There have been a lot of problems with Revenge’s sophomore season. The dead-end tangent of searching for Emily’s mother. The near-total waste of Jennifer Jason Leigh. The addition of Padma as the love interest Nolan never needed. The Ryan brothers and their pointless dock-bar scheming. The complete lack of any direction, focus, or narrative momentum. But the biggest problem is this: when you have a central character who’s so profoundly masochistic, how can we possibly relate to her or root for her, and, by extension, invest in this show? Emily’s actions in “Union” were so painful, such a violent negation of herself, that I’m not certain I can ever really embrace her again. You know what I’m talking about: the pipe-cleaner ring. Not only has she ruined any chance of a future with Jack, she marred her childhood memories of him being her first love by facilitating his marriage to an impostor then having Fauxmanda give Jack the pipe-cleaner ring they used at the fake wedding ceremony they held for each other as kids. This was simply too much.
But let’s begin at the beginning. Emily had some mixed feelings about Jack’s impending wedding. But by the end of the episode, you sure wouldn’t know it. She also continued to feel terrible about potentially having gotten Colleen killed, something for which Aidan very much blamed her. Luckily, she pulled a deus ex geekery here and had Nolan confirm that in fact the video of Colleen apparently dying had in fact been made six years earlier. The whole time the Initiative had maintained the illusion that his sister was still alive to get Aidan to do their bidding.
Helen Crowley is a master manipulator that way. And what she was doing to Aidan, she was also doing to an unwitting Daniel, getting him to invest Grayson Global in whatever their next dastardly plan was going to be. Victoria overheard her son talking to the Initiative agent and immediately flashed back to the monochromatic ‘90s when David Clarke would call her from prison to tell her how he’d been set up. She presumably let him rot in a cell to protect Daniel. And now her son would be implicated in whatever tragedy the Initiative would next concoct, just like David Clarke before him.
This was a big episode for Victoria. It showed just how far she’d be willing to go to protect her son and just how unwise it would be for anyone to underestimate her. Conrad, however, just seems to have washed his hands of Daniel. He’s too focused on his nascent political career. And you know how one curries favor with the electorate? Bring legalized gambling to town! Yes, now that he was a co-owner of the Stowaway, he wanted to get the roulette wheels spinning and hold up for Montauk the specter of a neon-lit future of croupiers and craps tables.
NEXT: Amanda finds blackmail to be a more suitable weapon for dealing with Conrad Grayson than a tire iron. And Nolan finally confronts Padma.
This was not acceptable. So Amanda gave Jack a check from Emily to buy back Conrad’s share of the bar. Of course, Jack’s the kind of noblehearted sap who’d rather be in debt to his enemies than his friends, so he hesitated to accept it, even though we all knew he eventually would. Two scenes later, he showed up at Grayson Manor and handed Conrad the check. Conrad had said that if Jack could buy back his share, he would let him. But now, like Darth Vader before him, Connie was altering the deal, and Jack had better pray that he wouldn’t alter the deal further. He wasn’t going to sell. So Jack unloaded on the mogul, saying he would fight him with every ounce of his strength. I mean, he was practically on the verge of saying, “From hell’s heart, I stab at thee!” Which is to say that, this being Jack, the very next scene he was ready to give up and consider letting Conrad buy out his own share.
Luckily for Jack, Amanda had a secret weapon up her sleeve. No, not a tire iron. This time she produced for Conrad the video of him and Victoria talking smack about Flight 197 to the White-Haired Man. That got Conrad’s attention. It also meant that Amanda was declaring open war against the Graysons, and claiming for herself everything that Emily had done to discredit them. (Of course, Ashley, who hides behind curtains and just outside doorways more than any character since the heyday of Shakespeare, overheard the whole thing.) Now it was Connie’s turn to cave. He called up Nate, a.k.a. Ryan Brother #2, a.k.a. Mr. Starbuck, and said he was getting out of Dodge.
Aidan tracked down the location of where that video of Colleen dying was made. He thought that if that video had been recorded six years earlier, and yet the Initiative had made it seem that she had only just now died, that maybe she was still alive. Nolan did some more digging, and came back with bad news. Nolan always has bad news. He found someone matching Colleen’s description who died six years ago. Aidan and Emily went to the morgue…and saw the coroner’s photos of his dead sister from half a dozen years back. All of it, all of the training and suffering at the hands of Takeda, all of the missions to track down the Initiative, even his relationship with Emily, had been in vain. Colleen was really dead. Unlike Emily, he didn’t see the value in continuing to fight, in order to honor the legacy of a loved one. It was time for him to walk away.
Speaking of Nolan and “bad news,” he finally confronted the personification of it: Padma. “People have been lining up to use me since I made the cover of Wired at 22,” the tech mogul and topsider enthusiast said. He was basically saying that his lover/CFO was among them, but that he was still willing to give her the benefit of the doubt because “My feelings for you defy logic.” Spoken like a Vulcan at the height of the Pon Farr. Rather than explain herself, she simply wrote “Not here” on a pad. Later, she’d go on to say that she’d been following the orders of the Initiative to get close to him so as to safeguard her mother, who’d gone missing. Basically, she was in an Aidan-type situation and was being forced to do things against her will to protect someone she loves. That’s what she’s saying, anyway.
Speaking of people who are under surveillance, Victoria decided to put all the cards on the table for Daniel and tell him that Helen Crowley represents the Initiative. Of course, if Nolan’s office was bugged, Daniel’s certainly would be too. Crowley overheard the whole thing and came gunning for blood.
NEXT: My emotional devastation explained. Emily’s ultra-masochism dissected.
But first, there had to be a wedding! And apparently, Nolan is either some kind of ordained minister or justice of the peace, because he officiated Jack and Fauxmanda’s wedding. And in a silver paisley blazer that may have been the single best thing about this episode. Because this is what I was talking about at the beginning, folks. This was the true heartbreak of “Union.” Emily, as a maid of honor, remembered back to when she was a kid and she and Jack had a fake wedding on the beach, in which they exchanged pipe-cleaner rings. (Is that really what kids do? I’ve never once met a kid who would find that fun, but okay.) That memory obviously meant a lot to her. I mean, Jack is her long-lost love. The fact that she was standing by and letting him marry someone else was painful enough. The fact that she’s standing by and letting him marry someone who’s pretending to be her is even worse. The fact that she’s allowing her beloved to marry someone under false pretenses thus dooming that marriage, her friendship to Jack, and all but ensuring his inevitable heartbreak is appalling. But the fact that she would include that pipe-cleaner ring in the box that Fauxmanda presented to Jack? She’s not just robbing herself of a future with her childhood sweetheart, she’s robbing herself of her past with him. Far from being a selfless gesture, that was simply masochistic. With that act, Emily signaled to me that she absolutely refuses to ever be happy. Even the hoped-for catharsis from a possible revenge scheme now seems meaningless to her. After all, she could have brought the Graysons to their knees any number of times by now. So what does she want? And has she never heard the expression “To live well is the best revenge”? Obviously not. I don’t know if there’s any character on TV right now more devoted to the pursuit of unhappiness—for herself as much as anybody—as Emily. That she could stand by and let her beloved marry a sociopath, someone who could actually say something like “I would say I don’t deserve you…but because of you I’ve learned that everyone deserves love” yet is marrying this guy while posing as someone else. Wow.
Daniel decided to give Emily a call after his conversation with his mother and, while flipping through clips about Flight 197, tell her that now would not be the best time to rekindle their relationship. No f***ing kidding. Jack and Amanda set off in the Amanda, and Emily, the real Amanda, was now left truly alone. Except that Aidan, the most emo revenge artist/operative/assassin ever came sniffing back around to say that Emily was right and they needed to stay the course. Exactly as we knew he would. Maybe if he weren’t so predictable, the Initiative wouldn’t have had such an easy time with him.
Back at Grayson Manor, Helen waltzed in to tell Victoria that she’d overheard her conversation with Daniel and that her son was about to get into a limo run by a different car service…and she’d never see him again. Victoria stalled for time by promising her some MacGuffin in her safe. “It’s empty,” Crowley said incredulously as she saw nothing was inside. “This isn’t,” said Victoria as she fired a slug from a pistol into Helen’s heart. Yep, that’s the end of Ms. Crowley. But that was not the end of Daniel’s danger. Victoria had to call her son and get him to respond to her like he was speaking to Helen, then avoid his "car service" at all costs. He returned to Mommy at Grayson Manor, where both he and Conrad were shocked to see Helen’s lifeless body sprawled out on the study floor. “What on earth have you done?” Conrad rasped. Well, what else could Victoria have done, really?
Cut back to the Amanda. Jack and his new bride relaxed under the skies, the twinkly lights they had decked around the yacht glistening around them. Declan decided to intrude on their connubial bliss by radioing them about where to find pacifiers for Baby Carl. Annoying. Even more annoying? The fact that Nate had stowed away. Well, he is the co-owner of the Stowaway. But he’s not looking for a good time on this trip. He’s looking for something more like some Dead Calm mayhem. And so now we know he, Jack, and/or Amanda will be the person we saw who perished on the Amanda in the season-opening tease way back when.
Still, I’m more concerned about this show foundering than I am the ship. What has happened to Revenge, you guys? And how can they institute a course correction stat?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: ABC]
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Plenty of solid shows will be competing for top honors at this year's Emmy awards, but (as is always the case), there will also be plenty of solid shows that won't be competing.
That's how the cookie crumbles: with countless channels airing countless programs, there will always be quality television that slips under the Academy's radar. But over the course of TV history, there have been a few actors and shows that haven't been simply fallen to the wayside of the Emmys, they've been straight up glossed over. Snubbed.
As we approach this Sunday's ceremony, we took a look back at some of the bigger disappointments in Emmy history, the highlights of sitcoms and dramas that, for whatever reason, never earned their deserved statues.
Homicide Life on the Street/The Wire
Writer/Producer David Simon must have done something horrible in a past life. That seems like the only explanation for a man who's contributed to the world some of the best television of the past twenty years and has rarely seen love from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Simon's 1993 show Homicide: Life on the Street set a new tone for crime procedurals and only acquired a few supporting cast nods in its six year run. His HBO show The Wire is often referred to as the greatest TV show of all time and not once did it garner a nomination for Best Drama. His latest Treme is only in its second season, but from the get-go had critics raving.
So far, no love. Will Simon's series forever feel the cold backhand of Emmy snubs?
Sarah Michelle Gellar for Buffy
Trumpets are sounding for the return of Sarah Michelle Gellar to primetime television (her new show Ringer debuted last night), but it's not because of her starring roles in The Grudge or Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. When Joss Whedon decided to to turn his mildly successful horror movie Buffy into a weekly TV show, he found the perfect hero in Geller, equal parts teen drama beauty and rough, vampire butt-kicker. Geller's performance combined with Whedon's snappy dialogue and imaginative plots helped Buffy transcend its home at the WB. Unfortunately, to Emmy voters, it would always be a "show for teenagers"—Whedon picked up nod once in seven season, while Geller never managed a nomination.
Former Letterman and Larry Sanders Show writer Paul Sims assembled a dream cast for his broadcast-centric office sitcom, but few would have known that at the time: Dave Foley (Kids in the Hall), Maura Tierney, Stephen Root, Andy Dick, Joe Rogen, Phil Hartman—the talent was in its infancy, but it was there. NewsRadio took a classic format and gave it a youthful edge. The result was five seasons of evolving characters, shorelines and humor, put to an untimely end by the death of Phil Hartman. Sadly, the show only earned one comedy nomination in its five season run: a posthumous, supporting nod for Hartman.
An American Family
The Emmy award for Outstanding Reality Program was only adopted by the Academy in 2001 and has since honored shows like The Osbournes, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List. But without 1971's An American Family, the idea of docudramas television—or even guilty pleasure trashy reality TV—may never have come to fruition. The show's premise was simple: document a family's life for six months. The show was cut into 12 revolutionary episodes, spawning spin-off series and the cinematic adaptation Cinema Verite, which aired on HBO this past year.
How many Emmys was it nominated for? Zip.
Desi Arnaz for I Love Lucy
Lucille Ball dominated the '50s sitcom scene with her tour-de-force performance of physical comedy, nabbing five Emmy nominations over the six year run of I Love Lucy. But while Ball's Chaplin-esque antics stand-out decades later, would she really be the legendary star she was without her co-star and then-husband Desi Arnaz?
Arnaz was the Michael Bluth of his time, the straight man counterpart to Ball's whacked out troublemaker. He's best known for throwing his hands in the air, crying "Luuuuccyyyyy!" and stirring up the occasional "Babalu" musical number, but even Arnaz was prone to jumping into Ball's crazy plots. He was a rock of the sitcom block, yet not once in his lengthy career did Arnaz find himself on the Emmy's list of contenders.
Josh Holloway for LOST
Until the final season, it was looking like none of LOST's "lead" actors would see love from the Emmys. That is, until star Matthew Fox squeezed one out as the mind-bending drama crossed the finish line.
LOST has been the object of The Emmys' affection in all categories, but with talent, it's been severely unappreciative. Case in point: Josh Holloway, James "Sawyer" Ford, never picking up a nod. While Fox's nomination was deserved, Holloway was the show's perfect foil and his work in Season Three, when his relationships with Jack and Kate really evolve, helped turn Sawyer into a three-dimensional character that mostly actors can rarely achieve.
Any chance we can go back and just throw him an Emmy after the fact?
Ed O'Neill and Katey Segal for Married with Children
On the opposite end of the brilliant performance spectrum lies Ed O'Neill and Katey Segal as the crass (but lovable) couple Al and Peggy from Married with Children. The show was the debut sitcom when Fox launched in 1987 and helped define the network as a…a youth-centric alternative to the stuffy mainstream channels. That probably didn't help Married with Children round up award nominations (after 11 seasons, it only gained technical noms), but history will forever have a place for Al and Peggy. At that point, audiences hadn't seen anything that filthy, that wrong—which makes O'Neill and Segal selling it one of the bigger snubs in Emmy history.
Lauren Graham for Gilmore Girls
Another case where the Academy can't look past the marketing of a show. Gilmore Girls was another WB/CW comedy pegged by most as a small screen interpretation of the "chick flick," light, fluffy and stale. Quite unfortunate, as Gilmore Girls had one of the sharpest wits on TV thanks to the lightning-fast writing of creator Amy Sherman and a charming lead performance by Lauren Graham. The actress' character Lorelai could have been another comedy mom, but Graham elevated her above Reba-style, surface level caricature to dimensional (but funny!) human being. In an era where Desperate Housewives and Sex in the City were dominating the lead actress category year after year, Graham remains one of the hardest working and underappreciated performers of the 2000s.
Taking genre television seriously has never been the Emmys' strong suit, but when a sci-fi show takes itself seriously enough, people start listening…and watching. Syfy's Battlestar Galactica felt like a breath of fresh air amidst a sea of cornball, syndicated genre crap, diving head first into heady character drama and political intrigue with a few robots thrown in for good measure. The talent gained plenty of critical response—most notably the stand out performance by Katee Sackoff as the tough, female pilot Starbuck—but, alas, Battlestar was confined (like its sci-fi drama predecessors) to a lifetime of technical awards. Yes, the special effects were dazzling—but so was the riveting drama. The show (and the genre as a whole) could have used the Emmy love.
Nick Offerman for Parks & Recreation
As the NBC comedy Parks and Recreation prepares for its fourth season (with destiny unknown), we have an important message for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences: don't you dare let Nick Offerman be a permanent staple on this list.
Offerman's Ron Swanson is P&R's head grump, the yin to Amy Poehler's hyper-enthusiastic Leslie Knope yang. While they can often be found butting heads, their continued friendship is the glue that keeps Pawnee, Indiana's Parks Department (and the show) together. Offerman paints Ron with a perpetual frown, usually clouded by his sizable mustache. But once in awhile Ron slips a smile (or, even rarer, a drunken tiny hat dance) and in those few seconds Offerman pulls off a complete 180 and warms audiences' hearts. Parks and Recreation began in the shadow of The Office, but thanks to guys like Ron Swanson, has become the more fulfilling of the two shows.