So, all electricity and technology on Earth has stopped working. The question we’re supposed to be asking is, “Why (or how) did this happen?” And, to some extent, that is the question I’m asking. But there are more troubling questions that need to be answered well in advance of even beginning to discuss that one.
In fiction of all sorts, the story has the ability and opportunity to set up the rules of its universe. Maybe there are people with super powers running around. Maybe we’re on a different planet, or an alternate version of Earth set a hundred years in the past. Virtually anything is okay. There can be a story told in any sort of universe with any set of rules. But once rules are set up, they have to make sense internally. A story has to set up its rules, and then it has to follow them.
This is my major problem, so far, with Revolution. I don’t care what happened, why it happened, how it happened, or who did it. At least not yet. Having watched the pilot episode, the only questions I really care about having answered are “Okay. So what are the rules in this universe, now?”
What does it mean for everything to stop working? Not, “what does it mean to society for all of the technology to suddenly stop?” While that is a good question, it is one the show does attempt to discuss. And it’s even less basic than the question I’m asking. I want to know, literally, what does that mean? What are you even saying?
We see cell phones go dark, car engines shut off, car lights turn off, planes fall from the sky. We pan out to a shot of the planet from space and we see the lights in all of North and South America systematically extinguish from space. So, exactly what is it that’s not working now?
We flash forward 15 years, and we see that the planet is a wreck. But we still don’t know what it means for all technology to have stopped working. The closest we get to an explanation is when Aaron exclaims to a group of kids that “Physics went insane. The world went insane. And nobody knows why.”
Okay, so physics went insane. That’s a start. What does that mean? Well, we know that devices powered by batteries (phones) stopped working. Maybe silicon chips stopped working? That’s stupid, but I could go with it if that’s the universe that was set up. But also, cars stopped working. Car engines. Every car engine. Car engines don’t have any of the same physical properties of things like phones. Phones, generally, don’t have moving parts. But a car engine is a machine. It’s a combustion engine. It turns gasoline fuel into energy, and uses that energy to move all the moving parts and keep the engine going, which turns the wheels and makes the car go. So, combustion doesn’t work anymore?
Well, no. Can’t be combustion. Because, for one thing, people are still making fires. For another, guns still work.
I need a definition here of what things aren’t working. How complex does a machine have to be for it to be considered technology and thus no longer work? A car engine can’t combust fuel and power itself anymore, but you can build what looked to me to be a pretty complicated moonshine still? What about a vehicle that runs on a complicated set of gears, but is powered by a handcrank? Has physics gone so crazy that a machine like that wouldn’t work? But a crossbow does? WHAT ARE THE RULES?!
In the end, Revolution posits some fairly complex plot related questions. Who, what, why, and how did this happen in the first place? What is it that Ben knew and put on his little USB drive? Who are these people running around with magic USB drives? Lots of interesting plot related questions. But before I can focus on those questions, I need to understand the rules of the universe. And I just don’t trust JJ Abrams to ever explain them to me, beyond an oblique reference to “physics going insane.”