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.

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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.

Revenge needs a date

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.