May 11, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Revenge”


REVENGE made a concerted effort this season to earn back its… well, let’s call it “credibility,” although that word doesn’t have much to do with this series.  Creator and original showrunner Mike Kelley was shown the door, and Executive Producer Sunil Nayar took over, all but banishing the phrase “The Initiative” from the series mythology.  There was an attempt to focus the action again on its original premise, the strategems of Emily Thorn, nee Amanda Clarke (Emily VanCamp) to destroy the glamorous Grayson family, especially Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) and Conrad (Henry Czerny), for their role in framing her father David (James Tupper) for laundering the money of terrorists who blew up a passenger airline.  Where possible, unfortunate plot turns of the Kelley administration, like Conrad’s election as Governor of New York, were swiftly undone, and the crazily circular arcs of characters like Emily’s mother were largely eliminated.

It was all an improvement, and plenty happened in tonight’s Season 3 finale to set up stories going forward.  Still, one couldn’t help feel some sadness that the poor old show would have to limp its way through another season, just to have the optimum number of episodes available for post-network syndication, when despite all the work put into it, it’s merely a shadow of its original self.  Revenge could have been a wonderful one-and-done saga, like FX’s American Horror Story, with a new story of revenge to tell every season, but that’s not the broadcast network way, and so Revenge will continue on until every last drop of its blood has been squeezed out.

The finale, written by Nuyar and Co-Producer Joe Fazzio, and directed by Kenneth Fink, finally detonated a plot twist that’s been lurking around since the series started.  David Clarke, it turns out, isn’t dead at all, and has somehow been in hiding for the past 20 years.  (It had always been conspicuous that there was never a clear scene of Clarke dying on screen.)  He emerged, finally, to (apparently) murder Conrad Grayson, who had, finally, confessed to having framed him, resulting in a remarkably instantaneous clearing of his record.  Since neither Emily nor anyone else knows of David’s survival (although she did suspiciously find his ring recently), that obviously leaves plenty of potential plot for Season 4.  Definitely (probably) dead:  Emily’s accomplice and lover Aiden (Barry Sloane), never quite convincing as Emily’s supposed true love, although now it’s clear why this season had played up their romance so strongly.  He was murdered by Victoria, and in retaliation for that, Emily had Victoria committed to a mental ward.  The show also dug up the old Godfather 2 trope of having Daniel Grayson (Josh Bowman) put into bed with a dead hooker when he was insensate (on absinthe, no less), although the prize for least convincing plot turn went to Charlotte Clarke (Christa B. Allen), who still doesn’t know Emily is her half-sister, having Jack Porter (Nick Wechsler) arrested for her (staged by Emily) kidnapping after she identified him by the feel of his touch on her shoulder.

So there won’t be a lack of activity in the Hamptons next season.  But Revenge has become progressively less fun, both because it has no choice but to run around in the same story circles every year, and because sheer repetition has hardened and drained the juice out of the performances.  Where once Madeleine Stowe found multiple levels to Victoria’s narcissism and self-deception, now she’s merely mean, just as VanCamp’s Emily is merely grimly obsessed.  The form of the drama doesn’t allow for the characters to change in any meaningful way, which leads instead them to the brink of self-parody–nowhere more than in the character of Daniel, who’s become a virtual moustache-twirling baddie.  Nor has Revenge extended its universe effectively, despite the attempt to get viewers involved in the story of the LeMarchal family, chiefly represented by Daniel’s business partner Margaux (Karine Vanasse), whose father–betrothed to Victoria–was memorably shoved into a helicopter’s blades by Conrad.

Still, it could be worse, and we could be dreading the return of The Initiative.  Revenge is unlikely to trudge through more than one additional season, considering how marginal its ratings were this year, and hopefully it’ll provide a real ending next May rather than hoping for the best and concluding with new unresolved cliffhangers.  It’s still a reasonably skillful piece of TV soap, but unfortunately well on its way to becoming something of a chore.


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."