Sunday, April 7, 2013

Why NBC's Revolution Aggravates Me

Revolution has returned to NBC for the second half of their debut season. This has compelled me to express my overall gripes with the show, mainly to vent my many frustrations with what could otherwise be a great science fiction program. You see, I want to like Revolution… I really do. There is a distinct lack of prime-time science fiction out there now that Fringe has ended. Plus, the premise of Revolution is quite intriguing; our technology dependent society is plunged into the literal dark ages through forces unknown that have caused a permanent world-wide electrical blackout. Unfortunately, any potential for the show is being squandered by bad story-telling, contrivances, and massive plot-holes. Allow me to explain.

Revolution is the latest of several prime-time science fiction shows to follow on the heels of Lost. You start with a mysterious concept.  Then you have characters who are in equal parts investigating said mystery or exploring how it changes their lives (i.e. getting it on!) and all the while providing pieces of the back-story for one of those characters each episode. I would say this formula works, except that apart from Lost, the success rate is abysmal. Not to mention most of these “Lost-clones” were terrible (such as Flash Forward and The Event). However, Revolution stood out to me as being different. Contrary to those other Lost-clones that are set in our world, Revolution is set 15 years after the black-out. A whole new generation has been born into this world without electricity, meaning you have an entire new world to play with. 

Except that they never seem to play in this world. Instead this post black-out world is used more as a tool to deliver cliché after cliché such as roving bands of militia men bullying villages of poor people or how the ruinous cities are full of scoundrels who will stab anyone in the back for any reason. None of this feels fresh or original. What about a resurrection of idea of kingdoms with serfs? How about there being city states like Athens and Sparta were in ancient Greece? How come there’s no resurrection of steampunk-like technology?  I think the best thing I saw of that sort was a man using a Gutenburg style printing press to make a copy of a Harry Potter book, which is actually really cool.

The Monroe Republic is something I have a real problem with on the show. Every time we see representatives of the Monroe Republic, usually in the form of roaming platoons enforcing the laws of the land on villages, the writers go out of their way to show us how evil and brutal they are, like a fascist occupying force. The problem is how the hell would they have even come to power? We see in flashbacks that Sebastian Monroe and Miles Matheson led their men in many a conflict against militias and warlords. For Monroe to solidify his power over such a massive area, he would have needed support from additional men who believed enough in his cause to die for it. This would have required the people living in that empire to back the founding of the Monroe Republic, for if said Republic were nothing more than violent warmongers, then they would have had no shortage of armies to challenge their power. I would wager there would be so many challengers that Sebastian would not have been able to set up his cushy life in his capital city of Philadelphia.

The size of the Monroe Republic is troubling to me as well. They control the former United States territory west to the Mississippi River and south to the Mason-Dixon Line. Now let’s do the math here… that is the entire Great Lakes “Rust Belt” as well as the Ohio River Valley, New England and the entire Eastern Seaboard. That is the MAJORITY of the United States population right there! How did they capture this massive piece of the pie? How do they hold it? We aren’t really told, at least not in the first 10 episodes when we really should have been.

Given the territory of the Monroe Republic, there is another major quandary. A huge mass of the United States military is in that region. Think about it, there’s the Pentagon in Washington DC, Annapolis naval base, West Point in New York and so on. Yes, if there was a total collapse of the United States, this could supply Monroe with ample weapons and ammunition, but I don’t see it being that easy. The United States goes out of its way to plan for everything. Remember that whole Cold War thing? The US government and military had contingency plans for their survival and to prevent a ‘power vacuum’ in the event of an emergency. The situation presented in Revolution sounds similar to the effects of a widespread Electro-Magnetic Pulse. I would be shocked if the US Government didn’t have similar plans in case of that emergency as well.

My point here is what about the United States military? The opening of the show claims that “governments fell” but I don’t see the strongest military in the world going into that cold night without a massive fight. This is something that the show badly needs to address. I know Matheson and Monroe were both in the US military and may have had some army buddies help them rise to power, but America is still a concept that people are willing to fight and die for (hence the rebels in the show trying to resurrect the nation). I don’t see some ragtag militias and warlords taking down the US military without something major and game changing occurring. Again, we have gotten no explanation for that or why Monroe and Matheson, who were serving in the armed forces, would decide to create an all new nation instead of fight for the one they enlisted to defend.   

I try to suspend my belief in any science fiction work, but the cause of the black-out is also perplexing to me. We are led to believe that somehow all of the devices that create electricity on Earth stopped working; they didn’t break, they just stopped producing electricity. How does that work? So all batteries are dead; all dams, wind turbines and gas powered generators too? Car alternators? Solar panels? Water wheels? Citric acid no longer can generate any volts? You can’t light up a bulb with a potato? If you build a generator it won’t work? That’s a hell of a lot of belief to suspend. I mean, does this affect all electricity? Is there still lightning during thunderstorms?

And this affected the entire planet? I could see if it were limited to the United States or Great Britain, but the whole world? Like even Fiji way in the South Pacific was blacked out? Tiny islands a thousand miles from the mainland too? Scientific research facilities in Antarctica and tiny villages in Sibera were all affected? That too is really hard to believe. Who knows, maybe satellites played a role in this, which would give a slight bit of plausibility to the concept.

Then we see that there are seemingly magical pendants that can start up any electrical device within a certain proximity. Okay, I will let that go as the MacGuffin of the show. But then I have to question how some things would work just fine after sitting still, rusting and decaying, for 15 years. The biggest example I can give is Monroe, after getting one such pendant, was able to start up a military helicopter that had been sitting dormant since the blackout. It worked just fine. Okay, maybe he had his men constantly maintain and lubricate the copter’s gears in the off chance the power would come back on, but now everything works? The onboard computer systems and various gauges are fine? No wear and tear? I don’t know; it’s a little implausible.

Then we come to the characters. Honestly, they aren’t that bad. Granted they aren’t nearly as compelling as most of the characters on Lost, but compared to the bland and irritating cast of Flash Forward, they work pretty well. The problem I have is that we need to learn very important things about some of these characters in order to understand the show. This isn’t like not revealing a mysterious character’s back-story. This is more like needing to know why Sebastian Monroe became such a paranoid warmonger. Just give us a tiny morsel, enough to understand the drive of a character. You see, there is a fine art to withholding character information in a story. You need to know when to play your cards. You also need to understand that the audience needs to have enough to keep them intrigued. We don’t necessarily need to know why Miles tried to kill Monroe, but we at least need to see how power changed them.

And as a side note, after Miles Matheson tried to kill Sebastian Monroe, but couldn’t bring himself to do so, he became the most wanted man in the Monroe Republic. Everyone was hunting for him. So, why the hell did Miles stay in the Monroe Republic? He was living in Chicago! Why didn’t he make his way to another territory, like Texas? Again, no explanation… which makes me think the writers had him in Chicago just for the convenience of the other protagonists to find him. Lame. 

Give us a few pieces of the puzzle so we can at least understand the villain’s motivations. Honestly, it wasn’t until around the 9th or 10th episode that we found out that the Monroe Republic is at war with surrounding territories. This is something we needed to know sooner. Now we can understand why Monroe wants the secret to turning the power back on. Why did it have to take so long to learn that?  

Lastly, I want to bitch about the title of the show… Revolution. It’s not a revolution, it’s a resistance to an occupation. Until I am explained otherwise, as I already mentioned, that people might have supported the Monroe Republic at one time and ended up living under a fascist regime, it is not a revolution. There has been nothing to show me that the Monroe Republic is an established power over all of their territory. It seems to me that anywhere outside of Philadelphia is like the Wild West, every man for himself. The only contact many communities ever have with Monroe’s forces are when a band of Republic militia men stops by the bully them. A revolution is when there is a movement from within to drastically change or out right overthrow an established power such as a nation or empire. The war against Assad’s government in Syria is a revolution. Fidel Castro led a Socialist army to overthrow Batista’s regime in Cuba. That was a revolution. What we have on the show is an insurgency. Naming the show Revolution was just using an unoriginal buzzword in place of a more creative name.

In closing, as much as I want to like Revolution, it isn’t the savior of prime-time science fiction that I had hoped for. Tivogirl and I will probably watch the remaining half of the season when our schedule permits, but we just aren’t that excited by the program. Hopefully someday we will once again get a great science fiction show that won’t be cancelled within a season and not be watered down, contrived, badly written nonsense following a once unique format.

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