Last week, I got to hang out with Giancarlo Esposito and eat pizza, which was exactly how I imagined I’d be spending my Tuesday afternoon.
Let me back up. Last week, I was invited to NBC Universal for a special advance screening of their hit show Revolution, which started its second season last month. Those of you who have been watching thus far may have noticed a dramatic shift in tone, visual look, and subject matter compared to the first season, and don’t worry – you’re not hallucinating. Executive producer Eric Kripke and star Giancarlo Esposito (“Major Tom Neville”) were both on hand for the screening (an episode which definitely doesn’t pull its punches), and took some time to answer our questions about how the show has evolved, where it’s going and what the hell is going on with all that nanotechnology. So, without futher ado, take a look at seven things you probably didn’t know about NBC’s Revolution‘s new season:
1. The show is shifting its tone and focus in season 2, which means about 100% less random bouts of electricity
One of the chief complaints about Revolution‘s first season was that for a world that had lost all of its electricity, there was an awful lot of electricity being used on the show. Showrunner/executive producer Eric Kripke is the first to admit that may have been a misstep and aims to course correct in the show’s second season, which he confessed to assembled journalists at a recent press day/advance screening of this week’s episode: “I can’t say that I’m the smartest showrunner but I can say that I’m the hardest working. For me, I’m a bit relentless about figuring out what doesn’t work and how to make it better. So it was about, in the war that last season sort of exploded into… well, for one, there was a lot of power in a show that was about no power. And then two, the war format didn’t allow us to slow down and focus on what good television is about, which is character and relationships, twists and some reveals.
“When you’re telling a story that’s about war in every episode, you’re about action sequences and smashing into each other, and then you don’t have time to talk about the thing that, really, television runs on, which is relationships and turns. So we really looked hard at creating something that still gave us tension and intrigue and adventure… and reset the chess board back to a world without power. Because that’s what I think people relate to and that’s the hook of the show. We gave up our own hook for that season, which I don’t suggest. But I’m glad that we found it and we got back. We got back to a more realistic and grittier version of what the world would be.”
2. Season 2 is leaning heavy on the worldbuilding and is determined to look, sound and feel authentic.
Wondering why everyone looked impossibly TV beautiful even in the post-apocalypse? Don’t worry — it didn’t escape Kripke’s notice either. Relocating the production from North Carolina to Texas changed things:
“With the move to Austin came a new team. I miss my team in Wilmington (NC), they were wonderful and worked heroic hours and did great work. But this gave us an opportunity because we had a lot of new team members who are coming to the show with a fresh eye, so you could have a lot of long production conversations about everyone looking too clean. Like, they’re showering too much. They should have dirt on their face. Where the f*ck are they getting that conditioner? And we can reflect that into the show and also into the production design. When you’re in one town, you can really layer it and make it weathered because you’re spending time in one place. When you’re moving from city to city, it’s hard to mount as lived-in of a world that we’ve been able to create this season. So it all serves story and production to create a reality that I hope the audience sees that we’re really working hard to improve it and create a really credible world.”
3. Who’s afraid of the big bad United States government? Apparently, we should all be wary of the Patriots.
No, not the New England football phenoms, although I am always keeping a close eye on their progress even when Edelman can’t catch a pass to save his life. The big baddies of Revolution season 2 are the Illuminati symbol-using, nuclear disaster-exploiting menace crawling out of the woodwork to hatch their evil plans under the name of truth, justice and the American Way. Remember Flynn, the snarling bald bad guy/former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Defense who launched nuclear missiles at Atlanta and Philadelphia, then killed himself after declaring that he was a “Patriot”? Remember how we then cut to an American enclave at Guantanamo Bay saying his mission was complete? Yeah — those are the Patriots, and they’re here to “help”.
Kripke was eager to explain his narrative methodology, nothing that he “grew up and got trained on Supernatural and through other stuff” and he’s “a fan of the Joss Whedon school of showrunning” which is, “you organize a season around a big bad. Then you unveil more and more about the ‘big bad’ as the season goes on. You live in the first half of the mystery wondering who are these people and what do they want. And then you live in the second half of the season with the purpose of, okay, now we gotta stop these sons of bitches.” This season will center around a villain “who is scary and the drive of trying to defeat somebody, to understand who they are, what they want and ultimately how to stop them.” Most of all, Kripke seemed relieved and reenergized at how the change has invigorated the writers’ room. “It’s been really refreshing for us in the writer’s room to tell the stories about whether or not you flip a switch. Because it’s a very binary position,” he joked.
4. Red, white and blue could mean big trouble for our heroes this season thanks to the Patriots.
Discussion broke out amongst the journalists, Esposito, and Kripke about the usage of the American flag to paint the government as a sinister figure, lurking in the shadows, waiting like a cobra to strike. For Kripke and the writers, there have been “a lot of hard swallows in the writer’s room because you know, obviously we’re Americans. I’m a proud American. We’re taking a lot of the patriotic iconography of the United States and we’re twisting it to something ominous and malevolent. And obviously, you’ve got to stop and take a gut check and think seriously about what moves we’re making and what we want to do.”
Before you grab your pitchforks and start to storm NBC’s offices, you should hear Kripke out: “I think the important point to make and what we really discussed at length was this idea that they’re all the more hateful for draping themselves in something pure. They take these symbols that have such honorable origins and they use them for their own selfish impulses and it buys us a couple things too. You have bad guys that don’t look like bad guys to the rest of the world. There’s elements of Body Snatchers, there’s elements of invasion stories, there’s elements of the public relations face. The public relations face who is all ‘God Bless America’ but the things that are happening behind closed doors are truly awful. So it let us have a certain amount of mystery because, you know, our bad guys aren’t wearing Evil on their sleeves, they’re hiding it and there’s more subterfuge.”
5. Essentially, this season is all about a “battle for the soul of America.”
While last season seemed more about a battle to turn the lights back on, season two has loftier aspirations. “If you position it as a battle for the soul of America and who will ultimately take control over it, will it be a country about freedom, democracy, equality and opportunity? Or will it be a country that is about consumerism, fear and oppression? Once we started phrasing it in those ways, then it became really clear that The Patriots represent all of our negative impulses and all of our selfishness and our heroes are all of our better angels.
“It lets us really tell the story of the soul of America, and it’s a conflicted soul where hopefully the light side wins out. So, it’s given us layers of commentary and it’s also given us more conspiracy and mystery to play versus last season, which if I have to criticize it, I’d say was a little too straight forward. It lets us twist and turn a little bit, which is nice too.”
6. There’s nanotechnology. Yeah, you read that right. Futuristic fireflies and nanotech.
There may not be any power of which to speak, but nanotechnology is powered by heartier stuff like hopes and dreams and possible cold fusion reactors embedded within their tiny microscopic bodies. They factor rather prominently into last week’s episode, and the plot around them is thickening like so many cakes in so many ovens. Kripke was equal parts guarded and excited when discussing this bit of sci-fi, calling them “an ongoing mystery of the show” and “the Bad Robot glaze of the season.” Personally, I always thought Bad Robot glaze was leftover frosting they had lying dormant in a Dharma Initiative bunker.
This isn’t a new plot thread per se, but according to Kripke, “that mystery is the nano tech and it really came out of what we established last season, which is you really have this infinite power everywhere that was just used to keep the power off. As we started talking in the writer’s room, we thought about the limitless possibility if you could take the leash off of it and it could then do more than just keep the power off. It’s positioned to do anything, which adds a real interesting level of unpredictability.”
Don’t worry though — despite how eyebrow-raising and mysterious these tiny ‘bots may seem, they aren’t going to steal the focus of the show, which is still about relationships and the struggle to survive in a post-electric society. Kripke explained that “the nano research that we’ve done, based on what they already say of what is theoretically possible, it is astounding. Like, truly you wouldn’t believe it if MIT scientists weren’t saying it was possible. So, you know, we’re taking that and we’re adding our writer’s license to it and I think it’ll be a really exciting through line to this year. You know, this has kind of always been my American Lord Of The Rings and now, because of the nano tech, we sort of have our magic. So if we play it right, and in its proper percentages, it’ll never be a show that’s just about all that but again with this thin glaze of mystery on top of it, I think it just adds to the whole picture.”
7. Tom Neville is a man on the edge, a force to be reckoned with, and probably not to be trusted.
Last season, Giancarlo Esposito proved that he is clearly a master of villainy in all of its forms as Gustavo Fring metamorphosed into the crazy-eyed, singleminded Major Tom Neville, whose lust for power and control is only exceeded by his love for his wife Julia and his son Jason. At the end of last season, he had seized control of Monroe’s Militia. This season, he is keeping a low profile in a refugee camp and mourning the loss of his beloved wife Julia, who was likely killed in one of the atomic blasts caused by Flynn. Esposito sees Neville as “having given up hope in many ways” and he thoroughly “believes [his wife is] dead. A gleam in his eye, the actor elaborated, “Whatever Eric and the writers have in store, I certainly love that relationship because it’s a true one for Neville. It’s one that is truly from his heart and he really loves her.”
When questioned on whether or not Julia could have secretly survived, Esposito was matter-of-fact: “Obviously there’s always the possibility, if you don’t see someone die… but right now, look at that guy. He’s a broken man. So she’s dead to me and all I can think of is to avenge that death in some way and find out exactly what happened. I’m currently enjoying this quite a bit even though I’m dusty and dirty. It’s okay. He’s a man who’s coming close to his end right now as he’s ever been which I do love because out of the ashes rises something new. This season seems a little more of a comment on our society in the political world.”
Is Neville a good guy? Is he a bad guy? For Esposito, the lines aren’t quite so black and white. “Neville wants to survive and he wants his son to survive as much as he does,” said the actor. “He wants his son to share some of the same ideals that we now have to find out. We have to right what’s wrong. So if Jason doesn’t follow that trajectory, then he’s going to be lost,” he continued. “Yes, people ask is Neville good or bad? I get all these questions. Is he right or wrong? What side is he on? He’s always been righteous in some ways since the very beginning of his depiction. He just had to get strong enough to follow that. He does think for himself and he does ask questions. He doesn’t believe what everyone wants to just push down his throat. So I think that is the mark of someone who is inquisitive and someone who is wanting the world to be somehow in order again, even if it’s an insane world that can never quite be righted. He wants to be on the side of that order.” And that, dear readers, is why Neville is clearly going to be the character to watch this season. He’s a wrench in the works, but whether or not he gets noticed by maintenance remains to be seen.
Have you been watching Revolution this season? What do you think so far? How does it compare to last season? Let us know in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter.