"How did I get so far off track?"
I characterized the last episode of Revenge as somewhat of a reset, but after seeing “Retribution,” it’s clear the show isn’t undergoing a reset as much as a refocus. It’s enough of an obvious return to the narrative goals of the first season that it even gets lip service from Emily herself, with her uttering the above quote right before promising to fulfill her original mission: take down the Graysons, by any means necessary. After a meandering, often boring season full of useless side plots, a promise to return to what made the show so eminently watchable in the first season is welcome—especially if the episodes are as entertaining as the last two have been.
One of Revenge’s surprising strong suits has always been its inherent darkness, and Amanda’s death plays right into those strengths. We’ve seen Emily reach a breaking point before—her quest to kill the white-haired man at the end of last season comes to mind—but her emotions are closer to the surface here than they’ve ever been before. She’s so far gone that Nolan can barely talk her down from doing something drastic to the Graysons right away. It’s a great sequence, sad and raw and absolutely effective at setting the emotional tone of the entire episode to come.
But the star here is Jack, and after a season of being stuck in an awful, horrible, no good plot, he finally gets the chance to be an actual character again. The most interesting part of his progression as a character tonight is how quickly he is able to turn his internal emotional switch from despair over losing his wife to duplicitous, barely-shielded anger over Conrad’s potential involvement in the situation. Now that Jack knows bits and pieces of Amanda’s story—that she had a computer full of secrets on the Graysons and that they framed David Clarke—he has just enough information to be suspicious, confused, hurt, angry, and ready to make them pay. When Conrad unnecessarily inserts himself in Jack’s life right after Amanda’s death, paying for his hospital bills and using her death as a talking point at a political event, Jack’s vague suspicions get much clearer, and his path in the future suddenly gets much more compelling. Will he be out for revenge of his own?
Jack’s newfound knowledge also puts a nice wrench in Emily’s plans, as well. As much as Jack’s character has suffered this season for the viewers he’s always remained essential for Emily’s journey, as her one true, pure thing; the thing that might be waiting for her once she’s completed her mission. She finally tells Nolan her goal of one day confessing everything to Jack, but him learning about Amanda makes everything that much more complicated. She can’t tell him now, while he’s still reeling over what he learned about Amanda. All she can do now is mitigate any damage he could potentially do himself, starting with retrieving her computer from the Stowaway and throwing it in the ocean for good.
This moment, where Emily throws the computer containing enough information to send the Graysons to jail for the rest of their lives, is where the show really went from a reset to a refocus. As Emily says, her goal was never to send the Graysons to prison. It was to ruin them, completely and totally. What she means here is wonderfully vague—it could mean ruining their company, their social standing, or their personal lives—so much so that if Emily’s plans included strapping concrete shoes on them both and chucking them in the Atlantic, it wouldn’t be a shock. What her renewed commitment to the Graysons likely means, though, is far less focus on random bar-stealing thugs and the intricacies of the Initiative and far more focus on Emily trading icy barbs with Victoria.
The Initiative is definitely still around and doesn’t seem to be going away, however. New Grayson liaison Mr. Trask is tasked with handling Daniel and finding out what happened to Helen Crowley, and his blank sociopathic stare is far more interesting than Helen ever managed to be. The Initiative’s intentions are still frustratingly vague, but having the entire Grayson family working to extricate themselves from their influence at the same time makes the story a bit better than when Conrad was sulking around by himself, meeting Crowley in abandoned warehouses and the like. Daniel’s simultaneous loyalty to his family and desire to be disassociated with all of their deviousness has always been the most compelling and frustrating thread in this story, as he flip-flops between being a Grayson puppet and his own man almost from episode to episode. The day Daniel fully breaks from Victoria’s influence and sticks to it could be a wonderful thing for the character, and that day definitely feels like it is getting closer.
As frustrating as this second season has been, these past two episodes have definitely returned to the quality and intrigue of the first season, but this time it feels like there is an even stronger thread to them: emotion. We’ve spent far more time with these characters, gotten a far deeper look at their emotional arcs, and those things are wisely being used to strengthen the plot. Jack as an angry, bitter, revenge seeker might not have worked last season, but now? It’s a road I can’t wait for the character to go down.
- The MVP of this episode is definitely Nick Wechsler, who makes up for months of horrible stories by absolutely nailing every moment of what the show gives him to play tonight. Vengeful Jack is quite a good character shift.
- Emily basically giving her own eulogy was a nice touch, allowing her to physically bury her past. The show did a very good job of strengthening Emily and Amanda’s relationship right before yanking that away, earning her emotion at Amanda’s death.
- Ashley confronting Conrad about his role in Amanda’s death was an interesting turn for her character to take. She’s still not necessary to any bit of the plot, but her skepticism here seems promising.
- Love that Nolan was actively involved in almost everything tonight, especially him learning that the Graysons likely killed Helen Crowley and were framing Amanda for it. Nolan is far too good to be on the sidelines.
- Very curious to see if Emily’s old foster brother will recognize her and force her to do something drastic to keep her cover. Feels like an old-fashioned Revenge plot!