If you’re a fan of “Revenge,” you know that (spoilers!) Jack is finally figuring out his great new business partners aren’t so great, Ashley is out, Marco appears to be in and Daniel has become a more ruthless ass than his own father, which is saying something. If you’re not a fan of “Revenge,” it’s hardly worth explaining the plot. Not only will the twists and turns possibly make your head explode, reading them laid out in cold, hard print will probably make you either cackle, roll your eyes, gag or all three. No one ever said this melodrama about one young woman’s quest to avenge her father’s death and bring down a mysterious entity called The Initiative (yes, laugh) made a lot of sense. So why is it so darn addictive?
There’s definitely surface appeal. The lifestyles of the rich and soulless are always fun to watch, and the idea of a young outsider busting in to make the bastards pay resonates on a deeper level with most of us than we’d care to admit in our post-Madoff, recessionary world. The cast doesn’t hurt, either. Madeleine Stowe swishes around the set in designer wardrobe, spitting out dialogue with such eloquent venom it all seems to make perfect sense. Sure, Emily VanCamp isn’t quite on the same level and Josh Bowman (Emily’s former fiance turned CEO scumbag Daniel) sometimes seems to be looking for the CW series he’s supposed to be in, but it hardly matters. The good news is that Gabriel Mann (Nolan), who had fallen back to trusty sidekick status, seems prepped to get his hands dirty when the show returns from winter break. The writers save the best lines for Nolan, and he delivers them with a delicious archness. The friendship (or whatever the hell it is) between Emily and Nolan is one that confuses even the two of them, it seems, but we can’t help rooting for them. Like a pair of slightly sketchy superheroes, Nolan humanizes the single-minded Emily, and this show would be a grinding Charles Bronson thriller without him.
But then, the cast functions in service to the plot — the endlessly dark and twisty (to borrow from “Grey’s Anatomy”) plot, which often puts an emphasis on twists over logic. Last week’s Thanksgiving episode was a prime example of “Revenge” working too hard to throw us off the scent of a twist. When Victoria’s mom (played by a gleefully nasty Adrienne Barbeau) shows up at the house after a 35 year absence, dragging her boyfriend behind her, that seemed shocking enough to ensure a tense Thanksgiving. When Victoria decides to tell said boyfriend about how dear old Mom married a pedophile, let him have his way with young Victoria, then kicked her out of the house, that, too, was more than enough drama. Most shows would have wrapped things up right about here, and it would have been just fine.
But then, we learn that the Graysons had actually hired the man pretending to be Mom’s boyfriend, put him on a cruise ship bunking next to her so that they might connect, made sure he wooed her and insisted on meeting her family (thus, the Thanksgiving from hell), so that Victoria might have the pleasure of telling off Mom, theoretically (if not actually) ruining her relationship and then kicking her out onto the street.
It’s a ridiculous amount of scheming for what is, essentially, two little scenes, and it’s scheming that really should have gone wrong at some point. What if Mom had met another guy on the cruise? What if she’d gotten sick and had to rebook? What if she’d actually gotten a job instead of deciding to mooch off a rich guy? What if, what if, what if? Victoria and Conrad could have done countless things that would have been easier, faster and cheaper to get Victoria’s much-needed payback. But then, it wouldn’t have been as much fun as ruining Thanksgiving for her two children, who probably choked on their turkey as their mother told off Grandma for letting some old creep molest her. Nobody will need a family snapshot to remember this crappy holiday.
But then, this kind of ridiculously convoluted and overly complicated stuff is what makes “Revenge” juicy, if not logical, fun. I guess the idea is that the rich have the time and energy to turn backstabbing into a fine art, and no one is better at bringing down the competition than Emily. With her $500 million nest egg and super ninja spy training, even when she’s thrown off by people actually acting like people instead of pawns (Amanda accidentally falling in the Grayson home, and later trying to kill Mason Treadwell come to mind as examples), she always recovers with a counter move to nab the checkmate. It’s all extremely deus ex machina, but hey, maybe life in the Hamptons is just different that way.
When the show leaves the small, nasty world of the Hamptons is when it goes most horribly astray, however, and the endless references this season to The Initiative give the show a failed B-movie, spy thriller vibe. Emily’s spy training with Takeda is just as annoying. We don’t need Emily’s plot to be part of a much larger picture — it almost makes a crazy kind of sense that Emily wants to waste her money just to bring down the Graysons. The Idea that she wants to bring down a secret corporate empire is just overkill. But then, this show may be the dictionary definition of overkill. And I guess part of the logic is that, if enough plot is thrown at our heads as if it were a bucket of Spaghetti-Os wielded by an insane person, we spend so much time trying to cover our faces that we don’t question anything too thoroughly.
That doesn’t mean we stop watching, however. Given how season two is trucking along, there’s no doubt that Emily will bring down the Graysons, no matter how devious they may be, and after a season and a half we still want to be there to see the final blow delivered. Now, with Ashley gone and Emily’s photos going untouched on Daniel’s computer, it seems she may have to bring down her ex-fiance in the process — an ex who still has feelings for her. But both Emily and Daniel are different people than they were in season one, though Daniel has changed the most. I’m curious to see what happens if these two come back together — and if she’ll wince as she brings him down (most likely without his knowledge). Whatever happens, I’m hooked. Damn you, “Revenge.”
Do you watch “Revenge”? Do you think Ashley will return? And how much do you love Nolan?