Monday, June 24, 2013

A Thin Line Between Revolution and Confusion

I've been following the TV show Revolution throughout its first season. The show is set fifteen years after a worldwide electricity outage, which led to the collapse of governments like the United States and the rise of smaller militias. The first half of the season began by following Charlie Matheson as she attempted to rescue her younger brother, who had been abducted by the “Monroe Republic.” As new technologies and characters crowded the show, however, new loyalties and motivations popped up instead. The place of patriotism throughout the first season is something that rubbed me the wrong way in several episodes, and left plenty of fans confused at the season-ending cliffhangers.

[spoilers after the jump!]

The scheduling of the show created a chronological separation between the first and second halves of the season; a hiatus of four months took place between episodes ten and eleven. Episode ten, which closed out the first half, at last successfully reunited Charlie and her brother, Danny. Now that Danny was back with his sister, we wondered, how would he develop as a character? Had he hardened after the abduction, or would he remain merciful even towards his enemies? We didn't really get a chance to find out, because at the end of the first episode after the hiatus, Danny was killed by militia agents.

So, basically the entire impetus for the first ten episodes had been rendered futile. What was left to motivate Charlie and her friends now? One answer seemed to be “joining an armed rebellion aimed at restoring the United States.” Nora Clayton, an older friend and mentor character to Charlie, had been part of the rebellion for several years, even getting a stars-and-stripes tattoo. As she explained in an earlier episode, this was a reaction to mistreatment she'd received under the militia government. While her resentment of the Monroe Republic is understandable, her (and the other rebels') rationale is less so. Because the Monroe Republic is cruel and ineffective, the best choice is just a return to the previous country? What, exactly, makes the USA in particular so great?

Sometimes the patriotic element of the rebels is used for comic relief. When entering a bookstore, the code to identify yourself as a rebellion supporter is, “I need to buy a biography of Joe Biden.” Very subtle. The vice-presidential theme is echoed in the last episode of the season, when Randall Flynn (a former high-up in the Department of Defense) smashes a photograph of Dick Cheney (this turns out to be necessary to the plot, but is hilarious at the time).

We learn more about Flynn through flashbacks. He had been responsible for recruiting Charlie's parents to a secretive DoD project relying on their scientific skills. Charlie's mother is initially distrustful of the project, but he's able to motivate her with the prospect of special medical care for the sick Danny fifteen years previously. It's unclear what we're supposed to make of the Monroe Republic getting their hands on some electricity and air drones after the blackout—a glib reference to the real-life contemporary government's actions? Similarly, (flashback-era) references to the current war in Afghanistan and discussions on how far people would go to bring it to a swift end come off as less meaningful and more confusing, or ineffective attempts to humanize our antagonists by bringing up their tragic pasts.

In a world where long-distance communication is very difficult, of course, no one expects the rebellion to be in contact with the leaders of the former United States—the politicians seem to have dropped off the map, replaced by scientists and militia leaders as the plot's main focus. However, the final minutes of the last episode call the roles of the previous government's high-ups into question, as well as shed new light on Flynn's motivations. But they leave the plot line up in the air until next season, and leave watchers confused. Maybe it's supposed to be a demonstration of how complicated politics is supposed to be—but as someone who's already skeptical of a lot of patriotic overreaches, the impression I get is mostly of a lot of misguided characters.

By Madeline Barnicle