Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) has come to the Hamptons with an agenda. She will worm herself into the lives of Victoria Grayson (Madeline Stowe) and her family, cozying up to her son Daniel (Joshua Bowman) in the process. It is her belief that Victoria and her titan of Wall Street husband Conrad (Henry Czerny) were responsible for her father’s conviction for aiding and abetting terrorists, a crime he was framed and wrongly imprisoned for leading to his death behind bars before exoneration was even a minute possibility. In short, she wants revenge, and nothing and no one will stand in her way as she does everything within her power to see the Graysons fall from their ivory tower and face their just deserts.
Revenge is complicated. There are so many different plot threads, so many different tangents, so much stuff going on a viewer could be forgiven for feeling a bit lost if they were to come to the story somewhere around the middle.
As far as I’m concerned, none of that is a problem. The first season of Revenge isn’t good, it’s darn near great, creator Mike Kelley crafting a labyrinthine nighttime adult soap opera the likes of which I can’t recall ever quite seeing before. Almost never descending into camp, avoiding unintentionally silly melodrama at virtually every turn, the show is a deliciously evil good time from start to finish, opening up a Pandora’s Box of delectable thrills that kept me spellbound for all 22 initial season episodes.
Kind of crazy, in a way. By and large this show shouldn’t work, wrapping an entire scenario around the single-minded desires of a still grieving young woman out to avenge the wrongful persecution and death of her father. More than that, it’s somewhat impossible not to think to one’s self how crazy the darn thing is, that Emily’s plans should be thwarted almost right out of the gate and that the idea that she could string this subterfuge on (and on and on and on and on and…you get where I’m going) for long without detection boggles credulity.
Yet Kelley, in small doubt owing a major assist to creative consultant and the first two episodes’ director Phillip Noyce (Salt, Patriot Games), somehow keeps it all working with beguiling ease. Whether Emily is plotting things out with her partner in crime computer billionaire Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann), avoiding romantic entanglements with her former childhood friend Jack Porter (Nick Wechsler) or promoting them with Victoria’s sexy son Daniel all the threads that Kelley is weaving together come into focus rather beautifully. It’s a glorious puzzle box of sex, lies, videotape and incriminating malfeasance, all of it leading down a rabbit hole that’s never what you expect it to be showcasing layers to each character that continuously surprise.
Can it hold up? That’s the intriguing question. Subplots concerning Victoria’s pill-popping teenage daughter Charlotte (Christa B. Allen) and her own again-off again romance with Jack’s younger brother Declan (Connor Paolo) at times threaten to derail the proceedings, while the number of people who ‘discover’ or ‘know’ Emily’s secret is rather gargantuan. As already mentioned, how she manages to keep it is sort of mind-blowing in a way, and while that fact never becomes too big a problem this season considering the scope and magnitude of the cover-up (as revealed in the crackerjack climactic episode) it could easily become one during the second.
The cast is universally solid, VanCamp, who most will remember from her runs on both Everwood and Brother’s & Sisters, almost surprisingly show, the young ingénue showcasing sides of personality and talent her goody-goody portraits on those other programs never remotely hinted at. But, to probably know one’s shock, it’s both Stowe and Czerny who dominate this thing, chewing up scenery and spitting it out with multidimensional relish. They are the engine on which this program runs, the force that gives it all its diabolical fury, everything heading to a spectacular coda where nothing is what it seems and fates are decidedly left precariously hanging in the balance.
I don’t know if Revenge will be able to maintain this momentum. With none other than Jennifer Jason Leigh purportedly coming on board, I can’t say my enthusiasm isn’t high, although I’ll hope to channel it and keep my expectations modest all the same. Still, Kelley has something great going on here, crafting a supremely confident mythology that seems to get better and better even as it grows to the point where it threatens to become absurd. This first season is one to be cherished, and if subsequent ones can maintain even an ounce of the same creative acumen we could be looking at the birth of one of the great network adult nighttime soap operas to have ever graced the airwaves.
Revenge: The Complete First Season is presented on five DVDs with 1.78:1 Widescreen transfers.
Each disc features English Language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and includes optional English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
· ‘Pilot’ Audio Commentary with creator Mike Kelley and actor Emily VanCamp
· Nolan Ross Exposed featurette
· Roadmap to Revenge featurette
· At Home in “The Hamptons” featurette
· Haute Hampton: Femme Fatale Fashions featurette
· Deleted Scenes
· Music Videos
i. Christina Perri – “Distance”
ii. Angus & Julia Stone – “For You”
Other than the “Roadmap to Revenge” featurette, most of the behind-the-scenes stuff is a minor waste of time. Sure there’s some interest to be found in learning how South Carolina doubles for the Hamptons, and sure seeing the costume designer talk about the wardrobe can be seductively entertaining, but overall none of these covers all that much or are particularly involving. They get old fast, sad to say, and I can’t say I’m going to return to any of them for a second time.
The audio commentary on the pilot is solid, Kelley and VanCamp having a solid time discussing the show, its structure and what they were thinking as they were shooting the pilot unsure of the show’s long term prospects. As for the faux Nolan Ross interview, forget about it, because other than a minor point that potentially could become an issue in the second season (who knows for sure), it’s a relatively lazy extra devoid of the sharp writing the show itself is known for.
The rest? It’s the typical mixed bag of bloopers and deleted scenes, a pair of forgettable music videos for two admittedly terrific songs thrown into the mix for good measure.
I’m not even going to say Revenge is a guilty pleasure, the show far too well made, acted and scripted for that to be the case. Soap Opera? Yes. Melodramatic? You bet. Situated in a heightened reality that’s far beyond the norm? By all means. But it is also incredibly entertaining, it’s multilayered story an furiously engaging labyrinth of tension, terror, suspense, intrigue, love and emotion that held me spellbound for all 22 episodes. To call it terrific, unbelievable nature of the premise aside, would be a decided understatement.