Posts tagged JJ Abrams
[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), playing daisy slots at my favorite casino website while 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.