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Revenge

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Emily Thorne’s campaign for revenge has become noticeably unfocused throughout this current season of ABC’s hit drama, to the dismay of many fans. Whatever happened to the list? Who cares about the Porters? What the fuck is an Initiative? Fucking racists replaced Takeda? As episodes sauntered on, viewers clamored for answers (with more or less profanity) and a return to the root of what has made this series so compelling to begin with, the eponymous revenge-seeking.

It would take an Amanda Clarke—not the calculating, competent main-protagonist one but the other—to bring back the vengeance we pay good DVR and hard drive space to enjoy. With her new, somewhat makeshift family in danger, Amanda leaped into action, while everyone else in Montauk was busy either chasing ghosts or sleeping with the enemy.1 Amanda played every Amanda Clarke card at her disposal—video evidence of all of the shady Grayson dealings that left the real Amanda’s dad in prison and eventually dead—in one brash, reckless play that made the casual viewer wonder why this wasn’t Emily’s plan to begin with. The Graysons were afraid. Her demands were met. Everything was going swimmingly.

That is, until we find Amanda and Jack on a honeymoon boat trip foreshadowed heavily to include inevitable bloodshed and at at least one sunken corpse. Fake-Amanda has always been an unpredictable agent of poor decision-making and clumsily unintentional sabotage, so the possibility of her being dispatched at sea by a more solution-oriented goon, simply made sense. In season one, there was even a very real chance that Emily would just kill her like a pawn in a game of chess where you kill pawns for not being good enough pawns.2

But this time around, it becomes clear that Emily needed and loved Amanda just as much as we found her infuriating. She followed directions poorly. She fell over banisters too easily. Her uterus was too healthy. She seemed a little slow. But we all should’ve appreciated fake-Amanda a little bit more. In a show very much about meticulous planning, diabolical schemes, and pristine lifestyles, perhaps ad nauseaum, someone needed to mess things up a bit. Amanda was the hand of the proletariat waving guns and computers filled with incriminating files in the face of all that is summer in the Hamptons. In this week’s episode reminds us that although our Emily Thorne might very well be the true lost child of the whole David Clarke as scapegoat travesty, Emily is still an insider here. Amanda is an outsider and, in a sense, as much the true victim of the Graysons’ and the Initiative’s wrongdoing as subprime mortgage holders or the American people if Conrad is elected to public office. In this light, Amanda’s sporadic, careless, shortsighted but admirable behavior appears to be more of a 99%er power move, orchestrating her own Occupy Revenge.

But sadly, just like her Wall Street counterpart, fake-Amanda Clarke, the poor girl from equal parts juvey and the streets, is now dead. Hopefully, her sacrifice leaves a lasting impression on the fictional landscape of Revenge, like all the bankers and politicians that were held accountable for their roles in ruining the real world landscape, global economy, and the lives of millions. Jk. That didn’t happen. But political ideologies aside, Revenge has an opportunity now to return to its original dynamic of bad guys and comeuppance, exposing the evils of the upper class, and righting wrongs. So just as Emily in some sense regains a bit more of her original Amanda-ness with the death of her surrogate sister, everything about the series must regain the luster of an all out brawl on behalf of the little guys, the ones framed as terrorists and murdered and cheated on and tortured by secretive cloak and dagger organizations. Remind us that rich people suck and designer clothes, lavish Labor Day parties, and convoluted plot points isn’t all that’s left in Montauk. Do it for us, truly just a bunch of fake-Amandas at heart.

1Sidenote: Wouldn’t finding out your little sister, who you’ve been searching for most of your life, is probably dead be exact time you would want your girlfriend to stop sleeping with her ex, even if it is part of some elaborate scheme to combat the shadowy killers? And after she supposedly stops, wouldn’t this be the exact wrong time for her to start fantasizing about how much she’s still in love with her childhood sweetheart on the day he is marrying her Count of Monte Christo avatar? Is Aiden going through his own hilarious “she’s just not that into” you subplot? Do we care enough about Aiden yet for it to matter?
2How does chess work?

Because the weather in the northeast has become unpredictably hot like Canadian actress Emily VanCamp. (Like really? Who saw that coming?) Because Madeleine Stowe once decided to leave Hollywood to become a farmer but luckily returned to be one of the sexiest fifty-somethings on television. Because as the 2011-2012 television season comes to a close, we reflect on how difficult it was for ABC to find a new series that didn’t embarrass a famously defunct airline, Aaron Spelling’s ghost, Tim Allen’s tool belt, or the network itself. Because Wednesdays seem so hollow and humdrum without Revenge gracing our tubes with its weekly dose of crimson and guile. Because top arbitrary amount of things lists are an easy way to fill up a blog post for the uncreative. Whatever the cause of its conception, here lies the top five reasons to rewatch (if you haven’t already hopped on the bandwagon by now, I weep for you) the alphabet network’s clinic on compellingly satisfying TV Revenge:

5. Connor Paolo fans (I know you’re out there, Paolo-itos!) get promptly reintroduced to classic Eric van der Woodsen steez, as if to provide refuge to the hordes of Gossip Girl expats who clamor for a return to UES prep school attire. The character of Declan Porter on Revenge seems to be an appropriate remix of both Eric and Dan — if middle class Long Island towny isn’t the Brooklyn bred not-so-starving artist of 2012, I don’t know what is. And somehow, this amalgam works pretty well in the Hamptons. Declan has the relatively rough backstory to give his usually opaque whimpers (and complexion) some color. Speaking of…

4. The color red. It’s everywhere. It foreshadows, underscores, and highlights. It somehow legitimizes an almost too simple premise and title card. The scarlet color palette is just part of the richly provocative aesthetic of Revenge. The sartorial direction must be noted as well.1 The pilot episode sets a precedent by introducing a majority of the players in snazzy red formal attire under the auspices of both an engagement party and a murder. Revenge appears most palpable when red, and the series is most stirring when it explores relationship and/or displays violence. The color red connotes bloodshed and lust simultaneously, and the series persistently teeters between the two to the benefit of its viewers.

3. The show’s sheer consistency in performance has to be praised. Those that follow TV show advanced metrics (is that a real thing yet?), may appreciate the stats where Revenge excels: ranking first in dramatic reveals per televised hour, leading the pack in voiceover efficiency quotient, and off the charts scores in flashback utilization rate. There’s’ simply something impressive about the exposition of story in the series. Creator Mike Kelley, of One Tree Hill and The O.C. fame, exploits familiar tropes — from combat training and wisdom gaining from older Asian men to young love struggling to traverse disparate upbringings — to bring essentially The Count of Monte Cristo: Suffolk County Edition to the small screen from a female perspective.

2. And that female perspective is terrific. Emily VanCamp’s performance makes the television you overpaid for because some kid at Best Buy made fun of you for not going bigger when you really just wanted him to explain why your antenna stopped working worth every cent. She effectively manages a host of storylines, identities, romances, red outfits, fight scenes, scowls, fake smiles, real smiles, and lies. Emily as Emily Thorne or Amanda Clarke, as a brunette or a blonde, delicate or ass-kicking, is simply a joy to watch. She’s a sympathetic female protagonist who operates with a level of agency and competence regrettably uncommon among TV’s leading ladies. No lady from Liz Lemon to the Girls girls is as capable as Amanda Clarke/Emily Thorne. In fact, she’s more comparable to Don Draper. Yeah, I said it. Revenge should be called Mad WoMen. (I know. Sorry.)

1. That brings me to the final reason you should rewatch the addictive first season of Revenge this summer, and prepare for its Fall return: Emily VanCamp’s ascension from girl next door cute to femme fatale hot, alongside Madeleine Stowe’s reassertion of her own unwavering good looks as summer ice queen of the Hampton’s, Victoria Grayson.2 The two of them playing off one another is captivating, if only for the high level of pretty that each brings to the table. Fundamentally, that is what the show offers — a casual dalliance into the world of the beautifully coiffed 1%. There’s certainly something superficial about the appeal of the series, but when superficial is done well enough, what’s genuine is how much you enjoy where you’ve found yourself, how interested you are in the pretty faces. In that, the most important reason to rewatch Revenge is truly Emily VanCamp’s interestingly (unconventionally?) pretty face and everything that it may represent for a viewer.

There’s certainly something significant to be said about the ability of this young woman to lead a successful network series as a fully dressed, strong, and able woman. But I’d rather close with the latest gossip that Emily VanCamp was spotted making out with her costar, Josh Bowman (Daniel Grayson).3

1And the lovely Ashley Madekwe must be mentioned here. Aside from being an unabashed fashionista on and off the screen, I spent at least four episodes deciphering her racial makeup. I settled on her being part Black, Western African, because of her English accent but she was definitely Puerto Rican or Bengali for a scene or two. She’s like a chameleon, always just the right color, always just the right outfit.

2In 1994 she was one of People‘s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World.” In 1995, she was one of Empire‘s “100 Sexiest Stars in film history.”

3Greatest disappointment from Revenge‘s first season: Daniel not being dead. And now, he’s smooching my boo.