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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Revenge: “Sacrifice”

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All of the complaints about this season of Revenge have been fairly consistent: It’s too unfocused, it’s strayed too far from the original premise, and its villains are too ill-defined. “Sacrifice” seemed like nothing but a way for the show to completely hit the reset button, reigniting Emily’s mission to take down the Graysons and wrapping up the loose ends of the generally awful bar plot. If this was simply a bit of midseason course correction, it would be a fairly impressive narrative shift. But the foreshadowing of the boat crash proves this was the planned arc of the season all along—and it’s safe to now say that plan was mostly a failure.

The crux of the episode is Jack and Amanda’s boat ride of doom, the one the show has been foreshadowing since the first episode of the season. In season one, this device worked splendidly because the setup of Daniel’s potential murder was so juicy. Here, the dead party was inextricably tied to the least interesting story of the season, and therefore didn’t have nearly the intrigue. Divorced from the framework of the season, however, the story did at least work within the episode. Nate’s always been a silly villain, a completely disposable road block put there to ruin Jack and Amanda’s happiness. And ruin it he did, threatening Jack and Amanda with all his mustache-twirling glory until finally they got the better of him.

The particulars of their back-and-forth struggle are highly uninteresting—he wants them gone so he and Conrad can develop the Stowaway, Amanda tells him about her quest against the Graysons as a distraction and asks him to join her, Jack and Amanda end up tricking him and trying to escape—but what works here are the emotional beats. Amanda started the series as a completely contrived “wild card” character, useful when the series needed someone crazy to swoop in and muck things up for Emily. But over the course of the series, in particular this second season, Amanda has become a much more three-dimensional character, and one I was actually sad to see go. That she went out first by sacrificing herself to save Jack, and then putting herself in mortal danger just to retrieve the necklace that connected her to Emily, well, seemed just about right for where that character ended up. Amanda’s own last words were to placate Emily for putting her in this danger, saying that Emily actually gave her more than anyone has ever given her before—a real family.

It’s this bit that works the best. I am never more compelled by the character of Emily Thorne (and Emily VanCamp’s performance) than when Emily is forced to contemplate the consequences of this revenge quest she’s dedicated her life to, and tonight was no exception. The flashbacks on this show are sometimes superfluously used, but the one tonight to Amanda saying she loved Emily and Emily just looking pained was a perfect example of the cost of this revenge. The juxtaposition of Emily’s face in the flashback and her true pain when Amanda died was also a great way to shorthand the turnaround Emily has had about Amanda as a person and a tool in her life throughout the season. Somewhere along the way, Emily stopped seeing Amanda as a nuisance and started seeing her as a friend, which makes Amanda’s death hurt all that much more.

The rest of the action happens back at the Grayson mansion as the family attempts to clean up after Helen Crowley’s murder. The actual cleanup is quite easy—Victoria dresses like Helen to fool Helen’s driver, they fake a scene in front of Daniel’s office camera, then plant the evidence in Amanda’s bedroom to frame her—but the aftermath is what is likely to be more interesting. Oh, and meanwhile, Conrad decides to announce his gubernatorial campaign at the family's annual Labor Day party. (The delicious hilarity of Conrad covering up a murder in the morning and announcing his plan to run for public office in the evening is a perfect soap opera moment.) What’s less obvious is why Daniel continually follows everything his parents want to do. It seemed as if he was creating a personality of his own earlier in the season, but here he’s so willing to just close his eyes and smile when the innocent Amanda is set up just as they set up her father. Daniel could be so much more, if the show would only give him a point of view besides “goes where the breeze takes him.”

As much as I wanted this episode to bring everything from the beginning of the season together and make it all seem like it had a bigger purpose, it just didn’t happen. It’s understandable the show would want to stretch its wings a little in season two, expanding the world of Emily’s revenge quest and giving it a bigger scope. But what the show appears to have lost in the process is the recognition of why her quest worked so well in the first season to begin with, and that was the overwhelming personal nature of her mission. We wanted to root for her to beat the Graysons because they were a living, breathing, physically proximate representation of all of the wrong David Clarke was dealt in his life. By shifting that responsibility to a nebulous shadow agency like the Initiative, all urgency of her mission was lost. Now that Amanda is dead because of someone Conrad Grayson was in bed with—not to mention the Graysons attempting to frame her for Helen’s murder—it looks like Emily’s quest might just focus back again on whom we’ve always wanted to see her beat: the Graysons.


Bring it on.

Stray observations:

  • Although Emily’s emotional journey was the main throughline here, I must admit it was very fun to see her get the chance to do some actual ass kicking again. Nate's incredulous “Who are you?” as she was doing it was even better.
  • Having a three-way secret face time conference call is always smart to do in a public bar, Nolan. No one could ever overhear!
  • The show really shouldn’t put Padma and Aiden in a story together by themselves, because I might forget to care. How is her father’s finger a proof of life, though? He could be a dead fingerless guy!
  • Nolan saying he would do anything for Jack was the moment of the night. Those two should just run off together and raise Carl on a deserted tropical island.
  • Conrad: “Congratulations, Victoria. With one bullet, you’ve slaughtered us all.”