It’s late, and I’m by myself in Los Angeles. I don’t travel well, and I especially don’t travel well on my own. Ironically, the actual act of traveling suits me just fine: I like flying, and I have no problem being confined and uncomfortable, because these are things I cannot change. I’m perpetually willing to give myself over to fate in those situations, because what else am I going to do? Take a train? Drive the 2,774 miles that separate my apartment in Brooklyn from this monolithic hotel with middling wi-fi in the heart of Hollywood?
But once I actually arrive in a place, I can barely keep myself together. Time seems to stretch on endlessly. I have a hard time filling the days with things that don’t involve professional obligation. I can’t sleep. I feed myself poorly. It’s a mild nightmare, and it’s in this context that I sat down to watch the season finale of Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll. Darkness ahoy.
There is a story by Ann Beattie called “Learning to Fall” that has always resonated with me, ever since I first read it in AP English during my senior year of high school (shout-out to Mr. Foley). The details of the tale are not important, but it ends on one of the most beautiful phrases ever crafted in the English language: “Aim for grace.” The characters in the story are deeply flawed, and they regularly revert back to old habits and willingly step into relationship traps they have created for themselves. The best they can hope for — and what any of us can hope for, really — is to somehow sidestep utter destruction. We’re all tumbling endlessly into an abyss, but there are ways to turn a plummet into a float, even if just for a short time.
This first — and at this point, only — season of Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll has not been perfect. Some of the character motivations were vague, some of the references were slightly off. It was never going to go down in the annals of history as a game-changer, but it could have left an impression on the way down. But Sex&Drugs did not stick the landing. In fact, it barely made an attempt. This episode didn’t so much come to a satisfying conclusion as it did stop mid-sentence, like that oddly hilarious re-cut of the finale of Robocop. I get how hard it is to wrap up a season of television, particularly in this all-excellent-everything cable environment and especially when you are uncertain whether or not these characters will ever get to be on screen again. But in those situations, I’m all for going for broke with a cliffhanger. What’s the worst that could happen? Your show ends on a question mark, and it’s forever on Buzzfeed lists of shows that ended the same way (like ALF, and any time you can associate yourself with Gordon Shumway, you do it).
In any other circumstance, this episode would be totally reasonable. After the disaster that was Gigi’s flirtation with a major label deal last week, the group is still dealing with the fallout. Flash takes the blame, and Gigi doubles down on him, lashing out at him for putting his personal interests above his own. For the first time in their relationship, Gigi definitively sides with her dad, if only backhandedly. “He was drunk and high, and yet he still managed to bring me to my senses!” she tells Flash.
Having essentially shown Flash the door, Gigi can focus on her next career move: Thanks to pal Greg Dulli, she has a “vibe adviser” named JP (played exquisitely by Rob Morrow) coming in from Los Angeles to do… something. But more importantly, she wants Bam Bam and Rehab back in the band, and it’s up to Johnny to get the rhythm section back into the fold. That proves to be complicated, because Beastcore has found a niche audience, and the pair are reluctant to trade in their racing helmets for a return to second-banana status in the Assassins. But Johnny and Flash manage to convince them, if only because they agree to sign over the rights to the song “What’s My Name” (which got mutated into “Sex Bomb” last week) over to the duo so they can remix it and put it in a perfume commercial.
With the group back together, JP tries to sew dissent among the members in order to tease out the negative energy that he finds so enticing. But there’s no emotional wound a montage can’t heal, and each member of the Assassins seems to be transformed by the song “Complicated.” It’s the fundamental message of Sex&Drugs: No matter what the status of the interpersonal relationships at play, there’s something inexplicable about the music that brings people together and transcends petty (or major) arguments. It’s the reason Flash and Johnny, two people who ostensibly loathe each other, continue to craft songs together, even after two and a half decades of animosity.
In the end, that music is the thing that drives the band, and particularly Gigi, who learns that Sub Pop is interested in bankrolling an EP. But in keeping with the themes of Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, the sins of the past are always lurking to manifest in the present. So the whole thing blows up when the Beastcore remix of “What’s My Name” ends up running in a douche commercial that aired during the NBA playoffs. Does that negate the Sub Pop deal? Does it cause another rift in the band, particularly between Gigi and Johnny? We don’t know, because those two disappear into a hallway to have a conversation, and we’re left with the closing credits. Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll should get a second season — the chemistry between Denis Leary and Liz Gillies is strong enough alone to justify another 10 shows — but it’s impossible to tell where this show would head if it comes back, or where the creators would even want it to go. Then again, perhaps there’s joy in not knowing. Unpredictability can be thrilling once you come to the conclusion that we’re all just feeling around in the dark, blinded by the complications of existence, groping for salvation. Aim for grace.
- The title of this episode (and Gigi’s ringtone) comes from the Afghan Whigs’ song “Royal Cream,” which appeared on their excellent 2014 reunion album Do To The Beast.
- Johnny does not believe the band dismissing Bam Bam and Rehab should be considered “egregious.” He thinks that word should be reserved for the Vietnam war and the marriage of Kurt and Courtney.
- In the episode’s funniest exchange, Flash paints himself as the group’s Paul McCartney, and Johnny pitches himself as John Lennon. Bam Bam is not cool with this arrangement. “I’m definitely not being Ringo,” he says. “I’m a mindless happy midget on a riser doing a monkey-ass backbeat. F— the Beatles. Let’s be The Who.” But he walks back on that suggestion because he doesn’t want to choke on his own vomit.
- Gigi’s attraction to JP kind of comes out of nowhere, right? It’s hard to tell what she sees in dudes, but she appears to have terrible taste in men.
- “JP said the rock vibe may be a river, but it doesn’t run through crappy national commercials about smelly vagina sprays,” Gigi says. “And itching! Don’t forget the itching!” adds Ava.
- “This isn’t about love. This is about women all over America thinking of my voice every time they get a yeast infection.” Whatever becomes of this show, Liz Gillies has a future in comedy.