Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 1 of NBC's "Revolution," titled "Born in the U.S.A."
If ever there was a show in desperate need of a fresh perspective, it was NBC's "Revolution." After a stellar debut last season, the show quickly went off the rails and turned into a frustrating mess. But based on that earlier success, it had already been granted a second season. Now all it had to do was not "Smash" and burn, following in the footsteps of another show that started off huge and then turned into a disaster.
While I can't say whether the viewers will return or not, I can say that if they do, they'll find a much better "Revolution." Everything about this premiere felt fresh and reinvigorated. And everything that began to drive me crazy about this show last season seemed to fall by the wayside. Perhaps it was because they managed a pretty hard reset, establishing new threats and new dynamics. Gone is the mission to turn the power on. Yes, they succeeded in turning it on in last season's finale, but as we quickly learned, that lasted all of about four minutes.
Just long enough for those nuclear bombs to hit Philadelphia and Georgia. That's a pretty bold way to tell the viewers that the creative forces behind "Revolution" have heard our complaints. We were getting sick and tired of the stupid war between Georgia and the Monroe Republic, so they simply blew both of them to smithereens. And in doing so, they've opened up a whole new potential for conflict, and what's likely an even larger menace.
The season premiere reminded me a lot of Joss Whedon shows, or "True Blood," or any other show that changes out its "big bad" every season. The characters and settings stay the same, but there's a renewed sense of energy each season as the stage is reset. As far as "Revolution" goes, though, I'm shocked at how successfully they've managed to reset things.
After the nuclear explosions, Rachel suffered a nervous breakdown, blaming herself for the bombs. The group brought her to the Texas town where her father lives and works as a doctor. After a couple of months, though, Charlie left. In total, six months have passed and the story is now split into three distinct groups.
Charlie wound up in the Plains Nation, and in the premiere she gets a lead on Monroe himself. Now going under an alias -- seems to be a trend with the cast -- Monroe isn't the man he used to be. He's fighting for a living. Charlie's desire to kill him may be the only thread from Season 1 that remained, but even that was thwarted. While I would have loved to see Monroe die, just because he was so annoying last year, he got abducted instead. So now Charlie's going to have to rescue him if she wants to kill him.
The bulk of the cast is in Texas, where Aaron has settled in as a school teacher, Rachel is helping her father out as the town doctor, and Miles is doing a lot of brooding and being miserable. Some things never change. I'm still a little frustrated by the development of Rachel's character. She went from frustratingly obsessive to annoyingly weepy and broken. Here's hoping the strong and independent woman she used to be can come back, and maybe show some genuine compassion for others. At least now she'll probably get over her obsession to getting the power turned back on.
That was one of the worst things about Season 1, in fact. The drive to turn the power back on went against what made the show compelling. This is a world without power, and that's what we tuned in to see. So why would we root for them to turn the power back on, and take away everything that made the show unique. When Monroe started using helicopters, he came dangerously close to using them to jump the shark. Thankfully, the power is off and getting it back on seems to be off the table. Keep it that way.
Rather than going on abstract missions, problems are coming to the cast. In Texas, Miles encounters a few members of what he called a war band. These are seriously nasty people who are now going to attack the town and decimate it. It makes the conflict personal for the characters, rather than political, and that's far more compelling as a viewer. Things got personal in a hurry for Aaron. The sad sack character of Season 1 had actually found love and happiness, living as normal a life as could be imagined in this post-apocalyptic world. But then the war band arrived and tried to abduct his lady, and we learned something about Aaron.
Dude still cannot fight. He is absolutely useless. In this case, I guess he managed to save her, but he basically sacrificed himself to do so. As Aaron lay there dying, with Rachel looming over him and surely blaming herself for his death, I found myself okay with this development. Aaron was a sweet guy, and as his girlfriend pointed out, that's a rare commodity in this world. And there's a reason for that. Aaron just isn't built for this brutal world.
And yet, the show wasn't done with him yet. Despite dying, and he really did die, the closing shot had Aaron coming back to life. Is it nanobots in his system? Something to do with the fireflies acting weird? Something that happened six months ago? I like Aaron, so it's nice to see him get a second chance. Maybe he's immortal now (okay, probably not).
Problems came to the third group in our merry band of survivors as well. Tom Neville and son Jason were in a refugee camp in Georgia. Tom was searching for his wife, though it's presumed she died in the explosion. Shattered and broken, much like Rachel, Tom almost killed himself. But then, a tall ship sailed in with a woman claiming to be a representative of the United States government. She made one comment that turned Tom back into the driven psychopath we know and love.
This woman claimed that the U.S. government had incontrovertible proof that Monroe and Foster brought back the power so they could launch nuclear missiles at one another. Never mind that this would be a terrible strategy, Tom and Jason knew that she was lying. They were there when Randall Flynn launched those missiles. Tom's theory is that Randall was a part of this organization, so what are they up to? Without the rest of the cast there to throw hate daggers at him, Tom could be a compelling character to follow as he tries to uncover the truth.
In fact, I'm loving the new approach to most of these characters. Charlie's taking charge of her own destiny, which is at least interesting. Rachel is no longer obsessively driven, which gives her the potential to seem more like a normal human being. I also like how the presence of her father is softening her edges. Monroe is out of power, which automatically makes him more interesting as he was a complete tool when he was the boss. Jason's grown a spine, and it's about damned time.
It's as if they took the hiatus to really think about these characters, consider everything that went wrong with Season 1, and then implemented a plan to make "Revolution" the fascinating show it should have been last season. Even minor details like the fact that everyone was so clean and the women had gorgeous hair were addressed. Now everyone's hair looks dirtier and less styled, as it should be. Plus, they really wanted us to notice the music. Just because there's now power doesn't mean there'd be no music and entertainment. So we got three different scenes of live musicians creating atmosphere by playing classic tunes from the modern era, and one guy insisting he had the last surviving "Friend" in David Schwimmer, performing live.
But is all of this too late? "Revolution" has to deal with the fact that it had a pretty rough first season, and it has to contend with a new earlier time slot on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET -- which means no "Voice" lead-in. The good news is that if people do give it a chance, they're almost certain to like what they see. Season 2 is friendly to new viewers, and vastly improved for veteran fans. That's about as much as you could ask from a sophomore season premiere!