"Revenge is a stony path," Hattori Hanso says in Kill Bill. Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) knows that all too well on Revenge. In the first half of the ABC sudser's second season, Emily lost sight of her main objective—to clear the name of her father, David Clarke (James Tupper), by bringing to justice the Graysons, the tony Hamptonites who framed him for their own crimes. Instead, she went on a search to find her mother, Kara (Jennifer Jason Leigh), which became something of dead end when Emily found out mommy is a crazy person who tried to kill her when she was a kid. And she got entangled with old flame Aidan (Barry Sloane), who, like Emily herself, is a pupil of revenge maestro Satoshi Takeda (Cary Hiroyuki Tanada).
So, yeah, Revenge kind of lost its way in the first part of season two. Don't even get us started on the addition of Nolan's love interest Padma (Dishad Vadseria) and a totally vestigial subplot about mobsters taking over Jack and Declan's bar. But it looks like the second half of season two is going to hit the ground running as it careens toward the mystery that we first glimpsed in September: Jack's yacht, the Amanda, sitting on the ocean floor. Here's a guide to catch you up.
Where We Left Off: Daniel launched a takeover of Grayson Global after discovering that the company secretly held a controlling share in Nolan Ross' (Gabriel Mann) tech firm, NolCorp. That meant he unseated his father, Conrad (Henry Czerny), as chairman of the board. Unfortunately, Daniel was unaware of daddy's little business arrangement with the Americon Initiative: Connie had continued to launder money for the terrorists who downed that airplane in the '90s for which Emily's father took the blame. That means the Initiative now sees Conrad, and possibly Daniel, as expendable if the Grayson scion won't continue to do their bidding. In worse news for Daniel, he discovered that his girlfriend Ashley (Ashley Madekwe) had hot, fully-clothed sex with his father and one of his father's business partners (Joaquin de Almeida). Actually, that may have been good news for him, because he promptly ended the creepiest relationship Revenge has ever given us. Also, in the dock-bar politics of Montauk, Jack (Nick Wechsler) discovered that the Ryan brothers, the guys who've quickly taken over his bar, are two shady dudes.
Biggest Jaw-Dropper of the Fall: Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) accidentally pushed a pregnant "Amanda" (Margarita Levieva) over a balcony railing.
Biggest Let-Down of the Fall: The search for Emily's mother was a total non-starter. Ms. Thorne discovered that her mother wasn't really worth finding in the first place.
Most Improved Character: Conrad Grayson has gone from being the starch-shirted weaker half of his marriage to Victoria to Revenge's MVP. Henry Czerny seems to relish delivering each of his soapy lines more than anyone else on the show. Conrad may now be a more accomplished practitioner of bitchery than his wife.
Least Improved Character: Daniel Grayson (Josh Bowman) went from clueless playboy to clueless tycoon...and remains the dumbest man in the room.
5 Reasons You Should Keep Watching: 1) Revenge's rut in the fall may have just been the usual second season slump for writers who aren't certain how many seasons they'll be given to tell their story. It's very likely they've heard viewer complaints and will tighten the focus of the show. 2) Victoria now needs Emily's help. Some sort of alliance between these two could be epic. 3) With Daniel in charge of Grayson Global, the Americon Initiative, so far only seen watching Daniel's moves in a darkened conference room, may be forced out of the shadows. More action, less lurking. 4) Nolan's lame romance with Padma seems headed for the back-burner now that he's conjured a plan to take down Grayson Global from the inside. 5) From balcony throws to passive-aggressive trap-shooting contests, Revenge is still the greatest custodian of TV camp since Dynasty.
What We Ultimately Want to See: Not only does Revenge need bigger stakes, it needs stakes period. Right now, it's not entirely clear what Emily wants to accomplish or who her real enemies even are. She needs to figure that out quick, or viewers will lose interest.
What Would Make Us Turn Our Backs: If any more subplots are added like Nolan's romance with Padma or Jack's mob drama at his bar, it could water down the focus of the show to the point of it becoming completely incoherent. As it is, let's hope those two unfortunate narrative threads are tied up sooner rather than later.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Vivian Zink/ABC]
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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.