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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