Although producer Rockne S. O’Bannon was not involved in the first season of NBC’s post-apocalyptic adventure Revolution, he was an avid viewer of the series from the beginning, which proved advantageous when creator Eric Kripke began searching for a new showrunner.
“Eric told me what he had in mind, [and] it was like having the ultimate fan experience,” O’Bannon told the audience at WonderCon Anaheim. He said that he thinks the series now has “found its mojo,” likening the two seasons as the first chapter in a saga.
Along for that journey this year is veteran actor Stephen Collins, who plays Dr. Gene Porter, the absent father of Elizabeth Mitchell’s Rachel. He admitted he was uncertain what to expect, but he was even more surprised to learn Gene was working with the show’s antagonists, the Patriots.
“We get the [next] script in the middle of the episode before it, and we’re all furiously reading them [on set],” Collins explained. While he would like to have known that Gene was in league with the enemy all along, the actor said he was happy to play the character without that knowledge. “If he’s supposed to be that good of a liar, he’d play it exactly as I did,” he added.
O’Bannon acknowledged the original plan for Gene was somewhat different, but said “we knew he was always going to be a conspirator.”
Collins said he appreciates the way episodic television like Revolution reveals characters — even to the actors playing them. “The writers throw you information you never see coming. I didn’t think my wife died during a cholera epidemic [for example],” he said. “I was amazed this year when the writers throw something new into the backstory.”
While part of his process is to create his character’s backstory and adjust it as the series demands, he always hopes his internal logic and scripts eventually align.
“Gene has his heart in the right place,” O’Bannon said. “But [he believes] the ends justify the means.”
The full fallout of Gene’s choices, and Rachel’s reaction to them, will play out in the final four episodes of the season. Mitchell joked, “Poor hot Dad.”
Despite the serious themes and life-and-death struggle in the show’s world, a sense of humor permeated the second season. It’s hardly an accident, considering the amount of jokes found in an episode of Kripke’s previous series, Supernatural, or the level of humor that mixed into the jeopardy on O’Bannon’s cult favorite Farscape. According to the producer, “It’s just natural to throw those references into the script. It makes for a wonderful immediate identification for the viewers.” In a world without new movies or television, it also makes sense that the characters would hold on to the stories they know.
“You can remember to have a sense of humor [in the middle of the story],” Collins added. “Every time Billy Burke says ‘What a dick,’ it makes me happy because he finds a way to spin it in 8,000 different ways.”
Besides the film and television references and Burke’s catchphrase, O’Bannon says the writers also look for situational humor. One such scene, in which Burke’s Miles comments that he feels as though he’s always sitting on the same rocks observing the Patriot camp, came from an observation in the writers’ room about how many scenes they were setting — and ultimately shooting — in the same spot. The line went in because “that self-awareness in story is legitimate to the character.” The best jokes come from the ones that resonate with any given character.
The topic switched to the more serious events revolving around Jason’s death in the most recent episode.
“It’s very important for any show on television now that any character is vulnerable,” O’Bannon explained. “It makes the stakes very real; to lose someone like Jason was difficult, but having a [death] that reaches all the way back to the pilot was great.” It also has implications yet to be explored for Charlie, who put the bullet through Jason, and for Tom Neville. “[He’s] the sort who thought he’ll hug Jason later, but that opportunity is gone,” O’Bannon teased.
Asked whether Rachel will be able to help Charlie deal with the trauma of shooting her on-again/off-again beau, Mitchell laughed. “Rachel isn’t the person you go to with your troubles.” Considering the question, she added, “I think she’s trying, though. She has a hope in what [she and Charlie] could be and she’s trying to be a good mother and a good support.”
Besides the constant trouble with the Patriots, Rachel has also been involved in the Nano plotline. “We had a really good time with that,” Mitchell said. “It was nice to be in both worlds.” Adding a tease, she also said, “I smack Priscilla around a little. It was fun.”
Leading into the final four episodes, O’Bannon said both storylines will dovetail together as at the climax. “In these last four episodes, everything comes together in terms of the Patriot mission at the same time that the Nano takes a hard look at humanity and finding us lacking,” he said. “At the end of this season, things explode apart and something whispers into Rachel’s ear that changes what caused the Blackout.”
Before opening the floor to questions, moderator Eric Goldman asked whether viewers will see more of the often-teased California Republic or its illusive Governor Affleck in the flesh. “As we broke the later part of the season, we wrestled with introducing it,” O’Bannon said. “We didn’t want to give it a short shrift. So we held it at arm’s length, but we’re desperate to get there.”
During the fan Q&A, the panel was asked about the show moving two hours earlier this season to the 8 p.m. time slot. “That was big question for us, as we’d been a 10 o’clock show,” O’Bannon said. “It was not a matter of changing the show. [NBC] wanted to be true to it.”
Mitchell added, “It got bloodier.”
Asked about the Nano taking the show in a more overt sci-fi direction, O’Bannon suggested it was a response to the eventuality of real-life nanotech breakthroughs. “It is going to change our lives and it hasn’t been explored in television, so it’s kind of cutting edge for our show to talk about it,” he said.
Because the Nano allows long-dead characters to appear, another fan asked whether Danny might make a technologically assisted return. “We talk about Danny a lot in the writers’ room,” O’Bannon said. “I’m loath to say anything specific, but we talk about him all the time.”
Revolution returns Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.