With Revolution on hiatus last week, courtesy of the third presidential debate, a lot of fans and critics (including our own Myles McNutt) took the free time to ask a question that’s been coming up a lot as the show has soared in ratings: Why? Why is it that of all the sci-fi genre shows that have tried to capture the post-Lost energy, it’s Revolution that has succeeded when Heroes, FlashForward, V, The Event, and Terra Nova flamed out and turned into cautionary tales that torment the next show in that vein?
There are a lot of theories being batted around—Maureen Ryan of The Huffington Post had no fewer than seven explanations—but my explanation goes back to the analogy I made at the start of the series when I compared it to a roleplaying game. Like a typical campaign in Dungeons And Dragons or its equivalents, the central dynamic of Revolution is about a party of adventurers working toward a central objective, moving through a world that gets fleshed out gradually as the adventurers make connections with its inhabitants and uncover better equipment. It’s been a much less complicated show than it seemed at the start, not interested in being a cautionary tale of our own interconnected world or heavily investing in the question of how the power was turned off. That doesn’t excuse its problems per se—Tracy Spiridakos and Graham Rogers are still awful, and the writing is frequently laughable—but it does explain how the show has found a weekly audience. The best RPGs are about the journey, not the destination, the ones that have enough colorful events and random encounters to keep you coming back for weekly sessions. And in the early going, Revolution seems to be perfectly fine with that approach.
From this perspective, “Sex And Drugs” is an episode that falls comfortably into the realm of side quest. Other than a few scenes that show Danny as firmly in Monroe’s captivity—and reunited with Rachel in the final scene—the central arc takes a backseat to the more immediate matter of saving Nora’s life. After being stabbed by Jeff Fahey’s rebel leader Hutch in “Soul Train” for trying to defuse the bomb, her wound has become infected and past the limited resources the group has. Miles hijacks a militia wagon (in satisfying episode-opening fashion) and heads to an old contact from his days as a general, a heroin dealer named Drexel. Turns out in the new world, drugs are legal, and both Drexel and Miles enjoyed a lucrative partnership in cornering the market. Of course, Miles’ desertion didn’t leave the regime too kindly disposed to his partners, and the Drexel empire has fallen on hard times.
Played by Todd Stashwick (seen earlier this year on Justified as Ash, the corrupt prison guard Raylan ran over in “The Devil You Know”), Drexel further cements Revolution’s tendency to populate its world with a mustache-twirling cast of villains. There’s not an ounce of subtlety to his behavior, with his first action being to put a gun to Miles’ head, count to three, and pull the trigger on an empty chamber. He loudly proclaims “It’s all fun and games!” at multiple intervals, threatens Aaron in every interaction the two have, and loudly boasts of his many conquests. He’s king of the castle, and he knows it, and as with similar villains over the last few weeks, he contributes both a layer of fun and a more black-and-white split between our protagonists and the rest of the world. There’s plenty of room for nuanced villains—Neville and Jason are walking proof of that—but for Revolution to maintain a particular pace, Drexel and his ilk liven things up.
And in certain cases, they also push characters to new heights and/or depths. Drexel’s able to help Nora thanks to his on-site doctor, but blood transfusions and home-grown penicillin don’t come cheap. An ex-cop named O’Halloran burned down Drexel’s poppy fields in retaliation for his daughter’s death, and while Miles reluctantly agrees to kill him as payment, Drexel has a more twisted idea. In his version of the story, Charlie goes into his compound pretending to be a battered whore with information, O’Halloran takes pity on her, and she drives a knife into his eye. It’s a more interesting approach than the Indecent Proposal arc the episode seemed to be heading for with Drexel’s first lecherous glance, and also one that pushes Charlie further down the path of ruthless pragmatism Miles and Nora tread so easily.
Given my established gripes with Spiridakos’ performance, this might be the only thing that can save the character. (Drexel punches her in the face to sell the con, and once again, I took a little too much pleasure in seeing one of the Matheson kids get smacked around.) She’s still weak in getting to the point—sullenly yelling at Aaron about their failures, tearing up her collection of “pretty postcards” after remembering various deaths and disappointments—though the show’s journey to harden her up seems to be gradually bearing fruit. Miles stops her from completing the kill, but the fact remains the blade was in a downward motion toward an unconscious man, and was doing so despite her seeing O’Halloran as a man of honor and kindly grandfather. She hasn’t slid from lawful to chaotic entirely yet, but the groundwork’s been laid.
If anyone levels up this episode, it’s Aaron. The hints dropped about Aaron’s past as a Google executive were some of the more interesting parts of the pilot, and thanks to a series of flashbacks, we get a broader picture of how far he’s fallen and how immediately difficult it was for him to lose his place in the world. On other shows, a character like this would be the bumbling comic relief or the irritating know-it-all, but there’s an awkwardness to the way Zak Orth plays the character that defies those stereotypes. In the new world, his skillset has become entirely useless. He is unable to identify polluted water, fight off two men who attack his wife, or even light a fire with flint and steel. Small wonder, then, that someone who built himself up, brains over brawn, would fall back on his old doubts and eventually decide his wife is better off without him.
This distinction is particularly strong in the episode’s denouement, when Drexel—irritated at Miles ruining his fun by going to rescue Charlie—hands both Aaron and an adrenaline-injected Nora a pair of revolvers and tells them to shoot each other. Aaron refuses to do so, opting instead to shoot himself in the chest as he sees Nora as more valuable. Orth nails the self-defeating attitude as he says “I can’t help anyone,” and adds to the sense of tension that’s hung over Revolution since Maggie bled out at the end of “The Plague Dogs.” The series has done it once already in the early going; would the show once again be willing to cut out an apparent core member of its cast? Turns out no, and the episode keeps him around courtesy of the Sergio Leone playbook: Aaron catches the bullet with his flask, and the minute Drexel comes close to the “body” he puts a round in the dealer’s chest. (Miles’ dumbfounded reaction at the news is one of the episode highlights: “Aaron shot Drexel? This Aaron?”)
I classified “Sex And Drugs” as a side quest episode earlier, largely because the events of this episode aren’t likely have any bearing on the major story going forward. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As with any side quest, what mattered was less the story than the experience points, and both Charlie and Aaron walked away with a lot more than they went in with. Revolution may not be deep, but it’s getting better at emphasizing the adventure side of the story in a way that benefits the rest of the show. Last week, I criticized the show for artificially lengthening the story, but now, I’m starting to think more time on the road isn’t necessarily the wrong call.
- Going back to my last review, I may have been too hard on grading “Soul Train” because of the initial annoyance over the show hitting the reset button. Perhaps in context, it was one of those “supposed to lose” fights thrown out early in a campaign, so the players’ eventual victory after a few levels feels all the sweeter. If so, I’d move it up to a B or even B+ on the strength of Esposito.
- The scene shared by Danny and Monroe makes me think we’re headed for a “talking like this” competition 30 Rock-style, but with the threatening tones of Jack Donaghy and Devon Banks swapped for less impressive raspy whispers.
- This week in Magical Pendant news: Jason reveals to Monroe and Neville that Aaron possesses one, and Sgt. Strausser is leading a team to retrieve it. It’s promising to see David Meunier may be getting a bigger role, and he gets his own threatening monologue as he describes watching his father work as a butcher: “He didn’t use any fancy bolt guns or electric saws. He was an artiste. He’d slice a carcass from stem to stern in one swing.”
- Oriana Schwindt of TV Guide pointed out a fun fact: With Meunier, Stashwick, and David Andrews as O’Halloran, that makes three Justified alums in one episode. I would be entirely fine with the show maintaining this as its batting average.
- Drexel on paying kickbacks to Miles: “I lined his war chest with so much gold you could dive right in and swim!” If any of you want to make a Revolution video set to the DuckTales theme, you will earn my undying respect.