Monday, January 6, 2014

'Revenge' Reduced Its Protagonist to a Prop...

The third season premiere of Revenge got me excited again about the show in a way I didn’t think possible after the scattered second season full of subplots that distracted from our flawed heroine, her mission, and the overall point of the show anyway. The third season premiere put Emily Thorne back where she belonged: front and center and going hard at the Graysons to finally bring her revengenda to fruition. But as any savvy TV watcher knows, if the show itself doesn’t have an end date, then the character can’t truly have one for her plans, either— at least they can’t march successfully to that end, anyway. And the fall finale set this up nicely by having Emily’s plot to fake her own shooting death turn into a very real shooting and near-death experience. It was full of delicate complications that left me wanting more right away, especially when it came to seeing how everyone reacted even while knowing how most would (they have been very clear cut character archetypes, after all). Unfortunately, though, the mid-season premiere of Revenge proved that delicate threads just unravel everything if not pulled with care.

Here’s why I am once again thinking about quitting Revenge:
  • An amnesia plot straight out of Nashville. Let’s face it, when a character experiences a trauma, the easy reach on TV is to have that character conveniently forget about it. It’s a reset of sorts, even if it is the cheapest and cheesiest of them. After all, the minute a smart and always in control even when wrong character loses that aspect about herself, she is vulnerable— not just to her enemies but also to her friends. Everything about her life can be manipulated based upon what others want for her, and she is no longer really an active character at all. Here there was amazing opportunity for that not only because the Graysons are the most manipulative bunch there is but also with the ones in her corner (Aiden, Jack, Nolan)— ones who at times have conflicted with her plan simply because of how narrow focused, dangerous, and anger-driven it is. Even Emily’s father wanted better for her, wanted her to move on, but she couldn’t. There was opportunity here, even if it meant having three men control Emily’s life which is never a good message, to at least have the discussion about what they should want Emily to remember and therefore what her life will be. If she remembered her alliances and relationships without all the trauma, pain, anger? Then maybe she really could sail off into the sunrise and be happy. But there was no time for such discussion here. The episode moved along at such a seeming-to-try-to-match-Scandal clip with reveals that we couldn’t linger with characters, and it was unfortunate because Emily deserves much more weight and respect than that. So my issue is not so much with the amnesia itself as with how much it was used as a mere story device to catapult a bunch of characters around Emily ahead of her to make her so vulnerable (we’ll get to this in more detail in a minute), while regulating our protagonist to a prop rather than a person, let alone the most important person on this show.
  • What the hell happened to Charlotte!? Just before the wedding Charlotte was scheming to break up Emily and her brother and yet after the fact, here is she by Emily’s bedside telling her how much she admires her and playing a loving friends and now family member. If the show wants to make Charlotte a baby Victoria, the writers are not doing a good job with making that clear; instead Charlotte just comes off as wishy washy and a bit bi-polar, latching on wherever she can for as long as she can, never seeming sincere. It feels like they don’t truly know who she is and are just making up her actions without motivations as they go along.
  • A return to the love triangle. Earlier this year we were promised the love triangle was dead, that Emily knew her true allegiances and her true love and her true mission. Jack was a childhood friend, the one who got away, a “what if?” that was full of pain and regret and innocence, while Aiden was the male version of Emily today, hardened and pained by tragedies of the past, focused and steadfast in their ruthlessness now. Daniel, was the one who could have been saved but proved himself unworthy (seriously, he is not a good guy; if he really wanted to do the honorable and responsible thing and turn himself in for shooting Emily, he would have just done that; he wouldn’t have told Victoria about it first. He knew she’d do anything to cover it up, and he could claim he tried to be noble but was thwarted by Mommy. He’s such a product of his environment I can’t stand him.). Everyone had their place in Emily’s life, and not everyone (audience included) liked it, but it was to be accepted as it was canon. But now the writers are returning to yet another soap opera (primetime or otherwise) trope of the triangle by having Jack be the one who pulled Emily out of her funk— in a very “true love’s kiss” kind of pure way. It gave the shippers the hope they needed to torture themselves further, even though Jack is so pure there are still so many things about who Emily has become he probably could not look past to truly be with.
  • Hamptons cops are morons. Look, anyone from New York has heard the horror stories about Hamptons cops being lazy or ineffective or on the take and always looking the other way when the rich and famous get into trouble. But here we had a boat full of these rich and famous people and a truly terrible thing happened and they’re just standing around taking people’s words for alibis without even doing the most basic forensic analysis like GSR tests? Come on, Revenge; you are asking us to suspend way too much disbelief for a show that’s not all that fantastical!
  • A cliffhanger that only caught a character up to where the audience— and the show— had been for the whole episode. I was left with a big feeling of “So what?” after Emily remembered things and told Jack who her shooter was. I had known who the shooter was since the minute it happened, of course, but over the previous 44 minutes while Emily was in the hospital, other key characters had learned the truth as well. In fact, the story was moving fast while Emily lay dormant— so fast that plans were in motion for cover ups and deeper connections were being made between Emily and Nolan and maybe even David Clarke. Everyone but Emily was active, and that moment at the end was meant for a sigh of relief that she finally remembered and things could get back to normal. But everyone but Emily was so active, any sigh of relief would have been extremely premature because she didn’t have anyone on the boat after she was shot or anyone in the Grayson manor as she was in the hospital; she has no idea just what has gone on or how many pieces are being put together or new plans are in play. She will be playing catch up for a while. As I mentioned before, that allows her to be vulnerable in a way that should be a fascinating challenge for the character, but it’s a way that is extremely frustrating for the audience who is ahead of her, too. She doesn’t just have to catch up (and then get ahead of, if she still has hopes of her revengenda succeeding) the other characters but the show itself. There can be fun in watching characters struggle— especially the ones who are so out of their element while doing so that it adds new layers and colors to their complexity— but is not fun to be so far ahead of the story you’re just sitting around waiting for that character to get to where you already are and have been for quite some time. Emily was always the perfect protagonists because she was commanding and in charge and learning things along the way that may made her question or detour or bring others further in. But she’s no longer “in the know” and without the power seat, it’s hard to see her as a protagonist at all but rather part of an ensemble, someone who really needs to rely on those like Aiden and Nolan and Jack, just for the most basic of information. It’s a real blow to what was once a strong female character.

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