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Revolution Recap: Toughen Up

REVOLUTION --  "Soul Train" Episode 105 -- Pictured: (l-r) Billy Burke as Miles Matheson, Giancarlo Esposito as Captain Tom Neville.

(Editor’s note: After holding off for a month, we’ve decided to start recapping Revolution. It’s an odd week to kick off, as the next episode won’t air until October 29, but better late than never, etc.)

In order to survive the powered-down postapocalyptic world of Revolution, you have to toughen up. That’s what Neville tells Danny in the present, it’s what he tells his son Jason in a flashback, and it’s basically what Aaron was saying back in his True Life: I Was a Bullied Nerd monologue. Giving a crap about anything or anyone is a weakness — if you want to stay alive, you have to be a dick. Also, try not to get stabbed in the femoral artery. (RIP Maggie!)

I’m not sure what we’re supposed to believe, because Revolution is way too muddled a show so far to actually offer a coherent philosophy. Being emotionless makes you a bad guy like Neville, but letting your emotions take over makes you a staggering idiot like Charlie. Characters who try to find the happy medium, like Miles and Nora, are yelled at and stabbed for their efforts. Basically, if you find yourself in a world without power, accept that you will always be too tough, not tough enough, and totally expendable.

“Soul Train” — yes, that episode title is dumb enough to make Charlie look like a brilliant strategist — has a Western feel to it. That’s probably because it involves a major train heist, a couple of stolen horses, and a lot of morally ambiguous folks who never shower. Neville is preparing to take Danny to Philadelphia and deliver him to Monroe, who will use the boy as a motivator to get Rachel talking. And while Charlie, Miles, and Aaron are looking for a way to get Danny back, Nora is preoccupied with her duties to the rebellion. In this case, that means blowing up the train, preferably without Danny on it.

Nora connects with Hutch, the last remaining member of the resistance. He’s played by Jeff Fahey, whom you might remember from Lost. Remember Lost, guys? Revolution is kind of like Lost. Close your eyes and the resemblance is uncanny. Hutch is all about the mission, while Nora seems a little more conflicted — sure, she wants to make the train go boom, but it would be kind of unfortunate if Danny got blowed up with it. Again, we’re presented with the question of emotions versus practicality and individual needs versus the greater good. This reminds me of the ethical dilemmas the characters faced on a little show called Lost.

Another thing Lost and Revolution have in common: They’re both ensemble shows with an incredibly irritating female lead. Each week, Charlie becomes a more grating presence, and the fact that we’re being forced to accept her as the protagonist is insulting. In “Soul Train,” she botches the mission by going after Neville herself (nearly getting killed in the process), leading Miles to intervene and reveal himself to the militia. When Miles yells at Charlie, pointing out that it’s kind of on her if they can’t get to Danny, she whines that he used to be way nicer when she was a 4-year-old. Seriously, that is her response.

Like, I get it, she’s our moral center or whatever, but let’s not forget that Charlie is consistently terrible at this. She’s probably going to outlive everyone around her, simply because they’ll be forced to save her sorry ass time and time again. That’s not fair, you protest. Is it Charlie’s fault that Hutch freaks on Nora and stabs her when she tries to save Danny from the train bomb? Yes. Yes, it is. Charlie ruined their cover and forced Neville’s hand, which is why the train departed early and why Miles wasn’t able to get to Danny first. No, but good job, Charlie. Everyone’s very impressed by your strong sense of decency.

In Charlie’s defense, none of the good guys are nearly as interesting as the bad guys. The sinners are much more fun — and in this case, better actors, too. “Soul Train” was smart to focus on Neville, although a Giancarlo Esposito–centric episode of Revolution just serves as a reminder that he’s not playing Gus Fring. And it’s all kind of obvious: He was a mild-mannered accountant who was forced to harden his heart and go dark in order to protect his family. Also, major duh, militia spy Nate is actually Neville’s son Jason. The only reason this material doesn’t fall flat entirely is that Esposito sells it so well. He’s a joy to watch, and he occasionally gets to say things like, “That’s just what I’m gonna do, Miles, spread my legs and show you everything.”

As far as the White Hats go, Nora has promise, although it’s disappointing to see her brief rebellion quashed so suddenly. Once she’s stabbed, she’s out of commission, and it’s up to Miles and Charlie to ride in and save the day. Seems a little unfair that Nora has to just sit there bleeding. And when Miles tries to show off his softer side, Charlie suddenly decides she’s not into that anymore: “You were right. Sitting here, moping, it won’t help us get Danny back, and it probably will get us killed.” Oh, hey, cool epiphany, Charlie. You come up with that one on your own?

If you can ignore the characters, though — and I don’t think that’s what Revolution wants us to do — “Soul Train” is a fairly engaging hour. The climax on the train is exciting, with Charlie and Danny finally reuniting to square off against Neville, and Miles working against the clock to find the bomb. It’s a real pity he gets to it in time, because having Charlie and Danny in the same exploding place would have been an easy way to get rid of Revolution’s two weakest links.

They’re far from the only problems with this show, however: The final scene is a reminder that even with a detour into Western adventure territory, we’re still firmly entrenched in a half-assed sci-fi nightmare. Now that Monroe has Danny, he’s finally able to squeeze some answers out of Rachel — and, somehow, they’re even lamer than I’d imagined. “If you want to turn the power back on, it starts with these pendants,” Rachel explains. “There are twelve of them.” So, great, we’re now saddled with a quest for magic pendants, an incompetent hero, and themes that manage to be both completely unsubtle and indecipherable. But hey, that train’s chugging along — might as well hop on for the ride.

Photo: Brownie Harris/NBC