May 24, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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A show like REVENGE is supposed to glory in its Season Finales.  It’s the one time when things can really happen:  characters can die, plotlines can resolve, shocking surprises can be introduced.  In a way a season finale is a gut check for a serialized show’s producers–just how far will they dare to go?  (This season, Once Upon A Time probably took the crown by having the intestinal fortitude to leap right into the event most viewers didn’t expect to see happen for seasons to come–the reversal of the show’s central curse–and leaving Season 2 a complete mystery.)  Revenge did a moderately good job of shaking things up in its first season finale, erring perhaps on the side of conservatism and familiarity.  In case it’s not clear, SPOILERS FOLLOW.

First, the show earns a nod for pulling off one solidly neat trick:  keeping the return of the real Emily/fake Amanda a secret by leaving Margarita Levieva’s name out of the opening guest star credits.  (She was credited at the end.)  This is a tougher feat than you might think, because there are union issues when you give one guest star less prominent billing than the rest, but it was well worth the trouble, as what would have been obvious if her name had appeared became a genuine surprise, particularly because she showed up pregnant, screwing up (at least for the moment) our Emily’s (Emily VanCamp) true love moment with Jack (Nick Wechsler).  The effects of this twist were especially tasty because not only had Emily previously broken up with Daniel (Joshua Bowman), but Daniel has become sufficiently villainous that he’s no longer a real romantic alternative for Emily.

The rest of the episode, written by series creator Mike Kelley and Co-Executive Producer Mark B. Perry, and directed by Sanford Bookstaver, was more uneven.  Because network dramas can rarely go as dark as their cable counterparts, the battle between Emily and her father’s killer (James Morrison) became anticlimactic, as she backed off from killing him because a helpful flashback about setting a wounded bird free as a child reminded her that her father wouldn’t have approved.  This led to the further implausibility of the ruthless murderer letting her simply walk away.

The show made the rookie mistake of trying to make us worry that a major character–in this case, Madeleine Stowe’s Victoria–might be dead, in a plane explosion that was heavily telegraphed before it happened.  Trust me:  absent a major contract dispute, Madeleine Stowe isn’t leaving Revenge.  It’s similarly unlikely that her daughter Charlotte (Christa B. Allen) suffered a fatal drug overdose, although since Charlotte isn’t as crucial a character, that one’s not 100% certain.

A different kind of familiar misstep was the “bigger conspiracy” plotline, Nolan’s (Gabriel Mann, who needs more to play next season) revelation that while it had seemed all season as though the Graysons were at the root of what happened to Emily’s father, actually something called the “American Initiative” (which sounds a bit like a Mitt Romney super-PAC) was calling the shots.  The problem with a twist like this is that it all too easily makes for an unfocused Season 2–it’s one thing for Emily to go after a specific villainous family, another for her target to be some vague, super-powerful cabal.  (In the world of impossible crossovers, the group would be headed by Nikita‘s Xander Berkeley as Percy.)

That left the final, final revelation:  Emily’s mother is alive.  That one was unexpected, and it earns a question mark for now, depending on how it’s going to be played.  If Mrs. Clarke turns out to be a super-spy involved in some way with the Initiative, that could become overcomplicated and silly awfully fast.  On the other hand, it could also deepen the show emotionally, so we’ll see.

ABC thinks enough of Revenge to give it a big promotion next season, to the Sunday 9PM slot that was Desperate Housewives‘ home for years.  Revenge itself has only been a moderate success on Wednesdays, so it’s going to need new viewers in order to justify its improved real estate.  The show has a strong basic premise, a very fine cast (capable of bring more depth to their characters than the material sometimes allows), and a mixed assortment of Season 2 plotlines to attract those eyeballs.  Whether the series will be able to parlay all that into a genuine hit in the fall is as big a cliffhanger as any Revenge has to offer.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."