The lead give for Revenge before it premiered, which I suspect was pitched with the hope of appealing to the male sex, promised a female-centred, contemporary version of The Count of Monte Cristo. This is a vague enough description to work. Granted, it’s a description which did little to titillate me. I eventually cracked and decided to pay attention to the show at the behest of Ryan and Mark. I pause at attempting to describe Revenge in a sentence because all the adjectives that come to mind “melodrama”, “night-time soap”, “quasi-farce” all would belie how sentient and smart of a drama it is. Emily Thorne buys a beach house in the Hamptons, but it turns out she’s not really Emily Thorne – she’s Amanda Clarke, a girl whose father was part of this world and was wrong shamed out of it. She returns older, wiser and a lot more “revenge-y” to wreak havoc on those who wronged him.
There’s the constant refrain that network television isn’t offering much in the way of provocative drama and worse when it comes to pulpy drama like Revenge aims to be. And, perhaps, Kelley’s previous show One Tree Hill does imply something unnecessarily frothy. And, it frothy, but certainly not unnecessarily so. The flash-forward technique used at the season opener made it essential for at least 16 episodes, but it still bears being said that the 22 episode season was marked by its cohesion. What viewer doesn’t appreciate knowing that significant thought was put into planning a series? And, Revenge’s first season displays that sense of order.
But, writing and production aside, a great deal of Revenge and its impact comes from it performances. Even amidst some unnecessarily dopey characterisations (via Nick Wechsler and Josh Bowman) the actors’ commitment is evident and much appreciated. And, let’s talk about Emily Vancamp, specifically in the last three episodes. VanCamp and her contribution to the show have always been eclipsed by the more ostensible grandeur of Madeleine Stowe’s Victoria Grayson. True, she could (and has shown that she can) hold her own against Stowe in a stare-off but the string of last three episodes have coalesced especially nicely for VanCamp.
I’m not sure who coined the term Batmanda in referring to Amanda (it came somewhere from this group of ladies, I suspect) but from episode 20’s forty minute long flashback to the final two episodes, Batmanda’s correlation to the silent, deadly and somewhat reticent superhero only becomes more discernible and VanCamp sells it completely. In fact, amidst more “obvious” moments of high excitement the final episode marks such a showcase for her that when, at the end, she puts her face in her hands and cry you’re not even thinking about who might have died, who might committed suicide or who might be pregnant. And, even though I’d turn to the peripheral players before I turn to VanCamp’s performance the final three episode work just as effectively as they need to in reminding us why this is her story, and none else.
More on Batmanda and my reticent worries about next season after the jump...
It was an excellent choice, then, to place that decisive episode of pure flashback with just two more episodes left. “Legacy” is one of two episodes that finely showcase just what VanCamp’s abilities are (the other being the finale) whilst being devoted to uncovering the drama behind the shenanigans. It also offered necessary shades into the lives of the Grayson’s allowing Stowe to add further shades to a character that could have easily become a monotone. The Grayson children despite my general appreciation for the performers have been one of the things closest to an albatross on the show, and their lack of presence didn’t hurt the episode any.
There was a moment after that ungodly hiatus, during Daniel’s trial, where things got just a bit too inundated with the tangential (Victoria’s love affair with the painter, anyone?) and a significant amount of the Declan/Charlotte drama suffers not so much from being badly written, or poorly acted but from lacking a compelling pull tying it to the main arc OR that effervescent spin on the norm which makes the show such an effective one. And, I will admit, their arc in the final episode makes me somewhat worried. Sure, Christa B. Allen sells that final moment opposite Stowe, but where else can her trajectory if they don’t indeed let go of the character? Which, of course, brings me to one of the major cliff-hangers – Victoria’s fate. Structurally, in lieu of how VanCamp has developed it’d be a stroke of fearless genius for her to carry the show by her lonesome next season and regarding the narrative, after defying Conrad what else can Victoria do? I also worry that after such an accident, any way of making Victoria live will disappoint.
Still, I’m getting ahead of myself. When Nolan (one of the year’s most vividly performed and imagined creations) tells Batmanda to wait before she gets “revenge-y”, he’s right. In fact, it’d be judicious to judge this excellent season on the merits of all that could go kaput next year. For now, I’ll enjoy one of the finest additions to this year’s television schedule. Revenge has been a story of many things in many ways, but I’m ultimately glad how its returned to its focus on the shifty Batmanda. I hope Kelley keeps up the good work. He’s done well so far in providing Margarita Levieva with a character with so many interesting developments that I’m always intrigued by her presence – pregnancy and all. Batmanda and Victoria Grayson (and her immovable hair) have emerged as television women to hold their own. And, Nolan Ross is an idol for the ages. Revenge has done many things right this season. Will it get them as right in the next? I don’t know, I hope so. And with the quality of the first season, why should I be hopeful?
Best Episodes: Episode 4 – “Duplicity”; Episode 14 – “Perception”; Episode 22 – “Reckoning”
Weakest Episode: Episode 17 – “Doubt”
Season Grade: B+
Season MVP (Regular): Gabriel Mann
Season MVP (Recurring): Margarita Levieva
(Previous Season Recaps: 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation vs The Good Wife, Shameless)
How well has Revenge worked for you in its first season?