To call Aaron the best character on Revolution isn’t saying much — so far, the series hasn’t given us a whole lot to work with. And while Aaron actually is interesting by virtue of being a total nerd and thus the audience point of identification, he also has a major advantage simply by not being Charlie. Simply put, Aaron is the only likable, pragmatic character on Revolution, which is why it’s nice to see an episode devoted to him. Even though, once again, the show proves that its flashbacks are really only there to kill time.
Flashbacks are lazy — and worse, unnecessary more often than not. Unfortunately, Lost turned them into a cliché, and now we can’t get a genre show without zooming back in time to give us “insight” into the survivors. The problem with Revolution’s flashbacks is that they don’t really tell us anything new — Aaron basically summarized his plight a few episodes back, so now we’re just spinning our wheels with his post-blackout drama. The only significant new piece of information we get is that he apparently hasn’t aged in fifteen years.
But “Sex and Drugs,” ridiculous title aside, isn’t all bad: The present-day story is actually pretty compelling stuff. The gang transports an injured Nora to the house of Drexel, a creepy drug lord from Miles’s past. (From here on out, let’s just assume that anyone from Miles’s past is bad news.) At Drexel’s, Nora can get the antibiotics she needs, and the rest of the group can enjoy Drexel’s hospitality and occasional death threats. Just to keep them on their toes!
In the promo, it looked an awful lot like Drexel was going to help Nora in exchange for a roll in the hay with Charlie. “I want her,” he says — but come on, buddy, finish the thought. What he wants is for Charlie to take out Bill O’Halloran, the man who burned Drexel’s poppy fields. Guys, he was using those poppies to produce heroin, which is a legitimate way to make a living in these dark, postapocalyptic times. Bill’s other crime is being Irish: Drexel calls the O’Halloran family “potato-eating leprechaun bastards,” because anything less would be far too subtle.
Charlie agrees to kill Bill — she literally has to stab him in the eye — if it means securing Nora’s release. In the last episode, Revolution reminded us how important it is for these characters to toughen up, and this plot does represent a step forward for Charlie’s character. Unfortunately, it’s all too heavy-handed to feel like actual character development. We’re only five episodes deep, so there’s no real reason for Charlie to have flashbacks to her mother leaving, her father getting shot, Maggie dying, and Danny being taken away — I promise you we remember those things that just happened. But Revolution doesn’t trust its audience to get why Charlie is suddenly not such a softie.
The most eye-rolling scene comes when Charlie actually rips up her nostalgia postcards, because “the world’s not a bunch of pretty postcards.” She’s right — it isn’t. And human beings aren’t a bunch of overly direct exposition machines. You can see how hard Revolution is working to make Charlie an engaging character, and her moral dilemma over killing Bill is a start. With writing this clunky, though, she’s still not going to come into her own. Also, all murder attempts aside, she remains a total pain in the ass.
The more interesting story is Aaron’s: When Drexel points out that Charlie will never make it out of the O’Halloran house alive, Miles escapes to rescue her and leaves Aaron behind with Nora. Now Aaron, the dweeby indoor kid, has to hold his own against Drexel’s men and somehow find a way to get himself and Nora out of there alive. As a couch potato, I appreciate Aaron’s struggle. You root for him to get the upper hand against Drexel — and not only because he’s the only character on Revolution worth caring about.
You know what doesn’t make the audience care about Aaron more? His goddamn flashbacks. Seriously, they are the worst. We find out that after the blackout, he roamed around with his wife for a while, then decided she was better off without him because he couldn’t defend her against some roaming brigands. In addition to making no sense — they were traveling with a group, so there’s no reason she would have been safer without him — it’s also just a useless addition to the story. We get that Aaron feels lost in a world where intelligence isn’t respected nearly as much as brute strength. And we know that he had a wife he loved very much and that things didn’t end so well. Why show us that again?
Back in the present, Drexel pits Aaron and Nora against one another, declaring that one must die for the other to leave. Aaron fakes shooting himself, then shoots Drexel — see, wits are just as important as brawn. And because this scene is played so well, I’ll even let Revolution give us the moral we already knew. We’re all glad to see Aaron come into his own and take out the bad guy, especially since said bad guy was a total creep. I just wish we didn’t need to wade through a bunch of ham-fisted flashbacks to get there. Again, Revolution is obviously trying to channel Lost here, but the intrusive info-dumps feel like that episode with Bai Ling where we learned the origin of Jack’s tattoo and immediately wished we hadn’t.
If Revolution can manage to stay grounded, it will be a much stronger show. When it sticks to the present, it’s usually pretty entertaining — at the very least, we get some nifty swordfights. Then again, we’re quickly moving into the series mythology, as Monroe continues to search for the origin of the blackout, and those answers may prove more annoying than any of the flashbacks. At the end of the episode, Danny and his mom are reunited, which means Rachel is going to have to start spilling to Monroe. Why do I feel like the story of mystical electricity pendants is going to be less compelling than one nerd’s journey?