‘For the truly wronged, real satisfaction can only be found in one of two ways: absolute forgiveness, or mortal vindication. This is not a story about forgiveness.’
Somewhere about 504 B.C., Confucius said, ‘Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.’ This quote is the first thing we see in the premiere of Revenge [ABC, Wednesdays, 10/9C] – then we’re swept away to an engagement party for Daniel and Emily, just in time to see Daniel murdered [and by whom]. Then we are taken back to the beginning of summer and the arrival of Emily Thorn [Emily Van Camp, Everwood, Brothers and Sisters] to the Hamptons, where she is renting a lovely little [for the Hamptons] beach house.
As the premiere unfolds, we learn of how Emily’s father [James Tupper, Men In Trees, Grey’s Anatomy] was betrayed and ruined by people he thought were his friends. Emily has rented the beach house because that was where she lived as a child – and the base from which she seeks to destroy those who ruined her father – who died in prison.
The Daniel from the teaser is Daniel Grayson [Josh Bowman, Prowl], and from Emily’s reaction to his death, it appears that while he was certainly her entry point into Hamptons’ society, she had come to care for him. His parents, Conrad [Henry Czerny] and Victoria [Madeline Stowe], are among those who wronged her father, but they’re apparently the ones she’s saving for last.
Also, we see the murderer in the teaser, so it’s a surprise when he turns out to be Jack Porter [Nick Wechsler, Roswell], a friend of Amanda’s prior to her father’s betrayal. He owns a boat that is coveted by Nolan Ross [Gabriel Mann, The Bourne Identity], for reasons of his own – possibly something to do with Emily/Amanda’s father – while the restaurant/bar Jack’s father owns is threatened with foreclosure.
There are other intriguing goings on, as well. Like an affair between Conrad and his wife’s best friend; the key role room service plays in setting up two of Emily’s targets [one to sow discord; the second to cause ruin], and the tendency of Jack’s younger brother, Declan [Connor Paolo, Gossip Girl], to try to date a girl who’s way out of his financial level – and tick off her jealous boyfriend.
And I haven’t even mentioned Daniel’s kid sister, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Grayson [Christa B. Allen, 13 Going On 30], Emily’s best friend, party planner Ashley Davenport [Ashley Madekwe, The Secret Life of a Call Girl], or Lydia [Amber Valletta, Gamer], Emily’s first target – and a dog named Sammy plays a key role, as well…
There are so many threads put into play in its premiere that Revenge really does come off as a contemporary, gender-reversed Count of Monte Cristo, while maximizing its use of pretty people [and oddly attractive ones] in the kind of relationships and emotional shuffles that are the support beams for any good primetime soap. The Confucius quote seems to apply because her quest for vengeance seems to be putting Emily in a position where her own heart may be getting in her way. Intriguing stuff.
The key to success for Revenge is that the actor playing Emily must be able to twinkle at those she’s working to ruin and then convince us that she’s capable of that vengeance. Van Camp has mostly played innocents, and can be very convincingly sweet and lovely – but here, she also displays an unnerving ability to let her eyes go dead when her targets aren’t looking at her. In those moments, we know she’s capable of doing whatever it takes to reach her goal.
The premiere was written by Mike Kelley [Swingtown] – so you know he has the soap part down cold – and is rich with detail and unexpected character beats [you will not believe how Emily became so incredibly wealthy, for example]. It was directed by Philip Noyce [Salt], a man who knows how to weave complex tales as well as how [and when] to change pace to emphasize action and/or emotion. Revenge is lovely to look at – for the cast and the cinematography – and balances all the elements of a good soap with a dash of panache and a flirt of camp. It doesn’t always go where we expect it to – just often enough to make the twists genuinely surprising most of the time.
Revenge is good clean, nasty fun.
Final Grade: B