I have always been a complete sucker for flashbacks. When done correctly, they can do so much more than fill in story gaps; they can develop characters, clarify motivations, advance the plot, create intrigue, feature flights of fancy not allowed for in the regular narrative, and—most importantly—feature some really fun hair and costume choices. Flashbacks are part of Revenge’s DNA and up until this point, they’ve been deployed astoundingly well, which is why “Legacy” felt like such a disappointment.
The goal of this episode-long flashback was to bring us back to the night Amanda Clarke discovered what horrible people the Graysons are, so she could begin the transformation into the Emily Thorne we know her as today. On the surface, gathering all of Emily’s various targets and plopping them into one episode to see where it all began seems like an extremely fun idea. The problem is with the execution. Revenge has done such a great job throughout the season revealing the mythology of the show piece-by-piece that there’s really almost nothing left to tell. Conrad Grayson cooked up an extremely elaborate plan to get David Clarke convicted of treason and then arranged for his murder in prison, so knowing he also arranged for one of David Clarke’s allies to die doesn’t add anything meaningful to the story.
Do we really need to know every minute detail of Emily’s journey? The more transparent something is, the less interesting it threatens to become. It’s a strange offshoot of the show vs. tell phenomenon: What do you do when you have too much show and too much tell? A little ambiguity is always a good thing when so much heavy show mythology is involved.
Even less compelling than Amanda’s inevitable transformation into Emily were the few glimpses we got into Jack’s life at the Stowaway. Other than seeing how 2002 Jack had eye-meltingly bad hair, knowing he had a social-climbing girlfriend isn’t all that enlightening. The only interesting tidbit was seeing his and Nolan’s first meeting and learning that Nolan’s affinity toward taking care of Jack and his family goes back to the situation with buying their house in a business deal all those years ago. If Nolan was a true friend, he would have told Jack to do something about that hair, though.
The only other story to get featured in the flashback was Victoria’s first meeting with David and how she mourned him after he was gone, with Conrad’s implicit knowledge. The flashback-within-a-flashback aspect of their meeting was well done, but again, it just seemed like nothing we haven’t already seen several times already this season. It’s like Revenge trapped itself into a corner by being too good at developing all of these relationships and moments throughout its show, so when the writers decided to do a big flashback mythology episode, they forgot to take the time to ask themselves if it was even necessary. Madeleine Stowe was flawless as usual, and James Tupper had some nice moments, but beyond that there really was nothing to parse here.
This isn’t to say there weren’t a few pleasures to be had in the episode. The party itself where all of the Hamptons richest and most corrupt gathered was genuine fun, with delightful conversation between familiar faces paced, blocked, and written extremely well. Mason Treadwell continues to be a delight, so seeing him again was welcome. All hairstyles were predictably terrible, even going beyond terrible in the case of Jack and the mop affixed to his head. But after such a strong episode last week, everything here just felt like filler. When building momentum toward such a heavily serialized story’s conclusion, bringing your show’s narrative to a screeching halt just two episodes before the big payoff is hugely disappointing. In this crowded landscape, one of the worst things a television episode can be is unnecessary. Unfortunately, that’s just what this one was.
- Flashback Hair Ranking (from best to worst): 1) Victoria (it was the same, but still) 2) Emily 3) Sammy the Immortal Dog 4) Mason Treadwell 5) Nolan 1,000,000) Jack. I mean, really, Jack.
- So a prison guard took the photo of David at the prison, and Mason brought it to Victoria. Mystery solved!
- Conrad: “It’s perverse, don’t you think? To destroy a man you love and then weep for him eternally?”