A Land Without Power

All modern technology is dependant on electricity. Without power, we’d have nothing.

Computers, cell phones, television, radio, all other forms of communication; lights, heating systems, stoves, water heaters, refrigerators, the municipal water service, local sanitation systems, cars, busses, traffic lights, and many more things I forgot to mention.

So much is dependant on the simple concept of electricity. What would happen if it all went away?

I know, it’s a silly question to ask. How could all electrical devices just stop working?

Well, the power could always go out. Ten years ago, that’s exactly what happened to me and millions of others living on the east coast of North America. Due to something as simple as a computer bug in the control room of a Ohioan power company. For many, it took days for the power to come back on. I didn’t mind too much. For starters, I had my laptop. But even after the battery died, I still wasn’t that bothered. I went outside and was able to experience a true rarity: Being able to see the stars late at night.

Often, when an area does lose power, likely because it was hit by a major disaster, restoring it tends to be the top priority for responders. Seems to me that food and water would be slightly higher than electricity. But what do I know? They bring guys in to fix fallen wires; repair substations and transformers; and sometimes, bring in localized generators that can power a neighbourhood, assuming they’re just cut off from the rest of the grid.

But is it really necessarily? Are we dependant on electricity? Yes. If we lost it, would people start panicking, and looting? Well, no. They didn’t during the last blackout, and I doubt they would if it happened again. Even New York was looter-free!

But let’s up the stakes. What if we didn’t just lose power from the grid? What if all electronic devices stopped working? What if even battery-powered devices failed? Cell Phones, laptops, cars, even flashlights! And what if they would never, ever, turn back on? Would our society collapse into barbarism? Hell no! Such a suggestion is ridiculous. But that’s not the suggestion made by the creators of the relatively new NBC series, Revolution.

When some mysterious force causes all electronic devices to stop working, it doesn’t take long for society to completely collapse. Food is scarce, and people are desperate. Fifteen years later, many are living in small secluded villages, where they grow food in small gardens, hunt wild animals, and wait for the local warlord to arrives to collect their ‘taxes.’

I love stories about the post-apocalypse. Generally because it reminds me that even after a terrible disaster, no matter how horrific, we can still survive, and in some cases, thrive. But something about Revolution struck me as odd from the moment I started watching it. You see, a simple power outage, no matter how permanent or ubiquitous, wouldn’t be much of an apocalypse. So Revolution continuously tries to raise the stakes in a contrived and forced manner. And this pisses me off.

We’ll start with the very first episode. Ben Matheson arrives home, to his wife and two children. He’s rushed and panicky. Something terrible is gonna happen and he has to get ready.

Spoiler alert: He had complete and prior knowledge of what will soon be known across the planet as, The Blackout.

He tries to get his family prepared, while warning his brother of the coming disaster, and uploading something to a flash drive (which seems redundant given what’s about to happen). Then, every screen and every light starts flickering, and it all turns off. Cars slow to a stop on the highway and planes start falling from the sky… Wait… WHAT!?

Plane falls from the sky.

Yeah, for those of you who don’t know, planes don’t work that way. They don’t drop like a rock in the event of a power failure.

I know what you’re gonna say: How would you know!? This is a completely unique situation!

Except it’s not. Sometimes, planes lose power, it happens. You tend to want to prevent that from happening, but it can still happen. Engine failure, battery burn out, who knows!? Pilots train for this situation. They train for the day when some emergency causes a complete and unexpected power loss. Sometimes by triggering a power loss in a real plane. Even I know what to do, and I’ve only messed around in flight simulators.

During a power loss, the plane converts to a glider, not a rock. At this point, you’re just flying on your own momentum. You’re gonna lose altitude, that’s a guarantee. But hopefully you’ll be able to stay aloft long enough to find an appropriate landing spot, and make a shitty, awkward landing, requiring passengers to slide out on a yellow inflatable.

Some may mention that the planes would lose control, since the control systems on large planes are electronic, and they’d be immediately disabled.

Now, admittingly, I can’t say this with 100% certainty. But that’s complete bullshit. The control systems on airplanes are mechanical in nature. They may be supplemented or enhanced by electronic means, but much like the power steering in your car, failure doesn’t result in a complete loss of control. Everything would just fall back to the manual systems.

So why is it that, in this show, they decided to convert all the planes into rocks!? Well… I have no fucking idea. It was unnecessary. I’m sure it scared the crap out of people. So, that could have been the reason. And that’s the problem. They are artificially, and unnecessarily, raising the stakes.

I say unnecessarily, for two reasons. Number one, considering the blackout occurred at night for our main characters, we have planes gliding overhead, slowly losing altitude, over an inky darkness. Try finding a place to land. No GPS, no ground-based navigation, no air traffic control, no tower control, no ILS, not even any runway lights! You’re fucked! Best hope is if you happen to run across an airport in your aimless meandering, and they lined the runway with road flares. But the odds of that are slim, and then you run into the problem of crashing into other planes, and that’s assuming you’re one of the first ones there, since if someone landed before you, there’s a good chance they’re still on the runway, since they have no means to clear it. No engine, no towing. You’re fucked. Though you may be able to keep enough momentum after you land to steer your fat ass off the runway, hoping you won’t steer into the grass, and cause the massive weight on your front tires to collapse the ground beneath, resulting in the entire plane getting stuck, your ass-end still in the middle of the runway. Hopefully, the lights will indicate where the taxiway is, and you find it and clear it before you lose momentum.

The second reason: In the very next scene, we’re told the U.S. Federal Government collapsed. So falling planes don’t seem to be as big a deal, do they?

A quick narration sums up the gap between The Blackout, and when our story begins, 15 years later. Aaron Pittman, one of our mains, explains that we use electricity for everything, even growing food. We do? I mean, we use it to irrigate the crops, spread fertilizer, till soil, harvest crops, sure. But actually grow the food? Not so much. Okay, I’m splitting hairs a bit, but I’ll get back to this, trust me.

He explains that after The Blackout, it wasn’t just the grid, but batteries and cars stopped working as well… which makes sense, since a crucial component of any internal combustion engine is the spark plug, which requires electricity. I’m not even talking about the car battery. In order for the engine to work, at some point, electricity has to flow through a wire. Which seems to be what’s being inhibited.

Eventually, in the series, we learn that a manmade device caused this. An attempt to create cheap, clean energy resulted in the creation of a device that does the exact opposite. It inhibits the flow of electricity. The panicky guy in the cold open was part of the team that designed it.

An attempt to create cheap, clean energy eh!? Let’s speculate! It was probably supposed to be generated from vacuum or zero-point energy. Maybe even balanced generation, where energy would be created, along with an equal amount of ‘negative energy,’ as waste. And yes, that shit’s dangerous.

You know, since we’re speculating, let’s talk about this ‘inhibition.’ What exactly happens? Could be that it disrupts the electromagnetic force, but that would basically break apart everything at the sub-atomic level. So that’s doubtful. The electromagnetic force holds atoms together. It prevents us from falling through the floor. Neutralize the electromagnetic force, it’s the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. In fact that’s the big crisis at the end of season four of Doctor Who in 2008. The Daleks create a device that neutralizes the electromagnetic force, which’ll destroy the entire universe. So that can’t be it.

So, maybe it stops electrons from flowing through objects. Tying them down to the atom they reside in. Except that would kill everything on Earth, since our nervous system uses electricity. The nerve cell sends electrical pulses along the outside of the cell to transmit signals, and since The Blackout didn’t kill everyone, that can’t be it.

So, perhaps it just stops electrons from flowing in copper or iron, or some other metal. I could buy that. But how? Whatever it is, it can’t be permanent. Whatever is stopping the power from flowing would actually wear off. Wouldn’t it? If metal would no longer work as an electrical conductor, it wouldn’t stay that way. This is an inherent property of the material. Even if you found a way to inhibit it, that property would reassert itself. Which tells me that this machine, the one that caused The Blackout, wasn’t turned off once it was turned on. It would have to remain on for electricity to be permanently inhibited like it is on the show.

Anyway, he shows the tech to a DoD guy, who sees the inhibition in action, and asks if it could be scaled up. Why? I guess we’ll find out later in the season.

After The Blackout, chaos took over, and as I said, the government fell, major cities became mausoleums, and illnesses remained untreated. Because apparently medicine is electronic.

Again, I’m calling bullshit because drug production is chemistry. You can argue that mass production would be next to impossible, but a smart chemist would be able to synthesize many, if not most, generic drugs in his basement. Not to mention the fact that I’m sure there are a few stockpiles of drugs kicking around.

Sure, MRIs, x-rays, heart monitors, certain medical devices, pacemakers, would all be unusable. And I’m sure surgical equipment wouldn’t be very sanitary without an autoclave. But a good doctor could always improvise, and I’m sure every hospital has at least one good doctor.

Oh, and again, the government fell. Time to talk about this. Are you shitting me!? Why!? Lack of cell phones!?

Okay, I could buy this. Perhaps one could argue that the government was so dependant on modern communication systems, that its sudden disappearance caused a panic-freeze. But this is the problem. Two months later, two of our mains, Miles and Bass, are sitting in their barracks at the Marine Base they’re stationed at. They haven’t received any orders since The Blackout. Why not? Okay, I understand that communication systems are down, likely even the telegraph. But messengers on horseback are also impaired by the lack of electricity? Now you’re just fucking with me! Maybe the President hadn’t gotten around to it for a few days, but that’s doubtful since I already have their orders: “Maintain civil order in nearby towns, declaring martial law if necessary, and assure the population that their government is working on a solution.” How hard is that!? You’d think that would be standing orders in these situations. They wouldn’t even need to be told what to do, they’d just know!

Then, there’s another question. Is everyone at the base completely incompetent? Can no one there issue orders? They have to wait for the higher-ups? Let’s assume orders have to come from officers, rather than enlisted personnel. I’m still calling bullshit! Since I don’t see why a military base would be void of officers!

So, why couldn’t they operate? Why couldn’t they do something!? Why did the government fall? That’d be an interesting storyline, because I can’t figure it out!

On that same note, we quickly learn that after The Blackout, there were no police either. Again, why? In fact, that makes less sense! Sure, no cop cars or radios. But why wouldn’t they be patrolling on horseback? They don’t have to wait for orders from the commander-in-chief! They can just go out and do their jobs! But no, that doesn’t happen. In fact, it appears that most people just stopped going to work after that. Why?

Think about it for a minute. Imagine one night, all electronic devices just stopped working. Even transportation. Would you just stay home the next day and avoid work? Well, I’ll remind you, winter hadn’t hit yet. Okay, you might skip the first day or so, hoping it was short-term. But humanity has a great and powerful skill known as adaptation. We can adapt to anything. But apparently, humanity forgot that in this world. Maybe the day before, someone posted this all over the city:

Freak Out and Break Stuff

I know eventually, I’d go back to work. Might take the first day off so I can plan transit for the next. But yeah, I got a job to do, I’m doing it.

Back in high school, there were several occasions when snow days were called. The busses were cancelled but the schools remained technically open. No one had to go, but I did. Every time. In fact, a few times, one of my teachers told me to go home. I liked her, she was cool.

I wasn’t the only one, but we were few and far between. So maybe I’m unique. Maybe most wouldn’t go. However, that was just school. When you have a job, you have a responsibility. You go to work. You don’t flake off. Why wouldn’t you go? One would think, once you grow up, you grow up.

As the series begins, we see our main characters: Charlie Matheson; her uncle, Miles Matheson; and Aaron Pittman, a former Google exec.

The group is on the search for Danny, Charlie’s brother, after her father was shot by soldiers of the Monroe Republic. You see, after the collapse of the US government, the continent’s now ruled by a series of six independent states. One of which is the Monroe Republic, run by Sebastian Monroe, who stands in as dictator, military commander, and ‘president.’ But much like China, it’s a republic in name only. No free elections.

Other states include the Georgia Federation, the Plains Nation, the California Commonwealth, the Wasteland, and Texas. Up in Canada, we have… no one. Apparently we’re ignored in continental politics.

Actually, thinking about it, I’m willing to bet most of the country evacuated once winter hit. I know my house is not built for a winter without a heater. Not to say it couldn’t be, but it isn’t.

Anyway, The Monroe Militia, the military arm of the republic, is ruthless, cunning, and very well-trained. We learn they’re trained in sword fighting, since bullets are at such a premium and need to be rationed. Which brings up another major problem: Why!?

Why don’t they just make more? Well no one uses factories anymore. Since they were always powered by electricity. Except they weren’t.

At one time, factories were steam-powered. Since it was before electricity was invented. People may forget about the industrial revolution. That it was triggered by the invention of the steam engine. In fact, while I know very little about factories and how they work, I could see a way to rebuild them without electricity.

You build a steam engine to turn a giant crank shaft, or several dozen of them. That applies the mechanical power to the machines, which use simple mechanics, such as gears and pulleys, to do the job.

One could argue a lack of arc-welding, which would make it difficult to build the machines. But there are other ways to weld and we also use things called kilns to melt glass and metal, which don’t use electricity at all.

A lot of the technology they appear to shun in this show go back to the renaissance. They didn’t use electricity back then. So why don’t they use these tools now?

Oh, some may argue that steam engines may not work for whatever reason. Except…

Train!

Yeah, they do. If they can get a train working, why not a factory?

Oh, stuff like that can take time, sure. But they had 15 years! I’m not buying it.

Then there was episode nine. The group is in a former subway tunnel when the entrance caves in. It isn’t long before they realize they’re running out of air and are slowly suffocating. Again, I’m calling bullshit. Less than a dozen people in their group, I’ll remind you, and it’s not a small tunnel system. How could they possibly run out of air in the few hours since the cave in!? Oh sure, CO2 levels start to rise, but it’s not a small, confined space, and they’re continually moving, so they’re in a new part of the cavern, with new air. After a few days, I might buy it, but it’s not a few days, it’s more like a few hours, and I’m pretty sure I’m being generous with that estimate.

So basically, I’m saying that whole episode made no sense.

So the story is based on some very weak science and logic. But overall, it’s somehow compelling. The use of swords in battle make the fight scenes look awesome, the drama created by this megalomaniacal dictator is interesting, and the stakes are raised considerably by the pendant.

Oh, I forgot about the pendant. It’s basically a wireless battery that can reactivate and power any machine in the area. I’m gonna ignore how soft the science is, because it is a sci-fi artifact. We’ll just assume it works through magic.

The pendant is basically a small MacGuffin. With that kind of power, Monroe could use it to power his military machine, and conquer all of North America. We see one of his prisoners, Rachel Matheson, who worked on the project that caused The Blackout, build an amplifier to boost the signal from the pendant. This is actually how the first half-season ends, when it powers an Apache gunship. Which gives us a new MacGuffin: the amplifier.

The whole series has an air of mystery. Things are slowly being revealed regarding The Blackout, the pendant, and the machine that created it. That USB drive I mentioned at the beginning? It’s in the pendant. What’s on it?

I hope we get answers before the show’s cancelled.

The characters we follow; Charlie, Aaron and Miles; each have their own character arcs. Unfortunately, they’re not very interesting.

Miles is the designated badass. He’s also the former leader of the Monroe Militia. He left when he realized they were too megalomaniacal. We see in flashbacks that he likely created the republic to bring order to chaos. But obviously he went too far, and didn’t notice before it was too late.

Since Miles also trained the Militia, who operate as the bad guy’s designated foot shoulders, they’re also very formidable.

Charlie is a blank slate. She never shows any real emotion in the show, except in the few instances when she cries. She cries as she watches her father die, she cries over postcards, and… well, that’s it. But she never emotes.

This is a problem, given she’s a character in a TV show.

Some may think she has a bit of character growth, since as the show goes on, she learns to kill with less and less hesitation. But growth is more than actions. You need emotions to back it up, to give reason.

Then we have Aaron, who’s probably the most interesting. As I said, he’s a former Google exec. who finds himself helpless in an uncaring world. When the blackout hits he’s enjoying champagne with his lovely wife. And when his chauffeured car slows to a stop, a transport trailer doesn’t, oddly, and it smashes into them. They end up crossing the country, and Aaron quickly learns he can’t protect her anymore. The skills he acquired are useless in this new world. Unaware that waste-water backed up into the river, his wife drinks from it, and gets dysentery. Ew. Later he can’t protect her from bandits who end up resorting to rape because… why not? It actually ends up being one of their travelling companions that save both of them.

In the end he abandons his wife, and tells her to stay with the others. He’d just be a liability. Must be completely emasculating to be incapable of protecting the woman you love.

He is the most interesting character, because he feels more real than any of the others. Especially when you compare him to his best friend: Ben.

Ben Matheson is killed in the first episode, and kicks off the A-plot. He used to own the pendant. He gave it to Aaron when a unit from the Militia arrives in their village to pick him up. His son Danny, tries to stop them by threatening them with a crossbow. Ben gets shot, and Danny is taken away instead. The unit’s leader commenting that they can’t go back empty-handed.

I’ll get to Danny in a minute, but Ben, in the few minutes we see him, is the shittiest character in the show. We see him in flashback, and he’s a timid, nervous, panicky, ponce. We see him 15 years later, and he’s a timid, nervous, panicky, ponce. You’d think you’d develop a backbone in that time, if only for the sake of your children. But no, he doesn’t.

Then there’s Danny. A moron. Like I said, he ends up getting his father killed, and throughout the series, the other mains are trying to get him back, but he offers no reason for me to want them to succeed. During the train episode a bomb is planted and designed to go off once the train is en-route. But they don’t get Danny off the train in time, and it’s about to blow, killing him with it, and I thought, “Finally, we won’t have to hear him whining again.”

He does have one good moment. When, as one soldier is beating him for killing his friend, who killed his father, he tricks the asshole into coming too close, and then gets him in a headlock.

Some may also mention the moment when he saves the life of the man who initially took him in. But he does it without any negotiation. No, “You gonna let me go if I do?” Not even close. Of course one could argue that he couldn’t just let the man die, but given what the Captain did, I disagree. He could have at least tried to negotiate his own release. Some attempt would have been nice.

But no, he just saves the jackass and gets recaptured.

Then we have Rachel Matheson, Charlie and Danny’s mother. Cold, calculating, and it appears Charlie got her emotional range from her mother. Again, we have a blank slate that I just can’t get invested in. I just don’t care about her. Not even a little bit.

The only interesting characters are in the supporting cast. We have Captain/Major Neville, a family man who joins the militia to protect his family. Before The Blackout he was a caring and empathetic family man, and much like Ben, very timid. But once The Blackout hits, he realizes things need to change. He becomes ruthless and actually kills his neighbour who was trying to steal from him. Not bad character development, but it feels a bit extreme. Not too extreme, just a bit.

But his wife, Julia, played by Jack Bauer’s girlfriend, is much more interesting. Conniving and cold, she reminds me of Lady Macbeth. Much like Neville, Julia is doing it for her family, but she has aspirations. She want’s to become First Lady of the republic. Er… wait. Why not President? Why does she want to remain in her husband’s shadow? Why doesn’t she want to be the power? Oh, fuck it.

Anyway, what made her so cold? Why is she just as conniving as her husband?

There’s also Sebastian Monroe. In the flashbacks we see he’s just as calm and caring as his friend, Miles. But at some point, he becomes a ruthless dictator, with no emotion. Did he get lobotomized during the 15 year gap?

Yeah, he fails to emote outside of flashbacks. Actually, I’m pretty sure he also fails to emote during flashbacks. I have no idea what this guy is driven by. Nothing. No clue. So he’s as bland as you can get. Is it too much to ask for some personality from these characters?

Oh, is that typical for bad guys? Well we get plenty of personality from Neville. Even the one-shot villain, Jeremy, has plenty of personality to go around. I actually think he’s my favourite bad guy. I hope we see more of him in the future. Though I don’t think we will. Which sucks because instead we’re stuck with these pieces of wood they call characters.

But as I said, the overall show is somehow compelling. That might be because of the mysteries proposed. Why did The Blackout happen? Why is it continuing? Why didn’t the people who caused it turn the device off at any point in the past 15 years?

Interesting questions, sure. But actually, that kinda pisses me off. It seems the writers feel they can compensate for shitty character development and forced plotlines, with mystery and intrigue. Fuck you.

So that’s Revolution. So far, we’ve only been through 10 episodes, half of the first season. Let’s hope that the second half manages to compensate for the first. Since the premise is interesting enough, that I want to see this show get good, and end the half-assery. It’s the same reason I was angered by the Transformers film, and the season three finale of My Little Pony. Good premise, shit execution.

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