I’d expected the sharpest questions at the panel for Revolution, NBC’s dystopian drama about a world where electricity ceases to function, would be about the show’s rather uneven execution of its premise. But the panel for the show went in a different direction entirely when creator Eric Kripke, explaining the rules of the world, explained that “Guns are possible in the world, but they’re confiscated, because we’re living in the Monroe Republic, which is a dictatorship, and they’ve taken away people’s right to bear arms.” Star Giancarlo Esposito, who plays the enforcer for that regime, continued the theme. “Can you imagine not having the right to bear arms, not having the right to protect your family or yourself?” he asked. His character is a enforcer for the Republic, the person who is confiscating those arms, who believes himself to be “the one step that is keeping everyone safe. Without him there would be total anarchy.”
These are freighted statements in any context, but after the shooting at The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado last week, they read as particularly uncomfortable. And HitFix’s Dan Fienberg asked Kripke whether he was comfortable with having the show, and his and the cast’s remarks about it, out in a world that’s embarking on another painful round of conversations about our unwillingness to seriously consider gun control.
In response, Kripke said that he thought his remarks about guns were part of a larger context of the show, which is a metaphor for the American Revolution. “I think we’re talking about, you know, a dictator who is also conscripting soldiers, taxation without representation, taking away the freedoms of what was once the citizens of the United States in a hundred different ways and that what we’re really talking about is, at the end of the day, a very patriotic show that is in many ways about people fighting for freedom, freedoms to be able to go where they want, say what they want, be together with their families,” he said. “I think it’s a much bigger show that is about that is more about, like, what it means to be a citizen of this country and what are the things that are positive about it and what are the things that are worth fighting for.”
But these aren’t neutral concepts, much less agreed-upon ones. And they certainly aren’t issues that have been left behind in our historical past to be resurrected as part of a far-fetched science fiction show. Our political language has been tainted by the suggestion that President Obama wields dictatorial power, and one of the biggest challenges in his presidential campaign had to do with his remarks about how gun owners view their weapons and their relationship to the government. Conversations about taxes remain bitterly divisive. A show that premieres in the heat of a presidential election that portrays an African-American man confiscating white people’s guns and enforcing the will of a dictatorial regime that levies crushing taxes on them may not intend to deliver a specific political message, but it certainly runs the risk of giving credence to certain strains of argument that its creators may not in fact agree with.
It’s worth noting that in the cut of the pilot critics received prior to the session, the first time a private citizen attempts to use a gun he’s stockpiled in violation of the Munroe Republic’s ban on private weapons, he fails. Miserably. The result is a massacre, in which the Monroe Republic militia handily dispatches the residents of the small town who have dared to stand up to them.
Revolution may prove to be a subtle and rich show—Kripke’s discussions of the premise left me much less skeptical than I was previously. But it enters an environment where it can’t possibly be a mere thought experiment, bearing ideas that have not been precisely beneficial to our national conversation. That’s something Kripke and his staff will have to reckon with in a time when even the meaning and conditions of America’s birth are subject to vigorous contention, a wedge to divide rather than to unite us.