Revolution has grown its characters more in three episodes than Terra Nova did in a season

A while back, we asked: Is Revolution the new Terra Nova, or the new Supernatural? And now we can say definitively that it's closer to the latter. You may hate this show's magical premise, but you can't deny it's doing the right things to develop staying power.

The show's characters started as one-dimensional archetypes, but already by episode three they're getting some contours. And their relationships are getting deeper. Spoilers ahead...

The big challenge for Revolution is to make us all believe in its bleak "civilization has collapsed because the machines don't work" premise, while also keeping the zippy sword-fighting vibe that Jon Favreau established in the pilot. So it's a good thing that they enlisted the aid of Monica Owusu-Breen, who co-wrote some of the better Fringe episodes of the past couple years and also wrote last night's "No Quarter." She did a pretty decent job of balancing the "grim" and "fun" sides of the equation with an episode in which Miles and Charlie get besieged.

Revolution has grown its characters more in three episodes than Terra Nova did in a season

Of course, it helps if you have Lucifer joining your cast. Mark Pellegrino's guest spot was at least 30 percent of why last night's episode was so much fun, and let's hope he's back again soon. Pellegrino plays Jeremy Baker, a top guy in the Militia, who besieges the rebels that Miles and Charlie are with, and later gets taken hostage, and he brings the full range of his goofy facial expressions and trademark nonchalant intensity to bear.

Revolution has grown its characters more in three episodes than Terra Nova did in a season

But also, the Charlie-Miles relationship, which is clearly the central axis of this show, gets a lot better in this episode. In particular, the scene where Charlie says her father was a coward and Miles tells her never — ever — disrespect her father, is actually a really strong piece of character-building on both sides. It doesn't feel canned or fake, and clearly comes out of some stuff that both people are struggling with right now. That's just one of several moments in the episode where Charlie leaves the "bratty" zone for something a bit more interesting and watchable. I said before that this show's prospects largely depended on getting Charlie out of the "bratty" zone as fast as possible, so that's great news.

Revolution has grown its characters more in three episodes than Terra Nova did in a season

And again, the Terra Nova comparison is instructive — in its pilot, Terra Nova set up the relationship between Jason O'Mara and Stephen Lang as its focal point, and it was instantly clear that whenever those two butted heads, it would be interesting to watch. The show then proceeded to give the two actors very few scenes together, and almost no conflict. The Taylor-Shannon relationship never got past the "cartoon character" level. (And meanwhile, Shannon's son Josh oscillated between "bratty" and "boring," as the writers never found another mode for him.)

The conflict between Charlie and Miles in this episode is, fundamentally, between fighting and running away. Charlie keeps thinking that if you just stand up to the Militia, you can prevail. Whereas Miles argues, over and over again, that the Militia is too well organized and too powerful, and the only thing to do when you see the Militia coming is to run away or hide. Miles has total contempt for the Rebels, who are a bunch of crappy amateurs (a proposition that's supported by tons of evidence in this episode) and he doesn't think anybody can defeat the Monroe Republic.

Revolution has grown its characters more in three episodes than Terra Nova did in a season

The episode goes a long way towards proving Miles right, as the Rebels get their asses handed to them. Miles comes up with a strategy that works for a while — using a sniper on the roof with the rifle they scored last week, leading to a hilarious sequence where the Militia troops get mown down one by one, while Jeremy tries to exhaust the sniper's ammo. And our heroes only get out alive because Miles hands himself over as the most high-value target in the room. (Until the very end of the episode, when suddenly Charlie and Nora are able to rescue Miles by themselves, by blowing up a bridge and using the element of surprise — it's a little unrealistic, but I still kind of liked it.)

Meanwhile, a set of flashbacks reinforce that Miles and Sebastian used to be very close, to the point where Sebastian considered Miles his family. And they sneakily lead us around to big revelation toward the end of the episode: Not only was Miles a huge general in the Militia, but the whole thing was basically his idea. And the catalyst for founding the Monroe Republic and starting the Militia was Jeremy, whom Miles saved from being beaten to death by thugs. The Militia was Miles' one great act of altruism, and now that it's turned into a hellish fascist nightmare, he doesn't believe in anything any more. (And yes, you have to let them get away with the fact that nobody mentioned this in the first two episodes. I think it's just barely plausible.) Miles says the Militia is nasty and unstoppable, because he trained them that way.

I actually find this a really compelling idea for a character, especially if you have Billy Burke to carry it. Rather touchingly, Charlie refuses to despise or condemn her uncle, when everybody else is.

Revolution has grown its characters more in three episodes than Terra Nova did in a season

Oh, and we learn a tad about Nora and why she's so keen to fight for the Rebels. After she and Miles broke up, she hooked up with another guy, who didn't know that she was a ninja. Until they were accosted by Militia thugs, and her guy decided to be a hero. She had to step in and save her boyfriend's bacon, and in the process she lost her baby — and her boyfriend, who was freaked out by having a ninja girlfriend. Now she's determined that if she has a baby, it'll be born in the United States, not the Monroe Republic.

(Actually, that brings up a question I was pondering: the Monroe Republic couldn't possibly be the whole of the United States, could it? It has to be just one Republic among a ton of others. You couldn't really administer the whole continental U.S. with the limited resources Sebastian Monroe has at his disposal. Will we eventually cross over into a different polity? It would be neat to see all the different countries that have sprung up in different regions.)

In the episode's "B" plot, we visit with Charlie's younger brother Danny, who's discovering just how well Charlie's policy of standing up to the Militia works out. He didn't back down when the Militia came for his dad in the pilot, and now he's a prisoner, getting smacked around by the best friend of the guy he shot. Danny gets some payback against the sadistic Militia soldier at the end — using a trick that will work exactly once. (Prediction: Next time Danny will have an asthma attack for real, and nobody will believe him because he's the boy who cried "asthma attack.")

And in the "C" plot, Google Boy and Maggie find Grace's house and she's not there. (Which probably means she's alive, since why would you bother to kill her and then drag the body somewhere else?) Google Boy looks at all the electronic crap in Grace's attic and deduces, correctly, that Grace built herself a computer. Which means she must have electricity — but he doesn't know how. Google Boy talks, somewhat movingly, about how he was bullied as a kid and he got even by being rich and successful — until the blackout, when the bullies were in charge and he was helpless. And then, just as he's reaching Peak Self Pity, Grace's Discman starts playing Marvin Gaye — because the magic locket is making electricity work. Google Boy can listen to music, and Maggie can see a photo of her kids on her phone — for just a moment. (And yes, apparently, iPhones really do last a lot longer than you'd think. Whatever.)

All in all, this was a pretty great episode — one that gives me hope that this will be a show that keeps growing. It used flashbacks in a way that reminded me of Lost, where Owusu-Breen briefly worked, but not in an annoying way. And the characters are developing some nice rough edges to them, with relationships that don't entirely feel like they came out of an easy-bake tube that you slice wedges off. Most of all, the quasi-fascist Militia is becoming a more compelling notion the more we learn about it.