Recap and review of Revolution – Season 1 Episode 7 – The Children’s Crusade
Revolution hasn’t completely answered what caused the Blackout, but “The Children’s Crusade” more or less gives us the pieces from which we can extrapolate the cause. This is a gutsy move for a genre show, many of which, in recent years, create plot movement by spreading a road of mysteries out in front of our protagonists, and the viewer. From cultural milestones like The X Files to Lost, to less successful fare such as The Event and Flashforward, and even zeitgeist hits like Heroes, have all employed mystery as a means by which to drive the plot, and also to engage viewer interest. So it’s a fairly exhilarating choice to give away this much, this early. Of course, it could simply have been the show’s contingency, in the event that it was canceled and thirteen episodes was all they would get. Now that Revolution has been picked up for a full season, they might renege on the revelation and imply that there’s something deeper at play, now that they have more scripts to write and episodes to shoot. In that sense, tonight’s big reveal could be a red herring, or simply part one of a farther-reaching conspiracy. That the story has potential either way is a huge boon to the series; it strengthens a series whose individual parts are already engaging from week-to-week, as in the central plot of “The Children’s Crusade,” which would make for compelling television even without the big reveal. But really, there’s no use pretending it’s not all about the big reveal this week.
Three years before the Blackout, Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee) and Rachel Matheson (Elizabeth Mitchell) are partners in a start-up, and searching for a way to produce clean, low-cost electricity through a device of their invention. However, instead of creating electricity, it causes all electronic devices within range to short-circuit. Not about to allow his fledgling company to go under, Ben holds a demonstration behind Rachel’s back with the assistant secretary to the US Department of Defense, a man named Flynn (Colm Feore), with the hopes of securing a military contract. Rachel is furious, believing that the government will turn their invention into a weapon. But Flynn, undeterred by Rachel’s objections, finds a way to exploit his extensive medical connections in order to presumably make an offer to the pregnant Mrs. Matheson: saving the endangered life of her unborn child (Danny, who, due to complications inside the womb, is unlikely to survive labor) in exchange for the technology she and her husband possess. We don’t specifically know the details of the invention created by Rachel, Ben, and their company, which included the long-missing Grace Beaumont (Maria Howell). We don’t even really know how its application ended up affecting the entire world. But we can pretty much surmise that the Mathesons’ invention is responsible for the Blackout.
This factors into Rachel’s story in the present, as Danny (Graham Rogers), reunited with his long-lost mother, doesn’t seem to understand why they don’t just make a run for it. Rachel knows better than most, however, just how treacherous the Monroe Militia can be. In particular, Bass Monroe (David Lyons) seems to have no intention of simply cutting Rachel loose just because she told him about the pendants. He demands to know where they are, and seems to believe that Rachel knows. And if not her, then her former colleague, a doctor named Brad Jaffe. In order to stop the militia from torturing him, Rachel agrees to go undercover as a fellow prisoner and appeal to her old friend to tell her the location of the pendant he has. But Brad has a healthy skepticism and sizes up Rachel as a traitor, and refuses to tell her anything. No biggie. Monroe extrapolates from Rachel’s harmless intel about Brad that he has a family, and uses that information to track down his daughter and use the threat of violence against her to get him to talk. Rachel is devastated to see Brad in a situation not far removed from her own, as Bass threatened to harm Danny if she wouldn’t talk, which is what finally broke her silence. It’s a starkly emotional scene, even though we know hardly anything about Brad. However, the human connection being invoked here is universal enough to resonate, in spite of the lack of meaningful characteristics with which to color Brad and his daughter.
The complications for Rachel aren’t the only issues at play here. Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) continues to be a thorn in everyone’s ass by insisting that they help a young man named Peter, captured by the militia. Miles (Billy Burke) is intent on just moving on, but his resolve softens when they happen upon the young man’s camp, which is like a trashed-out Neverland of young kids, orphaned by the Monroe Militia. Peter was the guardian of these kids, and the older brother of one of them, Michael. In essence, a Peter Pan-esque story plays out, where these ersatz Lost Boys take off with Charlie and Co. to rescue Peter. Aaron (Zak Orth) is quick to question why Miles, who’s “raised dickishness to an art form”, would suddenly change his mind and agree to help these kids. Nora (Daniella Alonso) explains that the age of the children at the time they state they were orphaned means that these kids’ parents were killed on Miles’ watch. Miles is propelled by his own sense of guilt and remorse over the kind of man he once was as the Commanding General of the Monroe Militia, and he seeks redemption by returning these kids’ guardian to them.
The kids themselves are a guileless sort, remembering nothing of the time before the Blackout. The aesthetic of the children recalls a modern Peter Pan, with kids of all different sizes and characteristics organized under a leader named Peter, and this approach adds a literary sensibility to the storyline, which helps by serving as narrative shorthand. By equating the story with Peter Pan, the show is trading on our knowledge with the source material to generate, whether consciously or unconsciously, a sense of familiarity with this scenario, even though the particulars of the situation make it specific to this series. There’s a Captain Hook-like figure present in the commander in charge of the re-education facility (an old ship) Charlie must infiltrate in order to rescue Peter. Colonel Slotnick, if I heard correctly, represents the sort of moustache-twirlingly devious villain that this show loves to luxuriate in, and it totally works. Aaron, meanwhile, hiding out in a lighthouse on shore with some of the kids, uses the pendant to activate the lighthouse generator, and the distraction provides Miles and company the opening they need. The entire sequence leads to a thrilling fight on the deck of the ship, a sequence that more overtly recalls Peter Pan but which is also wonderfully shot and staged in its own right, culminating in Charlie finishing off Slotnick herself. Peter is rescued and reunited with his brother and the rest of the kids.
The plot is successful by making us care for much the same reasons that Charlie cares: The militia took her brother too. But it goes deeper than that. Miles’ journey towards redemption is among the more compelling narratives of the series thus far, and so we find ourselves rooting for him to be a more traditional good guy, even while he retains his sour edge. Billy Burke is tremendous in the role, and really elevates much of what he’s given, finding wry humor in his delivery, while also hinting at a deeper pathos. It’s a great episode for him, and for Tracy Spiridakos, who is particularly good in any situation that forces her to act like someone else as part of a scheme, as she does here, when she goads a fellow militia recruit into a fight by taunting him. Spiridakos still has a ways to go before she becomes the kind of protagonist that we root for first, and question second. But she’s getting there, and pretty quickly, I’d say.
Earlier in the episode, Bass stated that he didn’t have any of the pendants, so it might have led you to wonder: who abducted Grace a few weeks back if it wasn’t the Militia? We get our answer in the conclusion, as we discover that Flynn had her taken, and is keeping her imprisoned. Echoing his bargaining phrase to Rachel from years earlier, he tells Grace that he only “wants to be friends.” Like any good villain, he’s couching his orders in the rhetoric of friendship, essentially offering a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. As a man who, presumably, had a direct hand in the events that caused the Blackout, it will be interesting to see how his ideologies clash with Monroe’s, as we now have two combating powers contending for possession of the pendants. “The Children’s Crusade” gives us a lot to chew on, both in questions and in answers. And that’s definitely a good thing. Not every genre show can thrive by holding answers at arm’s length through a series’ entire run. We’ll see just how well Revolution fares with bucking that particular trend of genre-based storytelling.