Recap and review of Revolution – Season 1 Episode 8 – Ties That Bind
Last week, I talked briefly about how Revolution likes to indulge in mustache-twirling villains from week-to-week. This isn’t to say that Revolution can’t be a subtle show. It’s simply that the series seems to get more mileage out of clear-cut depictions of black and white morality, as opposed to the oft-favored shades of grey approach. With “Ties That Bind,” we’re treated to villains of the direct, morally reprehensible sort, as well as those of a less overt immorality. This latter approach proves to be the most interesting, in that it fleshes out characters about whom we knew only very little, while also opening up several storyline possibilities for them going forward. I’m talking, of course, about Nora Clayton (Daniella Alonso) and Captain Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito). But for each bit of nuance we get in their stories, it feels as though we’re taking steps back into “mustache-twirling villain” territory. I had previously stated that this was a strength for the show, as any genre show can easily become bogged down by the amount of moral greyness, never bothering to just make villains…well, villainous. However, this is three weeks in a row in which the episode is propped up by a cliche of maniacal villainy: In “Sex and Drugs,” we had the sociopathic Drexel; in last week’s “The Children’s Crusade,” we had sadistic Lt. Slotnick; and tonight, we had ice cold Sgt. Will Strausser (David Meunier), the only man that Miles Matheson (Billy Burke) has ever been afraid of.
Now this wouldn’t really be an issue any other week, but it feels kind of played out here, given the tenor of previous weeks. However, some of that damage is alleviated by the fact that we’re thrown right into things from the start, with our group running from Strausser and his men. From the beginning, Strausser is presented as a different kind of baddie, given to ice cold stares and long, brooding silences. Unfortunately, he’s also likely to stab one of his own henchmen for failing him, incidentally while eating an apple, which is more or less the go-to fruit for villainy. To call this characterization a tired cliche would somehow fail to do proper service to the concept of tired cliches. Presumably, cliches became cliches because they worked; moreover, it’s because, at some level, they’ve always worked. Hokey though his mannerisms tend to be, Strausser certainly works, primarily because the characters sell his threat, particularly Miles, who immediately abandons plans to cross the river that Strausser holds, because he knows how insurmountable Strausser can be, having served with him during his time in the Monroe Militia.
Strausser cuts right to the villainous chase by producing Mia, Nora’s younger sister, and threatening her life if Nora and her group don’t surrender. This leads to one of Revolution’s classic action setpieces that results in Mia being freed and joining the group. The episode proceeds to provide us with flashbacks to Nora and Mia’s youth in the months after the Blackout, where the girls trek to their father’s house after young Nora discovers their mother, dead in her bedroom. What follows is a narrative that parallels the past and present of this sisterly bond, with Nora telling Mia lies out of a sense of their necessity to protect the younger girl from everything that’s happening. Meanwhile, in the present, Mia tries to get Nora to abandon the rest of the group, claiming to have found their father, alive and well back home in Texas. Though, on the surface, the episode seems to be saying that sometimes a lie is necessary to protect someone you love, I feel as though the episode makes a case for honesty.
Both sisters lie in different time periods, and in different ways, but they both lie for the same reasons: to protect the other. Young Nora didn’t want Mia exposed to the harsh realities of the world post-Blackout, while Mia feared that Nora was setting off on a suicide mission, and took measures to prevent her from leaving. It’s an interesting dynamic that issues from the direct lack of honesty, as the lie Nora told in the past (that their mother was alive, and left a note telling them to meet her at their father’s house) at least somewhat motivates Mia’s lie in the present (that their father is alive, and wanting them to meet him at his house in Texas). The story is poignant in a way not a lot of stories have been thus far on the show, and further illustrates the series’ broader theme about family.
However, Mia’s lie leads to more than just the sisters parting ways after some harsh words. Mia takes the pendant off of Aaron (Zak Orth) and turns it over to Strausser, who delivers the pendant to Monroe (David Lyons). Miles, who’d earlier argued against keeping the pendant, is livid over the gaffe, fearing that now Bass has the means by which to power his high-tech weaponry. I like that this conflict is rooted in character. Aaron, having come from a tech-savvy background, is going to be inherently more pro-technology than the militaristic Miles, and I like seeing how those ideologies clash, even if Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) doesn’t provide much of anything to either side of the argument. It’s a spirited character conflict that proves all too rare in the early goings of a show like this, which is frequently far more focused on leaving a bread crumb trail of mysteries for viewers to chase en route to absolutely no resolution whatsoever. So Revolution is a rewarding show, in this regard.
That said, this is hardly the only issue of the episode. Neville’s son, Jason (J.D. Pardo), formerly Nate, is arrested and beaten to a pulp under orders by Monroe, who discovered that Jason had bribed a farmhand for information on Strausser’s whereabouts, hoping to track down Charlie. Neville is aghast at Monroe’s attack against his son, and confronts him with all due respect. He tries to argue that his son is simply weak for a pretty face, but Monroe isn’t biting. Bass tells Tom that he should be grateful he isn’t executing his son for treason, and is instead shipping him off on an expedition across the dangerous Wasteland en route to the California Commonwealth.
Jason is to serve under Neville’s fellow commander, John Faber (Ric Reitz), and though this is presented as an optimistic compromise, we’re informed almost from the onset that this is the kind of trip from which young men don’t return. This spurs Julia Neville (Kim Raver), Neville’s wife and Jason’s mother, into action, as she brings their maid in to confess overhearing a conversation that implicates Faber’s estranged son in a Resistance plot. Neville sells out Faber’s son and his friends to Monroe, and Monroe thanks Neville by releasing Jason into his custody, with a stern warning to keep the boy in line. However, this isn’t before Tom witness the brutality inflicted upon his former colleague Faber, who gets a beating much worse than what Jason got at the top of the episode. Worse still, we learn that Faber’s son, and all his Resistance friends, were executed on the spot. Harsh.
This leads to Julia approaching Tom and proposing the idea that he seize control of the Monroe Republic from Bass, somehow, claiming that Tom is a much better fit for leadership than ol’ Sebastian. Though Tom is initially horrified to hear his wife speak this way, it’s hard for him to pretend he’s not intrigued by the prospect. Count me in the same camp. I think this could make for a terrific conflict, primarily because there’s so much inherent conflict in the way this post-Blackout government is run. How is the Republic organized? And who’s to stop a military coup, if one candidate can muster up enough sentiment? The mind reels at the directions this story could go, and that’s without even introducing the pendant back into the equation, which Bass gives to Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell), with orders to get working on bringing the power back. Hell, we even have intrigue regarding former Assistant Secretary for the Department of Defense Randall Flynn (Colm Feore), who is still holding Grace Beaumont (Maria Howell) captive and imploring her to get to work as well, in what is revealed to be a giant room alive with electricity, either the inside of a shuttle hangar, or a reactor of some kind. It’s hard to tell, but it’s certainly thrown a wrench into the mechanics of where this plot could be headed.
“Ties That Bind” is a pretty strong episode overall, and gets us set up for some of the conflicts we’ll be dealing with just over the horizon. There’s only two episodes left in 2012, and next week is looking to be a big one, with the music of Led Zeppelin, because why not? I know I’m intrigued to see where this could all be headed, since I really can’t even think of a plausible theory right now, so much is in flux. Though if you have any of your own, I’d love to hear them. Feel free to sound off in the comments. Until then, I’ll see you next Monday.