Revenge, Ep. 1.11, “Duress”: A Clambake In Crazytown

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Revenge Review, Season 1, Episode 11, “Duress”
Written by Elle Triedman
Directed by Jame Babbit
Airs Wednesdays at 10pm ET on ABC

LOUIS GODFREY:  Well, we had to wait a few weeks, but Revenge has returned, and the drama with Tyler, the craven, extorting, sexually flexible psychotic living in the Grayson’s pool house, finally came to a head.  But before we get to that (anti-)climax, I have to point out all the impotence this episode was swimming in.

Figuratively, I mean, or at least mostly figuratively.  I’m slowly starting to see Daniel Grayson not as some likeable schmuck, but as an arrogant frat boy who basks in his privilege while being continuously propped up by others.

In “Duress”, we see both his parents stroke his ego, trying to win his loyalty in their divorce, and Emily letting him play the big strong man when she is the one who is actually working to control the Tyler situation as it escalates towards violence.

Then there are the shots Victoria takes at Conrad’s masculinity – at her son’s birthday party, no less! – and the phallic imagery of the dual home invasions Tyler commits.  Tyler makes Nolan cower at the point of his knife (even “penetrating” his shoulder).  And it is Emily calling Tyler impotent that really sets him over the edge at the birthday party, leading him to grab Emily’s gun.  But of course, the gun has no bullets in it, because Emily has Tyler’s balls in a noose, metaphorically speaking.

CLÉA MAJOR:  In contrast, of course we have the charged nature of the conversations between Emily and Victoria.  I know that we’ve gushed over Emily Van Camp and Madeleine Stowe before, but the chemistry they both have with the camera and with each other is, once again, one of the best parts of the episode.  Their best scene comes early in the episode, when Emily comes over to the Graysons’ house to discuss Daniel’s birthday party.  Her conversation with Victoria is wonderful: the camera stays close to both their faces, and they convey their underlying dislike and disrespect for one another with smiles that are just a little too tight, eyes that are just slightly too narrowed, and faux-polite head-tilts that drip with condescension.  It’s a benign conversation about a clambake and a scrapbook, and yet I spent the whole scene half-expecting one of them to grab a knife and suddenly stab the other–the hatred is palpable.

That kind of ugly tension between characters escalates throughout the episode.  We see it again between Tyler and Daniel (and I am just assuming, at this point, that the writers want us to think that Tyler is half in love with Daniel), between Conrad and Victoria, between Emily and Ashley, between Tyler and Nolan, then Emily and Nolan, and finally of course the grand finale in which Tyler holds Daniel’s party at gunpoint.

Unfortunately, this is when the tension fizzles.  Instead of doing anything interesting or remotely suspenseful with Tyler’s violent breakdown, Revenge cops out: the gun was never loaded, and Tyler goes limp as soon as his brother shows up. Not only does no one get shot, Conrad doesn’t even come close to revealing any of the secrets Tyler’s asking for, and neither does Emily have to use any of her secret ninja skills.  They choose the most boring, safe, and consequence-free climax possible.  That last one is what annoys me the most–the only consequence of all the melodrama is that “Amanda Clarke” is now suspicious of the Graysons’ involvement in David Clarke’s imprisonment, but of course she already knows they framed him, so it all feels kind of pointless.  I’d enjoyed Tyler’s descent into crazytown so much that its denouement feels extra disappointing.

LG:  The Tyler storyline does go out with a whimper.  And I think what bothered me most about the whole thing is the way it turned Tyler’s schizophrenia into a one-dimensional plot device.  There has been a rash of shows using a character’s mental illness as a twist (Ian Grey did a great dissection of how Homeland is guilty of this), rather than for any emotional or psychological depth.  From the moment we first see Tyler popping anti-psychotics, his craziness is a ticking time bomb, an object of convenience to add tension, and not anything that adds to our understanding of the character.

But whatever.  Going back to my whole point about Daniel being propped up, did you catch how it is Jack who risks himself to wrestle Tyler to ground, and then Daniel comes in and sucker punches him?  Pretty weak.

Less weak are the Grayson’s divorce negotiations.  That scene, with Conrad, Victoria, and their two lawyers staking out positions in the battle for their wealth and children crackles.  You can tell the writers of this show have been through nasty divorces (or watched as their parents did).  There is a casual cruelty there you can’t fake.  And what is up with Victoria claiming she was pregnant at the time of their marriage (thus negating the prenup due to “duress,” which is in no way legally accurate), and then it turns out she wasn’t pregnant, but has fake documents saying she was?!  Nutty, and definitely tied to Emily’s dad, David Clarke.

CM:  Oh yes.  The more we learn about Victoria and Conrad’s early relationship, the more intrigued I am by it–and ditto Victoria’s relationship with David.  I have a feeling that Charlotte’s real paternity is going to get called into question at some point, especially with the emphasis on her close relationship with Conrad.  That would be a predictable twist, but I would still be eager to see it.  Many (although not all) of the twists on this show are predictable enough, but they’re almost always enjoyable because the show plays to its strengths with the complexity of the relationships between characters.

That is why the Tyler climax fell down in the end: it’s not that it’s clichéd, it’s just that the writers didn’t dig into the cliché as much as they usually do.  Hopefully the show will be back to form next week.

Louis Godfrey and Cléa Major

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