'Revenge' Review: 'Retribution' - Emily Is Back
ABC pushed the episode with these words: "Emily is back. No more distractions." The network must've heard the complaints about the second season and decided to push the show like it is season one again; however, Revenge needs to get out of a few storylines before it ceases being a convoluted mess. Revenge won't really reset until the third season. Until then, the writers have to wriggle free of The Initiative, and, uh, yeah, just The Initiative.
Fake Amanda's death, at least, adds much needed urgency and drama into the show. TV writers usually share a similar modus operandi when killing off a character: make the death matter. Don't kill off characters willy-nilly. Make it matter for the other characters, and for the audience, and the story choice will pay off. Fake Amanda's death matters for the major characters, and her death has great implications for the narrative. Jack is torn up about her death, but he's also dealing with the truth of why she came to the Hamptons. Indeed, he'll react badly when he learns the real truth. Charlotte's devastated to lose a sister she just discovered. The loss motivates her to find other people who cared about her. The thought of Fake Amanda's funeral being empty is unsettling and upsetting to Charlotte, so she uses the interweb (fake search engine GoquestGo) to track down her foster family. Conrad's guilted out because he ordered her death a mere day ago. Conrad pays for Jack's medical care and swears to assist him whenever necessary. The computer's out there like a big old ticking time bomb.
Emily experiences the most significant change. The other characters are mourning a woman they didn't know. Emily's partly responsible for Fake Amanda's death. Conrad targeted her because the name Clarke is a threat. Nate wouldn't have killed her without the promise of a cash reward. Fake Amanda used Emily's computer after Conrad threatened Jack and the Stowaway. Daniel tells his mother that all of their money is tainted with blood. Many of Emily's choices are tainted with blood. Emily's violent reaction to Fake Amanda's death, which includes loading a gun, swearing to kill the Graysons, and etc., are motivated by her feelings of guilt. The death's ultimate purpose is to remove her distractions, and, really, remove the show's distractions. The statement scene of the episode involves Aiden handing her the crucial computer with all the incriminating evidence about the Graysons. Emily takes the computer, throws it into the water, and reminds Aiden that she never planned to send the Graysons to prison for a long time. The computer was a distraction is what she tells Aiden, which is like saying everything we've seen her do is just busy-work. Emily's steely resolve seems to cap the episode, until her foster brother visits Fake Amanda's grave. Revenge can't quit busy filler work.
"Retribution" is entirely about the fall-out from Fake Amanda's death. Daniel has another crisis of conscience but inevitably follows his mother's advice anyway. The death threatens to disrupt several things, especially with Trask sniffing around for something wrong in the stories. It is less of a reflective episode than typical death-themed episodes of television. There is the scene every episode after a character dies has--the one where the characters are gathered for the burial, one of them eulogizes the deceased, and the others struggle to not cry. The episode is not without Initiative nonsense. Nolan accepts that he is life's pawn. Indeed, if not life's pawn, then he is the show's pawn, for Gabriel Mann has been given little to work with this season. I sort of tune out during his scenes with Daniel because their scenes are uninteresting. Daniel makes threats; Nolan obliges. Nolan tries to help Padma, but he fears Padma will make choices she'll regret when The Initiative gives her her father's corpse as part of their deal.
The introduction of Emily's foster brother is inevitable from the moment Charlotte searches for him. His arrival is yet another test for Emily. Earlier, Emily had to face angry Jack after he learned about Fake Amanda's bond with her. Jack feels betrayed. Nolan advises Emily to resist coming clean to Jack "because he needs the memory of Amanda now. Don't take her away from him for the second time." A lot of Emily's stories deal with a problem she needs to resolve, which is good because she's usually active, except for the stretch of episodes this episode when she was passive. Her foster brother's presence in town should let Emily do her typical thing and put her strong words to the test. She tells Aiden she originally wanted to get to Victoria through her children, but then she fell for Daniel, and learned Charlotte's her half-sister. She's more bark than bite. The foster brother is a test for Emily.
Emily's also the only character that represses her grief for her friend because she can't break her cover, which informs her character even more. The most interesting internal struggle of Emily's is when she's actively feeling instead of actively numb. The way she's felt complicated her mission, and she's trying to use the death to re-focus her energies. Emily cries once, in the teaser, and then she doesn't cry again. The best scene of Emily's in the episode is when she goes to her friend's grave in the cover of night, in a driving rain, because storms and darkness should allow a person relative isolation. Emily's a tragic character. Whether or not she's a tragic character in the Shakespearean sense won't be known until the series finale nor will we know whether or not she'll triumph like many fictional heros and heroines before her. The shot of her alone in the cemetery couldn't be a better tableau for the character. She's alone, in darkness, surrounded by death.
-Ashley's disgusted by Conrad's role in the death that she nearly quits, but she doesn't. Glad that scene happened, Revenge.
-Jack recovered quickly from emergency surgery to save his life. Jack goes home and rests in bed. In his next scene, Jack is out and about. Two scenes later, he's at a news conference. Jack is the John Cena of Revenge.
-Victoria utters aloud her dread over the possibility of losing one of her children. I know foreshadowing when I hear it.
-Helen Hunt directed tonight's episode. Hunt's known as an actress, but she's directed several Mad About You episodes as well as an episode of Californication. Elle Triedman & Nikki Toscano wrote the episode.