Rather fittingly for its title, Revolution has fallen into a cyclical pattern of “destroy and rebuild” every time it reaches the half-season mark. Both of the midseason finales and the first season finale presented a climactic series of events in which a lot of guns are fired off, our central characters mow down a series of faceless antagonists, one or more supporting characters are killed off in dramatic fashion, and the status quo of who has literal/figurative power changes. Sometimes it feels like the culmination of everything that’s come before, other times it feels like a mess of plot lines, but there’s no denying that every time the show knows it’s going on a break, a lot of stuff happens.
The advantage of this approach is that it allows Revolution to grow progressively from each of these attempts, shedding some of its dead weight. There was less dead weight to clear this round than others, owing to a much stronger second season that showed the benefit of all-new locations and plot points, and there’s more sense that the story doesn’t need to distance itself as heavily from the previous action. As such, “Three Amigos” is able to leap immediately from the shocking revelations of the pilot—sentient nanites that regard Aaron as a living god and then vanish, Julia Neville’s survival as wife to a Patriot—and move into a plethora of new plot directions, all of which get off to a good start. And, on at least two occasions, the show manages to salvage parts that I would have preferred been abandoned in one of those midseason reinventions.
“Three Amigos” picks up immediately after the events of “Everyone Says I Love You,” with Dr. Horn and his Patriot forces purged in Aaron’s cleansing fire and our group of wayward souls regrouping under cover. (They even clear up one of last season’s mysteries immediately, as Monroe and Charlie manage to liberate Gene from prison in order to heal Miles’ infected arm.) Miles is ready to plan the next offensive, but Monroe refuses to listen and demands payment for his alliance: the location of his son with Emma, first revealed in “Home” and weighing on his mind ever since. Miles reluctantly takes him out for a reunion—an even more reluctant Rachel in tow—and a deeply conflicted Aaron takes the opportunity to slip away and follow the nanite mentions of Spring City, Oklahoma.
It may seem odd for the show to break up the band again after spending the first half of the season putting them back together, but the decision works out to the narrative’s benefit. While Willoughby was a well-designed setting (if a bit too evocative of Woodbury on The Walking Dead at multiple occasions) keeping the action centered in one location meant the action always ran the risk of losing some of the propulsive key Revolution operates best at. Putting characters on the road means that we get to try out new pairings, open up a post-blackout world that still feels ripe with potential locations, and introduce a few new bit players who aren’t just people finding an excuse to stroll through the city gates.
On that scale, “Three Amigos” works well. First of all, it introduces us to a new republic in Mexico, where Miles stashed Monroe’s son years ago, and it’s a reveal that manages to subvert expectations. I was all set to roll my eyes at the still-existing border fence around Mexico and the idea that old prejudices outlast blackouts, until it develops into an amusing role reversal. Turns out Mexico’s apparently one of the richest republics, the wall’s built to keep out Americans looking for a better life, and it’s by pretending to be migrant workers that the trio manages to get in. Second, it allows us to spend time with the uneasy alliance of Miles, Monroe, and Rachel—the first time it’s only been the three of them all series—and it’s clear right away shared history doesn’t mean amigos forever they’ll be. Rachel and Monroe spend the time trading barbs with each other and clearly nursing a desire to bury a knife in the other, leaving Miles in the role of reluctant peacekeeper. (My favorite burn, Monroe’s response to a nature/nurture argument: “By that logic, Charlie’s gonna grow up and end the world.”)
And most encouragingly, the story doesn’t drag out the reveal of Monroe’s son Connor. The issue of Monroe’s son has been hanging over the series since “Home,” and given how atrocious that subplot and attendant flashbacks were at the time I was half-hoping they’d find a reason to write it off. However, it’s an important character revelation to Monroe, and the writers manage to steer out of the skid. Partially, it’s the casting of Switched At Birth’s Mat Vairo as Connor, who doesn’t get a lot to do early on but whose features and vocal inflection bear a strong resemblance to David Lyons; and partially it’s because the reveal that Connor’s a captain for a cartel awakens something that’s been buried in Monroe since his empire was nuked. His proposals to Connor that they retake the republic is one designed to appeal to youthful ambition, but also the idea that he may someday return to prior glories. Not today though, as he’s taken prisoner and escorted off to “Mr. Nunez,” the erstwhile El Guapo of the region, placing Miles and Rachel—yet again—in the ranks of reluctant saviors.
The other odyssey of the week is Aaron’s, who manages to make his way to Spring City—even managing to lose Charlie with a few feints across rivers—desperately looking for answers. He doesn’t find the nanites, or even the second-largest ball of twine in the world, but he does find something remarkable: Maria Howell’s Grace, thought lost in the Tower explosion, now pointing a shotgun in his face. This is an interesting choice, as Grace has been bounced around the show her entire tenure, first as a prisoner of Randall and then a prisoner of the Tower residents. She could have been written out entirely after “The Dark Tower,” and now here she is, apparently the one person who can give Aaron some answers. Certainly placing her with Aaron alone is the first legitimate chance she’s had to become a character, let’s see if they take advantage of it or bat her around some more.
Back in Willoughby, Charlie and Gene are enjoying some old-fashioned grandfather/granddaughter bonding time—or as much as you can bond when the grandfather is wearing regret like a second skin and the granddaughter’s turned into a ruthlessly efficient killing machine. Gene decides to stir the pot when he catches sight of a Patriot caravan heading into town, and he and Charlie opt to intercept one of the carts. The cargo, however, turns out to be deceptively bland: crates of oranges, Truman’s latest plan to win over the residents to Patriot life with promises of once-forgotten luxuries. The fruit presents the next mystery for the show, as it turns out that the Patriots are dosing them for an as-yet-unknown purpose, injecting (pun intended) another batch of mad science that seemed to abandon the show when Dr. Horn went up in flames.
And even with all of that action, there’s still plenty going on back in the world of the recently reunited Nevilles. The Patriot caravan has made its way to the White House, once again the seat of power in America, where officials and officers dine and drink together in a candlelit imitation of the old state dinners. Neville’s unexpected reunion with Julia promised a lot of loaded scheming as they work their way up the echelons of power—a House Of Cards for the post-apocalyptic set—and in the early goings it turns out those schemes may be less than harmonious. An early plot to poison the chief of staff and move Julia’s new husband up the ranks leaves her old husband seething, particularly when Julia chides him as still acting like an insurance adjuster, so much so that when the subtle approach fails he’s eager to literally force the poison down a man’s throat. I was on board for this conspiracy action right away, but the political (and at one point, sexual) tensions between Tom and Julia portend that this may be a more volatile storyline than was first projected.
So once again, Revolution leaves itself in a position where there are a lot of moving pieces. There’s murder and conspiracy in the halls of the White House, family drama south of the border, mystery in the Plains Nation and a citrus conspiracy deep in the heart of Texas. But after three cycles of figuring out what works and what doesn’t all, the show’s finally reached a coveted point: it’s made all of those plots worth paying attention to.
Your voices were heard, loyal readers! Revolution will remain in the weekly rotation for the foreseeable future.
Excellent creepy opening scene, as Truman and Shaw walk through the halls of the school to glance in horror at the char-grilled cadavers. Also earning disturbing imagery points, Miles’ surgery reminds us graphically of a world without modern convenience: Gene operates on him with knives sterilized under candlelight and uses maggots in place of antibiotics. Ew.
The President remains a shadowy figure even with the move to the White House, officials moving in and out of gatherings at his pleasure, so begin your speculation which character actor Eric Kripke and company have drafted. I’m still wishfully hoping for Bryan Cranston.
Tragically for Willoughby, given that it’s been a decade and a half since the blackout, the symbolism of the oranges in certain media is likely lost on most of the townsfolk.
Monroe remains a welcome source of surprising comedy. “Yeah, yeah, I’m alive. Come on.”
This week in Giancarlo Esposito proving himself effortlessly terrifying: “Just so we know, once we get what we want, I am going to take a knife and gut that chief of staff husband of yours.” (And a very Gus Fring moment when he dries his hands off after the forced poisoning.)
“I have to help you find your son after you killed mine.” Danny reference! Take a shot.