Electricity the world over ceases to work, a quest begins, and mysteries abound

By Emily Rome
September 18, 2012 at 06:55 AM EDT
Bob Mahoney/NBC
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  • TV Show

The wait is over: After months of promos and steadily building hype, the new event series of Fall 2012 has premiered.

This high-concept show poses a big “What if?” Revolution asks, what if all sources of electrical power ceased working all over the world? And it looks like we’ve got a whole series of mystery-filled television to tell us the story of what that electricity-stripped world looks like.

Full disclosure: I am coming at this as a fan of J.J. Abrams’ and Eric Kripke’s past work – especially Supernatural – so excuse me if I find myself drawing comparisons between Revolution and these geek gurus’ past successes (plus everything fellow executive producer Jon Favreau brings to the table). I’m trying to see this as a fresh, new show, but let’s be real here – Lost, Fringe and Winchester Brothers devotees know the creative minds behind Revolution have a lot to live up to. Go ahead, don’t be shy, head on down to the comments section and give us a shout-out to the show you’re hooked on that made you want to check out Revolution. And those of you who don’t come with allegiances to anyone in the Abrams-Kripke-Favreau trifecta, tell us what got you interested the show.

Now, onto business. Let’s walk back through all that was packed into this first episode (and there was a lot packed into this ambitious pilot). Anyone who didn’t watch the pilot, here’s your chance to find out what you missed. (But really, people, there’s no excuse – it’s been online for a week – just go watch it. We’ll wait.)

Revolution kicks off back in the good ol’ days when we had electricity. In Chicago, young Charlie is watching Looney Tunes, little Danny is playing with an iPad, while their mother, Rachel (Lost alum Elizabeth Mitchell) chats on the phone. When the patriarch of the family, collared shirt- and tie-wearing, clearly desk-job man Ben Matheson, bursts in, he says, “We don’t have much time,” and Rachel knows: “It’s happening, isn’t it?”

Cut to: dudes in a muscle car rocking out to AC/DC on a Port Royal, South Carolina highway. Enjoy it while it lasts, Supernatural fans – this is the one Sam-and-Dean-in-the-Impala-like scene you’re gonna get before the lights go out. In the car is Ben’s brother, Miles, and… a mysterious friend whose name we don’t know – yet. Miles (stony-faced Billy Burke) gets a call on his cell from Ben, who frantically tells him, “It’s all gonna turn off. It’s gonna turn off, and it will never, ever turn back on.”

The connection cuts out, but we know this isn’t just any dropped call. As lights begin to flicker out, Ben checks a laptop computer sitting on his kitchen counter. On its screen is a window labeled ‘Downloading Files.’ Just in time, it hits 100 percent, and Ben pulls a USB plug out of the computer and slips it into a metallic, triangular, locket-like thing. I’m going to call it the Locket of Power.

Now let the over-thinking begin. (This is a J.J. Abrams show, though, so that’s encouraged, right?) Power across the world doesn’t turn off all at once. On the South Carolina highway, Miles steps out of his stalled car to see a stream of headlights flicker off, one car at a time. Zoom out just a little bit wider and we get a look at the lights going off over the whole world: It starts in the northeast corner of the U.S. and spreads west and southward. So was the origin/cause of the blackout in New York or thereabouts? Or did Kripke and co. just think a spread of darkness over the Western Hemisphere just looked cool?

Back to Chicago: Planes crash, transformers explode, Sears Tower goes dark. Let the revolution begin.

NEXT: Charlie’s whole world changes. Twice.

Exposition time! Via voiceover from a character we soon learn is named Aaron, 15 years after the blackout: “After the blackout, nothing worked. Not even car engines or jet turbines. Hell, even batteries – all of it, gone forever. People starved. Sickness without medicine. Fires without fire trucks. Governments fell. Militias rose up. If you were smart, you left the city. If you weren’t, you died there.”

This is all with a striking backdrop of flooded cities, plants growing up the sides of skyscrapers and deer frolicking through city streets overgrown by grass. (Anyone who saw History Channel’s Life After People got a taste of the look of Revolution’s world).

Bearded bear of a man Aaron continues for a group of children who look like they grew up in a colonial era rather than in the 21st century: “Physics went insane. The world went insane overnight, and nobody knows why.”

He and Ben are both living in a cul-de-sac that has been turned into an agricultural village. Ben is smiling and greeting neighbors. This doesn’t seem to be a man bearing the secret of how all the world lost power instantly.

Out hunting are all-grown-up Charlie and Danny – or at least they’re supposed to be hunting. Charlie instead lures her younger brother to an overturned RV. Ever the eager explorer, she scopes it out, and her bright blue eyes light up when she finds a postcard with an image of Chicago’s Wrigley Field. But then Danny breaks out into an asthma attack, and she rushes him back home.

There the town doctor, a woman named Maggie, tends to him in the Matheson house, while Ben scolds his daughter, telling her, “That road’s not safe.” It’s a Nemo-Marlin relationship with an added sibling. Charlie complains, “Nothing’s safe. Everything is off-limits.” And it’s here that we learn Rachel is out of the picture and Maggie has replaced her spot in Ben’s bed. Rachel is dead, or at least her family presumes her to be.

The next day, Charlie escapes beyond the town to her hidden collection of postcards from far-away, unseen places. Meanwhile, we get our first look at that militia Aaron spoke of. And they don’t look like they’re men to be trifled with.

Ben is hurriedly handing the Locket of Power off to Aaron, who tells him, “Nothing is going to happen to you.” But something does happen, and it’s not good, not good at all. Captain Tom Neville (Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito) has orders from General Sebastian Monroe, under the authority of the Monroe Republic, to take Ben and Miles to Monroe.

Well, as much as level-headed Ben is willing to go quietly, Danny isn’t quite so eager to see his father taken away without a fight. So in he steps with a crossbow pointed at Neville’s head. And this doesn’t turnout well: A fight breaks out, and in the crossfire Ben is shot. Neville and his men take Danny with them instead, and Charlie, who came running back at the sound of shots, returns to find her brother gone and her father wounded and dying.

And thus ends Ben’s non-flashback time on the show. He dies in Charlie’s arms, his blue eyes reflected in Charlie’s tear-filled own, barely heaving out a last wish: That Charlie go find Miles in Chicago. “He can get Danny,” Ben says.

So Charlie sets out for Chicago, and much to her dismay, she’s accompanied by her replacement mother and the man who’s afraid of bees – Maggie and Aaron. (“I’m not afraid of bees. I’m allergic to bees. There is a big difference!” Aaron retorts back at Charlie.)

On one road we see Danny handcuffed to a horse-drawn cart, where Neville tells him, “You drew first. That puts your daddy’s blood on your hands, son.” On another, Charlie runs into a bow-toting, well-built young man – probably the first attractive guy her age she’s ever met – named Nate. After an incident when Nate saves Charlie’s life from a crew of ill-meaning bandits, he joins the trio of travelers on their trip to Chicago, claiming he hopes to join a fishing crew there.

NEXT: Chicago ho!

Charlie, Maggie, Aaron and Nate reach Chicago, and it’s a sight to behold: Wrigley Field is covered in Ivy, streets are filled with fish vendors and VW bugs-turned-horse buggies.

They walk into The Grand Plaza, which has been transformed into a seedy tavern, and there they find Miles, tending the bar. He makes no move to reveal that he is the Miles Matheson they’re looking for, until Charlie asks him to pass on the message to Miles that his brother is dead and his niece is looking for him.

Miles beckons Charlie to the back of the hotel, but Nate, refusing let Charlie out of his sight, points his knife at the odd bartender. In one seamless move, Miles grabs the knife, presses it against Nate’s throat – “She’s my niece. I don’t know you,” he says – and flips it around and into the counter top.

Charlie gets Miles up-to-speed on what happened back at their rural village. Miles shares his theory that Monroe wants him and his brother for answers about “why the lights went out. Maybe how to turn them back on,” but Charlie frustratingly fails to press him on why they might have answers about that. And then Miles emphasizes that Monroe with access to electrical power is not something that would bode well for much of anyone outside Monroe’s circle.

Charlie asks her uncle, “What do we do now?” mirroring a similar conversation with Maggie back at the village. Miles is no more happy to hear himself included in this “we” than Charlie was when Maggie insisted on coming with her. Charlie passionately begs for Miles to help her search for Danny. “You are gonna help me get him back – ’cause we’re family,” she chokes. But Miles won’t budge from his armchair-, framed gold record-, bookshelf-filled hotel lobby of a home.

Miles’ safe haven doesn’t stay safe for much longer. He discovers Nate is part of the militia, gone but surely on his way back to The Grand with men to take him down. Charlie, Maggie and Aaron beg Miles to flee to safety but leave him once he growls at them, “Get out!”

Charlie had told Aaron, “All my dad ever said about Miles is that he’s good at killing,” and this is where we find out Ben spoke true. Over a dozen of Monroe’s men infiltrate his hotel lobby. Yes, it’s about 13 on one, but Miles whips out his broadsword and easily manages to dwindle their number down to about five. Then in comes Charlie, Aaron and Maggie, carrying crossbows and daggers, to help save the day. Miles makes it through alive and finally agrees to join them on their quest to find Danny.

As for what Danny’s been up to, he manages to escape and falls briefly into the care of an armed but unnamed woman (who IMDb tells us is named Grace). After Danny has another asthma attack, she gives him an inhaler. “It was my son’s,” she says. But Neville tracks him down there and captures him again.

At the end of the pilot, we get a double-whammy of Oh my God moments: First, flashing back to the night of the blackout, we see Miles and his friend return to their Marine Corps base. There, a flash of the friend’s tattoo – an ‘M’ in the same style as the militia’s symbol – reveals that this one-time-friend is none other than Sebastian Monroe.

And whoa what just happened moment No. 2: Grace sneaks up to her attic – which is sealed shut with four padlocks – where she takes her own Locket of Power (there’s another one!) and presses a button on it. A rustic, computer-like machine springs to life with the sounds of old dial-up Internet, also illuminating a light bulb above the desk. On a computer screen, she types a message:

>>>The militia was here.

And she gets a response:

<<<Did they find it?

>>>No. [No duh. How would I be talking to you if they had? Unless they’re referring to some other mysterious object and not the Locket of Power!]

And whoever’s on the other end of this impossible conversation types the question Revolution’s producers are surely hoping new viewers are also asking:

>>>So… what now?

Revolution has some of Kripke’s trademarks – cross-country journeys, near-apocalypse, dead parents, siblings determined to protect one another – but it also is a very different show from Supernatural. Two of his other trademarks – classic rock music and pop culture-referencing snarky humor – have no place in this world. And the show doesn’t center on just two characters. It doesn’t have quite the massive ensemble Lost did, but it still leans much more toward an ensemble show with a slew of regulars compared to Supernatural’s mere two characters that appear in every episode.

So, that being true, I think it’s fair to say this thing we call the Internet needs a guide to the characters of Revolution. Might as well put it here.

NEXT: A primer to the characters of Revolution

The characters of Revolution

Charlie Matheson (Tracy Spiridakos): Adventure-hungry young woman who has just become orphaned. Probably in her early 20s, Charlie knows how to take care of herself and handle a cross-bow in a dangerous post-apocalyptic world, but – at least according to Maggie – she’s a bit too quick to trust strangers. She’s courageous in her determination to protect her family, but she’s also pretty scared out of her wits. (And thanks to The Princess Diaries, we know that makes her all the more courageous.)

Danny Matheson (Graham Rogers): The 19-year-old younger brother of Charlie, Danny is a respectful of his father but hot-headed with any other authority figure, or at least with Capt. Tom Neville. (Monroe “might even have my head,” Neville says. “Well, let’s hope,” Danny quips back.) The kid’s got asthma, which isn’t the affliction you want to have in an inhaler-spare, post-apocalyptic world.

Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee): This kind-faced father has lived a quiet life in a leadership position in a makeshift town post-blackout, but he has a secret to hide: He has some connection to what turned all the lights off, and he possesses a Locket of Power that may be able to turn them back on. He doesn’t make it far into the pilot though – Monroe’s militiamen kill him, and he dies in the arms of his daughter, Charlie.

Rachel Matheson (Elizabeth Mitchell): Charlie and Danny’s mother.  She helps get her family ready for life after the blackout, but by the time we get to Revolution’s present, she’s dead. We don’t see her for much of the pilot, but Mitchell promises us we’ll see her in more flashbacks.

Aaron Pittman (Zak Orth): A former Google employee who had $80 million in bank before the blackout, Aaron fills a schoolteacher role in the village where the Mathesons have made their home. He doesn’t warm to adventure – or physical exertion – like Charlie does, but he joins her and Maggie on their search for Danny because Ben was his friend. Clearly a close friend too – Aaron is the one Ben trusted with keeping his Locket of Power.

Miles Matheson (Billy Burke): Ben’s brother, Miles was in the Marines at the time of the blackout. Determined to keep a low profile in the bowels of Chicago, he tends bar at a hotel-turned-tavern until he finds himself forced to leave the city and help his niece search for his nephew. Oh, and he has a way with a broadsword. And knives. And crossbows.

NEXT: More characters, and let me introduce (drum roll please)… Flickers

Nate (JD Pardo): A member of Monroe’s militia. (Or is he a former member?) It’s unclear where his allegiances lie – Nate’s a confusing one, fighting against Miles one minute and protecting Charlie from fellow militiamen the next. And there are some definite sparks flying between him and Charlie. (See, there is one type of electricity in this world.)

Grace (Maria Howell): One of the most mysterious but certainly important figures introduced in the pilot. She owns a gun – which we learn is a hanging offense for anyone but militia – she claims, though not too convincingly, that she was an algebra teacher before the blackout, and she owns a Locket of Power.

General Sebastian Monroe (David Lyons): Head of the feared and powerful Monroe Republic. He and Miles Matheson were friends in the Marines together before the blackout.

Capt. Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito):  Formerly an insurance adjuster, Neville is the man who does Monroe’s grunt work. His face has a way of morphing rapidly from a falsely sweet, condescending smile to a sternness not to be messed with. And Kripke was careful to make the supposed bad guy of the show have a relatable side, or at least have his own, very human motives. Neville tells Ben, “I have been searching for you for a very long time, through mud and filth, away from my home, and my wife and my bed, so I’m in a mood. I’m sure you can understand that.”

One episode in, we have a load of questions. Why did everything turn off? Who turned everything off? How did they get it all to turn off? Who else has Lockets of Power? Who was on the other end of Grace’s computer conversation? Do (did) Ben and Grace know each other? How did Capt. Neville go from insurance adjuster to hard-hearted, powerful militia man? What happened to Rachel? Is she really dead? Weigh in on theories in the comments section below.

And what’s your critique, Revolutionaries? (Can I call you Revolutionaries?) Did the show live up to your expectations? Are you invested in these characters yet? Do you think we have a hit on our hands or is Revolution bound for a Terra Nova-like nose dive?

Well, it sounds like there’s going to be no shortage of mysteries and questions from here on out. Kripke told the Comic-Con crowd, “The mythology will move forward at an aggressive pace, and we’ll ask new questions.” But amidst all the questions, we do have some hints at answers, a few clues, just a few pieces to the massive puzzle that is Revolution. So I present you the first edition of Flickers. Here are some flickers of light, small illuminations of how this society works and what’s up with these characters in Revolution’s world of darkness and mysteries.

Until next week, Revolutionaries. (It’s decided, that’s what I’m calling you… us.) I leave you with a few Flickers.

Flickers:

— Currency – at least one form of it – in this world is food. When Ben tells Capt. Neville, “We already paid our spring taxes,” Neville responds, “Oh, this is not about your crops.”

— Charlie and Danny might have some grandparents out there. In the opening scene, Rachel is talking to her mom. Charlie tells Miles, “I have lost everyone that I care about,” but there’s reason to hope that another generation of Mathesons might come into the picture later.

— Maggie’s British accent, beyond “classing up the joint,” as Miles says, might give us a clue of what she’s been through. Did Maggie cross the pond years ago to find a new home in the U.S.? Or was she away from the U.K. at the time of the blackout for what was supposed to be a brief trip for some physicians’ conference? Maybe she spent many of the first 15 years after the blackout trying to make her way home to a family. She and Charlie may have a lot more in common than first meets the eye.

— Aaron could have a family out there too. What happened to his wife? When the band of merry travelers arrives at The Grand-turned-tavern, Aaron tells Maggie, “I got married here.”

— That computer of Ben’s may hold some clues. Behind the ‘downloading files’ window on the laptop screen in the opening scene are graphs and mathematical equations. Any math geeks care to pick this one apart? And there’s a map of Michigan – not even Illinois, but Michigan – with county borderlines. Hmm.

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyNRome

Read more:

‘Revolution’: J.J. Abrams, Jon Favreau on why a future without power is ‘wish-fulfillment’

Elizabeth Mitchell talks about her ‘strong, resourceful’ character on ‘Revolution’

Ken Tucker’s ‘Revolution’ premiere review

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