The second episode of NBC’s Revolution, “Chained Heat,” was not at all like the pilot, and that was a good thing. By the time Nora – the lady who is very good at blowing things up – appeared, I had to check the episode’s writing credit, and I was surprised to find out the show’s creator Eric Kripke (who also penned the pilot) was credited. In “Chained Heat”, instead of trying to cram too many things in an hour with dubious approaches, he was more straightforward (and even candid at times) with his story and his characters. All things that made me wish the show had started with an extended premiere, using this episode as the second leg.
The very first thing the episode did right was to give us our heroine at last. Tracy Spiridakos still failed to impress me, but at least here she was given a better written material, enough for her average performance to bring Charlie Matheson to life. We saw Charlie move from being a stubborn bickering brat to a stubborn guilty daughter and sister, and later to a very influential niece. While the pilot expected us to relate to situations and react to what those situations did to the protagonists, “Chained Heat” told us the story from a character perspective, through their fears and hopes during the quest for Nora (Miles’s friend who is very good at blowing things up).
At the beginning of the trip, the group crossed path with a bounty hunter whose life Miles spared following Charlie’s plea, which led to her first coming-of-age story. After the bounty hunter escaped and nearly put an end to their quest, Charlie watched Miles kill the man with a disapproving look, but by then she clearly understood it had to be done. The expression on Charlie’s face in that short scene gave me hope in Spiridakos’s ability to improve throughout the series. Later, when Charlie killed a man to help Nora get her hands on the coveted rifle, she moved from being the little girl who felt guilty for letting her brother out of her sight to a young woman with blood on her hands, but she did it with style. To me, the defining conversion for the character (and to some degree for Miles and Nora) was when she gave her reason for wanting to kill the militia guard (“It’s about the 30 innocent people who are working as slaves. And it’s insane to me that neither of you have even mentioned it. What’s wrong with you?”). At that moment, she became a moral compass and the right heroine for the story.
Incidentally, by showing that Miles didn’t consider the prisoners, she improved his antihero credentials, something his sword-fighting (which is good) and his general attitude were only beginning to establish. She also managed in that scene to show that her brand of morality, down-to-earth and idealistic, was very different from Nora’s who could give her life for a cause (the United States), but would not necessarily help the weak in front of her. Regarding Nora, the show has given us a seemingly straightforward character. With only a couple of sentences, we knew who she was and how practical she could be. It is refreshing and leaves a lot of room for improvement, which is excellent for the future of the story.
Finally on characters, the episode delivered a touching insight into Maggie’s past with her elaborate reaction to Aaron’s “I just know [we will see Charlie again].” Explaining why she kept the iPhone was a tragically-beautiful way of letting her companion realize in what an uncertain world they now lived in. In front of so much candor, it made sense for him to give something back and reveal the secret of the “device” he had. Which leads me back to the overall narrative. The revelation (about the device and the hope it represents) should have been part of the series premiere, just like those little elements that have allowed us now to have a better sense of our protagonists.
“Chained Heat” had the good sense to set things off with a simplistic – but yet effective – introduction explaining how things happened. I still think the whole premise is a problem, but if the series manages to make the story more about some sort of quest (like here) with sword-fighting, bow-hunting, a coming-of-age journey (Charlie’s) and a burgeoning love (Charlie and Nate) then things might turn out much better than the pilot suggested. The episode seemed to show there were characters to draw from, and one of such characters is Captain Neville, who mentions his personal life before wreaking havoc on people is growing on me. He showed more charisma than General Monroe and seemed to have the kind of issues an attractive villain must have. The fact that Rachel Matheson is still alive is another potential source of storylines.
Although the flashbacks were very well integrated, I hope tying them to Charlie’s journey will not become a trend. There simply can’t be in such a young person with enough past experiences to always find something to rely on to make a decision or provide guidance.
I believe some of the inevitable drop in audience following the premiere will be a direct consequence of the show failing to impress many viewers last week, something an extended premiere might have helped with. I hope the writer realizes that the audience at large is not made of 11 or 12-year-olds, so they cannot be content with a comic strip showing heroes in situations with a minimum of speech and drama. The older the viewers get, the more they want the drama around characters to unfold within those situations, preferably with a very fitting orchestral music like in “Chained Heat”.