By: Charlie Jane Anders for Io9
We've had our ups and downs with Revolution thus far. We liked a lot of stuff in the pilot, and the idea of a post-apocalyptic show that's swashbuckling rather than mopey is pretty genius. The episode with Mark Pellegrino as a soldier who uses his men as cannon fodder was superb. But there has also been some not-entirely-successful attempts at making Charlie, the teenage girl with the unnaturally wide eyes, into the lovable linchpin of the group who makes everybody's life more real by just being Charlie.
We've continued to hope that Revolution would find its groove and start delivering the addictive "adventures in the wasteland" action that the pilot promised. And last night's episode was a major leap forward, with some genuinely great moments and a memorable villain.Revolution is starting to become a seriously fun piece of television. Hopes, raised.
So the best moment, by far, in last night's episode came when Uncle Miles (Billy Burke) confronts the evil psycho Strausser (David Meunier), who's the one person that scared Miles when he was running the whole militia. Miles says that back before the lights went out, Strausser would have been locked up in a rubber room, or worse. To which Strausser responds, "Did you ever consider that maybe was society was sick, not me?" And Miles, without skipping a beat, says, "No, I never considered that." Something about Billy Burke's silly faces during this scene, and Miles' absolute refusal to admit that there's any kind of moral or social relativism here, just completely slew me and won me over.
And the rest of the episode is pretty great too — it's really true that you're only as good as your villain, a lot of the time. Strausser has been sent to hunt down Miles and get the magic pendant that can restore electricity (at least, in a small vicinity on its own — with the other pendants, maybe it can do more.) He has Nora's sister Mia as a prisoner (more on that in a moment) but Miles and the others succeed in rescuing Mia by blowing up everything. Strausser responds by killing one of his subordinates, Darth Vader-style. (Note: If Strausser seems too mellow about stuff, just run for it. You're already dead.) Strausser finally does get hold of the pendant, and almost captures Miles — but he escapes because Nora comes back for him.
Honestly, one key to making this show the addictive adventure it needs to be is to have all of us agree that Uncle Miles is the main character. Whenever Billy Burke gets to rock out — as he does a lot in this episode — he pretty much steals the show. Miles is the one who realizes that they're walking into a trap when they try to walk across the Only Bridge for a Hundred Miles, and comes up with a plan to escape. When Strausser demands the pendant in return for Mia, Miles immediately tries to destroy it, which is a sensible move but sadly doesn't work. Miles is also the one who decides their only option is to jump into a waterfall, at the end of the episode, which is always a great move. (Oh, and I almost forgot the look on Miles' face when he says he'll probably never see Nora again, when she's leaving with her sister.)
Billy Burke is clearly coming into his own as Miles, and he's endlessly watchable as an exasperated, cranky, resourceful, snarky badass who has done some terrible things and is trying not to dwell on them too much. Most shows, if they're lucky, get to have one breakout character, and it's looking like this show's is going to be Miles.
Meanwhile, Charlie — the ostensible main character of Revolution — doesn't have as much to do this episode, but she's used well. The main moment where Charlie shines is when Nora is torn between going with her sister Mia to find their long-missing father, or keeping her promise to help Charlie get to her brother Danny. Charlie wastes absolutely time making tragic "sad duck" faces, and instead does the only decent thing — releases Nora from her promise, saying that Nora should go find her dad, because if Charlie could have one more moment with her own father, she would give anything. It's a pretty sweet moment, and also a moment of Charlie actually being lovable (rather than characters endlessly telling us that Charlie is lovable, which happened a lot in previous episodes.)
So yes — Mia is a double-crossing traitor, and it's telegraphed pretty much the first moment we see her. Mia's sudden but inevitable betrayal is well-played, though. Instead of just leading the gang into a trap, Mia peels her sister off with a bogus story about their father being alive, and meanwhile pickpockets the magic pendant from Google. (Who, as Miles puts it, can't tell when a girl has her hand in his pants.) Then she hands the pendant over to Strausser, and expects Nora to escape with her — but of course, Nora is doing the honorable thing because she's changed. And, in a series of flashbacks, we see that Nora protected Mia after the blackout, and tried to keep their mom's death from Mia. And now Mia is trying to return the favor, also with the same amount of lying and deception — but it doesn't work quite as well now that they're grownups.
And meanwhile, the slow-simmering "Sebastian Monroe is losing his mind" storyline makes a major leap forward in this episode, with a welcome dose of plotting and intrigue. Tom Neville's son Jason (formerly known as Nate) is worried about Charlie because of Strausser's habit of turning everybody into collateral damage. So Jason tries to find out information on Strausser's plans — but gets caught and beaten to a pulp. Monroe plans to send Jason off to California, a trip he probably won't return alive from, in spite of Tom Neville's entreaties.
But then Tom Neville's wife Julia finds out from the maid that Monroe's second in command, Col. Faber, also has a wayward son — except that Faber's son is part of the Resistance and wants to assassinate Monroe. Neville turns in Faber's kid and narrowly averts the assassination plot, causing Faber to fall from grace rather violently — and winning a reprieve for Jason/Nate. And in the wake of that turnaround, Julia Neville gets her Lady MacBeth on, suggesting that Monroe is losing his grip and it's time for new leadership in the Monroe Republic. (Would they have to rename it the Neville Republic?) This storyline looks like it's leading to some excellent opportunities for Giancarlo Esposito to be a sneaky bastard, which meets with my approval.
And finally, Bass gets hold of the pendant and — because he's a trusting sort — hands it over to Rachel. Who, presumably, won't immediately devise an escape attempt that relies on electrical equipment that only works when she has the pendant handy.
And we cut to Grace Beaumont, another pendant-holder, who's still a prisoner of Randall. And we learn a few really major things: 1) Randall has a light-up map showing him the locations of all the pendants, and he knows that Monroe has one of them now. 2) He expects Grace to be able to do something about this, somehow. 3) He has what looks like a massive supercollider — which could be very directly linked with the fact that no technology works anywhere.
So let's see. Billy Burke getting to be more of a sarcastic Han Solo type and thinking on his feet? Check. Charlie being less annoying and more of a sympathetic character? Check. A more compelling villain? Yup. Intrigue and backstabbing involving Giancarlo Esposito? Yes. And an uber-villain with a mysterious supercollider-esque device? Hell yes.
Revolution may just be coming into its own at last.