Revolution "Ghosts" Review: Grieving on the Run

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Revolution S01E12: "Ghosts"


This is my first time reviewing Revolution this season, so this is the first time I've really had to formulate my thoughts about the show. For a long time, Revolution didn't give me much to think about because it was too wrapped up in being dull and dumb. But now that the series has found itself a little bit in the last four episodes, trying to pin down where I stand with the show isn't easy. "Ghost" tells me that Eric Kripke and his team are still trying to figure everything out themselves, but there's a central tension now integral to Revolution's ongoing narrative that is, at least in the short term, going to keep the show from being anywhere close to great. 

Turning on the power happened really, really quickly. 

Now, hear me out: We've seen too many of these post-Lost shows screw around with their primary mystery/question/narrative for too long, resulting in plodding episodes that allude to a larger story but never fully get there. While the novelty of the post-blackout world carried the show in its first few episodes, I think most of us, and Kripke, recognized that "cool, swords!" wasn't going to drive 20 hours' worth of story. From a macro-level storytelling perspective and also for pure entertainment value, powering up some vehicles and tech makes so much sense. Just look at the last few episodes: The number of shootouts, chases, and showdowns has increased quite substantially, but so have the quote-unquote answers. In "Ghosts," we got confirmation that Rachel was working for Randall pre-blackout, and we learned that they were working for the Department of Defense and that Randall, burdened by his son's death in the Middle East, rushed whatever device down the pipeline, and that's probably what messed up all the lights.

Think about that. Even if we learn next week that there's more to the story (and we almost certainly will), Revolution is already answering the biggest question everyone had before the saw the pilot (who turned off the power?). This was Episode 12! Kripke and company clearly have a larger story in mind, but it's also apparent that the writers room knows that the best approach to this kind of story is to keep forcing yourself into situations where you have to tell the audience what's going on. Being overly secretive doesn't work anymore; push the narrative forward. 

HOWEVER, here's the problem with juicing up, overloading on the shootouts, and forcing the characters to move much faster or face more deadly obstacles every 25 minutes: During that slow period, Revolution struggled quite mightily to make many of the characters interesting. Consequently, the story is now up and running and it seems on the surface like the stakes are higher. But characters are still just moving from location to location, picking up stuff or old allies, stopping only to briefly deliver weak dialogue about moving on or rising up. 

Although I sort of appreciated how the show admitted that Danny was nothing more than a MacGuffin, the way "Ghosts" handled the aftermath of his death is telling. The episode gave us one very quick scene with his burial and with Charlie ignoring her mother's tearful pleas (few actresses almost-cry better than Elizabeth Mitchell). From there, the story was off again, with Miles drunkenly deciding that he was going to lead the resistance and kill Monroe, but only with his old crew, and with Charlie completely shutting down and throwing herself into dangerous resistance aids. 

Was Danny really worth remembering? No. But seeing that the show really and truly only saw the character as a plot device—and one that the writers apparently aren't even interested in using to make a dramatic impact—is disheartening. If we see Charlie, Miles, Rachel, and the rest of the gang avoiding hails of bullets every week and death isn't treated like it means something, why should we ever think anyone is in danger? 

To the episode's credit, it made a real effort to tell a series of stories about how people deal with loss and/or trauma. Surprisingly, Charlie's shutdown after Danny's death was the most successful. No shots at Tracy Spiridakos, but she certainly plays Charlie more cold and detached than anything. Spiridakos mostly held her own during Charlie's big blowout with Rachel, and I don't blame Charlie for being angry with her mother—especially in light of Danny's death. The problem is that "Ghosts" was too interested in other things to push Charlie's emotional instability further, and by the end of the episode, she and Rachel had mostly reconciled, cried about their loss, and hugged it out. Apparently Revolution didn't have time to foster a legitimate tension between mother and daughter, because it had a chopper to power up!

The stories of Randall and Jim (the always solid Malik Yoba) were probably more clearly followed throughout the episode, but less interesting than what was going on between Charlie and Rachel. In flashbacks, we learned about the death of Randall's son, and then we saw him holding the dog tags right before he made one of humanity's worst decisions, which skipped a few steps but got the point across that this was a man who so badly wanted to cease the conflict that brought him pain that he'd do anything. That contrasted a little with Randall in the "current" timeline, where he's jaded to the point where he believes only a few people should have power and safely provide it to everyone else. Politics aside, Randall apparently still trusts himself enough to rule this world even though he seemingly destroyed the last one. 

Jim was mostly a means to an end here, despite Yoba's decent work. So much of his story was just so familiar, and we had to hear it in lots of miserable dialogue. Jim mentioned his new life and his family often, which reinforces the idea that he's tried to suppress all the nasty things he did while in the militia. Miles' line about Jim turning into Conan the Librarian was probably the worst thing Billy Burke's ever had to say on camera, and that dude was in five Twilight movies. But yet again, the result is a character who has great reason to hate Miles joining up with him. If the show is going to use flashbacks, I'd really like to see some of Miles and Jim's interactions. Don't give us flashbacks for some stories and then mediocre exposition for other things. 

I resist the urge to say that "Ghosts" was an improvement over last week's episode; the two felt about the same to me. Revolution has certainly picked up the pace and is seemingly ready to start delivering answers and blowing more stuff up. But I'm concerned that the character development is never going to catch up with the narrative's progressions. No matter how much we learn about the blackout and who was involved, until the show does a better job making us care about these people, Revolution will continue to struggle.


NOTES

– Tim will be back next week. He had to go to Culpepper to ruin a librarian's life and will meet us all at the rendezvous point.

– The library had a prominent Stephen King section, and the episode went out of its way to highlight The Stand because that's what episodes of shows like this do.

– The episode made allusions to both Georgia and "Governor Affleck" in California. I like to imagine the show's larger world, so hopefully we keep seeing new corners of it. It'll be interesting to see how Monroe's power fits within the framework of the entire nation. There are what, six republics? I can already imagine stories where Miles is forced to band together with Monroe to take on a larger level.