Revenge, Ep. 1.01-1.07 Catchup
For Sound on Sight TV’s coverage of Revenge, we’re doing something different. Each week, contributors Louis Godfrey and Cléa Major will break down the episode, IM-style. This review covers the first 7 episodes of the series and was completed before the 11/16 episode.
LG: Okay, so, we are here to talk about Revenge. Trying to summarize the labyrinthine plot here is going to be next to impossible, except to say that it is about Emily Thorn, who is really Amanda Clarke, who is summering in the Hamptons in order to exact retribution on the rich jerks who framed her father for financing terrorism… Am I missing anything?
CM: Nope! Except that it is veeeery loosely based on Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. And to put it in an even smaller nutshell: everyone is scheming against everyone else. And if you’re a lady, you’re probably scheming harder than if you’re a man. If you’re a man on this show, chances are you’ve fallen in puppy love, which is the only alternative to scheming.
LG: Everyone on the show has some sort of ulterior motive, including the bubbly best friend!
CM: Because she is a lady. If she were a dude, she’d be in puppy love.
LG: Yeah, have you noticed that Amanda’s two love interests are also the most naive characters on the show?
CM: They most definitely are. Nevertheless, I find them both to be pretty compelling characters in their own right, even with the lack of scheming. They’re both very stereotypical, but one of the things that I like about this show is that even though there are pleeeenty of characters who are walking talking stereotypes–they are stereotypes with gusto, if that makes sense.
LG: It does.
CM: There is some meat to their characters, even when they’re totally predictable.
LG: Right. Since it makes no sense to try to rehash the whole plot thus far (seriously, just go watch the show), I want to ask you, what is it about this show that you like? And I ask because I’m still not totally sure what has me so sucked in.
CM: It is kind of hard to identify why we’re so invested, isn’t it?
LG: Revenge has no great moral depth or social commentary, and yet it is not a guilty pleasure. It’s just really enjoyable, and not in a campy, regrettable way, but in an engaging way, which is incredibly rare.
CM: I think part of it is that the acting is consistently much better than I was initially expecting. Like, did you know that the actor who plays Daniel—the poor-little-rich-boy son of the couple who ruined Amanda’s dad, and the guy Amanda is attempting to seduce–is actually British? I would have sworn up and down that he had been pulled right out of a Yalie frat party.
LG: I had no idea, but I had no idea Dominic West was British until, like, season 4 of The Wire, so… but anyway, you’re right, the acting is solid, particularly Madeleine Stowe. She probably has the hardest role on the show as the arch villain…
CM: She plays Lydia, right? The mastermind/queen of the Hamptons?
LG: Victoria Grayson.
CM: Oh right–Victoria, not Lydia.
LG: Lydia is Victoria’s ex best friend who got pushed out a window, onto an NYC cab (in Ep. 5, “Guilt”) and is still alive somehow.
CM: Ooohhh right. Not only alive, but recovering quite quickly from her coma. The Graysons’ hired thug is apparently not so good at his job. But yes, back to the question at hand–for me it’s the acting, and that they’re doing some pretty interesting things within the moral universe of the show. For instance, the writers haven’t really bent over backwards to make us like Amanda or think that she’s a decent person. We’re only a few episodes in, but she’s already done some pretty dark deeds: In Ep. 4, “Duplicity,” she exposes the private sessions of various clients with their therapist—some of whom never double-crossed her dad, so the only justification for hurting them is that they’re rich—and then she kidnaps the therapist and locks her in a garage for a while. Because that’s something that sane people do.
LG: That’s true. But we should keep in mind that this is not Breaking Bad. I don’t think the show wants us to disapprove of what Amanda is doing, but rather kind of groove on the immorality of it.
CM: Yeah, you’re totally rooting for her all the way. I would say it’s actually more like Dexter.
LG: Good comparison.
CM: You know that you should proooobably disapprove of him chopping up a serial killer with his chainsaw? But actually you’re kicking your feet in glee.
LG: Speaking of the show’s justifications, how do you feel about the voiceovers, in which Amanda dispenses fortune cookie nuggets about the nature of vengeance?
CM: I have a blanket dislike for voiceovers, so I could mostly do without them. Except that they add to the overall campy vibe of the show, which is nice, but… still eh.
LG: I think they kind of work, in a knowingly cheesy, but still totally sincere sort of way. And they aren’t really campy at all, are they?
CM: Well…. no, they’re totally earnest, but still self-consciously melodramatic. You know? I think the whole show is very self-conscious, but in a good way.
LG: Yeah, much like the show. I think they are a perfect synecdoche of what the show does so well – the precarious balance of self-knowledge and earnestness.
CM: Right! It’s like the non-comedy version of Arrested Development: part of the fun is the show’s knowledge that it is part of a long lineage of stories about corrupt terrible rich people. Arrested Development wanted us to laugh at the rich people making asses of themselves, whereas Revenge wants to cheer at their destruction. Which we do, gladly.
LG: And if I can segue off of that: one of the pleasures of TV and movies is getting to watch really glamorous people do glamorous things. Which Revenge has in spades, but it also doesn’t feel like rich people porn.
CM: There’s no message of “Rich people: they’re actually just like us!” or on the other hand, “Rich people: actually we should feel sorry for them!” (Although there is a dash of the latter in the storyline about Victoria’s daughter and her romance with the kid with the weird name, which is why I think that storyline is the weakest in the show.)
LG: Right, we get to have it both ways: we get to enjoy ogling their possessions, but all those possessions seem so hollow.
CM: Yeah! We get to be voyeuristic and judgey at the same time.
LG: There are really only two spaces in the whole show that don’t feel cold and awful, and that is Amanda’s beach house, and the bar.
CM: Right. And Amanda’s house is a space defined by horrible loneliness.
LG: And the bar, owned by the show’s de facto poor people, has the fake working class veneer of a Billy Joel song. I keep waiting for them to break into a chorus of “Up Town Girl.”
CM: That bar is a famed institution in the poor part of the Hamptons! Wherever that poor part may be.
LG: And the younger brother of Amanda’s poor-boy love interest, who owns the bar, he totally reminds me of Ratso Rizzo from Midnight Cowboy. I have no idea why.
CM: See, he reminds me of Ryan Atwood from The O.C. But with sadder shoulder muscles and less charisma.
LG: I have no idea who that is.
CM: And your life is the poorer for it.
LG: I guess so. Okay, before we wrap this up, I want to give you a chance to cut loose on the newly emerging subplot, in which software billionaire Nolan has an affair with Tyler, Daniel Grayson’s shifty, hustler college roommate (in Ep. 7, “Charade”). I have to say, I never thought I would hear the words “I’m about a 3 on the Kinsey scale” on network TV.
CM: Man, me neither. I thought it was written down somewhere that bisexual men weren’t allowed to exist on television. And to see two openly bi men on the same show? I almost keeled over in shock. Not that ABC has let them kiss onscreen, of course. Why is showing a kiss so much worse than heavily implying that they’re having blackmail-induced sweaty man-sex? And then there’s the weird-ass relationship between Daniel and Tyler. That definitely qualifies as slightly gay. Maybe even as slightly gay and slightly rape-y.
LG: Truth. For a while I thought we had a Fear-like situation going on with those two.
CM: Ha! Yeah, there’s this kind of fetishization of edginess and kinkiness on this show, and I think they’ve made the bisexual affair and ambiguous subtext a part of that.
CM: Like, you may have noticed that weird photo earlier in this article, in which the actors in the cast are all shirtless and the actresses are in bodysuits–and most of the guys’ chests are covered in cuts and bruises, in this way that’s obviously sexualized.
LG: The show does have a serious undercurrent of female sexuality being a weapon.
CM: Right. The power dynamics were kinky even before the gay reveal: all the men in her life are subservient to Amanda, not to mention how many men (and women!) Victoria Grayson has by the balls.
LG: Plus, we know that Amanda’s seduction of Daniel ends with him being murdered at their engagement party…
CM: Oh yeah! It’s weird how often I forget that that’s coming up.
LG: I know, end of the summer baby!
CM: Sexy murder on the beach!
Louis Godfrey and Cléa Major