We review the Revolution pilot episode to see whether the much buzzed about JJ. Abrams/Eric Kripke series has what it takes to be the next big character-driven mystery seriable.
THE GOOD & THE BAD
- An engaging pilot that spiked my imagination.
- Fantastic visuals helped bring the adventure to life.
- Flashbacks provided important connective tissue between ‘past and present’.
- The characters are each interesting in their own right.
- Compelling premise, interesting questions, with a mythology the show seems willing to embrace.
- Pacing problems, some scenes underdeveloped.
- The characters felt a bit undercooked.
- A bit clichéd at times.
If all the power disappeared, what would happen? What would you become?
Revolution begins in true JJ. Abrams fashion — a big mysterious event and an airplane in turmoil. The set up is effective; a world highly dependant on technology about to be unplugged. Charlie Matheson, our soon-to-be protagonist, is but a child living on the cusp of this technological age, something the show makes a point of illustrating in the early knockings.
Starting with a flashback was a smart choice, immediately opening up the story for later while presenting us with the big question of what caused the electricity to run out. Ben Matheson, Charlie’s dad, obviously knew it was about to turn off. A seeming scientist with the military, the information he downloaded into the memory disk serves as a kind of MacGuffin at this point, though we do get some payoff before the episode ends.
The 15-year time jump is enough of a leap to set the stage in which a ‘powerless’ America is now controlled by competing factions, our story is situated in the Monroe Republic. Charlie is also old enough to set off on her quest — something she’s dreamed about, but not like this. Captain Neville’s attempt to bring Ben back to the Monroe Republic was rather clumsy, resulting in the demise of Ben, but it serves as the story’s second instigating force.
Ben had more faith in his daughter than he previously allowed her to see. It’s complicated and involves what happened to her mother; an area of story I’m curious to see unfold in flashbacks. He left her with quite the dying wish, initiating her journey to find her brother Danny, but not before tracking down uncle Miles, who she hasn’t seen since the blackout.
I was pleased to see Maggie and Aaron join Charlie on her dangerous mission, though we could have done with a few more scenes to establish the emotional connection between the characters. Leaving pacing issues to one side, it was good to see the story hit the road, giving us a taste of what this new/old world has to offer us and the characters, while reminding me of other post-apocalyptic serials such as Jericho and Jerimiah.
Along the way they meet Nate, who winds up being more than just a love interest for the rather naive Charlie, and some vicious bandits. Thank goodness Maggie planned ahead with the old ‘poison whisky’ trick, while Nate earns Charlie’s trust with a well-placed arrow. What helped make this scene work was that the authentic methods used to counteract the bandits — you can imagine poison and archery being useful weapons in a world bereft of electricity.
We also get an interesting moment between Neville and Danny where the former admits that not bringing Ben back to his boss might cost him his head, though he pins the blame firmly on Danny. Neville shows an interesting blend of affability and ruthlessness in the space of a few seconds, setting him up as one of the more intriguing characters.
The seeming ease with which the gang found Miles was a bit hard to swallow, but it was a big point in the story as we learn why Miles has been keeping off the grid and why, like his brother, he may be of value to General Monroe. The sense of family is also forced home, perhaps too forcibly for my taste, though the show seemed to illustrate self-awareness by later having Miles advise Charlie to dial it down a notch.
While it was obvious Miles would eventually join Charlie on her quest, I found it believable that he would resist at first. They may be family but they barely know one another. It’s enough to tug on our heartstrings as we see the enormity of the challenge facing this rather sheltered yet ballsy young woman.
The big Nate reveal was unsurprising, but further heightened my level of concern for Charlie. She’s a by-product of shelter and has a hopeful nature as expressed by her earlier comment about not everyone being monsters. She’s right, of course, but it’ll be interesting to see how this journey changes her — what will she become?
In the midst of all this Danny escapes the militia and winds up at the house of a woman without secrets, Grace. I can’t blame her for giving him up to the militia as soon as Neville came knocking. Perhaps she could have covered her tracks better (literally), but Neville proved himself a good reader of people and situations, and he can kick down a mean door.
I struggled somewhat to see Billy Burke as the kickass former resistance member that Miles is supposed to be, but he went some way to convincing me during the militia slice-n-dice scene, with a little help from Charlie; who in turn receives a little help from Nate, who is either playing a really long-con or is conflicted on some level. Interesting that Charlie doesn’t tell anyone, I guess she wants to think it through.
The two big reveals in the final five minutes are neat touchstones if not exactly surprising (part due to the trailer, part due to it feeling rather familiar). First, the flashback reveals that Miles and his friend Monroe (yep, THAT Monroe) were U.S. Marines, giving us the identity of the story’s prime dictator and a sense of how he might have risen to power. We also find out that power does exist, as Grace boots up an Oldputer in a scene evoking the great Jericho and LOST.
All in all, I found the Revolution pilot very promising with interesting characters within a compelling world. It’s certainly not without its flaws and I hope it doesn’t strive to be overly sappy, but it has huge potential. We’ll get a better indication of how well the show deals with mysteries and its ability to maintain as much serial-focus as possible in the coming weeks, but it has me plugged in.
8.5/10 Seriable Stars
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