Revolution Review: "Chained Heat"
“Yes that’s right, Uncle Miles is going toe-to-toe with Pony Boy Curtis.”
A quick surface summation of this week’s episode of Revolution titled “Chained Heat” deserves no less than a quote from everyone’s favorite ruler of Mongo: Ming the Merciless.
After watching a pilot that inspired more groans across the nation than Statler and Waldorf could have ever mustered on the Muppet Show, I was looking forward to a much stronger second outing of NBC’s Lost-lite spectacular. This week instead we got served up another lukewarm helping of television that deserves to take its rightful place among the pantheon of early 90’s era TV syndication. Don’t worry. I’m not talking Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’m talking M.A.N.T.I.S.
But there sure are plenty of sword fights, so there’s that at least.
“One Week After Blackout” we see the Mathesons packing, preparing to make their great escape to the countryside where they hope to live out the rest of their lives in an idyllic hippie commune inexplicably insulated from the chaos which is about to ensue. Along with a bunch of canned goods, Dad slips a foreshadowing gun into the sack while Momma Matheson gives him a blank faced-scowl. Mom takes this opportunity to instill into young Not-Katniss the lesson which will motivate her character presumably until they can figured out another more interesting storyline; “Take care of your brother and never ever let go of your his hand.”
Fifteen years later we find Uncle Miles in yet another sword fight. Being a fan of Highlander: The Series (stalwart champion of early 90’s syndication that it was), never in my life would I have thought I’d say this but this is going to get old really quickly. These fights, while thoughtfully choreographed and borderline entertaining, never seem to advance character, instead they serve as unimaginative ways to break up the dead bits of boring. And this is just within the first 5 minutes of the program.
But wait a minute I may have spoken too soon because, oh my god, he’s not fighting just any guardian variety bad guy. He’s fighting C. Thomas Howell!!! Yes that’s right, Uncle Miles is going toe-to-toe with Pony Boy Curtis.
Uncle Miles quickly gets the best of Pony Boy who is revealed to be a bounty hunter sent to capture the not-motley crew. Pony is about to meet Johnny and Dallas in that great big rumble in the sky when Not-Katniss pleads with her uncle to spare his life, cause you know, killing is wrong and stuff. Uncle Miles relents, knocking out Pony Boy instead, and stuffs him in an empty box car which looks just as comical and ridiculous as it sounds. He won’t be coming back anytime soon. You can count on that. Mark my words.
Our group, The Blackout Bunch enters Pontiac, Illinois where a preacher warns anyone who will listen (namely you) that God turned off the power because humanity had built an “electric tower of Babel”, and we’re now paying the price. MESSAGE.
Our group makes their way to a marketplace, where just as we saw in the first week’s episode, while shopping for food people love to get into fisticuffs. The men responsible for the violence this time are with the militia and we learn, yet again, that they are one-dimensional bullies and thugs, roughing up a hapless shopper whose only offense was probably getting into the express lane with 11 items. And if you don’t get it that the militia are evil by now, don’t worry. They’ll be hitting you over the head with this concept multiple times before this episode is over.
Uncle Miles enters an atmospheric bar looking for someone named Nora, but faster than he can say “stay gold” Pony Boy appears, not 5 minutes removed from being locked in the box car. They fight again and Uncle Miles flat out murders the men in the marketplace. The same marketplace that had two militiamen standing in it only minutes before. Oh well. They must have more important bullying to attend to.
Supercool C. Thomas Howell gets bested eventually, but we’re pretty sure he’s going to talk his way out of this somehow. I mean, he’s C. Thomas Howell, aka Pony Boy Curtis, aka dude from Red Dawn and The Hitcher, aka the heart and soul of this summer’s Amazing Spider-man. He’ll be back again and again over the course of the season; a crafty cagey nemesis to Uncle Miles Matheson and his…
Wait oh what?!?!? Uncle Miles just murdered Pony Boy! We’re not even 7 minutes into the episode. What….I just…sigh.
And thus concludes the impotent guest stunt casting appearence of C. Thomas Howell. And cruel irony of cruel ironies, about 3 minutes later his name appears later in the titles as a “guest star”.
After a scene that once again establishes the militia members are card carrying members of Evil Without a Cause Inc., we are also made privy to the fact that they HATE America and our God given right to own guns and shoot each other. It just keeps getting better and better as President/General Monroe again shows us that he’s evil by stabbing a guy JUST after saving him from torture. That was cold. We get it but please keep showing us that they are evil, lest we forget in the 5 minutes between displays of evilitude that they are evil.
Back with the Blackout Bunch, pseudo step mother pulls out an iPhone which she has apparently been caring for 15 years. It looks to be in pretty good shape after all this time considering I’ve seen 1 year-old iPhones with cracked screens. This seems like not-very-good foreshadowing as we know eventually she’ll give us a reason as to why she carries the phone, and none of us will believe she could be so ridiculous when she tells us whatever that reason is. Stay tuned.
Uncle Miles, who I will fight with every fiber of my being to not call Not-Han Solo, leaves the group, but not before Not-Katniss wants to come. He instructs them to meet up with him in two weeks in Lowell, Indiana. Not-Katniss sneaks away in the middle of the night doing that pillow beneath the blanket trick we all tried when we were five, leaving Aaron and pseudo step mother high and dry to fend for themselves. She left a nicely written note so at least she still has good manners.
Walking through the forest, Not-Katniss suspects she’s being followed so she falls down a hill and fakes an ankle sprain to flush out her pursuer. From the bushes emerges Hunky Nate which technically makes him a stalker but since he’s good looking Not-Katniss is probably flattered. Her ruse successful, she handcuffs him to a conveniently placed pole where he then confesses that he is with the militia and was sent to spy on her and the group. She feigns disgust but we all really know she likes the attention. Then, Not-Katniss leaves him stuck to the pole walking off in that ancient mating tradition known as “playing hard to get.” The game is afoot.
Back to the C-story, pseudo step mom and Aaron set out to find Not-Katniss. She reveals that the reason she has the iPhone is because inside it are the only remaining pictures of her children. By staring at the blank lifeless brick, she can remember them and….oh whatever. I told you none of us would believe she could be so ridiculous.
In the forest Not-Katniss sees a basketball and she is reminded of the last time she held one, which conveniently seques into this week’s flashback. In it, we see a strange man approach and hold young Not-Katniss hostage. Momma Matheson doesn’t know what to do and Dad is nowhere to be seen. The strange man holds her in exchange for the family’s food. He tells us that he is a Chicago Bulls fan. This explains so much.
Uncle Miles enters the scene, ripping her from her daydream. Not-Katniss gives us another lecture (her third I think) about how she’s responsible for her brother and must always look out for him. In hindsight, we can now begin to see why Danny is so weak. With an overbearing, suffocating older sister, the kid hasn’t had the chance to go outside, falldown, scrape his knee and get back up again. He’s been smothered by his sister all these years. I’m thinking/hoping he’ll join the militia of his own accord at some point just to make things interesting and to let us see him grow a pair…of new lungs that is. He’s got asthma you see.
Back in the swamp-like locale , Aaron reveals the electric undampener to pseudo step mom. They are to deliver the device to the nice woman from the pilot episode with the DOS Computer. In a scene that had its heart in the right place at least, Aaron offers up the promise of her seeing her children again via her iPhone once the power is restored. Aaron makes a few pop culture references, says “cornhole.” I’m kind of hoping they get lost on their way to Indiana, and never ever return.
“Instead of treating us to a story brimming with genuine conflict, we’re being served up contrived artificial setups and sword fights–lots and lots of sword fights.”
Skipping through some boring talky parts of the show including a militia funeral, we return to Uncle Miles and Not Katniss who come across a slave caravan hauling a helicopter, establishing yet again that the militia are evil. This time the militia via a warden in charge of the slave/prisoners, shoots a man for being tired, which is shortsighted because now they have one less man pulling the helicopter. Key to this scene is that we finally meet Nora who really knows how to work a tank top.
At night Not-Katniss and Uncle Miles sneak in to rescue Nora but after they escape it turns out that Nora allowed herself to be captured so she could get close to and steal the Chain Gang boss’s pretty sweet sniper rifle. She’s actually upset for being freed. How she figured she would be arrested then sent to the one location with that one rifle she wants is beyond me, but at this point I’m just going to go along with whatever nonsense this show throws at me. It’s more fun that way. Also Nora and Miles fight. More sexual tension. These semi-post apocalyptic people have a lot to get out of their systems.
Nora owes Miles for something I’m sure we wont find out until the ratings tank and they vomit a ton of backstory to placate the viewers. Bottomline, Nora isn’t leaving until she gets that gun. So, the next morning our both figurative and literal A-team sets up a trap to kill the warden. Not-Katniss approaches the militia, pretending she’s been hunting. They tell her to drop her weapon. She does, and naturally in the process, has another flashback.
Not-Katniss remembers back to when the creepy man wanted to take her. Dad enters the scene with the foreshadowed gun. He doesn’t have the guts to kill the man however and lets the man not only takes the food but also the kids’ really sweet wagon. Mom is having no parts of that however and shoot the man in the back. She’s ruthless. I like mom.
Not-Katniss flashes forward to the present where she shoots the evil warden with a concealed gun. Like mother like daughter, she makes the tough decisions when her back is to the wall. This leads to yet another sword fight. Not-Katniss racks up two kills in the battle, and the slaves are freed.
Congratulations Not-Katniss. After taking a man’s life you’ll never be the same again.
Back to our C-story, psusedo step mom and Aaron return. They arrive at some unknown location and we are meant to think it is Grace’s home, but not-so-sly editing quickly reveals that this is not the home we are looking for. Instead we watch as a faceless man named Randall, knocks on Grace’s door. She knows who this man is, and fearing for either her life or the undampener device, slams the door and boots up DOS again, doing…something. She should really have gone the iOS route. It’s wayyyyy faster.
Randall breaks down the door and we see that he ALSO has an undampener device…and a cattle prod, which means he wins. Randall means business. This show just got real.
Then we head back out to visit General/President Monroe who wearily enters a room and oh no! Mother Matheson is still alive and it would appear she’s being held captive. She’s informed by the General that her husband is dead. He tells her to tell him everything. She cowers. I’m in so much suspense right now it’s almost killing me…to have to watch another episode.
It would appear that one of the causes of Revolution’s lack of “narrative pop” is Eric Kripke’s decision to tackle life without electricity 15 years later as opposed to focusing on life without electricity 15 days later. The chance to watch our characters reeling and reacting to the sudden loss of power has given way to a world where living without electricity should be the new normal. The biggest chance for organically occurring conflict has been passed up for energy undampeners and evil militia bent on taking over the world seemingly because “it’s there.” Instead of treating us to a story brimming with genuine conflict, we’re being served up contrived artificial setups and sword fights. Lots and lots of sword fights.
We understand that chaos would ensue with such an abrupt change in lifestyle, however by jumping forward to 15 years later when people would have realistically had time to adjust to this new way of life, most of the conflict and tension would be gone. Systems of governments have existed for thousands of years. The world would rebuild and wouldn’t be so hapless about doing so again.
There was one bright spot however,that if expanded and exploited could make the moment to moment adventures of our crew at least a bit more interesting. Momma Matheson’s decision to shoot the Bulls fan in the back during the flashback is just the kind of moral quandary that helps truly great shows shine. Instead of spending our time preserving Not-Katniss’ naive and noble outlook, it would be a lot more interesting to see her, and the rest of the Blackout Bunch walking their unelectrified Earth in the gray area.
In the meantime, I just can’t stop wondering what people did before electricity was a widespread modern luxury. The show’s other great failing is that it acts as though electricity has been utilized by civilization since the dawn of time and without it we simply cannot go on. Meanwhile, in the real world at least 1.5 billion people don’t have access to electricity in modern times.
The pilot episode got 11 million viewers, but I have a strong suspicion that a large chunk of those people won’t be coming back. So, until next week, one thing will remain the same. Revolution makes me wish the lights really would go out.