Revolution "Chained Heat" Review: Snooze Quest

By Tim Surette

Sep 25, 2012

Revolution S01E02: "Chained Heat"

"Chained Heat" was one of the most eagerly anticipated episodes of television in this young season in my household, because second episodes of serialized sci-fi shows can be the most telling indicator of quality and competence. With high-concept shows, many pilots can get away with asking the same question over and over again; in Revolution's case, that question was, "Who turned out da lightz?" But it's the second episode that tells us what to expect each week and gets us comfortable with the characters. Well, the power isn't the only thing that isn't working in Revolution.

"Chained Heat" failed most tests as a second episode, staying roughly in line with the quality of the inept pilot and really defining this show as a modern-day ham radio adventure tale—or, for you more modern folk, an 80-plus-hour role-playing video game. And as anyone who's ever huddled around a speaker in the 1940s or played Skyrim for hours days on end knows, that means fetch quest after fetch quest after fetch quest. Go talk to this guy, go get this thing, go help out this villager who has been waiting impatiently for someone to come along and accept a mission. Yes, there are fights along the way, but even those become a bit of a drag, particularly when the outcome is so predictable (Miles will kill a bunch of people). It equates to a bunch of busy work, and while there's some sense of accomplishment in doing it yourself (Xbox achievements!), watching someone else play a video game is very low on the list of things I enjoy. That's what watching Revolution feels like at the moment.

This week, Miles' quest (which means it's Charlie's quest, too) was to add to the adventurers' party by finding Norah, someone Miles believes can help them find Charlie's kidnapped brother Danny (finding people to find people is apparently going to be a theme of the series). Despite traveling in the Illinois wilderness with no GPS, they located her rather easily as a prisoner in a yellow-tank-top chain-gang that was dragging a helicopter with all the fake exertion the extras' faces could muster. And thank God the only yellow tank top left for Norah happened to size XS, right fellas? Miles and Charlie sprung her—again, rather easily—but Norah wasn't ready to leave until she got what she was there for: a gun that she could sell on the black market (or give to the resistance). This didn't give us a real sense of story as far as "Hey we're watching a television show" goes, it just gave the show's characters something to do.

Which led to one of Revolution's action scenes in which the bad guys take an ass-kicking and pile up casualties by attacking one person at a time and the good guys suffer barely a scratch. Dear readers, we need to talk about these action scenes. I'm into the land-pirates thing, where swords are swashed and buckled and some of the guns require a gunpowder cram before firing. But the fights so far have been boooooring, and they're taking away the purpose of having a sharpened blade in the first place. No matter how many twirls and no-look slicing Miles does, I just can't get into the action because they're more ballet-like and less visceral than what swords deserve. Quick question: Would you rather be shot in the arm or sworded (fake word!) in the arm? Answer: shot, because there's a good chance you'll be able to do something with that arm again. If a dude comes down full force on your arm with a sword, the last thing you'll do with that arm is carry it to the garbage can and throw it in, because that sucker's coming off. That kind of violence needs to be on display in Revolution if I'm going to take these sword fights seriously. Can we get a blood spray or a limb falling to the ground? The show has no problem with blood when guns are involved, but all these swords do is make stuntmen flail sharply in the other direction. I know, broadcast television and all, but this is a 10pm show and if The Empire Strikes Back can show Luke's hand getting cut off (whoops, spoiler alert!), then Revolution can lose a limb here and there. I'm probably in the minority here, but try re-watching one of Revolution's fights when you have a moment. A good action sequence should still be exhilarating on multiple viewings. Repeated views of Revolution's fights are not.

Neville remains the best character on the show thus far, partly because Giancarlo Esposito is the only one with charisma and partly by default because the other characters are tiring chores. "Chained Heat" attempted to give Charlie a little more bite (they couldn't have given her less in the pilot), but only managed to pull off "meddling tag-along teenager." It was an improvement, and Charlie blowing away the warden with the sleeve gun was admittedly the badass moment of the episode, but she still has a long way to go before I think of her as anything more than a face that belongs in a makeup commercial. Miles remained on-course to be this season's half-written primetime rebel, but did some positive growing with feelings of familial responsibility. Danny, well, he's just there to look like a puppy. It's like he wasn't even on-set with everyone else, thanks to all those cuts to him staring blankly and saying nothing (seriously, I think all his bits were re-shot with him in front of a green screen). Aaron is Aaron and will always be Aaron. Oddly enough, it was ice queen Maggie who was humanized the most this week, with her memories of her children held prisoner by a drained iPhone. Team Maggie all the way.

We also saw that Revolution isn't shying away from the flashbacks to the early days of the outage, and that's both a good and a bad thing because it shows what Revolution can do and also what it isn't doing most of the time. The flashbacks are much more interesting than the "present-day" storytelling because the sense of danger is plain and close. Those days look a whole lot worse (and therefore interesting) than a decade-and-a-half later. That scene where that creepazoid grabbed young Charlie and threatened to smash her face in? That was the tensest situation in the entire series so far and made me want to spend more time in the freshness of post-energy anarchy than the Frontierland of 15 years later. It's not a good sign when the appetizers are better than the entree.

As for the big reveals and steps toward solving the grand mystery, so far it's just the typical trickling-out of barely relevant details. We learned that the computer girl is named Grace and saw some headless guy named Randall creep up to her and get his zap-stick ready, but it was so out of context we had nothing to actually process. Yes, he's probably a bad person, but without knowing why Grace has the computer, what it's used for, or even who she is, it all becomes a home invasion aside that didn't fit in with the rest of the episode. We also discovered that Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) is alive! Not entirely surprising because who in their right mind would limit the wonderful Mitchell to flashback duty? But what was surprising was how much the writers changed her situation. In the original pilot, which wasn't screened for the public, Rachel—then played by Andrea Roth—appeared in the final scene with her arms draped around Monroe like they were more-than-friends. Here, she was a prisoner and even attempted to Joe-Pesci-from Casino the bad guy, a total 180 from the original pilot. I'm guessing the character change had a lot to do with the recasting, because for the life of me I can't imagine Mitchell playing anyone but a sympathetic character and not a two-timing traitor. And if you're really into details, Aaron thinks the whole power outage was manmade. Yeah, we figured.

But what is really dragging Revolution down is the thing that was most interesting when the idea was pitched. The world isn't as interesting as we thought it would be, and it's full of inconsistencies. Why is Monroe staying in a defenseless camp of cloth tents while he keeps Rachel prisoner in a mansion? How is everything blown back to the Stone Age except for fashion? Why do the guns stay silent during the show's sword fights?

Revolution is being compared to The Event, FlashForward, and Terra Nova, which is partially accurate because they all share the same DNA. But The Event was misguided and made things up as it went along (with hilarious results), FlashForward was way too ambitious and collapsed on itself, and Terra Nova was just plain bad. None of those descriptions really apply to Revolution, which has its own problems. It's just not interesting (yet) and it doesn't have a sense of direction. Right now I don't see hope for it to improve.


– What was the real point of C. Thomas Howell's bounty hunter? Just to add color and give Miles the general location of Norah? And why did he run away from a handcuffed Miles after showing no fear of him in their earlier swordfight? And why did the goons release Charlie and Maggie just because Miles said to do so right before he gave up? Shouldn't those orders come from C. Thomas Howell? And is anyone else already over this C. Thomas Howell career comeback?

– Miles: "That's Norah. The hot busty one in the tight tank top."

– The most unbelievable thing in this whole show? Trying to pass off the idea that young Charlie would grow up to be older Charlie.

– Probably not a good idea to have a close-up shot of a deer carcass if it looks fake even from not close up.

– I'm not a huge fan of cutting off a conversation in the middle for dramatic effect. When Charlie asked "Nate" why he saved her, I wanted a damn answer, not a cut away to the next scene.

– Did Danny puff up a bit in between the pilot and this episode?

Follow writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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  • jediahmatthew Jan 12, 2015

    OMG FINALLY SOMEBODY SAID IT ALL. Finally. This was a great show at the start but it was amazingly frustrating to watch after the first episode. I'm on SEASON2 EP22 and I'm almost out of hair and dishes. I can't believe how frustrated I am watching this even though I keep reminding myself this is just s show. But I get the feeling the directors/writers just have no clue what they want from these characters. They're all GODS, they are completely indestructible and no matter how bad their plans are they always win. Example EP22 dozens of men guns shooting at the trios and they get away due to the safety of a rock. WOW. What is this my little pony tails. Seriously, I feel as if the directors/writers gave up even before they started. Anyway I'm just very happy that someone wrote about it. I feel grest sense of satifaction now. Thank you. :)

  • gilbz Oct 09, 2012

    i was able to get through 2 episodes because i'm simultaneously playing a game on my phone. agrees to the bad acting, inconsistencies, prisoners/slaves with a uniform - yellow, first stop in Chicago and they immediately find Miles, and the Cameron Diaz-look-a-like girl with bad acting.

  • Genesistt Oct 08, 2012

    Something tells me this is going to be a "rescue of the week" kinda show. And if I have to sit through week after week of Miles having to rescue someone or be rescued by someone, I'm going to get bored fast. Oh wait. I'm already bored. Yeah, not good. Not good at all. I had hope for Eric Kripke's writing to help this show, but so far..... not so much.

  • DaveRoekle Oct 06, 2012

    The LA Times recently published a review of the NBC show "Revolution. If you are a fan of the show,

    what is your opinion of this review?

  • AerinS Oct 02, 2012

    OK, I made it through the pilot and about 15 or 20 minutes into the second episode, but I just couldn't watch another minute of wretchedly amateurish acting by Tracy Spiridakos. Even the prospect of more Elizabeth Mitchell scenes couldn't make me hang around. I wanted to like this show. The various weaknesses Tim points out (especially the many glaring inconsistencies and the overly choreographed looking fights) really put me off, but the bad acting was the deal-breaker. I don't think my standards are absurdly high -- I actually liked "The Event" and "Flash Forward" (though I couldn't stand "Terra Nova"). I also really liked "V," and I love "Falling Skies" (just wish we could have twice as many episodes per season!). "Revolution" seems too derivative and like it is just "going through the motions."

  • Linc-o Oct 01, 2012

    I love Kripke's work, but seems like he doesn't realize he's on a different network now; he seems to think that he's still on the CW where low ratings are normal and shows keep going on despite of that.

  • spam1162 Sep 30, 2012

    I really wanted to like this show, but...

    I lost interest during the pilot. I like the premise, but I found the overall feel of the show to be completely unbelievable. For starters...even in this modern age of medicine and technology, thousands of people die of asthma every year, in the US alone. I'm not a doctor, but I find it hard to believe that this kid would still be alive, with such an obviously SEVERE case of it. This was just one of the many things that bothered me about their portrayal of a 'post-apocalyptic' world.

    I was also very disappointed when they shot ahead to 15 yrs after the blackout. I agree with Tim on this one...Shortly after the blackout would have been a much more interesting story.

    That being said, I tried to overlook these things and just enjoy the story and the characters, since my hubby really liked it. WEEK 2 - hubby spent the second half of the episode playing a game on his phone! Not a good sign. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

  • MarkChase2 Sep 30, 2012

    I really hope this show improves - as the premise has potential but it's just *bland* so far.

    I want to see more of the "power off" event. We saw planes falling from the sky and lights going off - but didn't see any nuclear power stations melting down (which is one of the first things that would happen if all power went off ... no more coolant being pumped to keep the reactors under control).

    And all we're being told is that this affects electricity ... but if that's the case why are there no cars running? Yes, many modern cars have computers and electrics that would be affected. But 'internal combustion engines' do not run on electricity. Yes batteries are used to kick start the motors into life ... but they're not actually needed (any old spark will do ... old cars used cranks) - and once running there is no electricity draw (apart from accessories). So, when the power issue hit ... while the lights/aircon etc would go off ... the engines would stay running.

    I'm also a little curious about the "mystical amulets' that have a wee light in the middle. They can't just be a localised cancelling of the effect that is blocking electricity from working ... as there are now no power stations running to even try to generate power (unless they have some Tesla tower somewhere)... they have to be generating power somehow? And also directing the generated power quite precisely (Randall's only supplied power to his cattle prod; Grace's powered her lightbulb and computer). The amulets don't look to be overly configurable - so wonder how they decide what to power ... generally "induction fields" aren't too picky on what they charge.

    And one of my *main* laugh out loud moments in episode 2 occurred when Grace powered on her computer ... and you hear the unmistakable tones of an analogue modem handshake/negotiation before she logs onto her communication connection with her unknown friend.

    Seriously? WTF? Unless they have a cable laid that physically connects the two machines (which would made tracking down Grace's friend a little easy - and also make the use of a modem redundant) how is this connection occurring? Where is the working phone exchange that is facilitating this phone call?

    All in all ... they are doing their best to not go into the science of how this event could possiblly take place (by everyone shrugging and saying "we have no idea what happened - but we think it's man made") ... which is actually a good thing. Think "The Force" before Lucas had a brain-fart and introduced "midi-chlorians".

    So they really need to make a little more effort in the areas that they are 'explaining' as virtually nothing they have come up with so far makes any sense.

  • lsbloom Oct 01, 2012

    Are you under the impression your car still has a carburetor? What do you think spark plugs do? Or do you think your gas pedal and shifter are still mechanical connections? We've been over this and over this in the comments. They might be able to reconfigure an old diesel to run without electricity, but not gas powered engines.

    You don't know the answers to any of your supposed problems because they haven't told us...but it means that you don't know the explanation doesn't make sense yet.

    Go watch Last Resort for a hour and pick apart all the silliness over there. It's all right out in the open, no mystery just illogical crap. It will make your life easier.

  • apostrofa Oct 02, 2012

    illogical crap? seriously? are we sure we watched the same show? oO

  • GirishStewart Oct 02, 2012

    You didn't find any flaws in Last Resort? Nothing that jumped out at you which made you say wth? Weird. I could swear the whole thing was completely ridiculous and downright laughable (yet entertaining). Are YOU sure we all watched the same show?

  • apostrofa Oct 02, 2012

    Honestly? No. Certainly not to the point of calling the show ridiculous, laughable or illogical crap? Maybe I was blinded by the awesomeness and coolness of it all and should watch it again. I think I'll do that before the episode 2. But still. Can you give me an example of what you found so ridiculous and laughable and crapilly illogical? =]

  • mad-pac Sep 30, 2012

    And while we're at the topic of website improvements, it's a real nightmare to find anything in the mobile version of this website, except for the five or six news articles that appear on the front page.

  • tnetennba Sep 30, 2012

    We need a "load ALL comments" button for pages like this. Here I have to click "Load more comments", scroll down, click it again, scroll down, click it again, scroll down, click it again,...

    Actually, why not replace the "load more" button with a "load all" button?

  • mad-pac Sep 30, 2012

    That's a good idea.

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