Blue Blood and the 99 Percent: La Révolution on Netflix

the trailer for the only and only season of La Révolution on Netflix

La Révolution is a strange beast. It’s French historical horror, and, while I’m not usually one for horror, it’s definitely my sort of show. It’s filled with violent class strife, and women striving to attain and (and maintain) power. It’s clogged with family secrets, and family lies corrode its halls. It’s exciting, generally. It’s violent as hell, blood arcing across the snow, staining walls, spattering churches. Oh, and it’s a complete disaster.

Spoiler alert, they did it!
They did! For sure!

Contrary to the above gif, I’m going to try not to spoil, like, too much of La Révolution. It’s a kinda good time, even if it is a complete disaster. But there are definitely going to be some spoilers, because, see, I kinda can’t discuss the biggest disaster areas without getting into a few.

I am often a fan of a good trope, and I can overlook a lot of absurdity. I can’t really overlook the blatant racism and ableism of some of the tropes in use here, however. The lone Black man is a magic Black man, directly there to help one of the main (white) protagonists in his ill-defined and apparently forgotten quest. Now, there were definitely Black people in France—there was this Revolutionary general who was a Black man, and then there was this composer, and several colonies including this one, and a whole bunch of other people including this guy (aka the general’s son)—so not only is the trope disgusting and racist, but having only one Black man present feels pretty inaccurate to me. (There’s also voodoo, which really rubs me the wrong way.) That said, the actor, Doudou Masta, kills what little he’s given, making the best of a super-awkward part to rumble his way through, reminding us that he might not be the central character, but he’s definitely The Man. He deserved way more.

Madeleine is our magically disabled person. She’s also a pretty big hinge for the entire plot, though her magical disabilities are never entirely explained. From the first several episodes, we gather that Madeleine doesn’t speak; she doesn’t appear to be Deaf. (The sign language is really cool, although I don’t know anything at all about French sign language so can’t speak to accuracy.) And then she speaks! I think! And also she might be immune to The Virus! And is likely supernatural! And definitely magical! And, honestly, I’m pretty confused about quite what’s going on, and how and why she got her powers. And, as with Masta, I think that Amélia Lacquemant deserved better.

I can accept blue-blooded vampire nobility, but I really have problems with women‘s hair flying in the breeze. I’m not sure I’ll make it through the final episode, because I’ve hit my limit with loose hair flying all over the place in a battle scene. (You want a scene I actually like? In this webcomic, our heroine cuts her hair with a boxcutter. Or something. Because survival.) The costumes periodically rub me the wrong way, too. I really don’t think a noblewoman, no matter how progressive, would be running around in fitted britches and a nicely cut coat. Nor would a working woman be without her trusty corset: not the fancy kind, mind you, but the one that would serve as, essentially, a bra.

La Révolution has some truly incredible actors, giving some really clunky dialogue their hearts and souls. I think pretty much all of them deserve better. We have a Judas moment at the end; I think we needed more foreshadowing, because as it stands—interesting decision, bros. We have, in Amir El Kacem, a young, wildly hot Joseph Guillotine, filled with the best of the forthcoming Revolutionary spirit—the sort of guy you’d probably follow into battle, if he were, you know, a soldier, not a doctor. (He is also much Science. To the tune of probably too much for the era. But hey. I’ll accept too much science along with the vampires.)

I’ve said the dialogue is pretty clunky, and to be clear, I often enjoyed it—but it’s hella clunky. At one point, Dr. Guillotine’s assistant/spy, Katell, quite literally dips into the language of the one percent (the blood-sucking nobility) pitted against the ninety-nine percent—the peasants, and everyone else. The good guys, who are being mercilessly slaughtered. It’s one of the most incredible moments—I confess to rewindining it a bunch of times so I could laugh at it—but it’s definitely not the only one. (The villain, Donatien, really gets shafted. He could have been so much more than, essentially, a mustache-twirling murderous vamp. But nope.) And, amazingly, the actors are so damn good you care about them and their pronouncements anyway.

La Révolution is a strange mixed bag. It can be a bloody, violent delight, filled with oddly beautiful cinematography and lots of stunning scenery. (I don’t know much about France, so, like, it looks very pretty to me.) But it’s also rather a mangled mess. The dialogue is way too on the nose; the costumes are sometimes beautiful, sometimes a disaster; the hairstyles bear little resemblance to Ye Olden Days.

It’s not getting a second season, and I can’t quite decide how I feel. Do I want to see more blue-blooded vampires going to hell in the snow in Revolutionary France? I kinda do! But La Révolution relied way the hell too heavily on racist and ableist tropes. It falls into sexy women do revolution way too many times. Really, I think I’d like to see a version of La Révolution that gives these incredible actors the space and range they so clearly possess. It would be incredible.