In the spring of 2007, Damon and Carlton did something few executive producers do with their television show: They told ABC they wanted to end it. They needed to assure Lost fans – and themselves – that the ever complicated story would some day achieve a satisfactory ending. ABC obliged and gave them 48 more episodes over three seasons to bring the epic to a close.
Halfway through its second season on the same network, Revenge feels like it is going through the same uncertainty. The clear presentation of Emily Thorne’s mission to take revenge on the family who framed her father as a terrorist has given way to a blurry mix of storylines that has viewers frustrated. Ratings have been consistently down since the return from its holiday break, and while that is in part due to the NFL playoffs the decline can’t be dismissed.
To ensure viewers they won’t be seeing Revenge’s equivalent of Sawyer and Juliet cracking rocks on Hydra Island, the minds behind Revenge need to sit down with ABC and decide how much longer their show will be on the air. Creator and Executive Producer Mike Kelley has to already have some plan for how the show will end, if he can get a firm answer on when that will happen he and his team can plot out how they will get there. Season three of Lost was panned at the time, and in many ways it deserved it particularly during the fall portion of the season. But if you re-watch it now it actually contained episodes that moved the story as swiftly as any before or after. Hopefully working out an end date for Revenge can provide the spark its laborious second season needs.
To the season itself, I think it is fair to assert that Revenge hasn’t been as good as last year. Part of the reason, I believe, is because the show hasn’t adapted well to a change in the way its episodes are built. Much of the first season gave us Emily’s takedown of the week as she went after people who played a role in the framing of her father. It was a great structure for telling all the back story behind Emily, Grayson Global and what happened to David Clarke. But it could only last for so long. The characters are established and new details only come as the show needs them.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the show has to be worse, but it does mean we are less surprised when one Grayson turns on another and less swept away by the luxury and excess of the Hamptons lifestyle. The writers have yet to figure out a way to replace the thrills those dramatics gave us last year, and the show suffers.
Whereas last year the smart, surprising and Machiavellian characters drove the plot, this year it feels like the needs of the plot are driving the characters. Nolan Ross is a prime example. He’s gone from a key player in Emily’s plan (thanks, we learned, to his close relationship with her father) to an unmanned drone deployed as the story needs him. First for Daniel’s takeover of Grayson Global. Then he abandoned all business sense in naming the vastly unqualified Padma as NolCorp’s CFO. It was wildly out of character for him to do something that ill-thought-out to his company, but the story needed her in place to find a piece of software Nolan was hiding.
Conrad is another case of a character seeming to lose his purpose. After being charged with Gordon Murphy’s murder and released, Daniel ousted him at Grayson and the Initiative dumped him. So, naturally, he’s plotting a political career. Why? I don’t know. It isn’t in concert with anything he’s done as a character thus far so presumably the plot needs him to run for office for some reason. So he is, with Ashley as his chief advisor. You know, the chief advisor who he slept with when she was dating his son. Uh-huh, riiiiight.
Meanwhile the really intriguing aspects that closed season one have played out flat. The finale’s shocking revelation that Emily’s mother is still alive was a complete dud. Instead of her mom being a dynamic character who can drive the story she is a psychological mess who did virtually nothing for the show and hasn’t been seen for months. A total waste of a character. The mysterious Initiative has been equally disappointing, although that might be changing now that we know its plan is to create and then profit from a disaster in New York City. Still, it doesn’t feel like one of those secretive world dominating conspiracies that only exist in televisions and movies (as far as I know). If both were better characters (literally or figuratively) the story would be making up for some of what it has lost.
Other aspects of this season’s story just aren’t interesting. Emily’s partnership with Aiden isn’t anything and his pursuit of his sister is totally irrelevant. In fact, the two of them making out in public after pretending to split is totally out of character for Emily, she is never that careless. It took way, way too long for Jack selling the bar to the Ryans to work its way around to Conrad’s usefulness. With new characters on the way such as Conrad’s ex-wife (not Victoria, his other ex-wife) there’s a chance yet we could get something interesting.
It might sound like I haven’t enjoyed this season, but I have. I have always been more open to the patience it takes to let a serial drama unfold (probably thanks to years of grooming from daytime) so these less-than-spectacular story lines haven’t turned me off. Revenge still serves up good excitement from week to week. I expect it to continue to ramp up the drama as it races toward May.