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Revenge S03E01: "Fear"


There was a point in time when Revenge was must-watch TV. Not in the way that you'd suffer some great pop-culture deficiency if you didn't tune in; it was more that you just wanted to see what ridiculous thing Emily would do next. In Season 1 the show was fun and vengeful, with just the right amount of sudsy drama to keep it from feeling stale. Watching Emily knock person after person off their high horse was an enjoyable way to spend an evening. And having the always fashionable and quip-ready Nolan Ross as a sidekick provided just the right amount of humor and sarcasm to level out Emily's no-nonsense seriousness.

And then Season 2 happened. 

Revenge's sophomore season was a failure not because viewers had grown tired of Emily's drawn-out vengeance plot, but because someone somewhere had subscribed to the notion that more drama somehow meant better TV. And that's just not the case. The writers' attempt to incorporate increasingly convoluted storylines—in addition to several new characters—into an already crowded world meant less time for the people we'd already grown to know and love (or at least tolerate), and even less time for Emily's original revengenda against Victoria and Conrad. 

Aiden's introduction was particularly troublesome, because even though Emily knew him and cared about him, the audience did not. And Revenge's writers never made it a priority to make us care about him, so when the time came for his sister and what happened to her to become a plot point, no one cared. So many of Season 2's plots felt like they were added at the last minute that Revenge became less about Emily's revenge on the Graysons, and more about what crackpot storyline the writers could get away with that week. The show stopped being must-watch viewing and became the show you watched while cleaning on Saturday morning, so that by the time Sunday evening rolled around there was enough DVR space for Homeland, Game of Thrones, and Mad Men.

However, despite the problematic second season, there was some cautious optimism surrounding Revenge's third season. When news of behind-the-scenes shakeups broke last spring—creator and showrunner Mike Kelley was stepping down, rumored to have wanted to increase the quality of the show with a shorter episode count—it wasn't clear what would happen to the show. But suddenly there was a possibility that Revenge could wipe the slate clean and start anew. I had hoped the show might attempt to scale back on the messy plots that ended up as roads to nowhere, and return to the tighter, Emily-and-Nolan-based operation of Season 1. What I got in the Season 3 premiere was a rather poor attempt to erase some of last season's sudsy drama... and Charlotte with bangs.


What was clever in Season 1 felt old and worn out by the time "Fear" opened with Emily being shot on what appeared to be her wedding day. That setup worked in the first season because we didn't know Daniel, and after having gotten to know him, it was still possible that he was the body on the beach. Now, at the start of Season 3, not only is it ridiculous to believe that Revenge's writers would kill off their lead character, but the fake-out-to-be-resolved-later schtick is tired. Just tell us the story without the weird time jumps. 

The episode really began a few days before Memorial Day. Emily and Daniel had been living in the city for six months, while Victoria had been getting up close and personal with her firstborn son Patrick and some horses out on Long Island. Charlotte had been off traveling through Europe (sans baby, a topic I'll tackle in a moment), while Jack had all but disappeared following Emily's confession of who she really is in the Season 2 finale. Oh, and my boy Nolan was just chilling in jail trading video game secrets for lobster-adorned jumpsuits or something. He was released in the premiere after being exonerated, but I hate to think about what happened to him on the inside. Nolan is far too pretty and fashionable to be stuck in prison orange all the time. 


Emily's reluctance to a set a date for her wedding to Daniel makes sense considering she's just using him, but at some point even Daniel—who's not exactly the brightest guy, but certainly not as dumb as Jack, who believed Fauxmanda was actually Amanda for forever—has to become suspicious. Emily is not that good of a liar. She usually gets by with false sincerity and thinly veiled barbs. But she's kind of a frigid bitch, because her heart is cold and dead unless we're talking about her dad, Nolan, Jack, or Sammy the Wonder Dog. Shouldn't Daniel think twice about how his fiancee refused to set a wedding date for six months and then all of a sudden settled on one and it's only three months away? Only two kinds of people do that: pregnant women and manipulative liars who are dead set on ruining your family because your parents framed their father for an act of terrorism they were responsible for. Get a clue, Danny Boy!

At this point, I'm starting to feel bad for Daniel in a way that I never have before. There was a point where I thought maybe Emily would actually fall for him—the guy's not bad-looking in the facial and abdominal regions, and he's actually pretty fun and normal for someone who has two psychopaths for parents. However, as the episodes tick by it's becoming clear that Emily only wants two things: to ruin the Graysons, and Jack. Who, by the way, wants nothing from her. He returned in the premiere with a pretty good game of his own, pretending he wasn't completely in hate with Emily, only to heatedly kiss her and then declare that he feels absolutely nothing for her. My heart swelled two sizes at that moment, because Jack deserves to be happy and Emily deserves... well, not Jack. Jack also told her that she has until the end of the summer to wrap up her revenge plans and hightail it out of the Hamptons, or he's going public with her secret.


Elsewhere, Charlotte—despite not having any friends to tell her she'd look terrible with bangs—has been the sole beneficiary of this new season so far. The baby she was carrying at the end of Season 2 has been magically erased by a miscarriage. And that might make me sound like a horrible person, but that storyline was garbage, so we're all better off this way. Unfortunately, that's about where my patience with Charlotte ran out, because her mommy issues are stale, her undying faith in and love for her father are baffling, and her threats to Patrick were confusing. 

Lastly, we have Emily's Takedown of the Week and it was a twofer. She successfully rid the Hamptons of Ashley Davenport forever (so maybe Charlotte's miscarriage wasn't the episode's only attempt at starting fresh), and had Nolan execute A PARACHUTE DROP INTO THE MEMORIAL DAY PARTY so she could sneak a vial of unnamed liquid into the party to use against Conrad so that he'd fall over and look stupid during his speech. J/K. We'll get to Conrad and the rest of Emily's plan in a minute, but I can't ignore Nolan's James Bondian entrance. On the one hand: Nolan is the best thing about this show and he's always been a bit larger than life, so this didn't exactly seem all that ridiculous. On the other hand: HE PARACHUTED INTO A PARTY TO AVOID SECURITY. Was this one of those "bigger is not always better" moments? Or does the fact that it was Nolan, and the fact that he was so well dressed under that jumpsuit, make up for such a crackpot grand gesture? Discuss in the comments, please.


Now, as for the implications of that vial Nolan snuck in. It sent Conrad to the hospital, where Emily somehow managed to gain access to his medical records and swap Conrad's test results for ones that would read as if Conrad had Huntington's Disease. And the fact that all of this had been witnessed by a large group of wealthy and influential people meant that all eyes were on New York and the state of its governor. Victoria and Daniel tried to cover it up, of course, but Emily gave the scoop to the press (and blamed it on Ashley, thereby removing her from the picture forever). It was a convoluted storyline that may've been aimed at helping Revenge start over (by putting the wheels in motion to oust Conrad from office), but it was most likely just another case of Boring Ridiculous Plotlinitis.

If Revenge is going to attempt to wipe the slate clean in Season 3, this premiere gave little indication of that fact. Nolan's newfound freedom and Charlotte's miscarriage aside, the series is pretty much just as we left it. While Carrion and the Initiative—which may or may not have even existed—are in the past, the direction that we're moving is not necessarily good. I sincerely hope that doesn't remain the case, especially now that Emily is up against a timeline (courtesy of Jack's ultimatum), but Aiden's return in the final moments of the premiere do not bode well for Season 3.


NOTES

– "Let's never say the words Carrion or Initiative again." —Emily, speaking for the entirety of humanity.

– Do you trust Patrick (if he really is Patrick)?

– What's Margaux's real agenda? Does she want Daniel? Does she want to expose the Graysons? Does she want to be besties with Emily now that Ashley's gone?

– Do you think Nolan burned that zip-up hoodie and jeans immediately after wearing them?

– Did you like Charlotte's bangs?



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