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Revenge: "Surrender"

Revenge is in the midst of a tonal rut. The plot is moving along rather nicely, heading toward Emily’s ultimate showdown with Victoria at her wedding. The emotional stakes feel a bit less successful as the story progresses, but they’re still there. But despite both of these things working in theory, something about season three feels stuck in neutral right now, and most of that is because everything about Revenge feels so mind-numbingly the same.

This wasn’t always the case. Revenge worked hard to build a consistent, duplicitous tone tinged with fake niceness, exemplified by Victoria and Emily’s every carefully barbed interaction. Within that tone, though, there was always a bit of variation, a rise and fall to the stories and relationships to keep things from getting stale. In season one, a lot of this was accomplished through Emily’s individual revenge missions. In season two, it was more about Emily’s emotional relationships and how her connections affected her overall mission. Season three brought about a newfound focus on her goal, but with that focus, the show forgot about these variations in tone, variations that were essential to the success of the show. Revenge isn’t bad right now—not at all—but it’s intellectually boring, and that might be a greater sin.

When I say intellectually boring, I don’t mean to imply the show is unintelligent; that’s never been the issue with Revenge, not really. It’s just that at this point beyond Emily’s quest to set Victoria up, there’s not much else to grab on to. Earlier in the season, there were far more moving parts, with Nolan embarking on a doomed romance with Patrick, Victoria clinging to her new son, and even Jack’s semi-annoying hatred towards Emily, to give the proceedings some shading. Now, it’s all bland duplicitous sameness, with not enough plot or character sparks to keep things from just being a bit blah.

When Lydia reappeared last week, brought back from the ashes of that plane crash like the Hamptons best mistress phoenix, I thought this sameness problem would be solved. Instead of shaking things up and injecting a different energy, she just sort of strutted around like a second-class Victoria and failed to follow through on any of her supposed threats, quickly falling right back in bed with Conrad. This might be a failure of my own expectations, but how badly I wanted her to do something more than antagonize Victoria and then surrender to Conrad’s ridiculous sleaze! Because she found a copy of the picture where Emily is a servant in the background of a Grayson Global function, she’s bound to cause Emily some grief in the episodes to come, but this episode badly needed her to inject it with some life right now.

As for Emily’s plan to marry Daniel and set up Victoria, it’s still chugging along at the least interesting clip possible. What’s fascinating about this season is how the plot dictates Emily must marry Daniel, but suddenly, she’s absolutely terrible at faking her relationship with him. This is something she always did well in the past, and the writers have tried to justify it by saying she can’t stand to be in his presence, and yet it just leaves me screaming “Act like you like this very attractive, not horrible man, Emily! Just for a few more days!” “Surrender” does a decent job of giving Daniel a legitimate emotional trial when he decides to choose Emily and his (fake) unborn child over a life of actual happiness with Sara, but Sara is such a non-entity that it’s a bit difficult to get as far into his turmoil as the writers want you to.

I think the main reason this show has lost its tonal way is because of the sameness of Victoria’s vendetta against Emily. It’s been a key dynamic of the show since day one, but along the way, it has gone through several interesting permutations, only to land right back where it was in the very beginning. Victoria insisting Emily is a con man, rejecting the news that Emily is pregnant, and then eventually deciding not to come to the wedding might be convenient for plot purposes, but it’s not especially interesting for her character. For all we’ve seen her do, it feels like Victoria is better and smarter than everything she’s done to try to thwart Emily this season, so it just all feels a bit hollow right now. And would the Revenge of old have Emily reeling over a declined RSVP? So reeling that it would be the climax of the episode? By modulating the stakes of the central story like this, everything around it sort of suffers as a result.

I spent this entire review complaining about the show, which is unfortunate, because I don’t think season three is bad. I simply think it is at a tipping point, on the precipice of being bad, stuck in a rut that could be awfully difficult to get out of if it doesn’t right the ship soon. Whether it is deeper emotional stakes or a better handle on how to vary tone within its bigger revenge story, something needs to get Revenge out of its own way and quick.

Stray observations:

  • Emily and Aiden are getting married, I guess. It is very, very difficult to get emotionally invested in this relationship for some reason.
  • Voulez featured a big spread on Daniel Grayson (a spread that was intended to boost sales), and I guess I don’t understand what kind of magazine Voulez is supposed to be, exactly. At least Emily and Daniel looked very nice in it.
  • Lydia’s Time magazine fake out was marvelous because the first thing I thought was “Who the hell would put Conrad Grayson on the cover of Time?”
  • Emily stealing Victoria’s bracelet to get gunshot residue was great. We need more of these little bits of how Emily is setting up her big plan and less other random nonsense.
  • Actual note I took while watching: “Charlotte declares she’s done meddling, because the script told her to.”
  • Jack and Margaux: Is this something we’re supposed to be emotionally invested in?
Filed Under: TV, Revenge

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