how the loss of the power forces people to find alternative problem-solving tactics. Turn Randall into a supervillain who’s far beyond any of the other players, complete with his own computerized Hall of Doom? That’s more than a little beyond what the show’s conditioned me to expect.

Though at least Randall doesn’t seem to be doing this for his family, so the plot has that over most of what happens on this show. “Ties That Bind” isn’t a terrible episode of Revolution, but it is one that illustrates how repetitive the show’s approach is getting, and the long way it has to go before hitting a consistent quality. With only two more episodes to go before the four-month hiatus, here’s hoping they’re prepared to end on a high note.

Stray observations:

  • This week in Magical Pendant news: The pendants not only can bring the power back under dramatically convenient circumstances, but they’re impervious to harm! And contain tracking devices! And lead David Lyons to do his best Boromir impression once he gets his hands on one!
  • Given how many times Miles, Charlie, and company have wound up in a militia trap this season (three times this episode alone!) I’m starting to think Eric Kripke should have Admiral Ackbar on speed dial.
  • Neville, on the residents of the California Commonwealth: “Those heathens have been known to send our boys home in a box.” I’m going to assume he’s referring to Caesar’s Legion until the show provides evidence to the contrary.
  • Matheson beatdowns this week: Zero. We’ll have to make do with a Jason beatdown.
  • Midseason finale next week, featuring the music of Led Zeppelin! Yes, that’s what NBC’s treating as the selling point. If there’s no epic Miles/Neville swordfight set to “Immigrant Song,” my disappointment will know no bounds.

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