Posts tagged dystopia
I’m trying so hard to like you, but you’re not totally working with me here. So let’s just cut to the core of the problem. The show is being centered on the character of Charlie – her story is the sun around which all other narratives orbit – and she just can’t carry that weight. I think it was at Comic-Con this year, when they did a sneak preview of the pilot, that there was quite a bit of chatter about Tracy Spiridakos and how the audience was going to see that JJ Abrams casting magic once again – the magic that gave us Keri Russell in Felicity and Jennifer Garner in Alias. That’s a lot of pressure. . .and it’s not really pressure that Spiridakos can live up to. Charlie is a middling character, and the sooner the Revolution writers, and producer/creator Eric Kripke, realize this, the better off the show will be. Charlie and Danny are necessary elements of the show, but this week proved that you’re better off getting more time with Giancarlo Esposito, Elizabeth Mitchell, and (finally) David Lyons than you are by focusing on the Danny/Charlie turmoil.
Yes, I do sound like a broken record, but the fact that each episode leaves me with the feeling that there’s potential untapped frustrates me. The concept of the show is solid, and there are many avenues for development. But as long as the focus is on the kids, and not on the adults who are far better actors, then the show will consistently leave viewers wanting more of an orbiting storyline rather than that center.
With Miles, I’m waiting to see Billy Burke have an emotional storyline with someone other than Spiridakos. I’m not completely sold on the Miles/Charlie relationship. “Soul Train” attempted to show the deepening bond – and the fear that Miles has that he’s turning her into a version of his modern-self, squashing the caring personality who was more innocent than warrior. This works, to a degree, but as I’ve mentioned before (and seen in other reviews so I’m not totally crazy), Burke has been cast as a Han Solo figure. The problem is that Burke hasn’t really had much of an opportunity to convey that devil-may-care charisma that made audiences swoon for Solo. While I wouldn’t argue that Burke will ever reach Ford levels of roguish mercenary with a heart of gold, I think he would benefit from getting a storyline apart from Spiradakos. This is a possibility if we get more backstory on the Miles/Rachel relationship. There is also the Monroe v. Miles conflict in the future, which could provide a better stage for Burke.
“Soul Train” allowed us a glimpse into the early life of Tom Neville, a man more coward than warrior when the lights were still on. A mild-mannered insurance adjustor, Neville is married to Julia (Kim Raver) and has a young son, Jason. The day of the event, Neville has been fired from his job, so the world going dark might not have been such a bad option for him. It’s an incident soon after the event, when a neighbor breaks in to steal Neville’s tradeable goods, that pushes Neville into becoming more of the person we now know. He’s brutally attacked by the neighbor, in front of Jason, and when he, surprisingly, gets the upper hand Neville beats his neighbor almost to death. That son, Jason, will grow up to serve in the Militia at his father’s side – and the audience currently knows him as Nate, the boy who is clearly in love with Charlie and trying desperately to capture Miles. Surprise!! The Neville storyline seemed the most fruitful of “Soul Train,” possibly because it is allowing the audience to develop a deeper understanding for the characters.
In my last review I complained that Monroe hadn’t really manifested great menace. He seemed to be a villain who would use the “I’m speaking softly to show how scary I am” technique to get his way. However, this week found him in a few more scenes that illuminated just how megalomaniacal he really is. At one strategy meeting, there is a map spread across a desk that charted out how America had split after the apocalypse. There are six “nations”: Monroe Republic, Georgia Federation, Texas, Plains Nation, Wasteland, and California Commonwealth. Texas having its own nation was both a nice nod to their political leanings and rather funny, while Wasteland reminded me of Fallout: New Vegas. I can’t lie. I was very relieved to see that Lake Tahoe had made it into California Commonwealth, and wasn’t mired in Wasteland. For now, the main focus is Plains Nation and Georgia Federation, as they share borders with Monroe Republic. As these two nations begin to turn against Monroe, he makes it clear that having electricity, with which to power heavy weaponry, will allow him to annihilate his enemies and rule over all.
Monroe also turns this menace on Rachel, speaking softly but using Danny as a weapon – a weapon successfully delivered to him by Tom Neville. It appears to work. Rachel tells Monroe that both she and Ben were working on the secret electricity project and that there are a set of pendants, twelve in all, that are crucial to the project. Find the pendants – let there be light. Yet it seems hard to believe that Rachel would cave so quickly. There’s more here, clearly, and Rachel seems smart enough to strategize how to use information to keep both her son and herself safe. Or maybe I feel that Elizabeth Mitchell is smart enough to do that. At this point I’m not sure.
Oh yeah, there was also a train. But honestly, that entire storyline was superfluous, with the exception of Miles and Tom having a mini-battle when Miles has to save Charlie, AGAIN, and the guest appearance of Jeff Fahey (his arrival made me immediately yell out “Lapidus!”), who is part of the rebel alliance and joined up with Nora to try and blow up the train – the train that’s carrying Danny.
“Skip to the end.”
Train leaves, train almost blows up, Miles saves train, Charlie sees Danny, no one saves Danny, Nate/Jason throws Charlie from the train to save her life.
This show has a lot of work to do.
[MAJOR SPOILERS – DON’T READ IF YOU HAVEN’T YET WATCHED LAST WEEK’S EPISODE!!]
There are so many things that Revolution finally did right in “The Plague Dogs.” In fact, while I would like to call this “the episode about Maggie,” there are a variety of great scenes to highlight. First and foremost, the show finally gave us some detailed backstory about one of our fighters.
Maggie’s story is one of sorrow – she was in Seattle when the world lost power, but her children were in England with a caregiver. Until that scene of her Skyping with her kids, I hadn’t really thought about the travelers who would be stranded away from home, especially the many people working internationally. The show fleshed out Maggie’s travails in her attempt to get back overseas, and how once she realized she was trapped in America, and that her children were probably dead, she embraced despair, with Ben Matheson unknowingly saving her moments before she was going to kill herself. With Danny and Charlie, Maggie found a reason to survive in a dismal, dystopian world, and it’s a message she forthrightly passes on to Miles, who is more than willing to abandon family once things get complicated. Maggie’s story is nicely done – it’s very human without the epic mythos of the Matheson storylines – and gives the audience a reason to care about the character.
Of course, as is often the case with televised serialized narratives, once we care about the character, it’s the end of that character. There’s a red herring moment in the episode where Aaron is attacked by a pack of guard dogs and suffers a somewhat severe bite in the leg, and his excessive concern leads one to wonder if he could be a casualty, though eliminating the show’s comic relief this early in the season would be silly. Yet it is Maggie’s rescue of Aaron, by shooting the attacking dog with her crossbow, that seals her fate. She is set upon by the reclusive dog owner and stabbed in the thigh, which severs an artery and leaves her bleeding out.
It was quite refreshing, in a morbid way, to watch as the team was unable to save her. A more clichéd moment would have been the threat of death and then subsequent rescue, with her life saved at the final moment by Aaron and Nora stitching up her artery. This would have allowed for Maggie to continue on as the maternal figure watching over Charlie. But this was not to be, and Revolution showed that it was not afraid to kill off characters, who, while not part of the Matheson clan, still seemed a significant part of the show. But, this is an Eric Kripke show. I shouldn’t be surprised that death stopped by to take a character.
One of the reasons this story works is because the adults are the ones who can carry the acting burden – Maggie’s speech to Miles is a bit tired, but Anna Lise Phillips sells it. And Miles, who is continuing in his role as the show’s Han Solo, responds to it. Yet this is what Revolution did well this week – it gave storylines to the actors who need to be the focus of the show – Miles, Tom Neville, and Elizabeth Mitchell. Danny and Charlie become better characters when they become secondary to the adults around them.
There is little the show can do to make Danny seem more than a fragile child – fragile with rather muscular arms. Scenes with Neville only serve to highlight his childish responses to situations. Plus, can we all just accept that Danny is the worst escape artist EVER. It’s like he wants to keep getting captured. I’m hoping that as an actor, Rogers will be better served by interacting with a larger cast of characters, and that Esposito will be given more to do with adults around. While the tornado scene demonstrated that Danny has more of his father in him than his mother, as a set piece it was nothing in comparison with Charlie’s kidnapping by the crazy dog guy.
[Nonsensical moment that drove me crazy: Charlie gets taken by crazy guy who has already stabbed Maggie and Aaron doesn’t immediately release Nate? Why? It’s obvious that Aaron can’t save her, but clearly Nate can. RELEASE HIM! No brainer.]
As if Maggie bleeding out in the diner wasn’t stressful enough, Charlie is grabbed while Miles and Nora are doing recon trying to find crazy guy. When they finally return, Miles is savvy enough to recognize that he needs Nate’s help (I’m guessing a sign of a partnership bound to manifest?) and frees him. After a confrontation with the man, who is killed only when Nate and Miles work together, they head towards the muffled screams of a duct-taped-mouth Charlie. The trap set by crazy guy, with a crossbow set to shoot Charlie if a rescuer opens the door, is quite awesome. Clearly she’s not going to die, but it was still a nice tension builder, especially because if she hadn’t used her chair rocking skills, then Miles opening the door would have killed her.
While this scene is a trigger for compassion in Miles, it’s the death of Maggie that changes things. This is Spiridakos’s best moment so far. Charlie’s pain and sadness at the death of Maggie seemed so real, her fear of abandonment was so strong, that the moment was charged with an emotion the show really hasn’t demonstrated yet. Granted, there’s no real need for Miles to articulate that he’s not going to leave – I think his immediate instinct to comfort Charlie demonstrated that he was not going to abandon her – but overall it’s one of the most powerful scenes in the episode, if not the series to date.
The audience is also gifted with a bit more Rachel Matheson, and frankly any Elizabeth Mitchell screen time is good for the show. It’s difficult to see Monroe as a terrifying threat at this point, although he hasn’t really been given a scene in which to show great menace. He is a quiet presence, carrying a power we have yet to understand, and the writers cleverly avoid the implication that he has any kind of attraction to Rachel. There’s one instance where it seems that’s where the narrative is headed, but instead we get Monroe grilling Rachel about Ben’s knowledge of the blackout and her understanding of how to get the power back on. Monroe has a singular focus, and while torture doesn’t get Rachel to talk, he’s hoping that his possession of Danny will make her crack.
Near the beginning of “The Plague Dogs” the audience is witness to the moment where the Matheson family is separated, from Charlie’s perspective, with Rachel leaving her family, seemingly of her own volition, to get “supplies.” It’s clear that something else is in play, but there’s a subtle implication that Rachel is choosing to abandon her family – that she possibly can’t take the pressure of maintaining this existence and must escape. This is, of course, yet another narrative misdirection. As with episodes prior, there is a shocking end reveal/teaser, and this one shows that same scene, but from Rachel’s perspective. Amidst much personal, emotional trauma, she walks away from her family and into a Militia camp. There is a figure, in shadow, looking at a map and plotting strategy with a soldier. The show wants you to think the figure is Monroe, but as the figure turns and Rachel announces, “ I came. Like you asked,” the figure walks into the light and it’s Miles. Who then has her handcuffed.
This narrative arc – the story of why the blackout happened, how the Militia was formed, how the war begun, and the role the Mathesons play in all this – is one of the more promising aspects of the show. I don’t want to jinx anything, but I do think each week the episodes get just a bit stronger and I’m still hoping for more time for Esposito and Mitchell. “The Plague Dogs” proves that the more experienced actors are the show’s weapon, and can make even the most familiar of narratives work.
Need. More. Character. Development.
Does that count as a review?
It must be depressing to be a television creator on a major network (and I don’t include the CW as major), as you have no time to win over the audience. Get the ratings immediately or die. I know this isn’t a new complaint, and Seinfeld (or The X-Files) is trotted out as the example that best exemplifies the “show that would have been canceled in its first season” if it were on the air today.
There must be a sense that ACTION, ACTION, ACTION is what brings in the ratings and that actually caring a smidgen for the characters comes later.
It’s the only reason I can think of for the Revolution writers to wait this long to give the audience anything to grab on to with the character of Charlie. And I single-out Charlie over any of the other characters because you get the sense that she’s meant to anchor the action, but unless they write her some better scenes it’s not going to work. I’ve read a few critics who argue that once again a show is set around young people with no depth, and at first I thought they might just be grumpy, but it’s true. For Danny and Charlie to work, they need to improve their storylines, because you know what? Charlie doesn’t listen to what she’s told to do – I GET IT! Stop making that her narrative of the week.
However, what really works this week is the building mystery around Miles, Monroe, and Jeremy (new addition Mark Pellegrino). Their lives are intertwined nicely pre- and post-apocalypse. Their roles in both times being slowly fleshed out, although Miles is so Han Solo that he even wears a similar belt and barks out lines about the futility of the Rebel Alliance. This seems to be the storyline the writers care for the most – or maybe it’s just the most naturally acted scenes in the show.
One smart move was taking Aaron (Zak Orth) and Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips) away from Charlie and into their own action. Their visit to Grace Beaumont’s house, where her absence, rather than dead body, implied kidnapping, gave the pairing something to do and allowed Aaron to serve as more than just “funny quip guy.”
But, still, this episode was about action. The majority of the episode was centered on the newly revealed rebel base being attacked by a militia group led by Jeremy. Burke’s portrayal of Miles, as usual, carried the rebellion scenes, but it was hindered by clichéd dialogue, especially when Nora fights to get Charlie back into the action and out of her “surrounded by death” funk.
Pellegrino, however, saves the militia moments, by incorporating the same tone and humor that he brought to his role as Lucifer in Supernatural into his scenes and character. I’m hoping Jeremy lasts for a while, because Kripke knows how to write for Pellegrino – so well that I was, for some moments, rooting for the Militia. . .mainly because I wanted more Jeremy zingers.
Revolution is trying to manage a large cast, and to tell stories about most of them. Right now they’re spending a bit of time on all of them. In order for us to care about these characters, they need to take a page from the book of season one LOST. They really need to spend an episode focused on a character, rather than jumping around all of the stories. One of LOST’s greatest strengths was that it made us love the characters, even while this surreal, catastrophic story was being woven around them. The way it did that is by having us invest in their personal stories – one by one – narrative by narrative. By the end of the first season, we had in place a mythology, but, more importantly, the audience was invested in the future of the survivors.
I’m still cautiously optimistic at this point, but there is work to be done.
[If you haven’t watched the episode, stop now, spoilers abound]
Revolution’s second episode was a serviceable narrative that moved the action forward a bit, introduced a few new key players, and added some last-minute twists to feed the underlying mythology of the show.
Eric Kripke can write compelling characters – how much time do I spend dissecting Bobby and the Winchester boys on this site? – but there needs to be some intense development with some of these people so that the audience can begin to invest in their safety and survival.
For Charlie, the show might have been better served by having Danny around for more than one episode before being kidnapped. As the older sister to brothers that I’ve always felt compelled to watch over, Charlie’s plight – her need to care for and save her brother – is an emotionally resonant component of who she is. The problem lies in the lack of interaction we were allowed to witness before his capture. If you examine the relationship between Sam and Dean Winchester (and yes, I’m going to keep referring back to Kripke’s Supernatural, a more established show), you feel Dean’s pain every time he fails to protect Sam. And while that relationship didn’t develop immediately, the first episode was about their fractured relationship. We got to spend that first 40 minutes in their company, watching the complicated emotions seething beneath the surface of their interactions. Charlie has a good reason for being dedicated to her mission – and for insisting on dogging the steps of her uncle, Miles, but we haven’t seen enough of the Danny/Charlie relationship to fully embrace that emotional intensity.
The characters that really resonate are the ones with the strongest actors. Elizabeth Mitchell sells every scene she’s in because she’s Elizabeth F***ing Mitchell. The reveal at the end that she’s alive and being held captive by Bass wasn’t totally a surprise – the reveal of who had her, yes, that added a level of fun, but her being alive? No. . .because it would have been silly to have Mitchell on the payroll without using her as much as possible.
The same goes for Giancarlo Esposito. While his character is a bit of scenery-chewer, Esposito just moves and speaks with an ease that belies that he’s acting. The accent though. . .that’s tricky after spending so much time with him as Gustavo Fring, where his character carried himself with a quiet calm that cloaked the seething anger that ran through his veins. Esposito, like Mitchell, needs more to do, but I’m hoping this will come in later episodes.
Billy Burke’s Miles Matheson is intriguing. His character’s ability to straddle multiple worlds gives him layers the other characters lack. His relationship to Bass, and to the Monroe Militia should prove great fodder for future episodes. Also, that man can wield a sword. While there wasn’t quite the set piece that we got last week, the fights were insanely good.
So, what we learned:
- Rachel Matheson is alive and being held captive by Bass (General Monroe), who she knows because of Miles
- Captain Neville believes in his mission and his men, though I’m looking forward to seeing what truly motivates him
- Charlie will kill when necessary – which she learned by watching her mother kill a somewhat violent stranger who tried to steal their food during their escape from the city (note: Rachel can kill. . .Ben cannot)
- Miles *really* is quite good at killing people – you want him on your side
- There is a resistance (so tempted to call this the rebel alliance), and the American flag (which is now burned on sight) is their symbol.
- There is someone in that rebel force (?) that would appear to have turned into a mercenary or some new evil – whose face we never see but his name is Randall (all I can think is Randall Flagg from The Stand) – and is threatening the life of Grace Beaumont.
- Miles cannot give characters nicknames (“Chuckles”). He is *not* Sawyer and shouldn’t try to be, even with both characters considered the Han Solos of their respective shows.
There have been many critics who see Revolution as a thinly-veiled metaphor for the American Revolution. This isn’t quite right. This is clearly a Civil War – this is a world where there has been secession and overthrow of an established government, where once again brother has turned against brother and lines have been drawn in American soil (this week’s reference to slavery also highlights the connection). This is an American war – an American battle – and I’m hoping it will soon be an even more robust comparison.
Side note: C. Thomas Howell. . . .that casting, as with Spider-Man this summer, pulled me right out of the story. I’m not sure stunt casting actually works. If you can’t actually see the character as anything other than their real-life persona, then the casting isn’t successful. While it’s not his fault, I couldn’t see Howell as a menacing bounty hunter – I could only see him as 80s actor C. Thomas Howell. [see also: Casting Paris Hilton in an early episode of Veronica Mars and in Supernatural – completely distracting and clearly only for ratings.]
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.