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Revenge: “Fear”

Have you ever composed a great piece of writing and then somehow lost it all due to a technical glitch, forcing you to attempt to recreate what at first came so naturally? It’s easy to hit the same major beats, but something is always lost around the edges, some intangible bit of organic magic that you just can’t manufacture the second time around. That’s what this Revenge premiere feels like: A recreation cobbled together after the original, more organic version was somehow lost.

Positioned by ABC not as a reboot but as more of a refocusing to make the show less complicated, Revenge launches season three with creator Mike Kelley in the rearview and new showrunner Sunil Nayar taking the reins. It begins promisingly, continuing the show’s tradition of starting the season in medias res, this time at sometime either during or following Emily’s wedding to Daniel. The beginning is just enough to set the hook for what is to come, with Emily apologizing to an unseen person who then immediately shoots her, red blood spreading over her white wedding dress like a portent of upcoming evil. It’s much more evocative and concrete than last season’s beginning, and going back to directly involving Emily in the opening was a good impulse.

It’s when the show flashes back to the beginning of the summer—Memorial Day weekend, to be precise—that things start to trend downward. It was probably inevitable there would be some awkwardness, as Nayar and company are forced to deal with the aftermath of all the craziness the season two finale dished out, but the struggle to extricate the narrative from its complicated season two mess and relaunch it in a more simple, streamlined way here just feels clunky. Refocusing Emily’s mission away from things like the Initiative (which even she admits she never wants to hear about again) is a good thing. Haphazardly jettisoning plotlines and entirely inventing character motivations to do it is not.

Probably the biggest offender here is Nolan’s stint in prison, which happens wholly off-screen, with his release explained away with an offhanded line about a built-in Carrion failsafe that eventually exonerated Nolan and implicated all of the Initiative members in the bombing at Grayson Global because of magic, or voodoo, or something. We certainly didn’t want to have Nolan holed up in jail and not participating in Emily’s schemes, but this was just sloppy. Still, Nolan and Emily’s reunion and subsequent interactions are the best thing about this episode. It remains the core of this show; the one thing that always feels right when everything else feels wrong. With Nolcorp now a thing of the past, Nolan will have plenty of time to help Emily to take the Graysons down.

Emily’s first task in ruining the Graysons is to get Conrad out of the governor’s office, and she uses a classic Emily scheme to do it: She throws the annual Grayson summer kickoff party, a party that also served as the unveiling of Conrad’s official governor’s portrait, and makes sure he falls ill to a medical scare right during his big speech. The ultimate diagnosis? Huntington’s disease, which means he will have to step down as governor. It’s the classic complicated Emily scheme, involving poison and medical record tampering and setting up a suddenly extra-devious Ashley to take the fall for it all. And yet, it still doesn’t feel very satisfying. Like in the example of recreating a piece of writing, something here feels ineffably lost in the ether, like a paint-by-numbers version of what this show used to be.

It doesn’t help that whatever is going on with both Jack and Charlotte’s characters is a giant mess. Charlotte spent her time since Declan’s death traveling Europe, changing her style, and becoming an ice princess just like her mother, and it simply doesn’t sit well on her. Perhaps it will come out that she’s just a girl playing a part; a sad reaction to all of the horrible things she experienced last year. But it feels more like a declaration: This is Charlotte, no matter if it works or not.

That feeling also permeates the new incarnation of Jack, who has synthesized all of his rage from the season two finale and streamlined it into a giant, steaming pile of hatred toward Emily. The difference between Jack and Charlotte is twofold: Nick Wechsler is a strong enough actor to pull off this sudden shift, and all of Emily’s lies at least feel personal enough to make the transformation feel a bit more natural. It’s unfortunate that their first encounter was really just a way for the writers to trick the audience into thinking Jack was on Emily’s side before pulling the rug out from underneath everything, because there’s a genuinely emotionally complicated story here, one that with that scene it feels like the show is sweeping under the rug to focus on the soapy bombast of it all instead.

But the biggest, most egregious mistake it feels like the show is making right now is what is happening with Victoria. Revenge is at its best when Emily VanCamp and Madeleine Stowe are trading barbs—which does happen here in one glorious, short scene at Grayson manor—but they spend much of this episode apart, as Victoria spends time with her son, Patrick (Justin Hartley). Surely this plot is going somewhere, but their smiling, sun-kissed interactions were nothing more than uncomfortable, featuring a chemistry that felt awkwardly beyond maternal at times. It’s simply not fun to see Victoria like this, so having Patrick leave town and Victoria be upset by this is likely the best possible outcome for now. I’m just waiting for the moment it’s revealed Patrick is some sort of con man, because that is inevitable, right? Bring it on.

In the end, Emily sets her wedding date for the double-infinity referencing August 8—a wedding we know will end with her being shot by an unknown assailant—and she dedicates her plan to take down the Graysons to culminate on that day. It’s something that should feel so right, but in the context of this season three premiere, just never comes together. I respect what Nayar and the writers are attempting to do, but just hope future episodes feel more organic and less like a soulless version of what the show used to be.

It’s just not quite there yet.

Stray observations:

  • Didn’t season two end with Daniel and Aiden fighting, with Daniel returning home sporting a mysterious bloodstain on his sleeve? That seems to have gone nowhere with the reveal at the end Aiden is alive and well, and ready to work with Victoria to take Emily down.
  • Goodbye, Ashley. Your wardrobe will be missed. Your character? Not so much.
  • Not sure what is up with Daniel’s French friend Margaux, but Karine Vanasse is a delight so I’m hoping for good things.
  • Nolan parachuting into the party and then ripping off his outfit to reveal an all-white party suit was pretty much the best.
  • Conrad’s gubernatorial portrait is hilarious, as is his quest to get his likeness captured perfectly. Henry Czerny remains wonderfully heinous in this role.
  • Emily: “And let’s never say the words ‘Carrion’ or ‘Initiative’ ever again.”

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