Revenge: Ninja-Like Focus

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This week's episode of Revenge, "Loyalty," had the steely focus of a ninja. Ninjas like thee pair above, dressed in their gis, throwing each other around like rag dolls over the "Atlantic" Ocean. In the wide shot, we saw Emily (stunt Emily?) execute a flawless ariel. As they discussed Emily's schemes and her lover Daniel in Japanese, the brazen, indulgent opening was a revelation of how focused this show has become, and how the actors and writing are perfectly united in their goal of being the most shamelessly entertaining show on TV. Aside from Emily's abstract ruminations on revenge, there's no morality play here, no pretentious commentary on social issues, no character who serves as an indulgent mouthpiece—nothing diverts from the singular goal of being riveting to viewers.

The whole episode was delightful, but it paled in comparison to the brilliance of this short promo for the next new episode:

I'm sorry, but "Moonlight Sonata" over a slow zoom-out on a group of stunned millionaires—assembled at night on the beach, frowning and frozen around a birthday cake, at gunpoint—reaches so dizzyingly far over the top that it's high art. You could loop that in a gallery and call it "Vicarious Peril as Mental Flight from Recession 2011."

The plot and pacing of Revenge has gotten tighter and more engaging, especially since the show has jettisoned the formulaic takedowns, and the actors are in perfect sync, balancing the barely restrained campiness of the material with the kind of ridiculous gravitas soap operas deliver in their best moments. Especially Tyler, who speaks in a cadence reminiscent of Mink Stole. When Ashley confronted him about his kiss with Nolan, he defined his sexuality as "ambitious" and formally invited her to join him in his "rise to the top." What show since Dynasty has had the audacity to be so on-the-nose with its villains?

Tyler's foil Jack hit a few snarls in his romance with Kara: Sammy, The Dog Time Lost, hates Kara, and she doesn't remember any details of their childhood romance (which Jack obsesses over). In an almost fairytale level of contrast, Sammy loves and obeys Emily. (Did you catch Jack staring as she and Sammy locked eyes and heart-talked?) Jack really keeps his obsession with Emily at just the right pitch to signal he's a "regular bro" but ready to bring the drama. In the mandatory flashback, we saw Child Emily handing over the dog to Child Jack.

The only actor not entirely channeling the vibe is Declan, who seems hellbent on perfecting his Ryder Strong impression. Also, Declan is apparently in high school?

The central plot of "Loyalty" revolved around Emily trying to destroy Tyler. Initially she demanded that Nolan withdraw his investment with Grayson, so that Tyler would lose his large commission. Although Nolan promised he would, she stole a video of Tyler and Nolan enjoying some adult times from Nolan's computer to convince Daniel that Tyler had hustled his way ahead in business. While this had the desired effect of prompting Conrad to fire Tyler, Tyler shot back with the incriminating evidence from Lydia's letter, keeping his job via blackmail. Daniel, who does not know about the letter, entirely turned against his father and promised Victoria to be her inside man at Conrad's company during their ensuing divorce. Phew!

What gave this tangled plot an emotional dénouement was the fact that in spreading the sex video, Emily had exposed Nolan. Gabriel Mann, who is consistently delivering the best reaction shots in the business, proved even more capable at being devastated at Emily's betrayal. The show assumes we're all pining for the day she pairs up with Red Lobster manager Jack, but her relationship with Nolan is the emotional pinnacle of the show. The fact that we know he's going to still have her back, even after her constant ingratitude and thoughtlessness, makes him a better illustration of idealized romance than most romantic heroes on TV.

One of the weaker moments of the episode was Tyler threatening to leave Nolan as "alone and pathetic as I found you." Nolan is arguably the hottest guy in town and has several billion dollars, and Tyler needs to refill his anti-psychotics.

But despite the mishandling of Nolan, "Loyalty" was a flawless achievement of plotting, pacing, and clarity of purpose, and while the plot is a web of scandal, the pure fun of the show is transcendent. No other show is dedicated with such clarity of purpose to surprising, scandalizing, and rewarding its audience.


… Does Emily lie even to herself about Daniel?

… Why did the Japanese mentor show up if he was just going to go away, and why did the show make a sophisticated international businessman talk like a fortune cookie?

… Kara: former gymnast, former Ukranian mail-order bride, or both?

… Is there any possibility for a future Emily-Nolan romance, or have they burned that bridge?

… Who do you think Tyler is going to (try to) shoot?

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