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.

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To have loved and Lost

Was it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?

I should have seen it coming.

One of the first big mythological reveals Lost doled out on its path back to the bamboo field came from Eloise Hawking in season five’s 316.  Having gathered Jack, Ben, Desmond and Sun around a giant Foucault pendulum in the basement of the church, she explained how the island disappeared at the end of There’s No Place Like Home and how the Oceanic 6 could get back to the island to rescue the ones they left behind.  At the time I felt the scene was forced, hasty and artificial.  But, because there were still so many answers to come, I figured they would get better at dishing them out.  I was wrong.

With a final season that featured remarkable acting and a musical score that should be a shoe-in for an Emmy, Lost still limped to its conclusion because what had been its strength for five years broke down and became its weakness.  The superior story weaving that the writers unwound since day one collapsed under its own tremendous weight. The writers found themselves having to close five year’s worth of lose ends and revealed themselves as better at posing questions than answering them.

This played itself out in a repeat of the pendulum room often during the final season, especially the reveal of the whispers heard in the jungle since season one.  Six years of mystery explained away in one brief exchange between Hurley and a dead guy, then on to the next thing.  Six years littered with 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 explained with an almost dismissive “Jacob had a thing for numbers.”  With it, one of Lost’s earliest and eeriest mysteries is shown to be as important as the numbers on the bibs handed out to track runners before a race, which is to say they weren’t important at all.

I suppose this should have come as a surprise.  Writers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse warned us in the run up to the final season that they would not answer every question, pledging to tie up only those they deemed important to what they felt the show was about: the characters’ respective journeys.  My views of season six and the finale are and will continue to be enormously critical, but that shouldn’t be mistaken for demeaning the writers’ enormous skill.  I fully understand what they did with the end of the show and why they did it.  Judged in only the light of what they wanted, the show’s end was brilliant.  I’m not knowledgeable enough about television history to judge The End against finales past, but I find it hard to believe that any of them could have been more complete and beautiful.

Watterson, you’re being bipolar.  No, I’m not.  (Okay, that part was probably bipolar.) I’m explaining that I understand Lost and its finale and I appreciate it for what it is, but that I don’t like what it is.  I’m comfortable holding those seemingly opposite beliefs at the same time because I know there is a difference between what I ultimately wanted the show to be and the story the writers wanted to tell.  The part of me that understands the writers’ intent is okay with the inadequate answers and unsolved mysteries and I love the ultimate resolution to the characters’ lives in that light.  But the part of me that wanted the end of the series to be so much more is bubbling with discontent, which it is time to investigate more deeply.

First, to make it understandable, I need to explain the Lost I came to love.  My Lost was a Lost built with layer upon layer of mystery, mythology and missing pieces.  Some layers stood on their own, others built a symbiotic relationship with each other so deep that it led to the breakdown I wrote about above.  In the Lost I loved, a deeply flawed and miraculously healed character named John Locke literally dug up a sci-fi treasure that would shape the show for five seasons.  Those two elements – character and mystery – depended on each other for their own advancement, and the show was at its best when they developed together.  By the same token, the ultimate ending I was looking for was one in which they ended together – character and mystery.  We know now that didn’t happen. The writers went characters first and now fans like me are left with our discontent.

Going character first meant no epic, mind-blowing revelations or plot twists that Lost pulled off so well so many times.  I remember drawing forward in my seat watching Ben turn the frozen donkey wheel at the end of season four, the pain of willingly leaving the island he so obsessed over clearly evident on his face.  Character; mystery. Perhaps there is no better example than my favourite scene of the series: Sawyer gripping Juliet’s hand as she dangled in the hole dug at the Swan station.  Heart wrenching character-driven emotion layered on top of the sci-fi elements sewn with the Dharma Initiative’s quest to reach the pocket of electromagnetic energy.

Without tying the end of the characters’ journey to the remaining mysteries of the island, the finale lacked previous seasons’ ability to grab us by the heart and the mind.  The end went almost exclusively for our hearts, and though it succeeded in that regard, it failed to fully tap into everything that made Lost so great.

That leads into my biggest disappointment, which is that the final season was poorly executed.  I justify my assertion with one word: Dogan.  Remember Dogan?  Instead of wasting our time with him and the temple (which itself was never a great Lost mystery) they could have gone deeper into the history of the island and fleshed out Jacob and MiB to make Across the Sea more meaningful.

Measure it this way: how much of what happened at the temple was relevant to the finale? None of it.  At its core, all the main characters did was go to the temple and runaway before Smokey wiped everyone out. It was a setting for no significant storyline progression that couldn’t have been done otherwise.  After five years of accepting the island’s magical healing powers (also never explained) fans would have accepted Sayid surviving and falling into MiB’s camp for what would have been obvious reasons.  Instead we got week after week of muddy water, clamps to the nipple and a Japanese guy with a thing for his baseball.  Precious time wasted.

Applying the same standard to the season’s major narrative device yields a different result but brings the same disappointment.  The purpose for the flash sideways is obvious now, as is the reason it had to figure so prominently in the season.  The revelation that all the characters were dead was huge, and it had to be earned.  Fans would never have bought into it if the flash sideways wasn’t given the attention it received before the finale.  But we were left to linger for too long with no sense at all of its purpose.  Had the diversionary storyline of Desmond trying to connect all the passengers for Oceanic 815 been introduced earlier than the eleventh episode of the season, the pace and path of the season would have been less frustrating, especially early on while the island timeline was bogged down with the temple.  Again, very heavy on character, very light on mystery.

I am also disappointed that the construction of the season and the finale put the flash sideways revelation as the last big element of the characters’ journey to fall into place.  The specific information that the sideways represented a sort of heavenly waiting room was wholly confined to the developments of season six.  The writers tried to tie it to the rest of the series with the conversation between Christian and Jack, but it didn’t work for me, again because it was too character centric.  Look at all the questions left unanswered: Why can’t women carry a baby to term; Why 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42; Why all the hieroglyphics; Who built the plug; Who found the island in the first place; and so many more.  None of those questions are relevant to the way the writers chose to end the show, but they are why I and so many other fans obsessed over it.  To not build them into the ending does indeed leave us feeling like we got the middle finger from a creative team willing to give it high and hard.  As I said above, I respect them for having the guts to do it, I just wish they hadn’t.

I wish they had given a better payoff to the fans who picked the show apart frame by frame.  The fans who poured over every detail of the blast door map, researched every name and anagram and found every Easter egg deserved a better end than they were given.   There turned out to be no magic bullet that they all missed, no clue that turned out to be bigger than all the rest.  As far as these fans are concerned, the series may as well have ended after Juliet smashed the hydrogen bomb because very little of what they loved about Lost – what I loved about Lost – made it through to the end.  Their fanatical loyalty was not given due reward, and that is too bad.

ABC’s marketing and promotions department deserves some of the fault here.  “The time for questions has passed. The time for answers has arrived.” went the pre-season tease.  The writers play no role in those promotions.  Those who do are either willful liars or completely detached from the show they promoted.  Their material helped build expectations that those involved with crafting the show knew would never be met.

Yet there are things I think fans can assume even though they weren’t ever addressed.  I’m comfortable saying the plan to reset the timeline by blowing up the hydrogen bomb didn’t work.  The flash sideways turned out not to be the reset timeline, and on the island all it did was flash the characters forward to 2007.  (Though one would think this would have been significant enough to the surviving members of the Dharma Initiative to earn further exploration in the storyline.)

So it ends with the same question we ask ourselves after any long relationship runs dry: Was it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?  Did thick heartstrings keep me from fully foreseeing this disappointing end as it began to unfold last season?  It’s a question we can only answer for ourselves, and my answer is yes.

Ab Aerteno

“Ab Aeterno” may have been the most anticipated non-premier, non-finale hour in Lost history because the focus of its story, Richard Alpert, undeniably held the key to many of the secrets Lost fans are desperate for.  Yet it did not just meet those expectations, it exceeded them. Tremendously.

Lost critics found easy fodder with the acting early in the show’s lifetime, but the entire cast has elevated its performance to a new level of excellence in the show’s final season.  Carbonell delivered the latest gem playing his character as a simple man who fears his God and loves his wife.  Faced with death and certain damnation, he is sold into slavery and chained in the bottom of – you guessed it – The Black Rock.  Thrown to the middle of the island, desperate to survive but afraid to die, he makes a deal with the very devil he is so afraid of facing in his afterlife.

Aside from being revealing, nothing to that point of the episode really gave us the deep mythological answers we have been waiting for for so long.  That all changed when Jacob “baptized” Ricardos in the ocean, forcing him to admit that he is alive, not in hell.  Then we got the masterfully-executed scene with Jacob describing the island as the cork that keeps the evil – that is, the Man in Black – trapped in the island where it cannot harm the rest of the world.  In one simple analogy the writers answered one of Lost’s biggest questions: What is this island?  Now we know.  For sure, there are still island-related questions left to be answered, but now we have a much better understanding of what has been going on behind the scenes of the Lost storyline these six seasons.

Jacob granting Ricardos his wish to never die also solidified one of the key differences between him and the Man in Black.  We’ve seen MiB routinely make false promises to his recruits, from promising Claire her baby back to promising Ricardos his dead wife.  This is what the devil does to you: he lies and deceives.  Jacob won’t make promises he can’t keep, and he tells Ricardos as much.  He wants Isabella back, Jacob tells him he can’t do that.  He wants his sins absolved, and again Jacob says he can’t do that. But he can give Ricardos eternal youth so that he won’t have to answer to the devil in hell for taking a man’s life.

I left this wonderful episode with one fresh theory.  In the season premiere we got the mysterious shot of a sunken island in what we came to know as the flash sideways world.  I theorize that the sunken island means the battle between light and dark has ended and the island is no longer needed as a cork to trap the evil.  I’m not prepared to guess which side won, however.  If I had to, I would lean to Jacob winning because what we have seen of the flash sideways world doesn’t seem to indicate that evil is running rampant.

There was so much more to take from this episode, so many observations.  I will layout some of them below:

The episode began with an extended version of the scene when Jacob visits Ilana – why show this in this episode?  It didn’t seem to have anything to do with the Ricardos storyline.

Richard questions his faith…in Jacob. In fact, he lost it, trying to kill himself and when that failed trying to take up MiB on his offer.  Questioning faith has always been a theme.

Have you noticed how often this season characters have had their face half lit, half dark? Most famously done in Widmore’s bedroom with he and Ben in The Shape of Things to Come, it seems to happen a lot this season and has to be symbolic for something.  Perhaps the culmination of this long battle between Jacob and MiB, between light and dark, as Locke describes to Walt in Pilot Part Two.

One of the things I’ve always loved about Lost is that no detail seems to be chosen randomly, and that shows again in Ricardos coming from the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.  According to Wikipedia the name translates to Island of Hell, a perfect connection to this episode and Ricardos’ story.  It is also home to the deadliest aviation incident in history (at that time).  Two airplanes collided on a runway at the island’s airport, which was an unscheduled stop for both flights.

The way Richard killed the doctor is exactly the same as the way Desmond killed Inman in Live Together, Die Alone: An unintentional blow to the back of the head.

I don’t know why this didn’t hit me until now: The Black Rock.  When Jacob sent Ricardos back to MiB, he sent with him a white rock as a gift.  This was the white rock Flocke took from the balance in the cave and tossed into the ocean. Black rock, white rock. Light, dark. Good, evil.  Just another wonderful detail that makes Lost so much fun.

You’d be freaked out, too, if you saw a giant statue in the middle of the ocean.

Smokey went after the ship, just like he did the cabin of Oceanic 815.  Is attacking new visitors to the island his way of ensuring Jacob doesn’t succeed?  He kills everyone to eliminate anyone who might be a candidate but leaves those who he thinks can be his recruit?

Okay, the boar eating one of the dead slaves was gross, but was I the only one who wondered if the boar Ricardos and MiB roasted later on was the same one?  I don’t think I could eat a boar that I just watched eat a person.

I noticed two strange camera shots in this episode.  The first occurred with MiB talking to Ricardos in the ship, the second when Jacob questioned him on the beach about his encounter with MiB.  Both shots were abnormally close up, almost fish-eyed. Did anyone else catch that?

Hurley takes a Jacob line telling Isabella that sometimes it takes people a while to see what they need to see.  That scene was almost as great as the Desmond-Penny phone call in The Constant. Had we had more build up with their relationship, it would have been equal.

In their conversation at the end of the episode, MiB tells Jacob not to gloat because “It doesn’t become you.” What does that mean?  Perhaps he is telling Jacob that winning over Ricardos doesn’t mean Ricardos is a candidate to take his place, or to become him.

We’re probably in for a bit of a downer next week, coming off an episode as great as this.