Sunday, November 03, 2013

Surviving at any cost

Revolution is a so-so TV drama. It isn't great, but it's good enough to illustrate an interesting principle. Dramas like Revolution are character studies. The basic dramatic premise is to show how different characters are morally compromised when put in dire situations where you have to be ruthless to survive. Characters range along a spectrum of moral compromise.

At one end are characters who never had a conscience to begin with. The only thing that ever kept them in check was law and order. Once the postapocalyptic destruction of civilization hits, they instantly adapt to an amoral environment. They are in their natural element. 

On a related note, you have characters for whom the dystopia is liberating. There's the character of the sociopath. As long as law and order prevailed, he had to suppress his impulses. The destruction of civilization emancipates him. He can now find a new niche in which he is free to indulge his sadistic impulses with impunity.

Then you have the character for whom dystopia is a the ladder of upward social mobility. As long as the establishment existed, he hit a glass ceiling. He could only go so far. He had his assigned place in the hierarchy. But with the destruction of the old order, he can rapidly rise to the top. The apocalyptic scenario empowers some characters by disempowering the former elites. But at a cost.

Bass Monroe used to be a decent guy. A caring friend. But in order to survive and succeed in dystopia, he's become a monster. He's gradually extinguished his conscience. And he revels in his new-found power.

By contrast, Miles Matheson is another character who is morally compromised, but feels guilty. He hates himself for being in a position where he's forced to do inhumane things. His conscience is still intact. But in that setting, his conscience is useless. An impediment to necessary action. 

Unlike Bass, Miles doesn't commit atrocities to advance his career. He only commits atrocities to protect his loved ones. At heart he's a family man.

Tom Neville is another character who was liberated by the dystopia. Being thrust into that situation makes him tap into hitherto unsuspected reserves. He goes from being a passive character to a dominant, resourceful character. He's cunning, pitiless, and adaptable. Not wantonly cruel. He just does whatever it takes to make it in the new world order, without much compunction. 

But unlike Bass, who's irredeemable, Tom doesn't harbor any illusions about himself. He's dualistic. Although he enjoys wielding power, he retains a spark of humanity. He has the objectivity to sense that what he does is wrong. But he feels that he has no choice. This is the world he's been thrown into. So he's unapologetic about his methods. His character benefits from the fact that Esposito is the best actor in the show. 

The female characters are generally less interesting. Rachel Monroe is the most complex.  

Because most Hollywood directors, screenwriters, and TV producers are irreligious, the undisputed premise of Revolution is that every character has to commit moral compromises to survive. Sometimes, or oftentimes, doing wrong is the only viable option. It's just a matter of degree. Some characters do as little as they can to get by, while others do as much as they can to flourish.

Some characters have the philosophy as long as you have to do evil, why not go all the way? Once you cross that line, why exercise any restraint? Cast off every moral inhibition and make the most of it. It would be arbitrary to stop short. And that's logical, given the premise. 

In a godless world, it's every man for himself. A Nietzschean postmoral universe. No divine promise that "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Cor 10:13).

Even though Revolution is fictional, America may be tottering on the brink of socioeconomic collapse.

1 comment:

  1. Esposito is the best actor in the show

    As an aside, he was solid in Breaking Bad too.