NBC’s sci-fi drama Revolution returned to television two weeks ago, and stars Tracy Spiridakos and Billy Burke and co-executive producer David Rambo couldn’t be happier.
Created by Eric Kripke (Supernatural) and executive produced by J.J. Abrams (Lost, Star Trek), the post-apocalyptic series is set in a world where mysterious event leaves every piece of technology – telephones, computers, lights, cars – inoperable, sending civilization into a downward spiral. Fifteen years later, some semblance of society has formed, with militias roaming their territories and small farms dotting the landscape. But after a tragedy strikes her family, a young woman named Charlie (Spiridakos) sets out to find her uncle Miles (Burke), who might just know how to turn the power back on.
Speaking with reporters at WonderCon Anaheim, Burke, Spiridakos and Rambo touched on the first half of Season 1, leading up to one of the show’s most traumatic deaths: the untimely end of Charlie’s brother Danny.
“We kicked the idea around just before the break that we wanted to make the fight against Monroe personal, and we wanted to do something to remind the audience how incredibly dangerous this world is,” Rambo said. “We knew the thing our characters cared about the most in that first half was finding Danny. [Charlie’s father] Ben was already dead, to put this family together we had to find Danny. If you take away a thing the character cares about the most it amps up their objectives after that.”
Rambo also believed the audience had become as invested in Danny as the characters were. “We knew it would jolt the audience, we knew it would be a death they care about, not just guest star of the week, and the plan evolved,” Rambo said.
The death of her brother will send Charlie down a darker path, but one that ultimately will lead to adulthood.
“It matures her,” Rambo said. “She goes from girl to women … and a real warrior, not a girl with a bow and arrow who can swing a sword. And she wants to be a warrior; in the next episode we see her training for that. She wants to kill.”
“Going forward, in general, it’s all in the grieving process,” Spiridakos agreed.
Labeling Charlie as a “tunnel vision kind of gal,” Spiridakos said the character deals with the death the same way she deals with everything, with full-on intensity. “She gets a bit of tunnel vision for revenge and in the back half [of the season] she’s struggling with whether she’s able to keep her humanity throughout it, or if she’s going to go to the dark side, if you will,” she said.
In fact, the death affected the actress and cast on a personal level, as they were sad to see Graham Rogers, who plays Danny, leave the show.
“Oh, my God! We were so sad,” Spiridakos said. “Graham’s so wonderful, and I think he did a magnificent job in that episode, and in all the episodes.”
With a laugh she recalled her fondest memory of working with Rogers on set, goofing around during a serious action scene where the two were required to handle weapons. “When Graham and I were shooting the scene where we’re hiding behind the barracks and we have our guns, we did this whole rehearsal completely exaggerated, making the gunshots going pew pew pew!” Spiridakos chuckled.
Charlie isn’t the only character greatly affected by Danny’s death, as their uncle Miles, played by Burke, also wrestles with guilt in upcoming episodes.
“He does take a personal responsibility for it, although he was pulled into this fight reluctantly” Burke explained. “Danny’s death does have impact on him. He didn’t know the kid very well but his responsibility, he feels it.”
The toll Danny takes on Charlie also becomes apparent to Miles in the remainder of the season, although ironically, according to Burke, Miles begins to open up in response to the death.
“As Charlie starts to find her inner warrior and starts to go to places she’s never gone before, internally he starts to recognize that, versus him sort of going the other way,” he said. “She starts to go to these darker places while Miles starts to open up these places inside him where he would never every do before.”
Both Spiridakos’ Charlie and Burke’s Miles also will be finding their footing with Rachel, played by Elizabeth Mitchell, Charlie’s long-lost mother and Miles’ ex-lover.
“The relationship between her and Danny to the relationship between her and Rachel is very different,” Spiridakos said. “Danny was her lifeline. Their whole time growing up she breathed for him.” She added that, for Charlie, the entire world consisted of protecting or avenging her brother. “They took Danny, I need to get Danny back. They killed Danny, I need to get revenge.”
The relationship between Charlie and Rachel, however, is far rockier. “As we’ll see going forward, they’ll try to mend their relationship, but there’s a lot of things Charlie doesn’t know about, and the more she finds out the more she thinks does she even know these people?” Spiridakos said.
Miles will also have a tough row to hoe with Rachel joining their band.
“The necessity of them being together now because their hands are forced and they now have to work together, it’s inevitable that we’ll see some stuff start to crackle with them,” Burke said. “It’s not going to be huge amounts but enough to give you some understanding of that dynamic.”
Beyond Charlie and Miles’ immediate vendetta against the dictator Monroe rests the larger mysteries of the blackout, connected to the 12 pendants spread out across America.
“Erik [Kripke] planted it in the pilot, obviously, with Ben [Matheson, Charlie’s father], and then one of the things we talked about in the writers room when we first got together … was what does that pendant mean? Are there others? We saw that Grace had one, how many are there?” Rambo said.
Explaining the process for coming up with the show’s pendants, he continued, “The number 12 kept bouncing around because it’s a very common number in mythology to have 12 of something. We have Rachel say, I think in the fifth episode, there are 12 of them. I know there are fans that are tracking where each one is.”
“Rachel’s destroyed a few, or is about to … the stakes rise every time another pendant is revealed,” Rambo said, adding he didn’t think fans will see all 121 pendants collected and together by the end of the first season -- especially as the question of whether there will be a Season 2 is still up in the air.
“We wrap a lot of it [in the Season 1 finale], but we wrap by actually opening more doors to more mysteries. We have not actually talked about Season 2,” Rambo said. “Kripke has ideas; I don’t know when he had time to come up with them, he hasn’t shared them yet, but we’re exhausted from doing Season 1!”
Describing Revolution as the “hardest show any of us have ever worked on,” Rambo agreed that the sci-fi drama was definitely a “blockbuster show,” in the vein of series like Lost that almost feel like movies truncated for the small screen with large budgets and great production values.
“Game of Thrones always feels like a big feature film to me, though if you watch it closely their battle scenes are all very tight, they really don’t show the full battle,” he said. “We’ve got battle scenes that have masses of warriors and militia and the people against them.”
The co-executive producer also hoped that the few “blockbuster” success stories like Game of Thrones or Lost are big enough to justify studios continuing to make them. “It’s very exciting, it’s epic,” he said. “I hope it’s not the end of it. I think that’s fun. The challenge now is writing for a screen the size of an iPhone the same time you’re writing for a 60-inch screen in someone’s media room.”
Or to put it another way, “We read the episodes and we go, ‘What? How long do we have to film this?’” Spiridakos laughed.
Despite the emphasis on production and action, Rambo still sees Revolution as having much in common with quieter, character-driven sci-fi shows like Star Trek.
“I hope on Revolution, with all of our scope we’re taking it back to a very personal, intense story of one character or another,” he said. “Especially since the theme of this show is family. We want to see the family together; we want to see Rachel with Charlie, we want to see in flashbacks the Matheson family and the Neville family.”
Even ostensible bad guy Monroe fits into the family theme of the show. “Monroe’s family is Miles,” Rambo said. “We saw that amazing scene in Episode 10 in the cemetery where Monroe is mourning his family that had al been killed by a drunk driver. Miles is all he has left. And now they’re bitter enemies.”
Despite the problems of the past, Burke feels the rest of Season 1 will introduce fans to a softer Miles.
“These next few episodes, you’ll see the sides of him he’d never want to reveal to anybody,” he said. “I think its necessary to seize as much of these individual characters as you can, because the more we know about them the more we’ll care about their individual quests.”
Rambo also spoke about the varying levels of non-electrical technology seen so far in Season 1, from the very medieval to steam power.
“We knew we didn’t want to do a steampunk look, but we did want to show there is steam power and we’ll see some of that outside the Monroe Republic, we saw it on the train,” he said. “We can take different types of power or what existed before electrical power from different eras, it’s not like we’re limited to the 18th century when we’re in Independence Hall.”
In fact, some of the things audiences may think of as only possible with current levels of technology could be entirely reproducible in the Revolution world. “I found out when writing the episode about the drug lord that you could make methamphetamine in this new world. You have to get lithium but you could get that from car batteries from the cars that weren’t working any more,” Rambo laughed.
Despite his newfound skills at making meth, Rambo admitted that if a Revolution-style blackout were to hit our world, he would probably be one of the first to go.
“I think that question has occurred once to everybody working on the show. … I’ve looked at my house, I have a nicely stocked wine cellar and a beautiful garden with no vegetables, but a lot of wildlife in it. … If I could trap them and manage to kill them I’d probably be OK for a little while!” Rambo confessed. “Computer models show that in the event of something like this 80 percent of the population dies within a year, and most of them very quickly. Your average supermarket has only three days worth of food for all the people who shop there on a regular basis.”
He added, “The Amish would thrive!”
Revolution airs Monday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.