Revolution is an ambitious series, not necessarily for the story it presents, but for the ideology it seemingly seeks to put forth. We probably could use a little less technology in our lives, and many have become enslaved, in a certain way, to their cell phone, their computer, their TVs with their DVRs loaded with endless hours of programming. That said, the complete and total decay of a world without technology is a bold, even unsettling, setting to present to viewers in primetime. Thankfully, the show does a good job of navigating the implications of its world, showing us just how far humanity has fallen, how far its descended into savagery. “No Quarter” is an engaging, well-paced episode that takes ample opportunity to slow down and provide motivations – and, more importantly, context.
This week, we’re presented with a two-fold narrative charting the progression of the two warring factions in the series: the Monroe Republic and the Rebellion. We meet a commanding officer named Jeremy (Mark Pellegrino) who holds a rebel at gunpoint, indulging in a bit of Russian Roulette and espousing upon the rarity of good bullets, explaining that he really doesn’t want to have to use one to kill the guy for withholding the location of the rebel base (and suddenly I feel like we’re on the Death Star). The man gives up the information, and if we know anything about the Monroe Militia, it’s that every member, rank and file, loves a dash of brutality, and Jeremy is no different, putting the scarce bullet to use anyway. This cold open is a strong tease for the episode to come, owing to the chilling delivery of Jeremy’s monologue. Mark Pellegrino must be in some kind of competition to be on every show on television, because he’s a ubiquitous presence on the airwaves, but damned if it isn’t for good reason.
Of course, from last week’s episode, we know that our gun-toting trio is headed to the rebel base, and so we’re already counting down to when the trouble catches up with our oblivious heroes. Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) doesn’t seem to have a problem with taking a detour to the rebel base if it means they can procure Nora’s services in the hunt for Danny, since Miles (Billy Burke) insisted last week that they needed Nora for the mission, an insistence Charlie won’t let her uncle forget, to his chagrin.
We met explosives-expert Nora (Daniella Alonso) last week, and learned little about her other than that she’s a recruit to an anti-Monroe rebellion intent on re-establishing the United States. “No Quarter” offers Nora’s motivation: in preventing a group of militiamen from assaulting her then-boyfriend, she miscarried. Not wishing her child to have died for nothing, and determined to see that any children she has in the future are born in the United States, Nora intends to help the rebels however she can. The backstory for the face viewers have identified with the rebellion so far (though the episode introduces others, such as a Catholic priest named Nicholas), the episode creates a dichotomous narrative, presenting Nora/The Rebellion’s opposite in the Miles/Origin of the Militia narrative that unravels via flashback.
As it turns out, Miles was the Commanding General of the Monroe Militia and is more or less a founding father of the Monroe Republic, second only to Sebastian Monroe (David Lyons) himself. The flashbacks to the fallout in the six months after the blackout paint a vivid picture of a world in rapid decay, to say nothing of the men who inhabit it. There’s still the kernel of a good man in Miles as he and Monroe trek the urban wild, with Miles coming across a pair of murdered travelers and lamenting that the world has fallen so far, so fast. The desire to help becomes paramount for past-Miles throughout the flashbacks, a character arc that climaxes when Miles coldly shoots the men responsible for the dead travelers, arguing that there’s no police anymore, so “Somebody’s gotta do something, or there’s gonna be nothing left.” Though the moment is surprising in its portrayal of an unraveling Miles, it’s doubly interesting for how it colors our perception of Monroe.
The Sebastian Monroe of the flashbacks is a very different Monroe from the man accosting the still-alive Rachel Matheson (Elizabeth Mitchell) in last week’s conclusion. Here is a man of loyalty and integrity, insisting on coming with Miles on his journey to find his brother, arguing that he considers Miles his family too, and their problems are his problem. Moreover, he attempts to serve as a moral compass for Miles, first trying to dissuade him from cold-blooded murder, and then raging at his irresponsibility in appointing himself judge, jury, and executioner. The flashbacks paint the picture of a Monroe whose path to corruption begins through Miles, enriching both characters by subverting expectations. I know I’m interested in learning more about the Monroe Republic and how it was formed, along with the schism between two men who were, essentially, like brothers. For now, we simply have the beginnings of the Republic in the discovery of its first recruit: Jeremy, one of the two men Miles shot, who seemingly thanks them for punishing his wickedness, even while his mouth bubbles with blood. “You saved my life.”
Miles and Monroe carry Jeremy off, and the beginnings of a revolution are planted.
We also check in, briefly, with Danny (Graham Rogers), who must fend off the sinister overtures of the soldier whose best friend was killed by Danny during his attempt to fight off the militia with a crossbow back in the series premiere. Danny hasn’t been given much to do as a character, functioning mainly as a traveling MacGuffin, but this mini-arc does wonders in establishing his resiliency. He takes his beating from the embittered soldier, and then quietly plots his retaliation, suckering the soldier in by faking an asthma attack, and then choking him out with the chains used to restrain him, releasing the soldier at the last minute, under the directive to never come near him again, or he’ll be joining his friend in Hell (at least, I wish the line would have been that cliched The show could do for some action-movie camp). Captain Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) witnesses the whole thing, and whether the look on his face is from begrudging respect, or outrage at the boy’s temerity is a matter for another day.
We also briefly follow the exploits of Aaron (Zak Orth) and Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips), who arrive at Grace Beaumont’s house to find the door kicked in and Grace nowhere to be found. Aaron, however, is practically giddy over the remains of Grace’s homemade computer in the attic, and resolves to stay and try to figure out the function of the pendant Ben tasked him with delivering. What follows gives us solid background on Aaron’s motivations in wanting the power back on, explaining that he was always picked on as a kid, but when he hit it rich as an executive at Google, he was the one in charge. Now the world is a giant schoolyard, and he’s right back to being that weak, scared little kid at the mercy of the strong.
This helps Aaron to feel more rounded, as he seemed to exist solely to provide comic relief before, whereas now he has his own motivations behind restoring the power, and the world with it, beyond the fact that he’d been rich before. The episode’s conclusion gets us headed in that direction, as the pendant comes to life and restores power to the electronics in their immediate vicinity, with Aaron coming to tears upon hearing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” blaring through a CD walkman. We also get a touching callback to Maggie’s diminishing memories of her children, as her iPhone comes back to life, and she gets to see their faces for a few brief moments before the power sputters out again. This brief sequence is one of the best moments of the series so far, and shows the potential the series has in telling these kinds of personal stories.
The episode excels, in large part, because the focus is off of Charlie. I’ve insisted in these reviews that NBC really has a potential breakout star in Tracy Spiridakos, but “No Quarter” actively suffers from her presence, which, for the first time in the series thus far, was taxing on the narrative. There’s nothing wrong, on the surface, with presenting a woman who, while adult-aged, still has the closeted naivete of a sheltered teenage girl, but I don’t think it’s a smart move for the show to write the character to be as petulant as Charlie is here, first calling her late father a coward for repeatedly allowing militiamen to rape and pillage, unchecked; and then later for demanding an explanation from Miles for his past, and then complaining, “Don’t talk to me that way! I’m just trying to understand!” when Miles becomes exasperated with her frustratingly ill-timed line of questioning. I mean, really, you’re surrounded by Militia troops and we have to talk about Miles’s past right this very minute? It’d be one thing if there had been some reason to believe that Miles was moments away from double-crossing them all, but even though he’s been a stubborn hard-ass for most of the journey so far, there’s absolutely no reason to think that his past needs to be addressed before they can go about the business of escaping certain death.
And escape they do. Miles offers to turn himself in to Jeremy in exchange for his companions’ safety. But Charlie isn’t content to just let them hang her uncle, believing that, deep down, he’s still a man trying to do the right thing (as he had been in the flashbacks and, later, in the rebel base when he tells Charlie, upon calling her father a coward, to never, ever disrespect her father like that again, in the episode’s best, and most telling, moment). The rescue continues in the tradition of badass action setpieces in the series thus far, as Charlie and Nora use the fancy rifle they stole last week to create a diversion while Miles slashes his way out with a machete. Once safely across a bridge, Charlie uses the crossbow to set off an explosive that sends the path crumbling into the water below. It’s an exhilarating sequence, and the visual contrast of the modern weaponry and settings with the antebellum iconography of the Monroe Militia is striking. The fight serves as a fitting close to an episode that does nearly everything right, even if it occasionally tries to do too much (for instance, we probably could have skipped the Danny plot this week and have had a better-paced episode, but I can’t say I’m upset they left the plotline in). Revolution is a genre show done right, telling incisive, personal stories while preventing the mythology from overwhelming the narrative. Let’s hope it stays on track.