To say that in its first season NBC’s Revolution had a difficult run of things would be a bit of an understatement. The series, headed up by Supernatural creator Eric Kripke and given the ever-popular seal of approval by J.J. Abrams (the importance of which seems to have waned somewhat in the wake of programs like Alcatraz and Undercovers – though may once again become the gold standard for sci-fi television should Almost Human prove a hit) began life with an interesting premise and a pilot that didn’t exactly instill the greatest of confidence, despite being directed by Jon Favreau.
In the weeks that followed, the series quickly demonstrated two things: that it had little idea where it was going, and that despite having talented actors like Billy Burke and Giancarlo Esposito – who also shared the show’s only onscreen chemistry – Revolution was determined to make it by focusing on two generic teen characters that no one in the audience seemed to like very much. By the halfway point in the season, the show took a four-month hiatus to try and retool what it could and salvage the remaining episodes, in the hopes that the powers that be at NBC would grant the program a second season.
And so here we are, at the beginning of Revolution 2.0 – or so it seemed, after season 1 culminated with ‘The Dark Tower,’ an episode so filled with nonsense it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the series reboot itself and treat the entirety of the first season as a horrible dream for Billy Burke’s Miles Matheson. Instead, we jump forward six months, after the events at the Tower that saw Randall Flynn: Patriot (Colm Feore) launch two nuclear missiles at Philadelphia and Atlanta, mere minutes after Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) and Aaron (Zak Orth) managed to restore the power by shutting down the nanomachines responsible for the worldwide blackout.
When season 2 opens with ‘Born in the USA,’ some of the questions left unanswered by season 1 remain part of a growing mystery involving Aaron and what he believes are strange goings-on caused by the energy-sucking nanomachines that has something to do with fireflies. The other primary concern, of course, is what happened with the two nukes. The episode begins by making it look as though Aaron and Rachel had successfully turned the power back off, thereby disabling the missiles, but it is later revealed that a computer glitch prevented them from interfering and both the Georgia Federation and what was left of the Monroe Republic were largely obliterated.
Despite it sounding like a last ditch effort to incorporate some drama into a narrative that had run completely out of gas, the fallout caused by the nuclear strikes actually works in favor of the series. This is a program that has attempted to define itself by having its protagonists survive in horrible situations, and for the most part, season 2 appears to have that aspect well under control. ‘Born in the USA’ isn’t a complete reboot; the events of the first season still happened, but the characters are essentially back at square one – the only difference being they (and by extension, the members of the audience) have the benefit of established character dynamics.
With the getting to know you part out of the way, season 2 is ready for a fresh start, one that Kripke and his staff – which now includes former Supernatural writer and producer Ben Edlund – have apparently decided will be free of the pursuit to turn the power back on (for now), as Miles, Rachel and Aaron find themselves living a mostly quiet life in Willoughby, Texas with Rachel’s father Dr. Gene Porter (Stephen Collins). Certain things have changed – Miles is going by the alias Stu, and Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) has headed off to New Vegas in search of none other than Sebastian Monroe (David Lyons) – while some things haven’t – Miles and Rachel continue their tortured infatuation with one another by mostly trying to ignore that its there and saying things like, “Bad things happen when we’re together.”
Meanwhile, the fallout caused by Flynn’s missile launch (as ordered by the supposed President of the United States, who is represented by a group known as The Patriots) also serves as our re-introduction to Captain Tom Neville – who, like Miles and Monroe, is also operating under an alias. While the others are off in Texas dealing with a war clan headed up by Magic City‘s Matt Ross (seemingly doing a bang-up riff on The Walking Dead‘s Governor character), Neville has made it his mission to destroy The Patriots from the inside, since he’s convinced they were responsible for launching the nukes and, by extension, his wife’s death (though the latter has yet to be confirmed).
Still other changes involve additions to the cast, which include Adam Beach and Stephen Collins (who made an all too brief appearance in season 3 of Falling Skies). Though his character is built of little more than a generic paternal instinct, Collins helps to balance out the Miles/Rachel dynamic by giving them someone other than Aaron or Charlie – i.e., someone to whom Rachel might actually listen – to play their agonized romance off of.
It’s still early in the season, so if you remain skeptical, then you’ve got company. While ‘Born in the USA’ has inklings of what Revolution promised in the beginning, before the storyline became too dependent on things like pendants and portable power generators, the “Duchovnian” levels of weird Aaron speaks of and his apparent resurrection at the episode’s end may leave viewers saying, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…”
At any rate, no one can possibly blame the audience if they’re not ready to drink the Kripke flavored Kool-Aid after just one episode. There are certainly some tweaked aspects of the show that seem better off – the focus on survival in a harsh environment as opposed to the rescue of a character no one ever liked is evidence of that. But right now, the series isn’t merely rebuilding its story and its focus; it’s rebuilding the relationship with the audience it sullied a few months back. It’s doubtful that anyone watching is ready to go steady, but there may be some who’re willing to listen to what Revolution has to say.
Revolution continues next Wednesday with ‘There Will Be Blood’ @8pm on NBC.