I know who to blame in Revolution’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” – the writers!

revolution-nobodysFault

The mid-season finale of ‘Revolution’ showed us more of the same: dimensionless characters, on-the-nose dialogue and plot holes big enough to fly a helicopter through. When will they turn this show around?

 

Normally when a show reaches the midway point of its freshman season, it’s already hit its stride. It takes a while to establish the characters and get all of the necessary backstory and exposition out of the way so that the audience understands the direction the overall story is taking. The first few episodes introduce the main players, the antagonistic forces and set up the world these characters inhabit. And, typically, those first few episodes are the weakest of all the episodes of a series’ run because the writers are still finding their voices, the actors haven’t fully embodied the characters they are playing yet, and the show as a whole hasn’t found its audience.

Usually it is around the sixth or seventh episode when things start turning around … the actors are comfortable with their characters, the writers are writing for that character that the actor “created,” and we as the audience know what to expect by the rules of the world that were established in the pilot and preliminary episodes. We no longer need to be spoon fed information because we understand the characters and the stories the writers are trying to tell.

I, like probably most people reading this, am a fan of the shows and films that Joss Whedon creates. Buffy the Vampire Slayer became a cultural phenomenon. I really enjoyed the show because of the characters and clever writing, but I wasn’t an instant fan. The first few episodes were not that good. The characters were thin, the dialogue a little rough, and they introduced the idea of other monsters, not just vampires, which I found confusing given that the title clearly stated “vampire slayer,” not “equal opportunity monster slayer.” Really, who goes back and watches the episode with the giant praying mantis?

But eventually I was won over once the writers and actors got into their groove and started presenting better stories (and I realized the other monsters were a necessity since watching Buffy just dust vamps each week would get tired). The turning point was after the episodes “The Pack” and “Angel” (coincidentally, episodes 6 and 7), where the characters started feeling more real, they introduced Principal Snyder (an antagonistical force for multiple seasons) and we learn that Angel is, in fact, a vampire (sorry for the spoiler). From this point, the relationships between the characters developed, making them multidimensional, the story-line moved towards the inevitable climax with the Master and the show became much more entertaining. The writers took that time in the first few episodes to flesh out the characters, establish the rules, and set the stage for the remainder of the season and seasons to come.

But here we are at the mid-season finale and Revolution is still floundering around in that murky episode 3 zone. The characters are one dimensional, the dialogue is on-the-nose and the story-lines rarely make logical sense. You can get away with plot holes early on if you take the audience to an interesting place later, but Revolution has taken us from the Midwest all the way to Philadelphia and still managed to underwhelm almost every step of the way.

A key aspect of storytelling is conflict, and time and time again Revolution confuses sword fighting and musket fire with real conflict.

I mentioned in another post how I felt the writers missed an opportunity when they showed Miles single-handedly taking out a dozen militiamen in the pilot episode. It diffused any sense that Miles would struggle on the group’s quest to rescue Danny … and so far, they have rarely struggled. A key aspect of storytelling is conflict, and time and time again Revolution confuses sword fighting and musket fire with real conflict. Conflict and drama only exist when there’s someone or something stopping the protagonist from reaching their goal. But if the antagonist is easily defeated, then there’s no tension, no question if they’ll achieve their mission and as a result no real conflict. Each weekly “mission” involved Miles warning Charlie how the obstacle-of-the-week was insurmountable, but each week they easily defeat said obstacle and move on to the next one. The barge where they brainwashed children into joining the militia, according to Miles, was a fortress designed to be impenetrable, until they needed to penetrate it and then there were only seven guards running it and they easily kill them all and escape. Then there was Strausser, the sadistic torturer (and implied rapist), sent to track Miles and the gang and get the pendant. Not only does Miles get the upper hand over Strausser (the only reason he doesn’t kill him is because he’s out of bullets and has to flee before reinforcements show up) but later Rachel, using all 110lbs of her strength, overpowers Strausser (in a fist fight!) and stabs him in the chest. And finally the R&D facility where Monroe is building his pendant amplifier which will give him power over all the military weapons he’s been stockpiling – probably the most important aspect of his entire regime – and Miles and Nora are able to sneak in the back door. Plus the guards stationed at the facility are on the inside of the walls, not patrolling outside the perimeter (where they’d see Aaron waiting with pipe bombs) … it makes no logical sense, it’s too easy for the characters, and what it comes down to is lazy writing.

We can’t empathize with these characters because there is never a sense that they are in any danger.

But the biggest issue, I feel, is Revolution’s inability to create a connection between the audience and its characters. We can’t empathize with these characters because there is never a sense that they are in any danger. Even in dire situations the characters never show a hint of panic. When Neville captures Charlie and the gang (sans Miles) at good ole Kip’s place, Charlie smirks and makes some witty retort in response to Neville’s threat. She’s not scared of him, so why should we (the audience) worry about her safety. We know Miles will eventually bust in, swords a-blazing, and save her because that is what the pilot episode taught us … this group is invincible. Compare this to the kidnap and interrogation of Maggie from the final episodes of The Walking Dead. In both scenarios, the writers want to show that these females characters are trying to appear strong despite their situation. But how uneasy did you feel when the Governor ordered Maggie to disrobe as he encircled her in her interrogation? She stood her ground, didn’t cower to his demands to tell him where the others are hiding, but she was definitely scared. Maggie knew at any moment the Governor could snap and kill her. As a result, we were also scared and anxious at what may happen to Maggie and as a result we felt a connection to her.

Photo Credit: NBC

12 Comments on “I know who to blame in Revolution’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” – the writers!

  1. Nobody’s accusing Revolution of being Shakespeare, or even Buffy/Walking Dead/Homeland. It’s fluffy popcorn. I don’t take it seriously enough to care about stuff like “Why were the guards not outside the facility.” Because I’ve learned with watching shows like Covert Affairs, if I get wiggy about technical details I know (or believe, based on reading and such) to be true.

    But there are a couple things that jumped out that I wanted to address:
    * Miles and Ben were obviously not close. Miles had never met (or seen in years, don’t remember) his niece and nephew. And Miles and Monroe were obviously incredibly close. I don’t think either of those relationships, as presented, are unreasonable.
    * You and I disagree greatly on the fact that most shows hit their stride midway through their first season. I’d use Buffy as an example, but I think that’s just being purposely cantankerous … So, I’ll point to Angel instead. Or ER, Or Grey’s Anatomy.
    * The hallucinations were hallucinatory enough for you? Just because you dream in color doesn’t mean I don’t dream in black and white :P

    I’d love a Walking Dead, hyper-realistic view of a post-apocalyptic world (One that doesn’t involve Zombies, which like The Walking Dead, generally isn’t my thing (exception to the rule: World War Z)), but I’ll settle for Revolution until something closer to what I want comes along. Hell, I was hooked the minute they worked in a subtle reference from The Stand, and was locked in when they filmed at the “ruins” of an amusement park many colleagues of mine were on the opening management team of.

    But I’ll watch it with a less critical eye, not dissimilar to how I watch the aforementioned Covert Affairs. Otherwise I wouldn’t enjoy it, and would be motivated to write two well-written posts to that effect :P

    • Okay, yes, I am being a little overly critical, but only because the premise has so much promise and I’m disappointed that in order to enjoy it, i’d have to dumb down my expectations.

      But, I still say Miles would have some reaction to Monroe’s men killing Ben. He didn’t completely hate the guy, since he did choose to join Charlie out of a familial bond, so he obviously held him in some regard.

      And you can’t really compare Revolution to Covert Affairs…all of those USA shows (Burn Notice, Psych) have a tongue-in-cheek style of presentation where they know they are writing fluff. I wouldn’t write a post like this over an episode of Psych, but I might about an episode of The Mentalist (same concept, different network) because The Mentalist is written to be more realistic. Revolution isn’t winking at the camera when it makes ridiculous plot choices.

      But,I guess I’ll temper my expectations when the show returns and maybe limit my critical posts to just one covering the entire second half.

  2. Life. Too short to waste on crap TV. “Revolution” survives while “Animal Practice” dies? Ain’t no justice, I says. Soon, “Suits” will return and the world will be a better place.

    • I enjoy Revolution … But Animal Practice? Really Otto? I thought you were better than that :P

      • Nope. Simple man, simple tastes and someone who thought Dr. Rizzo was the s***. “Fringe” lasted 5 seasons with a great cast working with interesting storylines. “Revolution” has neither.

  3. Great critique, Paul. The absurdity of that whole running out of oxygen scenario was made worse by the awful hallucination sequences. Most hallucinations/dreams on TV are way too linear and nothing at all like an actual dream. Mad Men did Betty Draper’s dream really well in “The Fog”; the dream itself involved misplaced, jumbled elements, which she didn’t notice while inside the dream.

    I hated that last confrontation between Miles and Sebastian, because once Miles made up his mind not to rejoin Sebastian, he kept going on and on about how Sebastian was dead to him instead of just SHOOTING HIM. He just had to get everything off his chest before (not) pulling the trigger. It would have been more dramatic if Miles just shot him (maybe his aim get’s thrown off slightly due to fire from Monroe’s guards so Sebastian is not fatally wounded).

    But you’re right – this show always wimps out instead of fully committing to whatever scenario they have set up each week. I want to like Revolution, but each week the promo gets my hopes up and then the actual episode never delivers half the promised drama or action. I’ve been pretty patient with it, but I don’t think it’s worth following anymore.

    Speaking of which – bring on The Following!

    • If only every show/movie/book ever boiled down the final conflict to just someone shooting someone else instead of talking about it, the endings of like everything EVER would be more logical.

      Can’t blame Revolution here for not rising above everything else.

      Which I think is my greater point. Revolution is this good. Not better. This good gets it a 3-ish rating and 10m viewers.

      (Circling back around to a point I meant to make to Paul in my earlier comment:)

      Paul say’s that the show’s biggest shortcoming is the inability for audiences to connect with the characters. While this metric isn’t an indicator of quality (again, because I’m not arguing Revolution is some great bastion of quality TV), but 10 million+ viewers continue to tune in each week. Obviously theres SOMETHING that this audience is connecting to.

      • … and millions watch CSI, NCSI and every other CSI, but not me. Just ’cause ya put butter on it don’t make it a biscuit. :-)

      • I’ll tell you why I kept viewing Revolution every week – because it just happens to follow The Voice. This is the same reason I watched the entire first season of Smash, another promising yet stupid show. After The Voice, I’ll bet plenty of people like me just stick around because they’re not ready to go to bed yet and they’ve been sucked in by the promos (which always make the show sound more exciting than it is).

  4. I had this conversation with a friend not too long ago:

    Me: “Caught the latest ‘Revolution’ … ???”

    Him: “No.”

    Me: “Really? I thought you were interested in it …”

    Him: “No.”

    Me: “Surprising. Because you said just last week …”

    Him: “Okay! I did! My dirty little secret’s out! I can’t help watching it to see what happens … to see if it gets better! I’m entranced! I’m hooked! I’m ashamed! @&#^%$ magic amulet! @&#^%$ lame ass characters! @&#^%$ improbable, boring storylines! There! Are you @&#^%$ happy … !??!??

  5. I really don’t need more drama to “make me feel like the main characters are in real danger” because I always know, there is no real danger when you you have just a handfull of main characters. More drama would just mean even more ridiculous story lines to safe them.

    I am torn on revolution. I find the writing okay-ish. But the world feels to small. It’s like cardboard. No guards outside the factory? That’s TV. But Monroe is this worlds dictator and all we ever see is his obsession with the pendands and micro managing a few of his military officers, including really lowish ones.

    Where is the government? The advicers? The people?

    I have deleted the show from my list now. It’s just underwhelming.
    But more fake drama would make it annoyingly underwhelming.

  6. I feel the good people of the internet, everywhere, are unfairly hating on this show. People seem to want to compare it with the dramatic sci-fi shows of recent years. That’s not what the show is meant to be; it’s a fantasy action adventure.

    Suggesting that Buffy developed to be a deeper show over its run, never mind over its first season, isn’t an objective analysis. Watching a show for years is bound to lead to a greater investment in the story and characters. Buffy had just as many nonsensical stories, plot holes, and one dimensional characters as Revolution or any other fantasy action adventure.