Here’s the thing. I actually enjoy watching Revolution. I devoured its entire first season and what exists of the second season in a matter of days. That being said, I should also note that it makes me incredibly angry on a frequent basis. This contradiction seemed like something worth exploring.
Ever since I played the original Fallout, I have been an avid fan of exploring dystopian and post-apocalyptic worlds. This was around the same time in my development as nerd that I started consuming large amounts of sci-fi media in the form of books, movies and TV shows. This exposure the a wide variety of material, especially literature, has created a fairly wide mental scape in which these sorts of stories can romp and play. My self-prescribed programming has created an incredibly high tolerance for dystopian, genre bullshit. But, there are still limits. I still have mental lines that I cross only with reluctance. Which is how we come to my frustration with Revolution.
At their core, dystopian nightmare worlds need reasons for existing. I suppose that it is possible to create one of these worlds without actually justifying its existence but that would require a much higher level of creativity and writing skill than most of these works have to offer. Since creating such a living hellscape without a viable antecedent is largely out of the question, a substantial emphasis falls on said antecedent. In these sorts of stories, the precipitant must be internally logical and consistent. Furthermore, the cause and effect must be logically connected. This is, sadly, an area where Revolution falls firmly on its face.
For those who have not watched the show, the dystopia (sorry for reusing the word a lot but finding a synonym is a bear) is caused by an infestation of nanites that devour electricity. This is not the problem. As stupid as this pseudo-singularity is, I have a high tolerance for sci-fi crap. No, the problem lies in the world that is created by these microscopic electrovores (I may have just coined a new word.) As far as I am concerned, the flaws are two-fold.
First and most absurd is the method by which the nanites can be circumvented. In this universe, the electrovoric (another new word!) nature of these infinitesimal machines can be neutralized by - this is batshit so take a deep breath and hold onto your butt - electronics… You read that right, you can defeat the little electronic munchers by using a device powered by… electricity. I am willing to concede that this strange pathogen could be neutralized by some sort of field on the electromagnetic spectrum but throughout the series we see electronic devices being used in ways that belie this assertion. If the density of nanites in the air is sufficient to absorb all electricity (which I should point out would probably create a sort of blanket of smog all over the earth), then any electronic device would need to be operating in a vacuum and likely have been created prior to the release of the nanites. The second part of this statement owes to the fact that creating a vacuum devoid of nanites without electricity would be an extremely difficult process and any nanites left in the vacuum would presumably reproduce using the electricity of the system and eventually disable the system. Therefore, the vacuum would have been established prior to the creation of the nanites. While the devices in the show were created prior to the nanite infestation, the show presents us with an entirely different problem.
The devices can be turned on and off and dismantled without destroying their functionality. By it’s nature, any on/off button would create an imperfect vacuum. More to the point, we regularly see part of the device being removed and re-inserted. If there is an unsealed electrical connection (which we know there is) then the nanites would be able to disable the device before the requisite electromagnetic field could be established. All of this being the case, this element of the world can be extremely frustrating to watch. Although, I must admit that I put up with this because pseudo-science is par for the course when it comes to TV sci-fi. Unfortunately, there is a more troubling problem that underlies the entire premise.
Second, based on the flashbacks that we see throughout the show, we know that the world went to shit in an incredibly short amount of time after the “catastrophe” and more dramatically, the world remains shit 15 years later. And there we have the crux of my problem with the show. I put the word catastrophe in quotes because it absolutely deserves the scorn of sarcastic air-quotes when read aloud. The TV show proposes that we are so heavily reliant on technology that the loss of electric power would throw the whole world to the proverbial wolves and society would devolve to a pre-enlightenment state. I have numerous problems with this supposition. Most importantly, we are asked to believe that the reasonable functioning of society is entirely dependent on the presence of a single force which has only been reliably harnessed for a little more than 200 years. Despite the fact that functional civilization has been a staple of human interaction for the entirety of recorded history, we are asked to believe that a lack of power is the only trigger necessary to turn human beings into animals. Even if we remove the U.S. government from the equation (which seems to be a part of the story), we are still presented with a world in which more local governments do not step in and take drastic action. This is a little more than I can swallow. The lights go out and every police officer forsakes his duties and every national guard member decides to go AWOL? People just start wandering the streets and shooting each other? This all strains my credulity a bit more than I can handle.
Beyond my two primary complaints, I have several more nitpicky problems that also upset me. First, are there no engineers in this world? Did the nanites actively kill them all? For most of the first season, we don’t see any working steam or pre-electric technology. I guarantee you that every engineer you know (and many people who aren’t engineers) could build a steam engine in a relatively short amount of time. Second, some people are using muskets and other antiquated firearms like that. In the story, they propose that there is a dearth of smokeless propellant and proper bullets. Of course, this makes no sense. Both of these things can be produced relatively easily without the use of electricity. In fact, relatively complicated firearms can be produced without electricity.This all kind of confuses me. Third, are there no microscopes in this world? Were they all destroyed by the wild animal-like people wandering the countryside? The nanites are presumably the size of a single celled organism or possibly a virus but they cannot be much smaller than that. That means that anyone with a microscope and ten minutes of free time should have discovered and began disseminating the information that there are now suddenly a massive number of tiny machines in every sample. And yet, no one know that there are nanites or that they are causing the blackout. Apparently, the nanites also infect the human brain and make everyone really stupid.
While all those elements of Revolution make me a little sick to my stomach each episode, I generally enjoy the fact that someone tried to bring a type of world that is usually only present in isolated genre fiction to primetime television. More importantly for me, someone bothered to make a “post-apocalyptic” world without zombies. A true rarity in these zombie obsessed times. And for all of its flaws, I actually have fun while I’m watching the show. I plan to continue watching it until the pain of all the inconsistencies overpowers the amusement I get from watching people fight with swords and guns at the same time.