The best episodes of serial story telling put all of their cards on the table. Every pawn is in play, the holodeck safety protocols are disengaged, and anyone could perish. This week's Revolution enjoys the added bonus of being the season capper, so it has the luxury of giving us some of the answers we've waited for all season and leaving us hanging with the ultimate cliffhanger tease. There are number of excellent acting performances from throughout the cast, and this is combined with a breathtaking, breakneck pace to deliver possibly the best episode of the show. If you want more, you'll have to join me in spoiler land below.
Full spoilers in the section below:
I'm told that starting at the beginning is a very good place to start, so let's chat about the opening montage. In classic music video fashion we're treated to a "best of" montage highlighting the most important story beats from across the first season. This functions not as a way for people to jump on from having never watched an episode but instead as exam review, to remind the audience about the critical happenings from the past year in the post Blackout United States. It's quick, it's comprehensive, and it's a little bit moving (if you've been following along at home since the beginning).
Now that I've responsibly placed a paragraph sized buffer out of consideration for those who haven't seen the finale...Randell's been in the employ of the remnants of the Unites States government all of this time? They're holed up at Guantanamo Bay, waiting for their agent to topple the powers of the East Coast so they can safely retake D.C.? That is one hell of a hook. Of course for long time PC gamers (so I'd imagine quite a few Maniacs), it's a hook we're all too familiar with. It's the same big reveal from Fallout 2, which saw the remnants of the Government coordinate the retaking of the country from an offshore oil rig facility. Most viewers won't know that and there isn't an unreconcilable conflict since the plot device is being used with significant differences here.
The reveal leaves a number of questions to ponder over the summer break. Logistically: how did the government get themselves to Guantanamo Bay in the wake of the Blackout (did they have pendants or forewarning)? Who triggered the back door in Aaron's code to trip the nanites and cause the Blackout? Since the characters specifically didn't mention nuclear, can we assume that the ICBMs carry a traditional payload or will nuclear fallout blanket the east coast?
A number of potentially interesting collaborations are possible now too, in the wake of a more significant threat. There was still time to stop the missiles (though admittedly not much). Neville sent a militiaman to get more C4 to blow the door, but it wouldn't be necessary if one of Miles' group opens the door to parlay with them. That's a pretty absurd notion, but the C4 would likely blast the glass and allow them access to the control room. As Neville's wife is all the leverage needed on him, and she is in one of the blast zones, a temporary alliance could take shape. Accessing those computers would probably allow a tech savvy guy like Aaron to discover the government remnant forces en route back to the mainland, which could serve to galvanize alliances between Monroe and Miles, Miles and Neville, and even The Republic and Georgia (though if the old US isn't planning on violent dictatorship, it's possible Georgia would ally with them).
I've speculated quite a bit about the future but let's not disregard the here and now. There are a good number of amazing performances this week. We've grown accustomed to stalwarts like David Lyons and Giancarlo Esposito leveling the dramatic gravitas and stealing scenes, which they again do in the finale. Lyons' exchange of words in the woods with Miles is the best showdown they could ever have. It's better than any gun or fist fight. As the hurt brother in anguish over betrayal, Lyons is captivating. This is possibly my favorite scene from this week. Not to be undone is Esposito, who returns Neville to the Cheshire Cat grinning manipulator which we loved to hate from the first half of the season. He's deliciously wicked here, which is where he's most interesting. It's very interesting that he wishes to appear different than Monroe in his brutality, but doesn't actually wish to be different.
Nora became the sacrifice which galvanizes Miles and will likely influence his actions this coming season to a significant degree. Her tragic death will haunt him, dogging his every thought. Though I am sad to see Daniella Alonso go, she went out on a superb note. Daniella's dramatic and drawn out demise could have backfired if it worked the heartstrings wrong, but she too steps up and hits an acting homerun. Her moment of goodbye with Aaron really serves as her sign off, though she doesn't perish quite then. It was a solid and wrenching decision to have her quietly die in Miles' arms as he races to get her to the infirmary. No last love speech between them. Even the soundtrack begins to drop out, increasing the magnitude of the loss. Billy Burke's quiet fury and tearful shaking makes for more of a gut punch than any screams or sobs could have. His restrained misery is there, we can share it, and in it being subdued we aren't taken out of the moment by any other distractions or thoughts. It's just Miles, the loss, and sadness. Kudos all around, especially to Burke and director Charles Beeson.
There were a few, very minor nitpicks but this episode powers through them to the point were they're easily forgiven. The comfortably man sized drain pipe from inside the über secure government facility was the most glaring of these and did leave me scratching my head (why even bother with the door, just follow the pipe back inside?). With the breakneck pacing though, all nitpicks are quickly washed away.
Revolution has come a long way from a show with interesting ideas, great but unexecuted potential, and inconsistent (and unlikable in some instances) characters, to a fascinating, mostly great exercise in adventure and intrigue. Sometimes it's a morality play, most times it's a little bit heavy handed, but there's no denying that Revolution has proved the power of its legs and has learned to run. Hopefully the wait for new episodes in the fall won't feel like an eternity. I'm sure the forthcoming first season DVD set will help tide us over until then. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts on both this episode, and the season as a complete arc, in the comments below.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.