Revolution: Soul Train Review (Mania.com)

By:Chuck Francisco
Review Date: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Source: Mania.com

Momentum is a powerful force. Maintaining it isn't always guaranteed, but at least once you're going with a full head of steam, it becomes more difficult to be stopped. It's deliciously ironic that the mass of Revolution's plot is being accelerated by way of a steam powered locomotive centric episode. Indeed, this week's episode continues the trend in at least keeping the same quality level as the the previous one, or possibly increasing incrementally. While this is a fantastic sign of stability, there are still some glaring problems that continue to hold it back from reaching peak awesome levels. Let's toss another log in the furnace and go for full blast.

The unavoidable first place we have to focus is on that train. This steam engine, which belongs in a museum according to friendly railway engineer (Henry Jones Jr, perhaps?), begs the simple question: if internal combustion has been rendered impossible, why hasn't steam risen to prominence as a means of rapid transportation? If Monroe has a massive force at his command, why haven't they worked to get more than just one steam locomotive line active? Surely there have to be books in any number of libraries  detailing the inner workings of steam engines. Blacksmithing has likely made a resurgence as a trade in the absence of powered assembly lines. Why not combine the two, crafting a working transportation network across the republic? If for no other reason, being able to redeploy troops quickly would provide a massive tactical advantage. It feels internally inconsistent. Taken alone, it's a solitary raindrop trying to erode the world building efforts. When added to other small logical inconsistencies, those rain drops can become a stream, intent on washing that foundation out from underneath this story. 

All is not doom and gloom, however, as we are witness to a spectacular moment of brilliant acting from Tracy Spiridakos (Charlie). Unfortunately, this moment takes place while her character herself is acting, attempting to throw off Captain Neville (who's caught her snooping around). I found my self wanting to shout at the TV during that scene; "Yes, that! Give us more of that!". Instead, once this singular moment of the scene has ended, we return to our regular broadcast Charlie (who's cry quotient in this episode is two). When she recounts her memory of a laughing uncle Miles, driving his fancy car with it's "tape deck" (in a 2012 Dodge Challenger?), she's practically blubbering. I literally did shout at the TV this time; begging that I be made to understand, I bellowed "Why are you even crying about this!?". I cannot figure out if the fault of this lies with Spiridakos, who shows in this very episode that she has solid acting chops, or if it's an issue with the show handlers not knowing exactly what to do with her. It's kind of a big deal when she's one of the lead characters. Let her off the leash already.

We delve much deeper in to the psyche of Captain Neville this week, viewing the past through his eyes. It seems that even before the blackout, he held a caged tiger inside of him, barely restrained by the niceties of civilization. As he's being confronted with frustration, his inner shark is swimming just below the surface of his eyes, hoping that someone will dip a toe in his angry waters. These flashbacks illuminate the power worshipping man we've come to know so far this season. It shines light on the calm, collected, and controlled temperament; exposing it as simply a surface veneer, which doesn't hold up to closer scrutiny. 
This sets up the incredibly clearly telegraphed reveal of Nate as Neville's son (his name is actually Jason), with father acting completely icy toward his son, and the younger man doing everything in his power to live up to the older. 

The foreshadowing itself is a study in the difference a skilled actor makes to in a scene, and how much poor acting takes away. For instance, I caught on that Nate was actually Neville's son during the combat exchange with Miles. The highly skilled actor, Giancarlo Esposito, is able to convey several layers of reaction with one shift in facial expression. He expresses surprise, followed by concern, then realization that he must hide his concern behind a mask of indifference. He's able to imply all of this in a manner of seconds, to the point where a less attentive viewer might even miss it. If you contrast this to JD Pardo's (Nate/Jason) reunion with his mother, it's a night and day difference. Pardo, who's been sufficient so far, emotes what I can only describe as mere line reading, while clenching all of his neck and jaw muscles ("Hello mother. It's good to see you"). It was so jarringly badly delivered that I actually had to rewind and make sure that I interpreted it correctly. Understandably, the point was to convey that Jason is excited to see his mother again, but cannot let it show in front of his father. Clenching up your neck muscles like you're dead lifting four hundred pounds does not a solid emotion convey.

With all of these nagging issues, it's important to note that Revolution manages to be so engaging in it's concept and mystery, that it remains fascinating enough to continue hooking viewers. The mystery of the lost power; how the pendants counteract it; and why the Mathesons are so integral to the blackout is one the producers likely plan to dribble out over several seasons. Doubly fascinating to me was our first solid glimpse of the former United States, now subdivided into several republics. It appears that the Monroe Republic controls the entire north east (head quarter in Philadelphia), out through the Midwest to St. Louis. The political machinations could be fascinating; hopefully they'll spend time further developing the relationships between the various republics. 

Next week's episode (entitled 'Sex and Drugs') looks to be flavored like a book of James Axler's Deathlands series, with a corrupt despot holding a precious commodity (antibiotics), and our characters, at gunpoint. Let's hope the show runners can hold this level of production and mystery, while simultaneously course correcting a few characters here and there.

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 famousColonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights andColonial Cult Cinema. You can hear him on awesome podcast You've Got Geek or follow him out onTwitter. 



Mania Grade: B
Episode: Soul Train
Starring: Daniella Alonso, Billy Burke, Tracy Spiridakos, Giancarlo Esposito, Zak Orth
Written By: Paul Grellong
Directed By: Jon Cassar
Network: NBC
Series: