Revolution: Pilot Review (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
New science fiction television shows are always met by the geek community with cautious optimism. Like a romantic relationship, we're afraid to open ourselves to the chance of being hurt. There's plenty of history to back up that trepidation. Well produced shows never realize their promise, or worse they do but are cut down by networks that don't recognize their brilliant (*cough* Firefly *cough*). Still, there are a number of hands in the pot here, including John Favreau in the director's chair, and J.J. Abrams in an executive producing role. Also running in Revolution's favor? It's not on Fox.
Revolution starts with an interesting enough premise: all electrical power shuts off completely one day, resisting any attempts to reestablish it with new infrastructure. Ben Matheson (a cool nod to author Richard Matheson) is aware of the impending disaster, and rushes home to his wife and children with supplies, arriving only minutes before the event. He only just completes downloading a file to his flash drive, and inserts it into a fancy pendant, as over a century of progress comes crashing down (in the literal sense; jetliners plummet straight down, crash landing all around). Ben had also been calling his brother Miles, a marine who was out drinking with comrade Sebastian Munroe. Here the story jumps forward in time fifteen years (The time we've jumped passed is filled in by flashbacks of key moments), resuming once a new society has been established by brutal militias, which levy taxes in the form of crops from the small settlements that have established themselves in the remains of suburban Chicago.
Ben, along with his son Danny and his daughter Charlie, live in one such small community. It looks like a former suburban housing development, that's been given the wooden fortification treatment. They might want to rethink their wide open gate policy and their guard dog, as combined these provided them with only enough time to glance up as bad ass Captain Tom Neville (another nod to Richard Matheson; I Am Legend), rides into their town. He's restrained menace, masked in thin veneer of civility. Actor Giancarlo Esposito (Gus on Breaking Bad) should be arrested for grand larceny; he steals every scene he's a part of. Neville is a captain of the Monroe Militia (yup, Miles' marine buddy gone bad). He's been searching for Ben and Miles, with orders to return them to Monroe himself. The limited information we get in flashbacks doesn't cover exactly why, but speculating, it's likely that Miles told Monroe about the very small snippet of conversation he'd had with Ben, or what he know about what Ben did for a living (we don't know at the moment).
In the ensuing struggle, Ben is shot and killed; Danny is captured to be returned in his place; and captain Neville swiftly ends the conflict with cold, calculated violence (dude is quite badass). It's lucky that Ben had entrusted Aaron, a formal Google executive, with his McGuffin pendant, as he joins Charlie and Maggie (a doctor and Ben's love interest after his wife died). Together they set of in search of Miles, who is somewhere in Chicago itself.
There are several interesting things that I found fascinating discovered along the journey. Maggie's hints that the road is riddle with menacing bandits is realized when they're beset by three such men. She tries to appease them with a bottle of whiskey from her pack, then suffocates one of them brutally as they cough and bleed from the mouth. Charlie suggests the whiskey was poisoned, but given the results, I'd speculate that it contained ground glass. Either way, Maggie seems to be a lethal combatant, hardened by time spent on the road. This resentful mother daughter relationship is going to be interesting to watch develop. Sharp eyed viewers may recognize the shell of a house where Charlie first encounters Nate Walker (spy for the Monroe Militia), as the same one used as shelter by The Walking Dead survivors in the last scene of season two.
The group meet up with Miles at his Tavern, built into the old Grand Hotel. The locale is cool, and his magnificent living area, the lobby with marble staircase, feels like a set straight out of an old Republic serial. Indeed the epic fight scene between Miles and a squad of militia would be right at home in an adventure of The Three Musketeers. Guns work in this post power aftermath, but ammunition must have become scarce (and hoarded). All militia men are armed with distinctive swords (with a brass knuckle like handle), some have muzzle loading rifles or crossbows. So the combat feels very Errol Flynn by way of Alexander Dumas. All the sword play, the dodging of musket fire, the timing of attacks to take advantage of reloads, and the practical fight choreography add up to bring a classical combat approach to the fighting. It's honestly refreshing with the glut of impossible Matrix-esk battles infecting many films today. It almost reminded me of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, with out the purposeful campiness or tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Unfortunately, anyone who's seen The Postman may immediately cry foul at many of the post civilization similarities: a militia controlled incorporation of villages who use a brand to mark members, a militia officer who held a mundane job before the collapse but is a badass now, and reverent zealotry amongst the ranks of soldiers. Fortunately, almost no one actually saw The Postman, so America will likely let the pilfering of ideas go unchallenged here (I still contend that it was an underrated film; overlong with it's share of problems, but still underrated).
I'm going to throw my first episode speculation out there, based on the little we actually have been shown so far. I believe that the perpetual black out is being caused by a weaponized satellite system, that's continuing to bathe the planet's surface with an EMP field. This could explain why we saw devices go out in the rush of a wave (thinking of the car lights here), and why any device manufactured after still wouldn't work. If this is true, then the McGuffin pendants, which allow electronic devices to work when they themselves are activated, must create some sort of dampening field, which counteracts the satellite system in a short area around itself. Of course, I'm making a lot of assumptions. What's your take?
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a horror co-host of two monthly film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights and Colonial Cult Cinema. You can hear him on awesome podcast You've Got Geek or follow him out on Twitter.
Mania Grade: B-
Episode: The Pilot - Revolution
Starring: Daniella Alonso, Billy Burke, Tracy Spiridakos, Giancarlo Esposito, Zak Orth
Written By: Eric Kripke
Directed By: John Favreau
Network: NBC (Universal)