[Paleopsych] NYT: 'Revelations': End Is Expected, but There's Still Time to Debate Morality

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Arts > Television > TV Review | 'Revelations': End
Is Expected, but There's Still Time to Debate Morality
April 13, 2005


    "Revelations," NBC's six-hour mini-series about a nun and a
    scientist's search for signs that Armageddon is at hand, may not
    persuade skeptics to believe in God. But the timing alone suggests
    that a higher being favors the show: on the heels of the Terri Schiavo
    debate and the death of Pope John Paul II, the premiere includes a
    right-to-life battle over a coma patient and nuns in schism with the

    Well made, spooky and suspenseful, "Revelations" has been marketed by
    NBC as a breakthrough faith-based thriller, a latter-day "Da Vinci
    Code" and a spiritual "X-Files." But its real appeal is something that
    is actually more common on television dramas these days: politics are
    part of the scenery, and ethical and moral dilemmas are woven into the

    And oddly enough, this mini-series about Satanists and truth-seekers
    fits into a broader paradox: as television news moves further and
    further away from covering hard news, political issues are
    increasingly debated on television dramas.

    The finale of this season's "West Wing" paid more prime-time attention
    to its fictional Democratic National Convention than the network news
    divisions did to the real one in the 2004 election. (In it heyday "The
    West Wing" could tease high drama out of even the most prosaic
    Washington issues; one episode in the first season revolved around an
    amendment to a trade bill.)

    "Law & Order: SVU" is a weekly tinderbox of difficult issues, from
    stem-cell research and euthanasia to the sale of human kidneys.
    "Boston Legal" recently had a subplot that dramatized the United
    States government's failure to prevent genocide in Sudan. Even
    "Deadwood," an HBO western set in the 1870's, delivers a weekly civics
    lesson on property claims, corruption and nation building.

    Long before the play "Doubt" opened on Broadway and long before the
    pedophilia scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Church in 2002,
    television shows like "Nothing Sacred," a 1997 series on ABC, or NBC's
    "Law & Order" examined the problem of pedophile priests and their
    protectors in the church.

    In contrast, morning talk shows and evening newscasts race through the
    events of the day to dwell on the kind of personal melodramas that
    were once relegated to tabloids or crime shows like "Columbo."
    Yesterday the "Today" show host Katie Couric interviewed a brother and
    sister who are accusing the husband of their sister of poisoning her
    five years ago and passing her death off as a heart attack. Ms. Couric
    referred to their tale as a "cold case," part of the title of a hit
    CBS crime show, but it could also be that NBC is trying to fill the
    vacuum left by the end of the Scott Peterson murder trial.

    The evening news shows are just as soft-edged, full of features about
    retirement, pain medication and other news you can use. "The Early
    Show" on CBS is taking it a step further by offering viewers
    newscasters they can use: yesterday on a feature titled "Anchors to
    the Rescue," the co-host Julie Chen was dispatched to Macon, Ga., to
    baby-sit a 2-year-old so that the overstressed parents could play golf
    together. Ms. Chen taught little Torree some yoga moves.

    There is nothing soft about "Revelations," which opens with a montage
    of violent images from civil wars in Africa to a person jumping 40
    stories off the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The hero of the
    mini-series, Dr. Richard Massey (Bill Pullman), a Harvard
    astrophysicist, is first shown on a small plane returning from Chile
    with the body of his 12-year-old daughter, who was kidnapped and
    murdered by a Satan worshipper who is also on the plane, in handcuffs,
    on his way to a prison in the United States.

    In Mexico, meanwhile, Sister Josepha Montafiore (Natascha McElhone,
    from the 1998 thriller "Ronin") joins throngs of believers huddled at
    the base of a mountain to gaze at a huge crucifix-shaped shadow. She
    was hired by a foundation to record and study supernatural phenomena
    that correspond to portents of the end of the world as described in
    the biblical Book of Revelation.

    Their paths cross because of a girl who was left in a vegetative state
    by a lightning bolt (one of the better scenes) and who suddenly begins
    muttering bits of Scripture in Latin. Doctors think these are
    involuntary utterances and plan to pull the plug and harvest her
    organs. Dr. Massey, originally skeptical of Sister Josepha's
    convictions that the muttering is more than that, begins to believe
    otherwise when he thinks he feels the girl squeeze his hand.

    Written by David Seltzer ("The Omen"), "Revelations" is steeped in
    creepy amber light and a scary religiosity, but the first episode at
    least allows viewers to entertain doubt. Sister Josepha is poised and
    Oxford-educated, but she sometimes shows a maniacal edge that suggests
    she might well be nuts. And Dr. Massey, who points out to Sister
    Josepha that she is being paid to find religious phenomena and is
    therefore hardly an objective scholar, has mitigating motives of his
    own. Inconsolable over his daughter's death, he wants to see traces of
    her ghost in these religious signs.

    NBC prays that "Revelations" will be successful enough to warrant
    turning it into a series. (The season finale could be good: the world
    comes to an end.) Fox, however, diabolically extended "American Idol"
    for an additional half hour so that it would conflict with the
    premiere and draw viewers away.

    The battle of good and evil on television never ends.


    NBC, tonight at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.

    David Seltzer, writer and creator; Gavin Polone, executive producer;
    pilot directed by David Semel; series directed by Lili Fini Zanuck and
    Leslie Linka Glatter. Produced by Pariah.

    WITH: Bill Pullman (Dr. Richard Massey) and Natascha McElhone (Sister
    Josepha Montafiore).


    1. http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=ALESSANDRA%20STANLEY&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=ALESSANDRA%20STANLEY&inline=nyt-per

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