Tuesday, 25 September 2012

REVOLUTION, 1.2 – 'Chained Heat'

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

written by Eric Kripke / directed by Charles Beeson

I'm probably not going to review Revolution weekly, but thought I'd offer some brief thoughts on its second episode. Post-apocalypses are very hard to do on television, and not just for monetary reasons associated with bringing that kind of world to life. Unless the survivors are complex and interesting people, they just don't work. It helps if there's an on-going threat to them (like the zombies in The Walking Dead), but I'm not sure if Revolution's militia is enough—despite the fact Giancarlo Esposita's doing a good job as the show's primary villain. Beyond that there's the problem that the high-concept (someone switched the entire planet's electricity off and it won't restart) will start to bore the audience, once the intrigue has worn off. Deep down, everyone knows the writers are very unlikely to bring the power back until late in the show's run, so immediately it feels like the story is working towards a goal that will keep being moved back indefinitely. In some ways, it might actually be a good thing if Revolution's ratings drop this season, because there's chance the writers will be forced to answer questions for the finale in 11 weeks' time.

"Chained Heat" wasn't terrible, to be fair. I like the lush greenery of the production and the show has inevitably taken a Lost-style decision to show us flashbacks to a time more immediate to the blackout. This allows for the show to dip into a moment in time that's tougher to create onscreen week-to-week, which I can see the logic in. The character aren't really interesting me yet, although I like Esposito a great deal and Billy Burke's been surprisingly good fun as the swashbuckling uncle. There are lots of moments that don't make much sense to me; like why use humans as slave labour to drag a helicopter around if there are horses that can do the job much quicker? To its credit, there were a few surprises towards the end of this episode that were decent enough—including the reveal that Charlie's (Tracy Spiridakos) mother Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) isn't dead and is being held captive by Monroe (David Lyons). I also liked the last act's action set piece with Charlie killing two men to free some slaves, with the help of her uncle, and the way the flashbacks revealed she channelled this inner darkness with a memory of her mother shooting a looter dead.

I guess things are still being fleshed out right now, and the show is trying to assure us the characters are their situation is something we can invest some time in. That's a laudable approach, but it's such a hard balancing act to get right. Even if the characters prove to be really interesting and their adventure something to be engaged by, is there enough to Revolution's mytharc to keep us on the hook? And if the mytharc offers up some surprising avenues, will we care if the characters are still as flaccid as they appear to be currently? I don't want to hate on Revolution too much, because I'm too aware of the minefield it has to navigate, but something tells me there's a reason shows of this nature have crashed-and-burned more often than not. If The Walking Dead didn't have the prevailing appeal of zombies to lean on, chances are that would have been canned very quickly, too.

How interesting can the writers make Revolution, once all of its pieces are in place? You may not have approved of Lost's direction and divisive ending, but it's still a textbook example of how to keep a seemingly restrictive setup (survivors of a plane crash are stranded on a desert island) feeling fresh and different, as it found a way to move beyond its own limitations and carve out something very unexpected and unique on TV. I only hope creator Eric Kripke has a long-term plan that contains the same type of ingenuity, and manages to hook us with the promise of amazing things to come before we simply grow tired of what Revolution and its characters are serving up.

24 September / NBC