'Revenge: The Complete Third Season' Is Too Convoluted for Its Own Good

In its third season, Revenge jumps the shark and drowns slowly afterwards.


Distributor: ABC Studios
Cast: Emily Van Camp, Madeleine Stowe, Barry Sloane
Network: ABC
US release date: 2014-08-26

It’s never fun to accuse a TV show of jumping the shark, but most promising television programs seem to be earning this dubious honor faster than ever. After having one of the most electrifying first network TV seasons since the now seemingly distant 2004-2005 when Lost and Desperate Housewives promised us that old-fashioned serialized dramas were back for good, Revenge might have perhaps set its own standards way too high for its own good. Centered on the vendetta of one Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke (Emily Van Camp) against the evil Grayson family who framed her father for a terrorist attack and then let him die in prison, the show was a compelling combination of Dynasty and Alias. The very rich Emily concocted elaborate plans usually requiring hi-tech equipment and more bitchery than should be allowed before having a few martins.

Emily’s main target was the Grayson matriarch Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) who was not only guilty of having killed her father, but also of having fooled him into thinking she was in love with him. (Talk about having a motive.) During the first season, the endless showdowns between Victoria and Emily proved to be truly delicious to watch, everything led towards a scrumptious season finale involving faux deaths in the shape of pill overdoses, plane crashes, and an assortment of cliffhangers that made it impossible not to wish summer was nonexistent. However, the second season came back with a whimper, as the story became so convoluted that one had to keep reading recaps to make sense of what had happened.

What was most disappointing about this need for recaps wasn’t that the show was so layered and rich that one craved multiple external interpretations of Emily’s shenanigans, but instead that the writers had let it become messy and the recaps were needed because viewers were probably dozing off during most of the episodes. The third season, now out on DVD, is even worse. As the second season cliffhanger involved Emily revealing her true identity to her milquetoast platonic sweetheart Jack Porter (Nick Wechsler), the opening of the third season doesn't present us with a passionate reunion of the two lovers, but instead a strange, non-committal repurposing, as Emily recruited Jack as one of her handsome but bland henchmen.

During the third season more than ever, it became clear that the showrunners’ only interest was for Emily to execute her revenge, regardless of how ludicrous and tedious her plans became. The third season also saw the arrival of new characters including Victoria’s long lost son Patrick (Justin Hartley), who added little to the show other than shirtless scenes and a perpetuation of the idea that most gay characters on network television have to be either comedic sidekicks or psychopathic villains. This season also saw the addition of the LeMarchals, a French clan composed of father (Olivier Martinez) and daughter (Karine Vanasse) who contributed nothing other than high, sculpted cheekbones and unnecessary plotlines related to Victoria’s past.

By the time the season reached its mid-season finale, which had Emily being shot and falling into the ocean in her wedding dress, many viewers were probably ready to kiss the show goodbye for once and for all. Upon its return, it just presents us with more tried and tired TV tropes including amnesia, kidnappings, blackouts, murder by being pushed into helicopter propellers and more. It started to drag so much that it even chose to turn Stowe's deliciously campy performance as Victoria Grayson, its greatest asset, into an afterthought. She starts to make little sense; worse than that, she becomes dull to watch.

As the show led to yet another cliffhanger-studded finale, the question that became evident was not "Could the show find its path again?", but rather "Would it know when was the right time to just stop?" This is the question that should be in the minds of most showrunners, who after a while, understandably can’t commit to delivering the same freshness they did in their first seasons but seem unable to call it quits, making television experiences that border on the unwatchable and more often than not turn off fans, who can’t help but be filled with disappointment at being let down by so much.

Revenge is back on ABC for its fourth season, and it seems as if it will continue to disregard the salaciousness and self-awareness that made it so brilliant when it debuted. As it is, the third season will remain unparalleled as an example of when a show not only jumped the shark, but drowned slowly afterwards.

Bonus features on this DVD set include a charming roundtable talk with actors Wechsler, Josh Bowman, Henry Czerny, Barry Sloane and Gabriel Mann, as well as audio commentary on the season finale, bloopers and deleted scenes.

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