Who’s got a shovel?

“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

So Confucius warns us in philosophy, so Emily Thorne warns us on ABC. If they are correct, can one of them be for Revenge? Creator Mike Kelley is out as showrunner, will that satisfy the bloodlust of ABC’s grim reaper?

I defended season two earlier this year when no one else would. That was before dead Padma turned Nolan Ross into a whimpering pile of nerd alert. This show has gone off the rails in so many ways. Let us count them now.

Emily’s mom. The revelation that Emily’s mom was still alive bombshelled last year’s finale. This will change the show and everything for Emily. Where has Mom Clark been? Does she even know she’s Mom Clark? Is she in [scary music] The Initiative? [/scary music]. No. Mom Clark is crazy under the manipulation of the silver-haired man. Aaaaand thaaaat’s allllll. She was in and out of the story so inconsequentially fast that it leaves you wondering why they brought her in in the first place. What a waste of a potential character and storyline.

Padma. Dear, sweet, stupid and dead Padma. [scary music] The Initiative [/scary music] kidnapped her dad so it could force her to steal a piece of unfinished software from Nolan that [scary music] The Initiative? [/scary music] would then use to, well, to something. We got a hint at what the software was, but then dear, sweet Padma found herself at room temperature. Gone from the story and from our lives. How ever will we move on? (This is a marker so if she turns out to not be dead I can come back and say I told you so. They never showed Aden checking her pulse.)

Trask. Trask was the new handler for [scary music] The Initiative [/scary music] in charge of the Graysons. He took over for the sultry Helen Crowley, who Victoria killed. But then Aden killed Trask. Now [scary music] The Initiative [/scary music] has no one.

Wait, what the deuce is The Initiative??? Oh, right, it’s the thing we found out about in last season’s finale that forced the Graysons to frame David Clark. Um, yeah. We know exactly nothing more about it now than we did then except that two of its staff members are dead and it wants some software from Nolan Ross. Oh, and it tried to control Daniel Grayson, too.

Ahh, Daniel. His alignment with his family last season was the high point of the show, and we were so excited (squee!) that he would finally be more than just really, really sculpted muscles. He even orchestrated Conrad’s ouster from Grayson Global…only to fall instantly under the direction of The Initiative. Buzzkill. He started doing Ashely (or was that last year?) but is now so totally hot for Emily again and back to being dumb and hunky.

Speaking of dumb, let’s talk about Jack Porter. He was annoying when he was the barkeep who couldn’t get over a girl he knew when he was 10 – move on, loser – but then when she was killed he started to do some plotting of his own and now he’s even more annoying than when he was the stupid bartender! When he comes on the screen, I swear to god. Can’t there be a freak CO2 canister accident at the bar or something?

Conrad. Is running for governor. You don’t care, and neither do I. Like Padma, this storyline is time that could be better spent on something interesting.

I forgot to mention Emily’s foster brother. I wish they had, too.

Revenge has fallen so far from its first season highs that even Victoria Grayson is a shell of her former self. With her abortion exposed as actually child abandonment, she went crawling to Nolan’s office to ask him to track down her missing son. I used to watch scenes with excitement for what she might do next. Now I feel sad that Madeline Stowe is being given so little to work with.

No one is. The season is half-assing so many storylines that it’s not whole-assing any of them. I touch on the marks above without mentioning Jack losing the bar, faux-Manda’s public outing as Emily, the Ryans or Emily’s secret affair with Aden. Last week it sunk far enough down to have Charlotte making out with another girl at a bar. When it goes lesbian kiss, you know the creativity at rock bottom. They are also killing off another major character in the season finale. I think death can boost a story (see: Boone Carlyle) but others see it as a cheap gimmick boost sagging ratings.

Speculation about Mike Kelley’s ouster includes his push for the show to be in condensed seasons like FOX gave The Following. ABC should look at this season and realize that he was onto something. Had the season picked any few of these storylines and run with them, it could have been very good. But it is really hard to fill 22 episodes and Revenge is showing us exactly why.

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.