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.

Can you hear me?

Person of Interest makes it difficult for fans to draw conclusions from its season finales. Its two so far have done more to upend its story than resolve it. Season two’s “God Mode” gave viewers a nice mix of excitement before a good cliffhanger left us with questions about what comes next in the story, not who may or may not be dead. Open some new directions, close up some old ones, that’s what I like to see from a season finale.

God Mode began with a vicious video game style shooting rampage directed by The Machine to enable Reese, Shaw, Finch and Root to escape the library where Reese and Root answered The Machine’s phone call. This and its subsequent actions directing them all to safety reveal the show’s most exciting new direction: The Machine’s emergence as a full character.

For most of the first two seasons Harold’s baby has been fairly static. In this episode it became true artificial intelligence, which is exactly how Shaw described it after Reese revealed it to her. Instead of just spitting out numbers The Machine is now a service for whomever it allows to access it. To illustrate this, the writers sent Reese and Shaw after some non-relevants as a way to show what the sentient machine can do. Need a car? Just ask. Need glasses? Just ask. The combination to Harold’s safe? Anything The Machine can know it can give you. Characters don’t just react to it, they interact with it. The Machine is not just numbers anymore.

The ensuing race to find The Machine supported an episode that threw a tremendous amount of storyline at its viewers and reshuffled its setting for next season.

Root leads Harold to a nuclear waste facility in Washington State where they believe The Machine is located. Finch warns her to keep her expectations under control and when the door opens we find out why: The Machine is missing. Yeah, missing. The largest, most powerful computer system ever developed ain’t where it’s supposed to be.

Or is it? Harold explains that he designed the virus Decima unleashed, which in itself was not a surprise to viewers. He goes on to explain how he programmed The Machine so the only way it would alter its code would be in response to an attack. By building the attack himself, he was able to implant instructions within the virus that directed The Machine to relocate, in essence teaching The Machine how to hide from its enemies. Putting the virus into the world with reliance on the fact that someone would someday unleash it shows how building The Machine dampened Harold’s faith in human goodness.

We learned where The Machine used to be, and chasing after it could easily be one of the storylines that bleeds over into the start of next season. But I hope the writers are approaching The Machine’s existence the same way Lost’s writers approached explaining their story. Darlton used the example of midi-chlorians in Star Wars ruining the mysterious nature of the force as proof of why they never wanted to fully explain the show. Star Wars sucks so I don’t know a lot about midi-chlorineians or whatever, but I feel the same way about The Machine. Don’t ruin it by trying to tell us every last detail.

After Special Counsel learns The Machine got away, a phone call from a woman we only know as Ma’am instructs Hersch to eliminate him. Knowing what was going to happen and resigned to the fate he long ago consented to, Counsel stared down the barrel of Hersch’s gun and said simply, “Fair enough.” Near the very end of the episode, Hersch (outlined with a yellow square) tells her The Machine has sent a new number, she instructs him to put a team together.

With Counsel gone we need a new figuree for the government’s use (or abuse) of Harold’s invention, expect Ma’am to fill that role. Now that Hersch knows Finch was the brains behind Ingram, Harold isn’t safe. I would look for next season to feature the paths that will eventually bring Harold face-to-face with Ma’am.

One of the things we are left wondering is what kind of number The Machine gave out? After the reboot and implementation of Harold’s new code, he explains that no one controls The Machine anymore. It and only it will decide if it keeps giving numbers and whether they will be relevant or non-relevant. Its decision – there it is being its own character again – will shape the show going forward.

To give us one last teaser going into the summer, a psychologically-broken Root wanders down the hallway of a mental hospital when a phone rings. She picks up the yellow receiver. “Can you hear me?”  This wasn’t like the call pre-programmed to ring in the library regardless of who would answer. The Machine located her in that hospital and called her specifically. Why? We do not know…yet.

The only small surprise in the finale was the way the wrinkly man and Decima Technologies disappeared. Instead of a real player in the future of the series and a rival to Finch it turned out to only be a storytelling tool for unleashing the virus. That would be too bad but there are plenty of other storylines, so it won’t be missed.

 

For Person of Interest to wrap all this material together without letting it collapse on itself is proof that it is one of the best shows on television. There’s every reason to expect it will continue to be in season three.

Harold of Interest

Wow! The penultimate episode of season two was AWESOME! The only other episode that comes to mind as being near it is when the FBI shot Reese on the parking garage in season one, but still I would put this one ahead of that (the episodes share a director). I saw a tweet on Saturday, I forget from whom, saying how the episode felt four hours long because of all the plot development. Watching it on DVR I kept thinking, “I must be to the final break now” and only finding I wasn’t close yet. Outstanding television episodes fly to their final commercial break. Only the very, very best seem to take forever to get there.

It occurred to me later Thursday night that this was the kind of episode Lost fans begged for during its later seasons – heavy mythology and rapid plot development. Lost’s creative team was reluctant to deliver it because they felt fully explaining the show’s meaning would take away too much of the audience’s imagination. Darlton even noted their reluctance in The End’s script: And here it is. The closest we’re ever gonna come to actually describing it.  That was their very last chance, and they stuck to their core belief in their storytelling. Person of Interest ran this risk with all it crammed into last week’s episode. If the writers weren’t up to the task they would have undercut the finale, but they pulled it off in spades.

I won’t begin to attempt recapping the episode, you can get that here. Instead I want to look forward and see if there is anything that might give leads to what we’ll see this week.

Harold and The Laptop

Harold sold the the virus that Decima used to take down The Machine. The CIA sent Reese and Kara Stanton deep into China to steal it, leading to both of them being nearly killed before the virus fell into Decima’s hands. We’ve known it for a long time, Decima knows it and now, maybe most importantly, John knows it. We don’t know why Harold sold it.

Some possible answers?

He wanted to destroy The Machine. He was not happy about Nathan leaving the back door for non-relevant numbers, isn’t it possible that Harold so feared what he’d built and what Nathan had done with it that he created a way to destroy it and made sure it found its way into the hands of those who would want to?

He wanted to smoke out John. Harold knew he couldn’t protect the non-relevant numbers on his own, couldn’t he have manipulated the entire situation so the CIA would want to retire John, forcing him to escape and go the one place Harold knows he can find him: Off the grid? This one is a stretch, Harold would have to have his hands on an awful lot of moving parts to make it work. But remember when he and Agent Donnelly squared off while Reese was in prison? If anyone could pull it off, Harold could. There’s more here…

Remember Jessica? Jessica was John’s love before September 11 pulled him back into the military. He was about to leave the CIA to reunite with her when he and Kara got sent to China. How would Harold have known about her? Her number kept coming up because of her abusive husband, who eventually does kill her. When Reese learns this at the hospital, he fails to notice a man in a wheelchair who would soon become very familiar: Harold Finch.

That is some deep mythology and nothing in the lead up to the finale suggests it will come up again. But as Harold’s character is peeled back we are starting to see that he may not be the virtuous do-gooder we first saw him as. I’m also hoping for it because Jessica was played by the incomparably gorgeous Susan Misner, who delighted us all on ABC’s Nashville and FX’s The Americans this spring.

Harold and Nathan Ingram

I would be very surprised if the finale doesn’t show us how Nathan died. His number came up a split second before Harold’s script shut Ingram’s makeshift system down. Will it have something to do with Harold’s limp? It could. Although if I had to bet I’d put money on it having to do with him being in the wheelchair as mentioned above. It could also be what changed Harold’s mind about the backdoor. Recall their argument in the library when he told Nathan he would tell the non-relevant people that everyone dies and he can’t play god. Having one hit so close to home could change his mind.

Harold and John

They have been partners until now, Reese even credits Harold with rescuing his life after escaping China. Will John turn against him now that he knows Harold was responsible for the laptop? He didn’t express as much in their short interactions waiting for the phone call in the library, but John will put his personal feelings aside to finish his mission. I think he will have his word with Finch at the right time. Going into season three the show will need to change its dynamic. Finch and Reese at odds could be that change.

Harold

Like I said, Harold’s character is being peeled back as we get closer to the end of the season. Way back at the start of the series I observed they were featuring the more well-known Jim Caviezel’s character more than Michael Emerson’s, figuring he would draw viewers while Emerson’s Lost fans would be comfortable waiting for Ben to be studied. It really feels like we are at that point now. The writers ran Harold’s story up to the key moments in his life thus far: Separating himself from Grace, taking on The Machine’s non-relevant numbers, Nathan’s death, the laptop. All of this will come together, somehow.

Other potential changes could be evident after the finale. It is only one hour, which is disappointing, and maybe nothing can live up to the excitement of last week’s lead-in. But The Machine is off, Root has the Northern Lights director tied up and Decima is closing in. This should be great.

Lost in The West Wing

Lost. The West Wing. We were treated to 13 seasons of great television between The West Wing’s debut in 1999 and Lost’s finale in 2010. Two shows with fabulous brilliance that can’t be truly compared, but can’t be separated either. 

The West Wing was an artful show. The dialogue with perfect timing and delivery gave it a rhythmic feel as if the characters were dancing their lines instead of speaking them. A lesser show could tip easily into ridicule. But The West Wing was so brilliant we accepted it, it actually made the show better. 

Its art played into our romantic notions of what the White House might be like; what a president might be like if he eschewed the fears that hem in our real life leaders. Jed Bartlet led from his heart in the way we hope all presidents do.  

These two things are what reached out from the rest of the show to bind it to viewers. There will always be movies and television shows set to the White House, but never one so endearing. 

The West Wing had a clear lead character in Jed Bartlet, which is what you would expect from a show about the presidency. Every other character’s actions were influenced by their proximity to him whether they intended them to or not. People in politics like to joke about how it is really nothing like The West Wing made it out to be, but in this one regard I think it did it right. You can’t escape from under the way working in politics will frame your life.  

They couldn’t escape it because of where the show put them: The White House. They did White House things and we saw how their personalities influenced their handling of those things and their decisions. The decision-making process is what revealed the characters. There is the source of drama — how are those decisions made? How does making them affect the people who do? How do their unique experiences influence their contributions? That was West Wing.

Lost was raw, a plane crash cutting a vein in its character’s lives that they had no choice but to stem. This was its White House. How they reacted, interacted and then reacted to their interactions. Who are these people? What life stories do they bring to this island? How will those stories affect the choices they make on this island? Their character was revealed through these interactions.

There was no balance or art to the dialogue between characters. It was drawn from within the characters in a way that The West Wing’s really wasn’t. You could take a lot of scenes from West Wing, shift the lines among characters and come out with the same scene, the same story and the characters would not be terribly disrupted. You could not switch Sawyer’s lines with John Locke’s. Sawyer didn’t seek destiny. He mocked destiny, denied it outright. Lost’s dialogue came from some place much deeper than The West Wing’s. 

We knew West Wing was going to be a show about the presidency and the people supporting it. Lost took our assumptions that it would be a show about escaping a deserted island and threw ’em away. It was not about that at all.

Lost was about characters. Deep, complex characters. Characters that change as they take a journey. None of them ended the show the same as they began it. They traveled toward something. Each had to come to a realization or find redemption, and they all did. No major character died or left the island without doing so. 

There was no dominant Jed Bartlet. Different characters rose and fell to drive the story from episode to episode. Using that structure allowed the writers to build each character such a deep background. If you try to think about Lost written in the format The West Wing was, you can’t see a way that it works. Lost needed four separate timelines to hold up its story. It becomes a pretty remarkable body of work when you think about it that way.  

There was no natural ending like what The West Wing ran into, not once Lost established that it was not a show about leaving an island. The drama came from what the characters did in this trying situation and the journey they took within it. The journey happened without the characters even realizing it as they faced one situation after another. Isn’t that what life is? We navigate thru the things that occupy our days and only when the journey is over do we have the wisdom to look back at where we were and know the end is where we belong. That is Lost. That is life. “This is the place you made together.” 

It’s no secret which show I like better but this isn’t about deciding between two shows. On the surface you would never think a show about politics and a show about castaways would be at all similar. Each’s greatness can be found there at the intersection of similar and different. 

Top 11 Lost Scenes

2. Desmond and Penny’s phone call (The Constant)

“Penny, you answered.” This scene will never lose its resonance. It is a triumvrate of acting, dialogue and editing perfection. By the end of the phone call it’s not even a conversation anymore, they are each completing the same sentence. Phenomenal. Desmond and Penny’s expression of their devotion to each other across life and time is the essence of Lost.

3. The open (The Pilot, Part 1)

Where Desmond and Penny’s phone call represents the emotion of Lost, the opening scene represents the action. Jack waking up in the jungle, sprinting across strewn wreckage and directing total strangers in the midst of the chaos of a plane crash established his character and the foundation for the next six seasons, all in one scene.

4. Keamy shoots Alex (The Shape of Things to Come)

“She means nothing to me.” All of these scenes are marked by great acting, but none more so than Michael Emerson’s cold renouncement of Alex as his daughter followed by his utter shock at watching Keamy murder her right in front of him. In four minutes it sums up Ben’s entire character, good, bad and evil.

5. Jack’s “live together, die alone” speech (White Rabbit)

“It’s been six days, we’re all still waiting.” This scene represents Jack becoming the official leader of the survivors, but it also marks their transition from plane crash survivors to island inhabitants. It was a major turning point in the show. And it’s just a good speech.

6. Kate wakes up Jack. (The End)

“No, that’s not how you know me.” This scene fell right as you started to realize what was happening in the finale. Kate and Jack are the central love story, waking up to the fact that Kate lived the entire rest of her life knowing she left Jack to die on the island packed a heart-wrenching punch and starts Jack’s path to the church.

7. Locke’s reveal (Walkabout)

“This is my destiny!” It’s hard to tell what made John Locke more beloved: His character or Terry O’Quinn being fricking amazing. Learning that Locke couldn’t walk when he boarded Flight 815 and seeing O’Quinn’s stunning performance as Locke saw his toes move and stood on his legs for the first time in four years on the beach after the crash has to be on every all-time Lost highlight reel.

8. Not Penny’s boat (Thru the Looking Glass)

The only scene on the list without dialogue. It didn’t need it. Not Penny’s boat came to signify Charlie’s death – self sacrifice – so his friends could have a chance to leave the island. The still shot of Charlie’s hand against the window is one of the – I hate this term – iconic shots from the series. Charlie blessing himself beautifully reveals his character.

9. Sawyer kills Sawyer (The Brig) NSFW – Language

“You ever been to Jasper, Alabama?” This scene makes the list because of its relevance to Sawyer’s character and its sheer intensity. Sawyer funneled his entire life’s anger and frustration into one violent strangulation of the man who killed his parents. The other Sawyer’s realization of who was confronting him, why and what was about to happen to him was wonderfully arrogant, revealing the darkness that marked both Sawyers. Locke’s manipulation permeating the entire set up made this a great and important moment.

10. Ben confronts Charles Widmore (The Shape of Things to Come)

“Wake up, Charles.” This was the first real look at the rivalry and hatred between Ben Linus and Charles Widmore. The scene was brilliantly constructed: Ben, wearing a dark suit, confronts Widmore in the middle of the night. Each of their faces only half visible because of the darkness, Ben laid bare his intention to exact revenge by murdering Widmore’s daughter while Widmore promised to reclaim the island Ben took from him. It’s one of those scenes you watch and when it’s over you think, “These two just made shit real.”

11. Sun and Jin (The Candidate)

“I won’t leave you.” Where the phone call in The Constant made viewers happy, Sun and Jin’s final living scene is unfathomably sad. They were a couple whose lives and everyone in them tried to keep apart. Jin let himself be separated from Sun once and he simply would not do it again, even if it meant dying together in the submarine. Even if it meant orphaning the daughter he only saw in photos on Sun’s camera. The underwater shot of their hands slipping apart and drifting away from each other is heartbreaking.

And finally, number one…

1. Sawyer tries to save Juliet, and fails (The Incident)

“I got you.” This is one of those scenes that draws you to the edge of your chair and, without realizing it, makes you so tense that you simply stop breathing. When Juliet finally detonated Jughead it actually felt like being physically kicked in the chest. I have no idea how they did that. This scene ranks first because it had everything: It was Josh Holloway’s best scene, the determination to not let go of Juliet’s arm, the pain on his face knowing that he would have to and the insistence he put in his voice that he wouldn’t let it happen embodied every part of the good in Sawyer. It carried and emotional intensity like no other scene, and it came at a critical point in a critical episode for the entire story. The agony of this scene absolutely bought their reunion at the candy machine in the finale, which I remember as simply “You got it, blondie.” This scene was as good as television and gets.