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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Revenge: “Execution”

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Emily Thorne was never going to get away clean. That much has been clear ever since her season one voiceover, when she solemnly intoned “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” Emily has always been willing to sacrifice herself for her mission, almost expecting to end up in one of those graves (whether it be literal or metaphorical). What she’s steadfastly tried to avoid throughout her journey, however, is pulling one of her allies into that grave alongside her. She fought against it at every turn, but in the end she ultimately lost.

Three seasons after beginning her journey, Emily Thorne got everything she ever wanted. And then, in a perfectly tragic turn of events, it all went to hell.

Emily’s relationship with Aiden ebbed and flowed across the last two seasons, at times an interesting union of two similarly broken souls, and at other times a boring, useless narrative drag. As Emily approached her final goal here in season three, though, they settled into something that finally seemed to make sense. It’s not a coincidence that the first time we hear Emily tell Aiden she loves him—and it feels completely genuine—is in this finale, after she’s completed her mission. Emily’s mission was her number one love, the only thing that truly mattered. Once she succeeded, she could finally have enough room in her life to let someone (or something) else in.

But it’s also clear that as soon as she tells him she loves him, he’s bound to die. Emily’s quest isn’t one that has a fairy tale ending; if she even makes it out alive it would be considered a success. What’s shocking isn’t that Aiden dies, it’s how he goes and what that means for the show. Victoria has always been one of Emily’s main targets, yet Revenge has been very careful about making her dance just on the edge of the audience’s sympathies throughout (with Conrad as the more obviously evil villain). By having Victoria kill Aiden in cold blood it not only gives Emily’s revenge mission a new shot in the arm, it removes a lot of the ambiguity behind Victoria’s motivations. It’s enough to make Emily putting Victoria in a mental institution against her will a cheer-worthy moment instead of a potential cringe-worthy one, and to make Emily strutting down the hallway having done it the perfect image to end the season on. That strut isn’t just Emily congratulating herself on a job well done. It’s Revenge declaring season three a success, and I have to agree.

For a long time, the general complaint about Revenge has been that Emily’s revenge is taking too long, and that the show is stalling on clearing David Clarke’s name in fear that the show needs this general conceit to survive. Revenge looked that fear in the eye and didn’t back down in this finale, ending Emily’s quest by putting Conrad in jail and completely clearing David’s name. It’s a glorious moment, mostly because Emily VanCamp completely sells the relief and happiness on her face when she hears the news. What makes it even better is that the show isn’t content to end the season there. Revenge wants to prove it is ready to tell stories beyond taking down the Graysons, and it does this by doing what I never thought they would: Resurrecting David Clarke.

Yes, David Clarke is alive, and he’s bursts onto the scene by arranging for Conrad to be smuggled out of prison, then stabbing him in the gut. It’s a ludicrous, fantastically ridiculous twist, and one that could go wrong in a myriad of ways. And yet, it’s maybe my favorite thing Revenge has ever done because it proves they’re willing to go for it. While last week’s episode is likely the best one the show has ever done, personally I prefer this finale, simply because of how big it is. This bigness results in some awkward, messy bits, but it also allows for some truly stunning moments of soapy goodness, like David Clarke returning from the dead and killing Conrad, or Victoria having Aiden posed in a gruesome death tableau for Emily to discover. It’s a wonderful return to the more gothic soap feel of season one, and although the show can’t feasibly deliver an episode like this every week, it’s incredibly encouraging to see them do it two weeks in a row.


Yet for all the crazy, soapy moments in this episode, for every big reveal, the moment I will remember most is a small one. It’s a distraught Emily after Aiden’s death, crying to Nolan that “I loved him. I’ve never loved anybody.” In a sea of soapy excess, that this small scene lands so well is why everything else around it works. This is Emily’s story, the successes and the failures, the triumphs and the heartbreaks.

And just when it seemed like this story was over, Revenge proved there’s still a lot of life in it left yet.


Stray observations:

  • Messy bit number one: Gideon and his story was all a setup for season four, which is fine in theory but was fairly awkward in execution. I like that he’s working with Nolan to bring down Daniel. I also like that he somehow lucked into Daniel in bed with a dead woman. I’m less sure about the actor.
  • Messy bit number two: Good grief, the business with Charlotte and Jack was dumb. Can’t they just tell Charlotte the deal already so she doesn’t do insane things like this? Obviously this is Jack’s fault for having a VERY specific way of touching people on the shoulder.
  • Is this the first episode that didn’t start with Emily’s voiceover?
  • RIP, Conrad. Henry Czerny, I will miss you most of all.
  • The whole sequence of them wheeling Pascal’s body to the plane was so visually gorgeous and tonally over-the-top. Perfection.
  • Emily smacking Victoria across the face with a shovel. Whoa.