At last, the wait is over and the vengeful rich snobs of The Hamptons are finally back to wreak more havoc and destruction on our television sets. Honestly, would ABC’s Revenge have it any other way? After a brilliant first season – which proved that the terms “guilty pleasure” and “quality programming” can, in fact, go hand in hand – it would be hard to imagine Revenge faltering in its sophomore year, especially given the near-perfect finale that contained not one, but two cliffhangers that had viewers salivating for more. While creator Mike Kelley certainly establishes some very intriguing story threads, I’m sad to report that the show’s flawed subplots and weak characters become all the more noticeable in the Season Two premiere. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but it might be time to let the blood spill in order to, ironically, clean up the rougher edges of the series. When in top form, Revenge can hold its own against the big-name Emmy® contenders, but as of right now it finds itself in a somewhat unfortunate predicament. While there’s no dearth of bitchiness and narrative intensity, pivotal moments in Revenge are few and far-between, filled instead with your standard soap tropes of pregnancy, teen addiction and silly one-liners that would warm the heart of George Lucas. It’s a good thing the show’s three leads (Emily VanCamp, Madeleine Stowe and Gabriel Mann) remain exemplary in their respective roles, otherwise I might’ve had reason to worry about the future of Revenge.
Just a word of warning: For those of you who have not watched the show’s inaugural season, I suggest you take a rain check on reading this review. There will be some spoilers ahead, so proceed with caution. Like many viewers who watched last night’s premiere, I anxiously sat glued to my television screen to see if primetime’s most badass mega-bitch, Victoria Grayson (Stowe), was alive following last season’s jaw-dropping cliffhanger. When we last saw Victoria, she was boarding a plane that the sinister “White Haired Man” had been tampering with. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that the plane crashed with no reported survivors. The fate of Victoria was unknown, but even more suspenseful was the new revelation concerning Emily Thorne’s mother: she’s still very much alive. Season Two’s premiere episode, “Destiny,” begins with a flash-forward three months ahead of time. One of my major gripes with Season One was that this same storytelling device didn’t pay off in as dark of a manner as I would have preferred, and hopefully the discovery of some unknown, deceased figure at the bottom of the ocean churns out more gasps in genuine horror this time around.
The episode then cuts ninety days back to Emily (VanCamp), also in the ocean and under incredible duress since she’s tied to a barrel, her head slowly falling below sea level. While it looks like Emily has found herself in another life-or-death quagmire, it’s soon revealed to the audience that Emily is enacting this self-torture as a means to summon forth childhood memories of her mother. According to Emily, these memories are the key to understanding what happened with her mom all those years ago when the Grayson’s first began desecrating the lives of the Clarkes. The method fits Emily’s mode of pursuing the truth at any cost, but Revenge loses me when it sets the gripping scenario against the backdrop of Emily’s cheesy apprenticeship with her Japanese mentor, who himself is some kind of silly Samurai-wannabe. Satoshi’s purpose on Revenge is still a mystery to me, and he’s always throwing a wrench into Emily’s plans of rediscovering her humanity amidst her path of vengeance, much to my vexation. Satoshi even has a new apprentice, who undoubtedly will serve a bigger role later in the season, but for now he comes across as some random stand-in. The less of Satoshi and his monologues that seem compiled from a vast array of 70’s samurai films, the more tolerable Revenge will be to its skeptics.
After rescuing Nolan (Gabriel Mann) from his new “calling” as a lightweight boxer, it doesn’t take long for Emily to get back into the Hamptons’ social circle. Six weeks may have passed since Victoria’s plane crashed, but its business as usual at the Graysons, and that of course means a party is all but guaranteed for the episode. The most disgusting creature on television, Ashley Davenport, is still running around with her nose up in the air as if she’s head controller of the planet’s axis. I’ll give Ashley one slice of credit: at least now she’s fully cognizant of how evil she truly is. Before, the writers used to play around with her morality, but now they just peg her as “irredeemable, opportunistic bitch,” and that is just fine with me! Ashley now seems to be in a committed relationship with Daniel Grayson (Josh Bowman), although I have my suspicions that she’s been hitting the cardio with Daddy Grayson during the late office hours at Grayson Global. The one good news about the Season Two premiere is that Ashley Davenport has jumped from “just plain hate” to “love to hate,” and I have the writers to thank for that. They sure know how to keep their villainous women intrinsically more fascinating than their devious male counterparts (Henry Czerny as Conrad Grayson is still too rigidly “corporate” to scare me into believing he’s the show’s deadliest menace).
Surprisingly, it’s the formerly annoying Charlotte Grayson (Christa B. Allen) who’s been given the strongest character makeover. While her pill-popping subplot is still a hindrance to the show, Charlotte’s newfound outlook on her mother is a delightful twist, and I cannot wait to see who her trust will ultimately lie with by season’s end. Daniel Grayson is also a lot more tolerable than I remembered, and Josh Bowman’s acting has improved since his “puzzled-look” days.
What I find most interesting is that Mike Kelley seems to be listening to fan input. Emily seems less interested in childhood buddy Jack Porter (Nick Wechsler), and back to pining for Daniel. The writers tried their damndest to sell Jack and Emily’s romantic chemistry, but the fans vehemently opposed the cliché and predictable setup, and instead rooted for Daniel and Emily to be together. While at the core of Revenge’s story, that narrative twist doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for Emily’s character, I am slowly starting to get behind it. What I enjoy more than anything is when linear plot structures are turned on their heads, and Emily and Daniel – as wrong on paper as they may seem for one another – might just wind end up together after all, and possibly deserve to.
There’s no easy way to say this, but I’ll say it: Jack, Declan, and Amanda Clarke need to be written off the show. Maybe Jack is salvageable, but Declan is still the same annoying, pompous punk he’s always been. At one point Jack tells Declan (Connor Paolo) to stay at the back of the boat, and I swear I heard all of America cheer when that line burst out. Amanda Clarke’s pregnancy was a purposeful stitch thrown in the mix to temporarily fracture the coupling of Emily/Jack, but since Emily and the rest of Revenge’s audience doesn’t seem to care about the subplot one iota, I question why the writers can’t just ditch Amanda and this wasteful plotline altogether. Is there anyone who is even remotely interested in learning if Jack is the father of Amanda’s child or not? Yeah, I figured.
I end my review of Revenge with a quick take on the mysterious fate of Victoria Grayson. Without revealing what transpires, because you all know they would never leave Victoria out at sea for long *hint hint*, I will say that the new arrangements made for her character are both confusing and intriguing. I appreciate the writers holding back on spilling out all the details concerning the plane crash, but the answers that were given were certainly satisfactory albeit a tad convenient. A new alliance created between two powerful and dangerous figures has me worried even more so for the fate of protagonist Emily Thorne. Even though I found myself more excited about the possibilities of Victoria’s return to Revenge, I’m glad that the storyline concerning Emily’s mom is still on course and fully engaging. We learn quite a bit of Kara Wilkin’s (Jennifer Jason Leigh) back-story thanks to some eerie flashbacks sequences, and it’s not surprising to say that the Graysons are an even more treacherous lot than previously pegged. So yes, when Revenge focuses on the show’s high concept hook and standout leads, it’s a joy that is almost without equal. However, far too much time is spent away from the focal narrative, away from such magnificently written characters like Nolan (why the lack of screen-time for our favorite rich brat and his wonderful Nolanisms?) to really declare the start of Season Two a surefire hit. Despite the bumps along the way, there’s no denying that iZLER’s magnificent score, Mike Kelly’s airtight writing, and Emily VanCamp’s phenomenal acting (I’m in the minority on this, but I do believe VanCamp delivers a more challenging performance than Stowe) certifies Revenge as broadcast television’s second-best primetime drama, mere inches beneath the quality of CBS’s The Good Wife.
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