On Wednesday morning, I was sitting in a casino in Elko, Nevada (the state where I do Humanities work), waiting for my breakfast to arrive, when the power went out. It’s an odd thing to sit in complete darkness in a casino, which are notorious for not having windows (Don’t be silly! There’s no outside world to participate in. Stay here with the slot machines and the lure of easy money and free drinks.). Just moments before I had been browsing online for this list of Texas sites, while watching the early morning gamblers touch the computerized screens to make the images of cherries, lemons, and BARs turn over and over on a digitized reel. No longer are the days where you put in a coin, pull a handle, and watch the revolving mechanical reels spin and then steal your hopes for changing your fortunes in less than thirty seconds. Gambling is now, even in the casino itself, computerized.
Thanks to a generator, the only things that continued working that morning were the slot machines and the Cashier’s cage. Luckily for me, my breakfast was the last thing the kitchen completed before the power went out, so I sat in the darkness, eating eggs, distantly lit by the glow of neon promises.
Tonight, as I sat watching the season premiere of Revolution, the new Eric Kripke creation produced by JJ Abrams and Jon Favreau, the opening scenes exploring the devastation that occurs when electricity disappears, felt not just apocalyptic, but relatively reasonable.
From the outset, Revolution is keen to highlight our modern reliance on not just electricity, but also the technological gadgets that, they imply, dominate and dictate our lives. The early minutes are spent with the Matheson family (Ben, Rachel, and children, Charlotte (“Charlie”), and Danny), as they watch TV, and talk on cellphones while surfing the web.
The conspiracy is planted in the first few minutes, with a panicked Ben warning wife Rachel that “it’s” going to take place soon. He then attempts to call and warn his brother, Miles, a military officer who is out carousing with best friend Bass. (More on them in a bit.) Before he can say anything, the event occurs, all power is lost, and planes fall from the sky. (I’m beginning to think that Abrams productions are trying to keep me from flying.) The show immediately exposes that the loss of power was, in some circles, expected. Of course, that doesn’t mean we know who the perpetrators are.
Oddly, if it weren’t for aircraft falling from the skies, one might get the sense that life without electricity is a better world. For while the show is quick to point out casualties of permanent power loss that we might overlook – it’s not just transportation, but also medicine creation – it quickly jumps 15 years into the future, and at first glance that future looks a bit too utopian. The Mathesons, minus their dead mother (who we know is not really dead because Rachel is portrayed by Elizabeth Mitchell), live in a village where everyone seems rather happy, agrarian, and enjoying their communal lifestyle. . .and where kids still hate going to school and learning about history.
Of course, a joyful apocalypse doesn’t provide much of a show, so we soon find out that America has become a dystopia, ruled by the unseen tyrant, General Monroe, and policed by his militia, who are the only ones in America allowed to carry guns. Monroe is obsessed with capturing the Matheson brothers, who he believes can turn the power back on, allowing him to use the weapons necessary to overtake the rest of the world. Monroe’s lead man trying to find the Mathesons? Captain Tom Neville, portrayed by casting coup Giancarlo Esposito. This is almost enough of a reason to tune in on its own.
After a botched attempt at capture, resulting in the death of Ben Matheson, the lead for the show becomes Charlotte “Charlie” Matheson, played by relative newcomer Tracy Spiridakos. Charlie is given a command by her dying father – find her asthmatic brother Danny, who has been taken by the Monroe militia, and find her Uncle Miles (played by Billy Burke), who is the only person Ben considers competent and dangerous enough to help her get Danny back.
One thing Revolution does well in this pilot episode is move the plot forward at a quick pace, giving answers to things that could have been dragged out over many episodes. I was pleasantly surprised to see Charlie find her uncle Miles with relative ease, allowing that search to be resolved in less than half an hour. Within a few scenes, Nate is revealed to be a Militia soldier who betrays Charlie, even after saving her life from roving rapists/bandits. And while we don’t have a sense of who brought about the catastrophe, by the end of the episode we know two significant things: 1. The secret USB necklace that Ben protects with fierce passion has the ability to reignite electricity in a small area (and Ben isn’t the only person who carries one); and 2. General Sebastian Monroe is none other than Miles’s friend Bass, who we briefly saw in the beginning of the episode.
Given that most critics have found the show unsatisfying and somewhat ridiculous, I went into my viewing a bit more hesitant than I normally would have been for a Kripke/Abrams production. That said, I found it an easy decision to keep this on my DVR season pass list. The visuals of a world where human constructions are being overrun with plants, water, and just nature in general were gorgeous, especially iconic Chicago buildings and views. The casting is relatively solid and I liked Charlie enough to keep watching. Nate might have been revealed as traitor, but his interest in Charlie was conveyed well and I have little doubt he will switch sides at some point. His character might, for now, be the most intriguing. And, quite simply, the presence of Giancarlo Esposito is a massive selling point.
While it’s easy to pick apart the common themes of a dystopian/apocalyptic narrative, since we’re so bombarded with those stories and images, Revolution has enough to distance it from Falling Skies or The Walking Dead.
It’s funny, but I can’t help but be nostalgic for a time when we actually gave shows more than one episode to prove themselves. We now condemn or give up after the pilot, without allowing a show to find its footing, or even figure out how to write for their actors (think of how Supernatural changed when it realized the gold mine of emotion and charisma they had with Ackles and Padalecki). Is it the best new show on television? Of course not, but I found the narrative convincing enough that I’m looking forward to seeing how things develop next week.