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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Revenge: “Justice”

Illustration for article titled Revenge: “Justice”

And I thought Revenge was dark before. “Justice” is clever but convenient with respect to action, but the psychological drama is as intense as ever. It’s about a courtroom battle that doesn’t get anywhere near the physical truth. It features a mother prevailing upon her daughter to use what God gave her to get what she wants. Slow, heavy strings and a rocking camera convey Daniel Grayson’s world falling apart, and for the second time he gets to reenact the David Clarke arrest in Emily’s living room. There’s some quick revenging, but it ends with a man dead. And the episode builds to Emily Thorne looking genuinely blindsided. It’s an uncomfortable sight, to say the least, and not the only one. When Conrad tells Victoria that he sent Dominik packing, her imperious voice shrinks to that of a little girl. I barely had time to register that Charlotte is really going rogue before the scene turned sad and predatory. At the end, I completely bought that Daniel had hanged himself, because apparently I’ve never seen television before. “Justice” offers little to lighten the mood, and appropriately so. The delicious soap-opera stares transform from delightful to grim by the end of the first act. Mason Treadwell doesn’t even peek out of his prison cell in Grayson Manor, assuming he’s still there. Did I mention it’s December 16 in the show’s world? It’s so cold Dominik had to buy a shirt.

Snow blankets the town, the poinsettias are out, and everyone is bedecked in classy winterwear. It’s Day 15 of Daniel’s trial—or, if you prefer, 58 days since Charlotte and Declan were last on speaking terms—and a hundred agendas converge on Montauk to pretend to serve justice. Along with the usual ridiculous voiceover, the opening montage features a courtroom reenactment of Tyler’s murder that seems highly prejudicial (but then everything I know about law comes from The Good Wife). Ashley’s dutifully spinning the day’s news to a gaggle of charmed reporters. Brooks is preparing a legal strategy that depends on emotional connection since he can’t win on facts, though one wonders why the hematoma on the back of Daniel’s head isn’t a bigger asset to his Third Man argument. Victoria and Conrad are pulling all kinds of strings, though not exactly as a team. Doubt suggested strange bedfellows on the Grayson defense, but “Justice” highlights the cross methods. As usual, no matter how deep Victoria’s willing to get—and she has her eggs in numerous baskets—Emily beats her to the finish line thanks to the impression she made last week of Lee Moran’s key and the bloody hoodie Jack didn’t destroy. As Nolan observes, in one convenient swoop she saves Jack and Daniel and gets rid of Lee. What he doesn’t dwell on is the proportion of the punishment she doles out. Maybe that’s a lesson better left to Takeda.

It’s a testament to its ethical spine how seriously Revenge takes death. Livelihoods are at hazard in Emily Thorne’s scheme, but lives aren’t so expendable. People don’t die every day, death isn’t just a fun, new plot complication, and when someone does go, it always produces ripples. Lydia’s multi-story fall is genuinely tragic, if not exactly saturated with pathos, and it’s the first major complication in Emily’s plan. That scene also makes resoundingly clear how serious Emily’s revenge is, how costly and uncontrollable. Tyler’s murder is equally grave and reorients the entire narrative, including, as Emily notes tonight, inescapable collateral damage to her allies. Now Lee’s murder hits. It’s another fake-out, because Daniel is simultaneously voice-overing a letter that could be taken for suicidal thoughts but is actually his intention to change his plea. Dude is way too sweet and simple to be caught in the middle of Emily and Victoria and Tyler. Even Charlotte probably has him wired. For a moment, the producers want the audience to think Daniel is writing a suicide note, and as I said above, I was briefly moved by the thought. I barely had time to think through the timing or the narrative impact or the clever framing before I realized, right on cue, that the dangling feet on the screen belonged to Lee. And that is a more complicated idea. It’s one of those great Revenge moments that puts the desire to watch an interesting, screw-tightening narrative at odds with the desire to see moral accountability. Lee Moran has done nothing particularly redeeming, but does he deserve death? Even if not, how much do I care as long as his fake confession retracts the sword of Damocles hanging over Daniel and Jack? Maybe it was cheap, but the fake-out is right at home on this show, and without it, I’m not sure the emotional weight would be as strong. Death matters on Revenge, but Daniel Grayson’s suicide has a stronger impact than new guy’s off-screen murder.

Which brings us to David Clarke. The discovery that Conrad has a guy who takes care of “David-Clarke-style situations” is a biggie, yet I’m not sure how much it really changes anything. The Graysons already framed him for treasonous crimes that earned him life in prison and shipped Emily off to foster care and juvie. Certainly the staged knife-fight that eventually killed him—off-screen, might I add, unless that’s too crazy even for this show—came in response to some new plan to reveal the truth, presumably thanks to some kind of new evidence, since he’d already had his day in court. It’s just that it only confirms the wickedness of the Graysons, whom Emily has already set about to destroy. How does she extra-destroy them for this new crime?

Stray observations:

  • Carrie's not feeling well, but she should be back to take us into the home stretch next week.
  • “Justice” was written by Sallie Patrick and Liz Tigelaar and directed by Bobby Roth. And not one of them thought to have Nolan wryly observe, “Winter is coming.”
  • Daniel’s descent is a potent combination of soap opera cliché and evocative loneliness. There’s a great, claustrophobic moment when he comes home from the courthouse: As he’s prying away at the tie around his neck, a cop is tightening the monitor on his ankle.
  • Nolan’s a Counting Crows fan. “How’s Omaha? Somewhere in middle America?”
  • Nice touch: Brooks using a familiar red marker to circle his targets, the jurors.
  • I assume Dominik will be back before the season’s up, because I have questions. Like did he paint that abstract, yellow number at Nolan’s place?
  • Conrad: “Leave me alone. I need to think.” You and me both.