Posts tagged Tracy Spiridakos

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Revolution: The Plague Dogs

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[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.

Revolution: Wrigley Field

Revolution: Pilot

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NBC RevolutionOn 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 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.

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