November 21, 2013

THE SKED Midseason Finale Review: “Revolution”


With the addition of Rockne S. O’Bannon to the REVOLUTION writing/producing team as co-showrunner, alongside series creator Eric Kripke, the first half (actually 9/22nds) of its second season has been more tightly focused and dramatically effective than the mess of its first year.  There were considerably less of Season 1’s annoying mannerisms:  endless trudging of characters from location to location; teen heroine Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) being callow and naive; histrionic confrontations between her uncle, hero Miles Matheson (Billy Burke) and his former best friend and warlord Monroe (David Lyons)–indeed, the latter is now a reluctant (and reluctantly received) member of the good guys; talismanic objects containing secrets of magically restored electricity (turning the lights back on is no longer anyone’s immediate goal).  Plot has been unfurled at a steady pace instead of being withheld week after week.   But “improved” isn’t the same as “good,” and as tonight’s midseason finale (written by Co-Executive Producers Trey Callaway and Paul Grellong, and directed by Steve Boyum) indicated, the series is still hitting some wrong notes.

The season’s first 9 episodes boiled down to three major storylines.  The most straightforward introduced a new set of Big Bads, the self-identified “United States Government,” which launched nuclear bombs at the mainland during the brief window at the end of Season 1 when all the power was back on, and is now taking overall control of the country.  Although we haven’t yet met the new President, a local Texas commander (guest star Steven Culp) was brutal and unscrupulous enough.  Our A team of Charlie, Miles, Monroe and Charlie’s mother Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) are mobilized against the new oppressors, although it inconveniently turned out that Rachel’s father, town doctor Gene Porter (Stephen Collins) was informing on them.  While familiar, this wartime story has been the most successful segment of the season.

Another thread has followed Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito), who’s also been plotting against the government in his trademark ruthless way, because of his fury that his beloved wife Julia (Kim Raver) died in one of the nuclear blasts.  Along the way, he’s reunited with son Jason (J.D. Pardo), no longer a likably wishy-washy teen after savage government reeducation.  As superb an actor as Esposito is, this portion of the season has felt like an unnecessary byway, particularly because Neville has become a predictable betrayal and murder machine.  However, tonight’s episode suggested some payoff may be coming as he discovered that Julia isn’t dead at all, but married to a senior government official and as graspingly ambitious as ever.

The third and splashiest plotline is also Revolution‘s most problematic.  Those nano-bots that caused the lights to go out in the first place turned out to have adopted Aaron (Zak Orth) as their surrogate papa, because he’s the one who turned them on in last season’s finale, and they’ve been essentially running errands for him (without his knowledge) all season, healing him when he’s wounded and setting his enemies on fire.  Tonight they appeared to him as one of those creepy young boy characters out of a thousand horror stories (explicit script references to Stephen King, The X Files and Haley Joel Osment suggest that the writers know exactly what territory they’re treading in) to provide some enigmatic backstory about what’s in their collective hive mind.  Revolution is science-fiction, so if the writers want invisible nano-kids to show up and wreak havoc, they can justify it, but all of this feels so completely off-tone with the rest of the show that it might as well be a switch in genres.  (It’s as if spaceships and aliens showed up in the middle of Jurassic Park.)  Orth has been quite good carrying this story, but it just doesn’t mesh with what Revolution has been.

The improvement in Revolution, however incomplete, hasn’t been reflected in its ratings.  It was inevitable that the show would decline without the lead-in from The Voice that it had last season, but for the past several weeks it’s been rating lower on Wednesdays than Grimm does on less-watched Fridays, hovering around its all-time low and not much ahead of the directly competitive Arrow.  When it returns in 2014 for the second half of its season, it may well be lower than that, from a loss of momentum and generally lower spring ratings.  All that suggests that despite the progress Revolution has made, it may need to launch a real one if it’s to survive this season.  Otherwise, the lights may go out for good.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."