With the deliciously soapy promotional campaign ABC employed for “Duress,” it was pretty easy to guess this episode might not be a subtle one. Truly, anything that begins with a slow motion stick up set to the dramatic tune of “Moonlight Sonata” probably isn’t going to be the most nuanced thing you'll see on television this year. But if you’re in on Revenge – and oh, am I all in – every soapy twist and turn of that hour was an absolute delight.
As soon as Tyler was introduced he was the show’s ticking time bomb. You knew he was going to go off, you just weren’t sure exactly when. Throughout his tenure he’s flirted with Machiavellian madness, always managing to keep his schemes just barely on the sane side of the Hamptons. Once his anti-psychotic medication was discovered, however, it was only a matter of time until “barely sane” became “batshit crazy.” Although Tyler did kind of go from slow simmering crazy to fully realized, completely dangerous psychopath in the blink of an eye, the plotting painted him into the perfect corner to have the transition make enough sense where you could just ignore his sudden super insanity and enjoy it for what it was: a ridiculously enjoyable performance of over-the-top madness. Ashton Holmes has always been fun as Tyler, but tonight he went above and beyond and then above again to come back around full circle with his campy goodness. If you’re going to embrace your identity as a soap, as Revenge seems eager to do, it’s always good to have an actor like Holmes there to sell it for you. And sell it he did.
In addition to Tyler’s reign of terror, it was also great to see Emily get back to old-fashioned revenging again. She’s been stuck in reaction mode for several episodes now, so it was nice to have a reason to shout REVENGE! at the top of our lungs. Her plan to take down Tyler relied way too much on what looked like coincidence – how would she know Tyler would see the Shamu cam right when she was planting the gun? – but it was satisfying in the way Emily’s revenge plots always are, and that’s a satisfaction that’s been missing for quite a while.
Her foresight to maneuver things so Tyler knew about the gun, later remove the bullets, and finally manage to have Frank’s wallet accessible enough to plant it on Tyler is basically superhuman (and from exactly where she pulled that wallet in such a tight dress I could not discern, but I suppose we have to use our imagination). But with a revenge sensei and an amazing ability to emotionally remove herself from her schemes, Emily as a superhuman makes perfect sense. And although it is a bit disappointing Tyler never got the chance to fulfill the promo’s promise of shooting someone at the party, it’s good to know he is in jail somewhere and available for various shenanigans anytime they need him to bring a little bit of crazy to the Hamptons. All they need to do is find new evidence proving he didn't kill Frank, and bam! Instant crazy Tyler goodness.
Along with the wonderful soap, the other thing that stood out in this episode was Emily and Nolan's step forward in a path towards becoming actual friends. Their interaction has routinely been some of the best on the show, and Emily actually apologizing without any ulterior motive apparent is a big step for the character. The more they become true allies the better the show will be for it. Also, her inviting him to the party was just darn adorable.
My only small quibble in what was otherwise an outstanding episode was the structure. I understand the reason for it – that opener is a perfect hook – but it’s always kind of a letdown when you realize something is opening in media res and you have to sit through a significant amount of exposition to get back to that dramatic moment. I say it was a small quibble because, although the first few scenes after the opening weren’t the most exciting, they quickly dispatched with the more mundane bits and got right to Tyler’s insanity. And if in media res is what we have to suffer to get an opening as incredibly melodramatic as the one we got with this episode, then a few moments of letdown are definitely worth it.
- Awesome things Tyler did tonight: Calling Conrad “Connie”; waiting for Daniel in the dark; stabbing and tying up Nolan; naming his party game “Truth or Die”; perfectly matching his level of dishevelment to his emotional state as the episode progressed.
- The Grayson divorce sure is getting nasty, isn’t it? Knowing Victoria somewhat trapped Conrad into marrying her with a pregnancy lie is juicy enough, but knowing she is willing to falsify documents to continue that lie in order to get his money is even more scandalous. Suddenly Victoria’s scheming with regards to David Clarke, as well as their romantic relationship, takes on a few new shades.
- There were so many other seeds for future storylines threaded through the madness as well. Most interesting are Daniel’s scheming against his father, Victoria’s skepticism about Amanda, and Amanda planting the seed of doubt about David Clarke’s guilt in Jack’s mind.
- Even Nolan is calling the whale camera Shamu now.
- “I Googled ‘friendship’ on the interwebs. Apparently, when you have a fight with a friend, you’re supposed to apologize.”
- “Blackmail. It isn’t just for breakfast anymore.”
- “You never cease to amaze and terrify me, maestro.”