Wednesday, 10 October 2012

REVOLUTION, 1.4 – 'The Plague Dogs'

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

written by Anne Cofell Saunders / directed by Felix Alcala

I know what you're thinking: Revolution should be on weekly rotation seeing as I've reviewed every episode that's aired so far. I must admit, I wasn't planning to cover this show beyond its average pilot, but it's doing a good job making me overlook the conceptual flaws and focus on character and story. "The Plague Dogs" was another strong episode that, while overloading and underlining far too much, wasn't boring for a second and contained some memorable moments. NBC have given Revolution a full season order, in the wake of consistently good ratings on Monday nights... and I can see myself sticking with it for awhile, too.

One thing I think helps Revolution is having a strong team of genre writers involved. Showrunner Eric Kripke obviously created Supernatural, last week's episode came courtesy of a Lost and Fringe veteran, while this instalment was penned by Battlestar Galactica and Chuck writer Anne Cofell Saunders. You can't argue with that pedigree for a show of this nature, and so far it's doing a solid job making you forget that it's ultimately been about a group of people wandering across a desolate US looking for a teenage boy—not entirely unlike the BBC's Survivors remake, actually. Considering the sketchiness of the mythology and central power-loss mystery, I like how the show keeps things moving and busy. This hour alone featured Maggie's (Anna Lise Phillips) flashback about losing contact with her family in England when the blackout hit, and the impossibility of chartering a ship to cross the Atlantic to find them; captive Danny (Graham Rogers) having to decide between escape and his ethical code when abductor Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) found himself trapped under basement rubble when a tornado hit the travelling militia; Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) being taken hostage by a crazy man who attached her to a crossbow booby-trap; Rachael (Elizabeth Mitchell) being tortured by Monroe (David Lyons); and Maggie facing certain death after being stabbed in the thigh after trying to evade some attack dogs in an abandoned theme park.

As I said, this episode was perhaps too busy for its own good, because a few of the subplots could easily have been jettisoned to the benefit of those that remained. But it still managed to keep things relatively clear (which isn't always easy when the audience are jumping between different locations and times so often), and the episode's surprise decision to kill off Maggie after just four episodes worked a treat. It may have become something of an overplayed idea to kill a leading character very early in a show's life, but it still works on me. We haven't known Maggie long enough to feel deeply emotional about if, of course, but Anna Lise Phillips did an admirable job making her character's exit feel like it actually meant something. It at least proves that Revolution isn't scared to trim its cast occasionally, so hopefully this means everyone's safety isn't guaranteed—including major leads like Miles (Billy Burke) and Charlotte.

I was also thinking about why this show appears to be connecting better with audiences than The Event of FlashForward did. The best I can come up with is that the concept (while ripe for ridicule by science boffins) is something everyone can imagine occurring. We've all been the victim of a power cut (you may even have had the misfortune of being trapped in a stationery elevator), and we remember the frustration of spending hours without our electrical home comforts. You're temporarily sent back in time by a century, having to scramble for candles to simply light your home. Revolution takes the idea a step further with a blackout going on 15 years, so my guess is that general audiences feel a connection to the show's central "what if"? conceit... and are enjoying the predictions of its long-term effects on society.

Overall, I still always feel oddly cautious about recommending Revolution, because there are things about it that aren't very good, and I have a hard time imagining where it'll go in future seasons. These post-apocalyptic drama have common problems that are difficult to overcome, but I can't deny Revolution's doing a decent job so far. A few of the characters have sparked (Miles, Neville), there isn't anything I hate about it, the production is tip-top, the plot's moving quickly, and the mystery's holding my interest without becoming a quagmire of stupidity. It could all go very wrong very quickly, but as of right now I'm optimistic NBC has a viable sci-fi hit on its hands...

8 October 2012 / NBC