Revenge “Confession” recap: Conrad rises, Emily sinks

Through confession and forgiveness, redemption.

“Some believe confession helps a guilty soul find peace, releasing us from the shame and regret of our mistakes. In the face of mortality, many feel the need to seek this closure to make things right. Because if death doesn’t kill us, our demons will.”

That is the Emily Thorne voiceover to begin last Sunday’s episode, Confession. Here is the one that closed it:

“A guilty heart is silent, it’s pulse muffled by the secrets it keeps. While some believe confession can release a tortured soul, others view it as a sign of weakness. Because ultimately whatever you say, however you feel about what you’ve done, it’s irrelevant for the hand of death is equally unforgiving.”

In between Revenge stuck to the religious theme it established last week as Emily manipulated Conrad toward a confession. I love this and think it’s great for the show. Creator Mike Kelley described the show as a modern day telling of The Count of Monte Cristo and chose to open it with a quote from Confucius. But those themes were rarely referred to and I would say forgotten by the end of his time as producer. Adding a religious base reminds me of the way Lost’s writers made heavy references to religion, literature and philosophy. All three provide universal themes from which you can tell any story and give it much more depth.

Revenge could have spent several episodes developing a plot line that led to Conrad’s decision. Instead it mixed themes of confession and forgiveness to do it in two. In scenes with Emily and Father Paul, Conrad is very much a man representing the Bible verse I cited in last week’s piece. He believes confession will wash away his sins and tells Father Paul, “I welcome death now.” Conrad’s decision is sealed by believing a confession will give Charlotte back the father he took from her in sin. Through confession and forgiveness, redemption.

This is such an improvement over last season that I am almost ready to declare Revenge to be “back.”

But of course while Conrad attempts to find God, Emily continues to defy it. Instead of seeking forgiveness and redemption for framing Father Paul, she doubles down on her alleged regret and blackmails him into working on Conrad. Convince him to confess or be exposed again, she tells him.

He succeeds, but their journey to confession ends in a fiery crash. Father Paul is dead. Conrad, though weakened from Emily manipulating his drug regimen, survives. What happened? We don’t see. I believe Victoria Grayson happened.

Scroll back up to the final voice-over. “A guilty heart is silent, it’s pulse muffled by the secrets it keeps.” That is Victoria, a heart turned so wicked by guilt that she hurts her own children without flinching. “While some believe confession can release a tortured soul, others view it as a sign of weakness.” This line is meant to symbolize the perspectives Conrad and Victoria hold at this point in the story. Remember what she told Patrick last week when she sold her painting: “The world I live in, if they sense this vulnerability they will use it as a weapon. So, I part with the things I love.” She believes facing mortality made Conrad too weak, and therefore vulnerable to what she would perceive as religious foolishness. Enough so that she would “part” with Conrad? Consider her rationalization to Patrick: Some sacrifices are easier than others.

The final line in Emily’s voiceover should convince us that the crash was not a case of reckless driving. “Because ultimately whatever you say, however you feel about what you’ve done, it’s irrelevant for the hand of death is equally unforgiving.” Sorry, Father Paul, you do not get to confess, there will be no cleansing for your soul. The hand of death got you first.

Now Emily’s twisted sense of redemption has led a reformed man to his grave. She continued her moral downward spiral by laying a new layer of lies on her relationship with Daniel and leveling Victoria with a humiliating public revelation of the Grayson’s financial troubles.

Emily Thorne’s descent resembles Walter White’s in Breaking Bad. We began the show rooting for her to get revenge on the evil Graysons, but now she has turned into the people she came to the Hamptons to destroy. Her takedown of Father Paul is meant to represent what happened to her own father and show that she has, for all intents and purposes, become a Grayson. She lies to the people she loves. She plots with no regard or remorse. I can’t root for her to win any more than I could root for Walter. She is sealing her fate in one of the graves Confucius warns about. Maybe not representing physical death but a life with no one to turn to. The life Conrad tells her of when he admits he has no relationships to fall back on in his dying days. Father Paul told Conrad no one wants to die alone. That is exactly where Emily is headed and right now it is exactly what she deserves.

If death doesn’t kill her, her demons surely will. Two graves, equally unforgiving.

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Revenge is actually mine, says Emily Thorne

Season three, episode two takes a turn for the church

I’m out of town and don’t have time to do a full write up for Revenge S3E2, “Sin,” so we’ll jump right into some Memos to a Character.

Dear Emily, Romans 12:19: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” When you decided to devote your life to this course of revenge did you foresee the way it would turn you into a cold and remorseless villain? You may not see yourself that way, but the people who lived at the generosity of Father Paul do. This was the first of your takedowns that gave you the opportunity to see what you do to people. Will it change your way of thinking or will you continue to take from the Lord his vengeance?

Dear Charlotte, Ezekiel 16:44: Behold, everyone who uses proverbs will use this proverb about you: ‘Like mother, like daughter.’  Despite all that he has done to tear apart your family, what you said to Conrad was exceptionally hurtful. You are the only Grayson with clean hands. Don’t become your mother.

Dear Jack, Galatians 5:13: For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Keep this in mind as you and Charlotte grow close. She is your dead brother’s ex-girlfriend who is the biological sister of your childhood sweetheart after you thought she was the biological sister of your dead wife who you thought was your childhood sweetheart. Also mind the age difference. I would like you two became close friends because you are the only decent people in this saga, but that is as far as you should really go. She has the genuine qualities of the father she never knew. You were also shaped by your father and became a father to Declan. As a team I think you two could be good morality checks for Charlotte’s parents and Emily. They need it.

Dear Nolan, I John 2:16-17: For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. Who do you think you are Derek Jeter? Do you send your conquests home with a basket full of autographed computer disks? Keep trying to rein in Emily when her quest for revenge takes her down a dark path. That is where you will find your purpose, not in the arms of strangers.

Dear Conrad, I John 1:8-9: 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Your visit to the church tells me your exposure to mortality is causing you a crisis of conscience. Follow it. Confess your sins. The ramifications will shatter your family and the world around you, but you will experience the truth you need if these indeed are your final days.

Dear Victoria, Ecclesiastes 5:10: He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. I’ve never learned more about you than when you said you have to keep up the appearance of being wealthy. You spend so much of your life trying to keep up appearances. Family, happiness, wealth. It’s almost like a job for you. There will come a day when you realize these things are not appearances but values.

Dear Daniel, 2 Timothy 2:22: So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. I am in awe. Resisting a redhead the way you did was damn near a miracle. You are strong where I am weak, and it shows you are beyond a life of youthful passions. I am very happy to see you pursuing work with Margaux’s magazine. Stepping away from the Grayson shadow will bring you rich rewards. I am, however, suspicious of the timing though I can’t quite put my finger on why.

Dear blueberry muffins, Zechariah 9:12: Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double. Watching you be passed around the Hamptons summed up the Hamptons better than I ever could. Come to Minnesota. We will treat you right and give you the reward you deserve, the reward of being eaten.

Sincerely,

Kevin

Revenge Rights Wrongs

Season three premiere erases season two

The most shocking reveal from the Revenge season premiere is that only one line from season two still matters: “I’m Amanda Clarke.” Everything else, every way that the show went haywire, has been wiped away. Charlotte’s baby? Gone. The Initiative? Poof. Carrion? Flown the coop. Ashley? Buh-bye. Governor Grayson? Sent home sick. I can’t remember any other show erasing storylines so completely.

“Let’s never say the words ‘Carrion’ or ‘Initiative’ ever again,” Emily says when she picks up Nolan outside the prison. “Amen to that,” he responds.

So do we. New showrunner Sunil Nayar dismissed most of these unpopular storylines in the first five minutes. Perhaps to mock how silly Conrad’s political story was from the beginning, Nayar had him hinting at presidential aspirations before the alleged onset of Huntington’s Disease forced him to resign. Poor Ashley was the unsuspecting victim in Nayar’s final clear-cutting. To really drive a dagger through season two, Nayar paired Victoria and Emily to turn aside her last desperate attempt to stay in the Hamptons and deport her to television Narnia, although her deliciously sexy accent will always have a place in this writer’s heart.

In that same scene outside the prison Nolan takes Emily’s left hand and asks her the question that returns the series to its roots: Are the “rules of engagement” to Daniel still on? Of course they are. She is trying to delay setting a wedding date while Daniel looks for a new job. What will happen between now and then looks to be the guts of season three. Indeed, in the next scene Emily boldly proclaims that if all goes as planned this year’s Memorial Day party will be the last the Graysons ever attend.

This is the most welcome news we could have asked for. Revenge is back where it began with Emily plotting the Graysons’ demise.

To tell that story it appears the third season will model itself after season one with a teaser followed by a jump to two months earlier. This is a great decision, one I speculated about last month. Revenge has been best when it is building toward a specific point in time. This season it is two months from Memorial Day, which will line up to be just before Emily and Daniel’s decision to get married on August 8. All that remains for the timeline is to see if the third season ends there or pivots the way season one did after the fire-and-ice engagement party.

The last topic I want to cover before hitting some Memos To A Character is the possibility for the show’s end. The pilot opened with Emily quoting Confucius’s famous quote, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” In this episode she tells Nolan of her intention to exact her ultimate revenge on her 8-8 wedding day. As he draw’s Emily’s interlocking infinity symbols in the sand, he calls it, “A fitting end to a path of revenge.”

Is the show trying to tell us something? I wrote last year that it needs an end date so it can know how much time it has to tell Emily’s story. Surely this can’t be the reason for the premiere to be talking end game, but it had a definite impact on what happened. Jack gave her an ultimatum to finish her plot this summer and leave town or he will out her true identity. Remember that Emily will be shot in her wedding dress two months from now. Will it be the second grave Confucius refers to? If so, who is in the first? And if that is something we see in season three, what will be left for season four??? Time will tell, and that’s why this year’s premiere has me excited for what’s to come.

Now, Memos To A Character.

Dear Emily, you really did get shot in the tummy. I’m sorry this happened to you. I was wrong to speculate you might be wearing a vest because when you were floating there in the water (wait, you float?) you sure were bleeding. I hope medical attention comes quickly because you will lose a lot of blood from those wounds.

Dear Victoria, a warm welcome back to you. “Emily. It’s a shame you still feel the need to drop by unannounced.” That is the you we know and love. Not really sure what you mean but judging by the look on your face it isn’t a compliment nor a welcome.

Dear Patrick, what’s your deal, bro? We only saw the back of your shoulder last season and you kept your mom company while her husband settled in up in Albany. But why you no stay when he come home? Are you out of the story for good or just waiting for the right time to hop back out to the Hamptons?

Dear Jack. Sigh. You weren’t your usual dumb self so I will give you some credit. How about your kiss with Emily though? That was pretty intense and breathy, I hope you had some mints. I was relieved that despite how great it looked you said you don’t have any feelings for her. You know I don’t like love triangles, so thanks for that. I don’t know why you want Emily to get her revenge over with so fast but it at least will help the story move, so thanks for that, too.

Dear Aden, you prick. Your quest for revenge not only failed to save your sister, it failed to get you Emily as well. But you did get to take out your anger on Takada so have a Coke and a smile and shut the front door, okay? That means go away.

Dear Padma, you are so still dead.

 

Sincerely,

 

Kevin

 

Feeling for Revenge

It was really hard to come up with something to write about Revenge. I re-read a piece I wrote after the season finale and re-watched the two-hour episode to get in the right mindset to think about what will be a make-or-break third season.

I got nothin’. Even though I really liked the finale and believe booting Michael Kelley was the right thing to do I can’t come up with any emotion for the season that premieres Sunday, September 29. Why not?

Maybe it is due to the teaser ABC released showing Emily being shot in the abdomen. She gets shot, but does she really? She doesn’t appear to bleed, in fact the impact appears to give off black residue as if it hits some kind of matrimonial Kevlar. I grew to loathe these teasers during Lost because they are put together by marketing departments with the goal of making you watch the show, not writers with the goal of giving a glimpse of what will happen.

I am not up for being teased and misled. Maybe someone wants Emily dead, maybe someone wants someone else to think Emily is dead. We will find out. What is not happening, we can be absolutely sure, is that Revenge is not killing off its main character. Trying to make us think it might is insulting to our intelligence.

Maybe there is a silver lining here. After Emily appears to fall off a yacht the narrator says, “and that’s just in the first 60 seconds.” A lot of people met the second season with discontent as the story meandered in too many directions, but I think the show really started to slide halfway thru its first season. A reminder of how the show began: The first scene of the series premiere was Emily and Daniel’s Labor Day engagement party and what appeared to be Daniel getting shot on the beach. The rest of the episode and first half of the season was a flashback of everything that happened from Memorial Day until the party. Everything worked perfectly for Emily’s plan as she took out one enemy after another. Of course it did. For the show’s purposes, all of it already happened. Some of it was a little far fetched, a little too perfect, but we bought it because it had to have happened for the engagement party to happen.

Once the show caught up to that first scene, things changed. It didn’t have that anchoring moment to build up to anymore. The story had to be told in real-time, and it really began to falter. My hope is that this teaser is a sign the new showrunner will model the first season’s structure and, by extension, get back much of what it lost. If not that then at least a different creative way to shake up the show.

It lost more than its storytelling prowess, though. Its characters sagged. Nolan lost all of his mojo after falling for dear dead Padma and ended last season in jail for the blackout and bombing at Grayson headquarters. Actor Gabriel Mann said Nolan gets his sex on in season three, so presumably his time in jail doesn’t last long. Good. The whole Padma storyline and his sudden rivalry with the hacker Falcon need to be two things the show jettisons from its lackluster sophomore season.

The same goes for Victoria. She was neutered by Conrad becoming the one who plotted Fauxmanda’s downfall and death and further diminished by his run for governor. The show needs her to be the cunning, protective mother she was in season one. The son she gave up for adoption came back in the finale, how will that affect her? Will she be as protective of him as she is Daniel and Charlotte, or will the humiliating way he was exposed knock her off her game entirely? Let’s hope the show has a real purpose for him, the last thing it needs is a useless new character.

Conrad is the governor. He takes a spill in the teaser as if he is having a stroke. That would be cheap. I really feel the show bungled The Initiative’s presence last season. Now that he revealed his role in it to Victoria and Daniel, is it over or will it ascend to a bigger role with the governor and the head of Grayson Global in its confidences?

What about Daniel Grayson? Will he accept what Conrad did and what it means for him? What does it mean for him? It is time for the young Mr. Grayson to become more than Conrad and Victoria’s son. He deserves to fully establish himself as his own person, and the show needs him to. Ousted showrunner Michael Kelley is rumored to have wanted to shorten Revenge into a 13 episode run similar to most cable serials as opposed to the 20-plus episodes of most network shows. He lost that fight, so his successors will have to rely on deeper characters to fill all that time if they intend to reduce the amount of sprawl in the storyline. A better Daniel character can help them do that.

And, no, I still haven’t forgiven them for killing Declan.

ABC, Michael Kelley and most everyone involved with Revenge admitted it went awry in season two. Hopefully that recognition and the new lead writer will get a once a very enjoyable and saucy primetime soap back on track.

I guess I did find an emotion: Hope.

Revenge season finale delivers needed change

The season two finale of Revenge was everything its preceding episodes were not: Fast, dramatic, intriguing, surprising. The two-hour ride was creator Mike Kelley’s last time at the helm after having left the show following taping. It was like a game seven of the World Series – leave nothing in reserve. His goodbye was a throwback to the early days of the show that viewers longed for too often in season two.

Like the best season finales it converged its storylines in an explosive fashion that will fundamentally change the show starting next season. Conrad is Governor of New York. Conrad is part of The Initiative. Daniel and Victoria are disillusioned with Conrad. Charlotte is pregnant, Declan is dead. Jack knows Emily’s true identity.

Waitwaitwait – what?!?

Emily revealing her identity beyond her circle of Revenge-minded friends fundamentally alters the show. Fans who hated this season should welcome her confession. I opined earlier that Revenge needs to set a firm ending date so its writers can know how they have to pace the story. It also needs to show that it is about more than when Emily reveals her true identity. The best way to do that? Tell Jack, her childhood friend.

It’s a cat they can’t put back in the bag. For the rest of the series, Jack Porter will know that Emily Thorne is really Amanda Clarke. Their relationship is changed, so is her journey of revenge. So is the story itself. That’s a good thing. Revenge needs this kind of change. Lost’s storylines exploded in every direction when it revealed that getting off of the island would not wait until the series finale. Revenge’s story is flatter than Lost’s was but it can still see improvement from changing one of its fundamental relationships.

Disgruntled viewers can come away encouraged from the finale’s other changes as well.

Conrad’s character had fallen off this season after Daniel ousted him at Grayson Global.  The half-hearted attempt they made at a political storyline didn’t give him much to work with. In this episode, Conrad the mastermind is back. From the midst of the blackout to his closing speech and the bombing at Grayson headquarters Conrad seemed as if he was waiting out a script, not bouncing around amidst chaos. The calm confidence he displayed when Daniel told him the family fortune was wiped out came off as almost crazy, as if the pressure of his campaign and trauma of the bombing had driven him mad.

Then it all came pouring out on the balcony with Victoria. There is no Initiative, only business elites profiting from the creation of fear and Conrad is fully vested in their sick manipulations. The blackout, the bombing, the aftermath, all of it done to create a fear that will drive government to act in ways that the orchestrators are perfectly positioned to reap the benefits from. Billions upon billions of dollars, surpassing the wealth the Graysons earned from framing David Clarke. Even Victoria Grayson, party to David Clarke’s demise and perpetrator of so many misdeeds of her own, cannot seem to stomach her husband’s revelation.

The Initiative’s missing role in season two was one of the things I criticized in summing up where Revenge went off the rails. Now that we know the full story, that criticism has to be re-examined. Was Conrad’s revelation a bombshell? Thru the lens of the story, yes. But dramatically speaking it could have been a lot better if The Initiative had been given a strong presence throughout the season.

Think back to how Lost handled The Others. The entire second season was about building up that mystery and anticipation so that by the time Live Together, Die Alone aired we were practically on our knees begging to know who they were and what they were doing on the island. Revenge didn’t do that and as a result never gave us one of those, “We’re the good guys, Michael” moments. I’m not criticizing the revelation as it affects the story, I think it will be great in that regard. Rather, the way it was handled throughout the season is a clear failure of creativity, which robbed us of the kind of epic dramatic twist that makes a finale memorable.

Setting that aside, it will still change the story. The Initiative (let’s still call it that) isn’t just in position to profit from fear, it has the Governor of New York to help make it happen. Not so fast! Victoria is non-plussed and Daniel doesn’t even know what to think. Dumb Jack (more on him shortly) is clued-in to Emily’s big secret. Nolan Ross is in custody and won’t just roll over and take the fall. There is a lot threatening Conrad’s re-emerged dominance.

Before we chronicle Jack’s Machiavellian ineptitude, a quick sidebar on what happened to Nolan. Someone obviously had this all set up to unravel the moment he drained the Grayson’s bank accounts. But whom? Maybe that’s a mystery to unfold in season three. Padma’s involvement indicates she may not be room temperature after all, but why would she have turned on him? Is she somehow part of The Initiative? I have a bold theory: Aden did it. He was the only one who saw supposedly-dead Padma. But what does he have against Nolan Ross? Nolan is a key element of Emily’s quest for revenge. With his moral support and computer wizardry behind bars, Aiden must see he has a better chance at convincing her to abandon the Hamptons with him. Remember: Aden was the one moving Grayson Global’s money around before Nolan drained it. I refuse to believe that a character we only saw in one episode, Falcon, will be allowed to frame a major character.

Okay, now on to Jack.

Jack and Victoria are together at the bar when the blackout hits, giving us a great look at Jack once again showing he just doesn’t have the brains to compete with the Graysons. He breathlessly tells Victoria that he knows Conrad framed David Clarke, brilliantly reminding her that she loved him. Yes, Jack, she loved him so much and is so clueless about her husband’s life that she had no idea David was innocent. Dolt. Victoria played along the way an adult pretends to enjoy playing Go Fish with a five-year-old.

Back at the mansion, Jack is so eager to find the computer in the safe Victoria never knew about that he throws his own file on Conrad’s desk without even knowing it. His Brilliancy then accidentally reveals to Victoria that he is working with Ashley to sabotage Conrad’s campaign. First rule of being a schemer: You gotta remember who knows what, Jackie boy.

Why did the good Porter have to die? Revenge fans have lambasted Declan for two seasons, but I dare any of them to not love him and love Charlotte’s love for him after this episode. His death and Charlotte’s pregnancy will probably elevate her as a character, which would be good for the show. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. We will probably never know why Declan was in the Grayson office when it blew up, maybe it doesn’t matter. My only last beef is that he didn’t get to tell off Victoria in their last conversation. It would have been a nice parting gift to the character for enduring all her uppity crap. Here’s to hoping Connor Paolo gets more work.

Speaking of death, is it just me or was Takada’s role in the show severely wasted? The finale briefly diverged from its core storyline to tell us that his fiancé was on the flight The Initiative bombed, revealing that Emily and Aden were really a part of his grand scheme to get revenge for her death. That had a Jacob-like feel to me and could have been used to great effect later in the series, just like Jacob and Man In Black were. A reveal in later seasons that our main character is just a pawn in a larger game would rock our world. Instead it’s a few scenes in season two. Blame it on that failure of creativity again.

For some fans, no finale will be enough to fix the mess Revenge made out of its second season. I think this finale should at least earn a look at season three. With a new show runner coming on board and big changes to the storyline, Revenge has a chance to get back on top as one of primetime’s sexiest dramas.