“Revolution” episode 2: “Chained Heat”

Posted: September 26, 2012 in Post-apocalyptic fiction, TV
Tags: , , ,

I’m still watching this show . . . for now.  While I watch very few tv shows, I’m too much of a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories to not at least stick this out for a few weeks.

Overall, the second episode (called “Chained Heat” . . . apparently because there are people “criminals” in chains and it’s hot where they are, get it?) improved a bit on the original pilot/premiere episode (it’s streaming here).  This improvement is largely due to character development for Charlie, the female lead, and further revelations of background information (mostly conveyed via flashbacks).  The overall quality of the show will likely get better as more episodes are aired (in my eyes, anyway) due to accumulation of knowledge about the story’s world, the need for which could have been avoided with a pilot more intent on setting the scene than getting the action going.  The same is possible, though not certain, of Charlie’s character development, which will likely be the make-or-break element of the show’s success or failure.

That said, the show’s storylines are still clunky and the acting is pretty mediocre.  That and a number of problems with the premise that I pointed out here and Seb Breit covered exhaustively here remain.

Spoilers below the cut

this totally makes sense

As I said, the show’s improvement and overall success probably hinges on Charlie’s character.

So, in the second episode we have a compressed coming-of-age story for Charlie. Throughout the pilot and the first half of this episode, Charlie is, frankly, an annoying, idealistic teenager who has been relatively sheltered most of her life.  Additionally, she is quick to trust people, especially if they are young, attractive men (there’s a whole scathing feminist critique one could do of the show thus far, if so inclined).  I guess this behavior is realistic, to a degree, but she lacks the sort of worldview one might assume a survivor in this world has to have. She most certainly is not the “strong female lead” that some people were making her out to be after the first episode.  Even if she can hunt and speaks up to authority figures, she is naive and foolish and brash and really not that adept at survival in this world.  Her idealism and naivete is shown hamfistedly in this episode when she pleads with her uncle Miles to spare the life of a dangerous bounty hunter, Jacob (played by C. Thomas Howell).  For whatever inexplicable reason, the mostly-hard-as-nails Miles goes along with this and merely locks Jacob up in a boxcar, which, of course, allows for his escape and another confrontation with him and some heavies where the whole group of heroes is captured (due, of course, to Charlie and company being unskilled at evasion).  This sets up another action sequence where Miles kills everyone and Charlie does her part to help this happen.

This is all fun to watch, but the plea for mercy is also foolish and/or childish on Charlie’s part and sticks out as an unrealistic plot device.  Not to mention it seems out of character for Miles to agree to it.

The turnaround, then, is Charlie coming to understand that fighting, and even killing, to defend yourself and others is necessary and even ethical.  This comes through quite clearly when Miles and Charlie free Nora (a rebel against the militia and explosives expert) from a chain gang held by the militia’s corrections wing.  This chain gang is, quite logically, dragging a goddamn attack helicopter, which is in pretty pristine shape for sitting around for fifteen years, across the forest.  Nora’s mission (in another logical move, she deliberately got sent to the chain gang to do this) is to liberate a sniper rifle from the jailers’ warden, and Charlie volunteers to shoot the warden to take it because he’ll never suspect her as a threat.  Charlie’s rationale behind doing this is not of course to get the rifle . . . she wants to be a liberator and free the prisoners held by the militia.  The developing saintliness of her character could be a problem in the long run.

So the character development we see here, which was, again, better than episode one, is Charlie coming to terms with the need for violence in self defense and for just causes.  It’s overdone and heavy-handed, but it’s something.

Anyhow, about the prison-break.  This all goes down cleanly as the trio of Charlie, Miles, and Nora kick ass, except for Nora getting a flesh wound that allows for some gratuitous flesh-baring as she cleans it up in just her remarkably not-tattered bra, which also allows for the revelation that she has a tattoo of an American flag (the rebel flag in this world).  Oh, and Nora?  Miles originally describes her to Charlie as an explosives expert and crafty strategist they absolutely must have to attempt to free her brother from the militia forces holding him.  Alright, sure.  So, keeping in mind that this is 15 years after the blackout, one would expect maybe someone who was military before things went south, maybe a grizzled veteran of resistance fighting in her mid thirties or something.  Maybe with facial scars or a missing eye or the like.  And, given that she’s a prisoner of the militia, we’d assume she’s unkempt and filthy and abused.  But that’s simply not the case; this is Nora:

To be fair, the actress who plays Nora, Daniella Alonso, is 34, so we’re not out of the realm of possibility here.  However, the show’s casting department (and make-up and costuming) are really shooting for making these post-apocalyptic survivors look prettier and less damaged than they should, thus further losing any semblance of a realistic world.  On a side note, I think it would have been great if Charlie, upon seeing Nora, would have overtly mentioned that maybe Miles had other motives behind freeing her besides her alleged military skills.

Which brings me to another point.  Earlier today, I was speaking to a colleague whose dissertation was on post-apocalyptic fiction and she said (and I’m paraphrasing): “any post-apocalyptic story, especially based in the former U.S., that doesn’t deal with the reality of rape is a bunch of wishful-thinking bullshit.”  Indeed.  Nora’s decision to get put on a chain gang, run by ruthless, homicidal men, in order to capture a rifle has exactly this fanciful avoidance of the problem of rape.  A young, attractive woman like Nora allows herself to be captured and basically enslaved by a group of amoral thugs who might rape her . . . rather than find a more elegant and less-dangerous route to snatching the weapon.  Yeah, bullshit.

That said, the addition of Nora to the group of heroes is welcome.  Alonso does a solid job with what she has been given, and her explosives expertise (thankfully this isn’t a technology wiped out by the change blackout) should add something to the swordfighting and musketry of the action scenes.

A few other brief points:

The flashback scene where a man tries to steal the Matheson’s food: Charlie’s mother, Rachel, is the one who pulls the trigger and kills him (after her father cannot bring himself to do so).  This is a nice change from the usual man-defends-women scenario and, because Charlie witnesses it, provides a great parallel to her own need to embrace violence for self-defense.

That said, using radio flyer-style wagons to haul your food and supplies?  Don’t you people own backpacks?  Or a jogging stroller (given they have an infant and an ~5 year-old at the time of the blackout)?

The U.S. flag as the rebel flag is a nice touch in a way, but it falls back too much on the hope for renewal of a lost past of Brin’s The Postman (an obvious source text for Revolution).  That and the irony of it representing an apparently decentralized resistance movement the likes of which the U.S. has long endeavored to destroy.

And in this episode we are introduced to the Baltimore Act, which outlawed the possession of firearms by non-militia.  Still doesn’t explain the inexplicable lack of firearms (even on the militia side they fight mostly with edged weapons) in the show.  There are what, 250 million firearms in the U.S. right now?  This is the most unbelievable part of the whole premise of the show.

Anyway, we’ll see where this all goes next week.


  1. Nick says:

    I think that this could be an amazing TV show and I really hope that it starts to do a lot better. I am very excited for what this show could be, and I just hope that it starts making more progress in that direction, which it did in this episode. My coworkers at DISH have mostly given up on this show already, but I really want to stick it out. I didn’t get to watch Monday’s episode live, but last night I was able to catch up, since my Hopper recorded it with the PrimeTime Anytime feature, and I didn’t have to give up any of my other shows to watch it, so no I’m not completely committed to the show, but I’m definitely going to watch it. I think that if Kripke and Abrams want to have an incredibly successful show, they need to drop any more semblance of their previous shows, to make this one completely original.

    • nightwork says:

      “I think that if Kripke and Abrams want to have an incredibly successful show, they need to drop any more semblance of their previous shows, to make this one completely original.”

      Absolutely. I’m hopeful too, but I tend toward skeptical given how past shows in the genre have turned out and not being impressed by their prior efforts.

  2. Josh M says:

    I’m happy to read your expert opinion on the show for at least a few more episodes, before I take the plunge and actually watch it. I’ve developed a tendency to avoid pilot episodes altogether these days (at least for American shows), because it takes 3-4 episodes past the pilot for American shows / writers to work past the “let’s meet the gang and find out their powers / abilities / overly-broad character traits” bit. And frankly, I’m not convinced the major broadcast networks are willing to take the plunge into darker territory, by depicting physically realistic characters, addressing the rape issue you note here, and etc. I’m thinking that the no firearms rule is 1) an attempt to keep the writers away from just sewing in gun battles / shoot-outs as a not only a clueless attempt to mimic a “post-technology” world, but also a restriction for the writers / plotlines; if you take away guns, you take away “easy” conflict resolution / death / killing, thereby forcing characters to grapple with “personal issues” rather than simply shooting them up.

    • nightwork says:

      Yeah, the “darker territory” thing you mention is part of why I think cable networks, especially pay channels, are producing better shows. This show has plenty of violence, but is unwilling (unable?) to take on certain topics head-on (they’re at best oblique/implied). The result is similar to comic books aimed at kids versus deeper, more adult fare. Don’t get me wrong, the former has a place, but it will be a hard sell to the target market of a primetime tv show.

      As for guns, I originally praised the writers (in contrast to Stirling’s Emberverse books) because they didn’t magically make gunpowder not work. Now I’m less sure this was a good idea. I’m having trouble thinking of a scenario that would result in the lack of guns we see in this show. Maybe a hardcore federal gun-grab (like the NRA always insanely warns about) immediately following the event could have been worked in, but that succeeding at all would seem absurd too.

  3. Claire says:

    Nora’s a tough cookie – a great fighter, brave, resilient, and a reliable friend. However, when the toughest, most kick-ass lady on your show is concerned about what label of country her nonexistent baby is born in, you’re in trouble.