I must confess: I was not a fan of last week’s over-the-top dark soapiness. I’ve applauded Revenge’s willingness to fully embrace its nighttime soap identity in the past, but the introduction of Dominick the shirtless artist/sex wonder was at least three steps too far down the ladder into soap hell for me. In fact, I was beginning to get a little worried about the state of Revenge in general. Ever since the Fire and Ice party, it seemed as if the show was obsessed with topping itself each week; every action couldn’t simply be dark; it had to be the most dark. Every plot twist had to be the most shocking, and every music cue had to be the most dramatic. When everything is in a state of excess, nothing can register, and therefore nothing matters. It’s hard to get invested in anything that feels as if it has no meaning.
Thankfully, this week’s episode was a huge course correction, or at least a nice reprieve from all the excess. Its quieter tone and slower pace were perfect for Emily’s new state of mind after learning the Graysons were directly responsible for her father’s murder in prison. As a bonus, it also gave the show a chance to showcase its incredible long-term story structure and solidify its themes and unique morality. Both of these were best exemplified by the story revealing Nolan’s big secret, a secret he even kept from Emily: the existence of his wannabe-whistleblower aunt, Conrad Grayson’s old secretary. It’s a great little twist, not only because it works perfectly within the show’s timeline, but also because of the way it deepens Nolan’s character and, eventually, his relationship with Emily.
Nolan’s protectiveness towards his aunt and Emily’s immediate acceptance of his motives also do a lot to reinforce what has become the prevailing theme of the whole series: family, and what we are willing to do to protect and honor them. This focus on family also feeds the show’s morality, which is completely based on family and loyalty. Just as Emily justifies everything she does on her path of revenge as her honoring her wronged father, both Conrad and Victoria justify the actions they take as honoring and protecting their family. What Revenge is forcing us to examine is whether or not what Emily is doing is somehow more honorable than what the Graysons have done (and continue to do).
Obviously, Emily is our protagonist, our point-of-view character into this world, so sympathies will automatically gravitate more toward her plight. But now that she’s figured out who killed her father and has plainly stated her intention to return the favor, we must decide: Is killing to avenge wrongdoing morally celebrated in this world, or is it murkier than that? What’s been wonderful so far is how even though the show wants us to sympathize with Emily, it always leaves enough of the door open for true ambiguity. No win is a slam dunk in this world; as soon as there is a victory, two defeats come rolling in behind it. It’s refreshing to have such complications in what could be such a single-minded concept.
Another wonderful turn of plot tonight was to complicate everything by having Daniel learn of all of Conrad’s misdeeds regarding David Clarke and still decide to stay loyal to his father and his company, taking over the business as Conrad is investigated for SEC violations. Daniel appearing to go all-in on the Grayson family name, and Emily knowing this fact, give her relationship with him the kick in the pants it needed to keep from getting repetitive. I’m not going to say his transformation entirely makes sense at this point—he seemed to have a bit more of a moral code in the past, especially when it came to his father’s misdeeds—but pitting he and Emily against each other behind the scenes while Emily pretends to be his doting fiancé clarifies their relationship in a way that was necessary. The ambiguity of whether or not Emily had fallen in love with him was a smart beat to play for a while, but the stakes needed to be raised, and this does it beautifully.
Also getting more interesting simply because he’s finally involved in the main plot again is Jack, who gets a great scene to play as he confronts Daniel and tells him about his involvement in Tyler’s murder, and the Grayson family’s potential involvement in setting up Lee Mason. Putting Jack in the thrall of Amanda was useful at first, then very, very trying, so it’s nice to see him back in the Hamptons and doing something semi-useful. He’s still the innocent here, but his willingness to get his hands dirty with Daniel shows potential.
Even though the recent episodes haven’t been my favorites, the one thing the series has done spectacularly well is develop both Charlotte and Declan’s character, giving them both more to do and a needed edge. Charlotte’s story since learning David Clarke is her father shines brightest, and somehow the story has managed to turn a cliché story about a troubled teen girl turning to drugs into something more. There’s a genuine sadness to her character now, and Christa B. Allen has done a wonderful job of portraying Charlotte’s confusion and loneliness. Declan benefits from this story as well, his betrayal of Charlotte (for family loyalty, of course) setting her further on her path, even as he tried desperately to save her.
What I liked most about “Absolution,” though, was how wonderfully it set the stage for the episodes to come while feeling nothing like a typical “setting-the-stage” episode. All of the players are in place to lead towards the season’s inevitable conclusion—murder, Emily’s ultimate act of revenge—now it’s just up to us to decide whether or not we want her to go through with it. I have a feeling I know what side of this argument Nolan is going to be on.
- Thanks to Brandon for filling in last week, especially since he was saddled with the horror of the artist.
- Emily VanCamp struggled with the more obviously threatening scenes at the beginning of the series, but she’s got them down cold now. She was genuinely scary when she confronted Nolan at his house.
- This week, in “Nolan is awesome”: flashback hair, the sweater, paying for Declan’s fancy private school, his desperation to keep his aunt safe, “it’s you.”
- Ashley and Conrad seem like a surprisingly menacing pair. Victoria better watch out.
- Conrad: “If I had known you were such a masochist, I’d have volunteered to rub the salt in your wounds myself.”
- Charlotte: “I guess we can add teen pill popper to the Grayson book of shame.”
- Conrad: “What both you and Victoria have yet to grasp is just how little she matters to anyone.”