Upon its arrival during the fall of 2011, Revenge seemed like it had arrived to fill the spot once promised, and partly accomplished, by the mammoth success of Desperate Housewives and Lost. Both ABC shows had “brought back” the thrill of the serialized drama and with their endings had left a space which seemed destined to be filled by more stand-alone medical/legal/police procedurals. With a plot summed up by its salacious title, Revenge gave us the pleasure of watching Madeleine Stowe elegantly chew the scenery as she played the conniving Victoria Grayson, the matriarch of Hamptons royals, whose family is target of a plan executed by Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp), daughter of a man Victoria and her husband Conrad (Henry Czerny) framed for terrorism more than 20 years before.
The first season contained the kind of television pleasures which make you pause your DVR to gasp for air and call your friends, gulp down on cheap Rosé as if it was water and/or wonder all week long about what would happen after that earth-shattering cliffhanger you’d just seen. The show thrilled the soul with endlessly quotable one liners, bitchy side eye and more wrap dresses than anyone thought could be imagined and by the end of its delicious 22-episode arc, it made the summer of 2012 feel more tragic than the Mayans had suggested. Sadly, most of that is gone in its second season…
On the first season’s cliffhanger we found out that Emily’s mother was alive, saw Charlotte Grayson (Christa B. Allen) commit suicide and were left believing that Victoria had been killed in a plane crash planned by one of her husband’s henchmen! Even if there was no way the writers would ever be able to continue raising this crescendo of thrills, it wasn’t wrong for audience members to expect just a minor setback. Instead the show seems to have been re-strategized all over and its creators decided to focus its second season on things no one had cared about originally.
We got endlessly unsatisfying plotlines about Amanda (Margarita Levieva) and her family life with Jack Porter (Nick Weschler) and their newborn baby (who might have one of the worst newborn baby names in recent television history), were forced to swallow an over the top Kill Bill meets The Net by way of Alias subplot with the inclusion of the mysterious Aiden Mathis (Barry Sloane in full James Bond-audition mode) and had to deal with more Conrad-for-Governor nonsense than desired. Why exactly did the creative team think we were investing time in Revenge to receive an uninspired Boardwalk Empire redux might be the biggest mystery of the season.
The plot became so overloaded with tiny stories going nowhere that it felt necessary to have a notebook to know exactly what was going on or where. Yet unlike shows like The Wire where even the tiniest thing matters, in Revenge there is no such thing as a need for dramatic cohesion. Worse than that, these plots ended so abruptly that all we left with were wrinkles, grey hairs and frustration. Why for instance would you go and cast the incomparable Jennifer Jason Leigh as Emily’s mother and then literally give her nothing to do? Her Kara was meant to be this season’s gem, instead she felt like a detour.
Perhaps as tends to happen with most shows and media creations of late, the audience invests more than what is expected of them. So while we expected an epic showdown between Leigh and Stowe (because why else would you cast two ‘90s divas if you’re not going to go all Tarantino on them, right?) the writers just kept them apart as much as they could and then did nothing with them. Curiously they did the same with Victoria and practically put her on the sidelines throughout the season, except for a mysterious affair she had with a painter (played by James Purefoy) she wasn’t even fed as many cruel quips on this occasion. Again, why would you hide your MVP and give all the fun to characters who clear and simple are no fun at all? We can only pray and hope this season’s chaotic dullness was a planned misstep and not a sign of even worse things to come.
Revenge: The Complete Second Season includes all 22 episodes distributed over five discs, and features a largely unremarkable array of extras and bonus supplements including behind the scenes looks and interviews with cast and crew. Best in show is a featurette called Haute Hamptons: Dressing Miss Davenport dedicated to the wardrobe worn by Ashley Davenport (Ashley Madekwe) a character whose clothes improved in contrast to her development, while she got more detestable with every appearance her dresses became fiercer. Hopefully, this means these people know what they’re doing after all…