Honestly, I’m ready for this season of ‘Revolution’ to be over.
The series began as an ambitious but deeply flawed quasi-‘Walking Dead’ spinoff, a post-apocalyptic world where a group of heroes run from place to place, lecturing each other about what’s right and what’s wrong. Of the series’ many problems early on, most glaring was the character at the center of the action, Charlie. Charlie, a young woman whose most notable trait was her ability to maintain impeccably coiffed hair without access to electricity, whined and cried her way into ‘the worst characters on TV’ club in record time. She was unwatchable, and she made the show unwatchable.
To its credit, ‘Revolution’ realized this and took steps to correct it. Since it came back in 2013, the series has shifted its focus away from Charlie – turning her into a blandly heroic and mostly dull side figure – and refocused itself on Miles Matheson. Billy Burke’s performance is much more interesting, and Miles is a generally more traditional lead for this type of show, a la Rick on ‘The Walking Dead’. It’s probably an improvement.
Here’s the problem: ‘Revolution’ is still bad, it’s just bad for a different reason. While those handful of Charlie-led episodes were grating and at times excruciating, they were also ambitious and structurally varied. Though removing Charlie and stripping away any and all of her defining characteristics solved the show’s most pressing issue, it created a massive ambition void that the series has utterly failed to fill.
What we’ve been left with is a band of unremarkable heroes slogging their way through a once-interesting world – one that is delivering rapidly diminishing returns – completing quest after quest with minimal impact on the larger story or lasting change in the dynamics between the heroes. The characters feel like wind-up toys, where once a week they’re set on an edge of a table, pointed towards a finish line at the other edge, then wound up and left to shakily waddle towards the goal.
And so we get episodes like “Clue”, where on their way confront Monroe for the umpteenth time, Miles & Co. stop for gas for their helicopter and have to deal with an assassin killing the nameless, faceless members of their army. They quickly learn that it’s one of their own, causing Miles to cordon off a warehouse full of our main characters, one of whom he believes is the killer. You know, like the board game ‘Clue’.
The hour’s source of fun was guessing who the killer was, and when his identity was revealed as Miles’ old friend Jim, it was surprising on the small scale but predictable on the large. Surprising because the episode did a rather good job of keeping its cards close to the vest and letting the audience guess; but predictable because if one of the main group of Miles, Nora, Tom, Charlie, or Jason was the killer, it would dramatically shake up the show’s status quo, and ‘Revolution’ in 2013 is nothing if not committed to is own status quo.
Aside from large-scale issues, ‘Revolution’ consistently struggles and cuts corners with even basic episode-specific storytelling. Straining so hard to create something memorable, the series continues to put character continuity and common sense in the backseat and wrong-headedly shoot for whizz-bang moments of glory.
In this episode, Jim the traitor is standing behind Miles holding a gun, but instead of shooting him, he waits to have a pointed conversation with him, then engages in a fist fight. Eventually, suspected-traitor Jason arrives and kills Jim. And for the cliffhanger at the end of the hour, Rachel infiltrates Monroe’s camp with shocking ease, then walks into his tent holding a grenade. She could have ended everything and spared her own life simply by throwing the grenade into his tent from a distance, but ‘Revolution’ can never resist an opportunity for a monologue. We’ll see what happens next week, but Monroe will certainly survive, and Rachel probably will too. Status quo and all.
It’s lazy. What ‘Revolution’ is asking of its audience goes way beyond suspension of disbelief; it’s asking the audience to forget about everything we know about human beings and how humans behave. It’s asking us to turn our brains off and enjoy the action, while simultaneously asking us to engage with characters that are routinely treated like pawns on a chess board to facilitate that action. It’s hollow. It’s nonsense.
The reason even a mediocre series like ‘Walking Dead’ transcends ‘Revolution’ is not the hyperbolic level of violence and gore that the former reaches; it’s that ‘Walking Dead’ can pull off a stunning episode like “Clear”, where the over-arching narrative takes a backseat to the characters. ‘Revolution’, now lacking any genuinely interesting characters, has slavishly devoted itself to advancing the narrative of its own story, and nothing else. As such, the series feels like a mechanical churning towards a foregone conclusion rather than a living, breathing piece of storytelling.
‘Revolution’ may not have zombies, but as season one winds down, the show itself feels deathly cold to the touch.