Perhaps the greatest beauty that technologies such as DVR and streaming video have provided us is a greater commitment to and passion for serial television shows. It is far less common to find a series in which you can just pick up any random episode several seasons in and have any clue whatsoever is going on. Nearly gone are the days of restoring the status quo by the end of the episode so that nearly any other can butt against it seamlessly.
At one point in time I argued that this was a pain and a hassle, and in many ways it is. It can be frustrating to miss an episode or two and realize that you either have to figure out how to catch up online or miss the rest of the season until it hits Netflix. As with any technology that is ultimately progressive though, when it is done right, it is a thing of wonder and glory.
I have always been an avid reader, and I have always been one of those jerks who loves saying “oh, the book is SO much better than the movie!” Jurassic Park was an incredible movie, but seriously…did you even read the book?!? A movie will give you two or three hours at best to get acquainted with the characters until it is over and they are essentially dead to you. There may be a sequel or it might become a series, and you can always watch it again; but even then it’s a handful of hours. I could get lost in a really good book for days or weeks! In the case of something like The Wheel of Time it has been literally years (off and on of course.) The characters, places, and events in a good book or series can become intimately familiar.
This is where a decent serialized TV show can excel; they are not constrained by time in the same way other shows are, and they do not have to restore everything as it was at the beginning of the episode. Oh, I’ve come to know Homer and Bart Simpson pretty well….but they are shallow comedic characters who have evolved little over 20+ years (note I said little, not none.)
This past week I have been watching season 1 of NBC’s Revolution on Netflix. For those that haven’t seen it…well, let’s take a tangent for a minute here.
Revolution is a post-apocalyptic drama in which nothing electrical in the world works. An event that they refer to as “the blackout” occurred simultaneously around the globe in which all electrical devices and grids stopped working. Naturally this plunged society into chaos; governments collapsed, people starved and rioted, new societies were formed based upon very different virtues than we value today. The people don’t know why the blackout occurred, nor why electricity continues to elude them.
The events of the series take place fifteen years after the blackout, and largely follow one family and several people around them. Now, one of the reasons I like this show is the format offered a fantastic opportunity to showcase character development in an intriguing way. Most episodes seemed to focus a portion of the story upon a specific character, showing what their life and behavior was like prior to the blackout, and of course we see what they were like now. In some cases we were shown in detail how the change came about….typically when it was a dramatic difference. Of course using flashbacks in this way to familiarize the audience with the characters is nothing new; Revolution has done it in a very poignant way however. I have always been fascinated with the “Lord of the Flies” concept, which is one thing they are exploring.
Two characters especially struck me; primarily because they were somewhat similar to each other before the blackout but went in drastically different ways. And I think I see myself in both of them to a degree. (Spoilers ahead…and I don’t care!)
Aaron Pittman is one of the show’s protagonists, and they work very hard to make you feel empathy for him. Before the blackout he was a millionaire Google executive, a stereotypical MIT-graduate chubby nerd software programmer. Once the social order falls apart and everything reverts back to “brawn over brains” it makes sense that he would fall to the bottom of the heap….and he does. Aaron is married, and states that when he was rich he spent much of his time trying to figure out how to give his wife everything. After the blackout, he found that he couldn’t give her anything; he had no survival knowledge and he was unable to protect her from looters. Feeling entirely useless, he left in the night, leaving behind a note telling her that she was better off without him. Of course that weighed on him, driving and motivating him to courageous acts later on that he would not have otherwise performed. I haven’t decided yet if I would classify Aaron leaving his wife as a selfish or selfless act….either way it was a rock bottom for him that ultimately led him to become a better man.
Major Tom Neville is the first antagonist met in the series, and a long-standing one so far. I really enjoyed his back story….and from the first few seconds of the scene being set I could see where it was all going. Prior to the blackout Tom was an insurance claims adjuster who had just been fired for approving a claim that wasn’t entirely covered (ie, for being too nice.) He goes home where his neighbor is having a loud party, and meekly asks him to turn the music down because it keeps his son awake….and of course he is ignored. To blow off steam and vent his frustration, Tom heads to his basement to let loose on his heavy punching bag for a while. Jason, his young son, comes down and asks if he can hit it too. The instruction Tom gives him is a perfect summation of pre-blackout Tom Neville: “remember, we only hit the bag, never people.”
A few days after the blackout, Tom and his wife hear someone in their house. He goes and discovers his neighbor has broken in and is stealing from him. They begin fighting, and the intruder nearly chokes him to death; Tom looks up and sees that Jason is watching from the stairs…and you know that his thought is that he doesn’t want his son to watch him get murdered. He throws the guy off of him and ends up brutally beating him to death; then he tells his wife and son that the world has changed and they have to become hard. Major Neville is a murderous psychopath…there really isn’t any other way to describe him. This character is a fantastic antagonist because he is incredibly capable, viscous, yet somehow charming.
Both Tom and Aaron were mild men who spent most of their days sitting at a desk staring at a computer. Neither of them would have ever hurt anybody prior to the blackout. But after the rules of society changed completely they were both forced into positions where they had to make that classic choice of fight or flight….it was eventually revealed what sort of men they were. Aaron ran, and used that as a stick to push himself to become a character with some character. Tom fought, and became shallow and petty; the real jab at Tom is that his son ended up despising him for his cruelty and joined the rebels that Tom fought so hard against.
I can’t help but wonder why this show struck me in the way it has, why I’ve gone to the length of writing a blog article about it. I’ve been thinking about it for days. It’s not that I think Revolution is such a fantastic show (it’s good, but not…say…Warehouse 13 good.) And I’m not really a huge science fiction fan (despite my Warehouse 13 link.) I enjoy a good sci-fi story, but not *nearly* as much a decently written fantasy epic….it has to be decent though, and those are in short order ever since Harry Potter (and that’s a whole different rant for a different article that I’ll probably never actually write since it’s many years over due.) I grew up watching Star Wars; in fact when I was something like four the opportunity to watch a Star Wars movie was a rare treat to be prized above all else. In fact at that same period in my life, my uncle once shouted at me to “come quick, Star Wars is on!” and when I got there, I discovered to my deep disappointment it was actually Star Trek. That accomplished two things: first it somehow fused a neuron in my brain forever linking the two in my brain so that I momentarily get thrilled about either, secondly it fixed in my brain forever the fact that Star Trek is not and never will be as exciting to see on a screen as Star Wars.
But I digress….
The point here is this: will I fight or flee? That’s what this show is trying to get us to ask ourselves. To that question, I honestly don’t know until the situation presents itself (how’s that for a cop-out answer?) A few weeks ago there was some social-media hype about some foreign door-to-door salespeople in our neighborhood that coincided with various news reports of kidnappings in other states. It went around very quickly that these people were scoping out the area looking for kids to kidnap and that they had done the same thing in other states. That night, after double checking that all of our doors and windows were locked and the motion lights were working, I took one of my swords down from its display stand and put it next to my bed. I can say that if it was necessary to defend my wife or children, I would fight. I am capable of fighting though, I’ve trained in several martial arts throughout my life. I was never okay with being a bullied geek….so I learned how to fight back and put a stop to it. I found through experience that after fighting a few times, it became absolutely unnecessary to fight anymore once people knew about it.
Although….how would my experience apply post-apocalypse?