Those of you who pay any attention to the business side of television know this week is upfront week—or as I like to call it, Christmas for the television-obsessed masochists among us. It’s that time of the year where the broadcast networks announce their lineups for the next season, sing the praises of their new shows, and dance around the failures of the last year while cheerfully ignoring the steady decline of their business model. NBC announced their lineup on Sunday, and among their many changes in an attempt to rearrange the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic that’s also on fire and full of rabid wolves is the news that Revolution will be moved away from The Voice to lead off a Wednesday night slate of dramas, paired with Law and Order: SVU and the Ironside remake.
Since the news was announced, there’s been rampant speculation that NBC is trying to kill off Revolution with this move—which our own Todd VanDerWerff talked about in greater detail along with the rest of the schedule—by cutting the cord with the network’s only legitimate hit. I don’t think NBC wants to kill off a show that’s comparably a strong performer for it, but given the drop in ratings they’re likely at a point where they wouldn’t lose sleep over it. And from a qualitative standpoint, it’s been harder to see anyone who doesn’t work on the show losing much sleep over its future either. While I thought the show was ascending following its celebrated decision to terminate Danny in the midseason premiere, whatever roses grew over his grave have long since lost their bloom, as the show’s continued to lose narrative focus and subscribe even more heavily to its nanomachine mythos.
By those standards, “The Longest Day” is something of a victory for Revolution in that it’s not as bad as what’s come before (and no, I don’t expect NBC to appropriate that for a pull quote). It pulls back from the narrative digressions of previous episodes, successfully reorienting around the major conflict between the rebel/Georgia coalition and the Monroe Republic. Some of my various gripes are addressed with flashbacks to better fill in the background on the participating characters, and the episode manages to reinvigorate characters who should be strengths. Simply put, “The Longest Day” does what it needs to at this point in the season and manages to stop some of the bleeding of the last two episodes—even if it has to shove a nanomachine-powered McGuffin into the wound to get there.
We’ll get to that later though, as the biggest move the episode makes is to turn the tide of the coalition-Republic conflict. Monroe has been fighting a losing battle since Miles allied with President Foster, and now he’s reached into his stockpile of military surplus to find a new weapon: unmanned drones. With the apparent aid of a mole in the coalition, he’s dispatched the drones to ramp up his eradication of enemy outposts, with his next strike directly on the camp where Miles and company have set up shop. The strike reduces the outpost to ten percent of its fighting strength, and more importantly to Miles and Neville, leaves Charlie and Jason’s whereabouts unknown.
The reorientation to the central conflict and its more immediate effect on the main characters, means “The Longest Day” retains a sense of focus the more sidequest-themed episodes of the last two weeks didn’t have. In dealing with the aftermath of the drone strike, there’s a shell-shocked quality to the various performances and a desperation that seeps in as they try to locate the group’s younger members. There’s an uneasy truce formed between Miles and Neville—first as the latter agrees to join the search, and then when he chooses to bring the wounded Jason back alone—that helps assuage some of the lingering annoyance of forcing the two men together. And the Miles/Nora relationship also gets some badly needed context, as Nora’s earlier comment about not wanting to get too attached as they both could die turns into an admission that they’re past that point already.
The aftershock of surviving such an attack also means we get better performances out of characters who have been pushed aside. I’ve talked before about how Revolution occasionally has a problem where it doesn’t realize what a talent it has in Giancarlo Esposito, and that’s a problem absent this episode as Neville’s tempestuous relationship with his son takes center stage. He has some solid scenes, as first he dares Jason to kill him, beckoning the bullet in a tone that sends ice down the spine (even if it’s less impressive than a similar gesture on another show he was on), and then later when he’s saving the boy’s life he admits that abandoning his only son is one line he’s not prepared to cross. And while Miles is in typical human-weapon-mode for most of the episode, various flashbacks to ten years ago when he held Rachel as his prisoner—picking up from “The Plague Dogs”—show us a more heartless version, held up as a counter to the more conflicted present-day version.
Speaking of Rachel, let’s go back to that McGuffin. The capsule she recovered from Danny’s body turns out to be first-generation nanotech, which helped mend Danny’s lung tissue and now might be able to fix her shattered leg. How you react to this scene is going to depend entirely on your tolerance for where this aspect of the plot has gone, and whether or not you think the show teeters too unsteadily towards ruining what makes it special by relying on this science. Personally, I spent the moment where Rachel’s knee sewed itself back together cackling as the show waved farewell to whatever gritty realism of a world without power it once possessed, as the writers continue to throw nanomachines at whatever problem or plot hole gets in their way.
It’s at this moment that a hunting party pops in to take Rachel and Aaron prisoner yet again, which does help showcase something Revolution has been doing right. The introduction of the Georgia Federation a few episodes ago was clunkier than it could have been, but the way the show has been gradually rolling out the Plains Nation as Rachel and Aaron continue their trek has worked much better. The open plains they traverse, the weathered appearance of the various settlements, and the suspicious attitude of the region’s residents—all of it goes to establishing a sense of place, and a visual difference to the region they’ve left behind. The depiction of the residents also works to lay out how people have found different ways to adapt and live off the land following the blackout, and have a simpler worldview than the Republic or Georgia.
One of those residents who witnessed the action tries to get Rachel to help his dying son, and while she seems swayed by his resemblance to Danny, this turns out to be a ruse as she knocks him out cold. Aaron takes the Charlie role of being the annoying moralist—his line “What is the point of power if we can’t try to help people?” induced the episode’s largest groan—and Rachel coldly dismisses him by saying she doesn’t give a damn about them: “I want power so Monroe’s enemies can wipe him off the map. I want to kill the man who killed my son and that’s it.” If we’ve learned one thing from this season, it’s that Elizabeth Mitchell is best when she’s playing unpredictable, and this direction makes her more interesting than anything she’s done all season. (It’s also helped by the flashbacks, which showcase her determined single-mindedness even in the face of a vicious Miles.) As we get closer to the Tower, it should be interesting to see what other extremes she’ll go to, and whether or not Aaron thinks stopping her is a wise course of action.
But as unhinged as Rachel seems to be, she can’t hold a candle to the man she’s vowed to destroy, as Monroe’s paranoia has only grown worse following the events of “Home.” Captain Baker suggests he get out of his office and share a drink with the men, only for both men to nearly be cut down by a rooftop sniper. With both surviving unharmed, it doesn’t take long for Monroe to see a threat from this corner as well—the man who was the first one to join him and Miles in forming their republic no less—and he calls in a circle of guards to emerge from the shadows to take Jeremy prisoner.
Baker sees the writing on the wall, and doesn’t even ask permission to speak freely as he cuts Monroe down verbally for his increased isolation that drove both Miles and Neville way—a solid scene for Mark Pellegrino, and one that makes the course of events legitimately regretful. David Meunier’s Sergeant Strauss had to die earlier this season as the character had become an utter cartoon villain, but Baker had a lot of potential as a character who had a shared history between Miles and Monroe and could have served as a possible intermediary, or even the leader of an internal rebellion against the unhinged general. Instead, he’s gunned down by firing squad, and Pellegrino is forced off the show. (If Baker is in fact dead, that is. We never do see the body, dissent is growing amongst Monroe’s ranks, and Pellegrino has a track record of not staying dead on other shows.)
The reveal that the sniper was a Georgian independent agent with no connection to Jeremy clearly weighs on Monroe’s conscience, which doesn’t bode well for the fate of Nora, now trussed up and sitting in a jail cell in front of him. This is a move that should help keep the action oriented around the central conflict—Miles is certain to pull off a rescue attempt regardless of President Foster’s talk of surrender—and may also fill in one of the blanks I’m still interested in to explain how pre-rebel Nora met General Miles. And once again, the fact that it made me interested in any of these things after two lackluster weeks is enough to qualify “The Longest Day” as a minor success.
- Some more speculation about Revolution’s move to Wednesday nights: While Fox is the only other network to announce its schedule, none of the other three are likely to make any seismic shifts with their lineups given their history and what’s been picked up. That means Revolution’s likely to be airing against The X Factor, The Middle and whatever other comedy ABC pairs with it, Survivor and Arrow. It’s not a competition that could kill it outright—of that lineup Arrow’s the only one that’s likely to have serious audience overlap—but it will be a thicker competition than it’s had before. Though at the very least, as Todd said in his analysis, it’s certainly going to do better than Guys With Kids and Animal Practice.
- No sign of whatever’s on Level 12 of the Tower yet, so please continue to speculate on possibilities. My favorites from last week include Kumagoro’s list of progressively tougher boss monsters, PhilInterrupted guessing it’s a carnivorous cloud of nanites with the face of Titus Welliver, DatCatLivinAs A Jap’s suggestion that it’s Randall’s son reanimated as a cyborg monstrosity and CineCraft envisioning it as a pack of sentient bicycles fused together.
- I’ve never tried to read into any of Revolution’s politics over the course of this season, so I won’t speculate on whether or not the introduction of unmanned drones to turn the tide is meant as a statement on their current use in warfare. That said, I did appreciate the human moment of the two operators returning to their pre-blackout duties: “Ever think you’d be doing this again?” “Never wanted to.”
- Speaking of the drone strikes, one serious gripe about the course of the action scenes is that ever since the power was reintroduced, the far more characterful sword fights have been toned down in favor of generic shootouts. I can picture Eric Kripke’s message to the viewers: “Remember that early monologue about the scarcity of bullets? We certainly hope you don’t!”
- One of Miles’ dubious honors as general of the Monroe Republic was the title of Butcher of Baltimore. I would deeply appreciate a miniseries pitting his army against a rival force assembled from the police and drug dealers of The Wire. (Or for some NBC synergy, seeing what Hannibal’s Dr. Lecter would do for dining options in a more undisciplined world.)
- Timeframe analysis: Rachel left her family seven years after the blackout, and the events of the Enemies of the State miniseries took place eleven years after. That means it took Miles four years to go from heartless general to attempted assassin, and four more years for Charlie to find him hiding out at a Chicago bar.
- Best line of the episode goes to Miles, after shooting a sentry. “Maybe nobody heard that.” Cue every gun within a half-mile firing on his location.
- So, Charlie and Jason are in love now. I won’t waste your time pretending to be interested in that.
- “It kept Danny alive.” Why would that capsule do such a mean thing to us?