“A person’s true destiny can only be revealed at the end of his journey, and the story I have to tell is far from over.”
At the beginning of Revenge, Emily Thorne’s mission was fairly straightforward: Destroy the family who destroyed her father. Sure, there were intricacies to that plan, but at the outset, it was a linear path. It was only when she started to set things in motion that the intricacies turned into cracks, as Emily’s revenge plot began to tumble out of control and hurt the only people in the world that she had left to love.
In the end, it was these emotions that prevented Emily from going fully to the dark side and killing the man who killed her father. And it’s these emotions that are still front and center, informing her actions and affecting the trajectory of season two. Even Takeda—mentoring Emily again in the months after Victoria’s plane crash—sees that her emotions are in the way of her mission and sends a protégé to guide her path.
For me, though, these emotions are essential. Emily the revenge robot was a fun affectation for the character in the beginning, and watching her take down evil one-percenters will never not be exhilarating, but Emily the person (and in turn Emily VanCamp the actress) never came alive until these emotional cracks started to form. And both Emily the person and Emily VanCamp the actress were fully alive in this première.
This is a good thing, because despite several strong moments, Revenge came back in with a surprisingly quiet episode, especially in comparison to the bombastic season one finale. The opening sequence was visually striking and disorienting, setting up a dead body and a big mystery just like in the pilot, but in a much more subdued manner. Instead of a big party and a gunshot on the beach, this year’s Labor Day will end with Jack’s blown-up boat and a rotting corpse. This (along with Victoria’s memorial being the same party that always kicks off the summer season) is symmetry, but it’s a quiet symmetry—and the quietest part of it all is the secret that all of these things only happen because Emily is still writing her own destiny, and that destiny takes prisoners along the way.
And, as Emily’s voiceover intoned, she still has plenty of story to discover. The big mystery of the season is obviously Emily’s mother, where she is, and what exactly happened to her. Through some sort of water torture memory retrieval device, Emily is beginning to remember scenes of her mother in a hospital. When she and Nolan find records of the hospital and go to visit the abandoned building, Emily’s memories return in waves, and the flashbacks of her mother (played by Jennifer Jason-Leigh) the visit inspires are extremely well done. When Emily learns Victoria visited her mother and was potentially the person who got her committed in the first place, the stakes are only raised more.
But what are these stakes if Victoria is dead? Nothing, which is why we all know she’s alive. Despite the reveal of Victoria's survival being a foregone conclusion, the show still has a bit of soapy fun with it, having Charlotte whisper the confession to Victoria and Emily show up on Victoria’s doorstep so quickly she must have teleported there. That the series managed to wait until three-quarters of the way through the episode is exemplary of the restraint of the entire episode, because when Emily and Victoria facing off is the highlight of every week, it’s tempting to get to it much sooner. The confrontation doesn’t disappoint, full of lies, forced smiles, and surreptitious surveillance. Where it goes from here is unclear, but what is clear is that the question of whether or not Victoria is truly evil might be less of a question than a certainty. What’s unclear is why she was involved, how she was involved, and what the white-haired man still has to do with this. Centering these questions around arguably the most compelling character on the show is a good instinct, and that’s exactly what Revenge has done here.
As for Emily’s prisoners, Jack and Amanda are the obvious immediate fallout, and both are miserable. Jack, because he’s in love with Emily and feels obligated toward Amanda. Amanda, because she’s just a clingy, emotionally unstable person who has latched onto Amanda Clarke’s existence like a lifeline. Although some of the time spent on them feels a bit trying, keeping Jack around as the symbol of Emily’s collateral damage has always been an important beat for the show to play, and it only seems to be getting better as the circumstances get more complicated. Whether or not the baby is Jack’s and no matter who is at the bottom of the harbor rotting in Jack’s boat at the end of the summer, he will always be Emily’s consequence, and it’s important to keep him around to keep her conscience on the level.
Finally, though, the heart of the show remains the same, and is even growing stronger as the episodes tick along: Emily and Nolan, and their unshakable partnership. Until they smile at each other in the boxing ring, the episode felt a bit hollow. But whatever the combination of Nolan’s puppy dog brotherly love for Emily and her quiet tolerance of his friendship, the show is never better than when they’re onscreen together. Now that he’s crashing at her place, the opportunities for their mischief only increase. And no matter what destiny holds for Emily with regards to her epic journey, my only wish is that Nolan stays on the fair side of her destiny at all times.
- Clam cam! Even in a run-down safe house, Emily knows Shamu would totally not be Victoria’s style.
- Yes, that is a new actor taking over the role of Takeda. Revenge is fully embracing its daytime soap roots.
- Conrad is fully a sleaze now, huh? Conspiring to steal Charlotte’s inheritance is really dirty pool. No shades of grey here.
- Nolan: "Do you think she's somewhere looking up at us?"