The second episode addressed a lot of my issues and concerns with the overstuffed pilot and now I'm feeling much better about the story direction and execution of the show.
The lack of modern firearms amongst the populace was already addressed with their illegality in the Monroe Republic, but this episode addressed why even the militia was mostly armed with crude muskets except for the unit commanders. It's because they're constantly being raided by rebels and bandits for their extremely valuable (to sell, trade, or stockpile) weapons, so only the most badass and trustworthy members are allowed to carry them (Gus Fring and the "warden" in this episode). There are a lot of modern firearms, they're just being stockpiled somewhere by Monroe along with vehicles, artillery, and equipment in anticipation of power being restored and his armies then being able to roll over the rest of the outlying militia groups and independent areas.
We get some idea of the scope of the Monroe Republic in this episode in that it stretches from at least Chicago to Philadelphia and likely down to at least Baltimore as that's where Monroe made his decree outlawing firearms. So that's quite a massive area he controls, and that's just knowing the minimum limits. We can speculate that it probably extends as far south as Port Royal and the whole of South Carolina, where Monroe and Miles were stationed as Marines.
The show acknowledges again and in more detail that this is no ordinary man-made blackout as can be caused by EMP and so forth in that it's not recoverable like it should be, and that it's targeted at other means of power generation and locomotion such as batteries and spark plugs while not effecting human/animal, and plant bioelectric fields. This --and the on/off nature of the phenomenon in the presence of the pendants-- leads me to believe that the only logical culprit for the blackout is pre-programmed nanites designed to render a population powerless and incapable of mass transportation and communication in case they posed a military threat.
I believe this nanotechnology was developed at the University of Illinois by a group of mathematicians and other scientists including Ben Matheson, Grace, and the new face-unseen bad guy who showed up at Grace's house with his own pendant at the end of this episode.
The question remains though if they were the ones who deployed the nanites and caused the blackout in the first place to stop a greater threat, or if the nanites are the threat themselves along with whomever activated them (evil guy?) and they simply have a means over temporarily and locally overriding them. The R/Evolution
part of the title could suggest either the nanites themselves evolving into a collective intelligence, or that the nanites were developed as a countermeasure to an AI computer system that was about to takeover key US government systems. It could almost be an alt-verse Terminator
prequel with people trying to prevent the rise of SkyNet if you think about it.
On the other hand (with nanites being the threat themselves), Evolution
was the TNG episode with the nanites becoming self-aware and the crew having to shut down power to parts of the ship initially to stop them from wreaking havoc before the reached an understanding. That would almost certainly be a piece of pop-culture the showrunners would be well aware of.
Also, with the setting at the University of Illinois, one can't help but remember that the HAL series AI computers
were developed at the real Coordinated Science Laboratory
at the UoI Urbana-Champaign, so there's support for either the AI computer or AI nanite collective intelligence explanation (or both) amongst scifi pop-culture references.
As far as the characters go, I really like that they're giving Esposito's Captain Neville nuance and not jut making him outright evil. Yes, he's part of a corrupt system and yes he kills people left and right (but then again, so do the rebels), but he's not without compassion and consideration. He didn't execute the man with the gun as he could have under the law, he waited until that man pulled a gun on his troops and shot one. He cared for the wounded soldier and painlessly put him out of his misery. He could have killed Grace in the previous episode but spared her when she gave up their quarry. He didn't kill anyone in the Matheson's neighborhood until they started firing on his men. He clearly cares for and misses his wife a great deal. The way he lashes out at Danny when he "causes" (from Neville's perspective) the fight at the neighborhood or insults his nature implies that he genuinely feels upset about these things and isn't just acting out of cruelty. I think that while he may not approve of all of the Monroe Republic's methods (which is why he doesn't always carry them out instantly) he does genuinely feel that they are the best solution at restoring order in the region, and that they have righteous authority to police the people. He's wrong about this, but I think that making him somewhat a man of conscience leaves the door open for a change of loyalties at a later time. Or he could just be an asshole and Esposito is so compelling that it's hard not to want to see that he's more than just a two-dimensional villain.
Charlie's naivete is going to get annoying real fast, even though she does represent the conscience and heart of the show in comparison to her more morally flexible (but less annoying and far more interesting) uncle.
I liked the bit with the British "stepmom" sentimentally holding onto the iPhone because it holds the only pictures she has of her children, who she was separated from when the blackout stopped all overseas flights. It is an interesting reminder of how much of our information and personal keepsakes are stored digitally these days and how it could be lost in such a situation (granted, hardcopy photographs can be lost too, but that's why I like to keep a mix of both).
Nora seems like a good addition to the cast, and I hope she sticks around as a regular (she's around at least for the first few episodes according to IMDb). I'm glad she didn't actually turn out to be as morally ambiguous as Miles and that she has a cause she's fighting for, even if it's lifted right from The Postman
(though, honestly, it's a logical development if the government was completely taken out early on like it was in those movies/shows).
So, the second episode makes me a lot happier and more confident in the direction of the show with few exceptions, and it certainly has kept my interest up.