Revolution is quickly becoming destination TV for action junkies, with “Chained Heat” delivering a closing setpiece on par with last week’s sword fight in the Grand Hotel. Yet despite some pretty exciting swordplay, occasional shaky-cam notwithstanding, Revolution surprisingly finds itself bogged down by its lead. I spoke at length, last week, about the star potential in Tracy Spiridakos. She has the look and conviction of a real breakout, and I expected that she would benefit most from the show’s action-oriented narrative, being an empowered young woman in a time where The Hunger Games has been as successful as it has been. However, “Chained Heat” is pretty dire in its characterization of Charlie Matheson, and I’m not entirely certain whose fault it is. It might be the writing of Charlie as equal parts naive and petulant, moping about how she could have prevented Danny’s abduction if she hadn’t been moping (and the cycle continues). The episode does such a good job of charting her growth from naivete to pragmatism that it ultimately is a shame that it comes off as shrill and irritating as it does. Spiridakos is still an asset to the show, in my opinion, but it’s apparent now that there are still kinks for her to work out in her portrayal of the character, if not kinks for the writing team to sort out.
There is one overarching theme for “Chained Heat” which ties directly into Charlie’s narrative for this week: doing what’s necessary. The flashback woven throughout the episode takes us back to the days immediately following the blackout, in which the Mathesons gather up their belongings and set out on their journey, stopping briefly at Ben’s workplace to pick up a few things. While waiting outside the building, a vagrant holds young Charlie ransom for the Mathesons’ food supply. Though he lets Charlie go, he leaves with the food. When Ben isn’t able to pull the trigger, mother Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) is the one who guns the man down. Rachel might not pull the trigger unflinchingly, but she understands the necessity of it, and it’s a responsibility she passes down to Charlie when she explains how she must always look after her younger brother, no matter what. Charlie spends the rest of the episode chasing this ideal of necessity, struggling now to do what must be done, in lieu of her failure to do in the premiere (though what she could have done to stop Neville from taking Danny or killing her father, I’ll never know). Rachel’s motherly ferocity, demonstrated in her unwillingness to allow some stranger to take food out of her children’s mouths, is called upon later in the episode’s climax, but the Matheson women are hardly the only example we have of our theme this week.
Danny (Graham Rogers) is still a prisoner of Captain Neville (Giancarlo Esposito), who busts a lone resident for private gun possession (which is illegal under The Baltimore Act, a law that permits only loyal militia of the Monroe Republic to own, transport, or possess firearms). The man draws a gun and shoots one of the militiamen when the militia attempts to search his house for any other firearms, and Neville quickly shoots the man dead. Neville is an intriguing villain, a former insurance adjuster gone savage in the years following the blackout. He comforts his dying comrade by offering him an elixir that will end his suffering. Neville’s bedside manner is fairly warm, all things considered; however, he quickly turns chilling with his soft insistence that the young man drink. As the man’s life drains away, Neville commends him for essentially doing what needed to be done, in service of the Monroe Republic, telling him that where he’s going, he’ll always be fed, and he’ll be with his family. It’d almost be sweet if it weren’t so discomfiting.
Neville is a man who simply hides behind the veil of necessity, justifying his slayings as work that needs to be done, and similarly justifying these actions to his men, who are all culpable in their own right. Danny sees right through this, however, claiming that Neville clearly enjoys killing, and that he’s little more than a murder. Neville goes from patient to murderous at the drop of a hat, grabbing Danny by the throat as a warning. He may not be the man in charge, but Neville is the most threatening, sinister presence on the show thus far, and a weekly highlight.
Equally intriguing, though less consequential to the main thrust of the episode, were the dealings between Aaron (Zak Orth) and Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips), who confide in one another after Charlie abandons them to follow her uncle, Miles, in search of a demolitions expert. Maggie reveals that she can hardly remember what her children even look like, and clings to an old smartphone which contains the only pictures she has of them. She knows the device will never turn on, but it’s all she’s got left. This development, though cloying in its desire to wring emotions out of the circumstances of a world without technology this early on in the series, is still a pretty fascinating commentary on our dependence upon technology for our memories. It’d be one thing if the show had been simply been illustrating the difficulty of a world in which fire trucks and helicopters (as we see tonight) don’t work, but society really does come to rely on technology for more than just the object realities of our daily lives. So much of ourselves are poured into social networking profiles, email correspondence, and digital storage. How much of your life would disappear if your hard drive crashed right now? It’s alarming how few people actually have physical copies of their photo albums these days. That’s probably why Maggie’s despondence over barely being able to remember her children’s faces resonates, despite us knowing very little about her so far.
Upon hearing her story, however, Aaron decides to reveal the necklace Ben entrusted to him before his death. It’s the same necklace we saw Grace using last week to power her makeshift computer. Aaron posits that perhaps this blackout is a man-made disaster – which means there may be a way to reverse it and turn the power back on. Aaron even namedrops Grace, who took Danny in last week before being set upon by Neville and the militia, as the woman Ben asked him to deliver the necklace to. Grace is still chatting on the computer to an anonymous party when a mysterious man named Randall, who sports a necklace of his own, breaks into her house. There appears to be a larger conspiracy at work, presumably to the end of keeping the power off. If you’ll allow me to put on my tinfoil hat for a second, I’m going to speculate that the reason for the blackout has to do with evolution (the “R” is blanked out from the opening titles for way too long, as if they want us to consider the possibility that “evolution” is something we should be looking into as a driving force for this show’s mythology). My theory is that whoever is behind the blackout believes that humanity needs to lose technology in order to evolve. Might be a long shot, but I figured I’d get the idea out into the ether in case it turns out to be right. If not, then I’m okay with appearing to be a complete lunatic.
The main bulk of the episode, around which our theme revolves, is Charlie tracking down Miles (Billy Burke), who is attempting to put a team together to help find Danny. Miles separates from the rest of the group to find his old friend, Nora (Daniella Alonso), who knows a thing or two about explosives, which should come in handy. Unfortunately, Nora is a prisoner in a chain gang, hauling a massive, inoperative helicopter with a slew of other prisoners, one of whom is shot dead for collapsing. At nightfall, Miles comes to rescue her, only to discover that she allowed herself to be captured on purpose, in order to steal the guard’s high-powered rifle to aid a resistance movement against the Monroe Republic. In order to achieve this goal, she MacGuyvers a punch gun out of various materials, though she won’t be able to get close enough to do it herself. Leave it to Charlie, who thinks back on her mother’s steely resolve and has a badass moment all her own, killing the man in charge and fending off the advance of the guards while Miles and Nora do some pretty stellar swashbuckling.
It’s a great payoff to a middling episode that tries to keep story outliers in the conversation, such as Nate (J.D. Pardo), who reappears here. We learn he’s been tracking Miles because those are his orders, but we don’t learn why he helped Charlie last week, or even what his real name is. Truth is, that’s fine by me, since he doesn’t seem to give any indication that he has anything compelling to add. In fact, he doesn’t seem to exist for any other purpose than to be a potential romantic interest for Charlie in the future, which is a development I could easily do without, especially when we have twists like the one that closes the episode.
Yes, the obvious was confirmed: Rachel Matheson is still alive. Less obvious, she has a tete-a-tete with General Sebastian “Bass” Monroe (David Lyons), the ruthless dictator with a soft touch (giving his prisoners the option of selling out their comrades in the resistance before gutting them alive). It appears Rachel is being held captive in a posh Southern mansion, although that might have just been the opulence of one well-furnished room. Either way, the show has a very antebellum aesthetic I can’t argue with, from the costumes to the sets, even the landscapes. Monroe breaks the news to Rachel that not only is Ben dead, but they also have Danny. She attempts to strike him, but he puts down that resistance a little easier than the larger one that’s apparently plaguing him offscreen, twisting her arm behind her back and telling her she’s going to start telling him what he wants to know about the power. Will she do what needs to be done to save her son?
Revolution’s mythology might be outpacing its character development at this point, but there’s an attention to world-building that gives me hope for the show. We might not know exactly what the nature of the factions at play happen to be, or even what the factions are, but there’s a bigger picture that is being doled out piece-by-piece in a far more effective fashion than I’d expect for a show as mythology-rich as this. Now if only they could iron out the character kinks. However, the show is young, so hopefully it makes it through these early weeks and settles into a proper groove. It certainly has the materials at its disposal (cast, premise, budget) to make this a show to look forward to each week.
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