What’s wrong with ‘Revenge’? 5 problems, 5 solutions

Sarah D. Bunting
Fall TV

WARNING: This article contains plot points from the October 14 "Revenge" episode. Don't continue reading if you don't want to know what happened!

So, Emily's mother, Kara, isn't just still alive -- she's running a motel right in the Hamptons, and she was romantically involved with the White-Haired Man, who actually warned Victoria to get off the plane last year because the bomb on it was meant for Conrad. WHM also had the flight recorder from Flight 666 stashed in his AC unit, where it's recovered by Foxy Aiden, who hands it over to Emily in exchange for WHM's belongings, but of course he gets decoys, because Emily is still mad that Foxy ditched her at Revenge School to go find his sister -- even though they were romantically involved. (Foxy and Emily, not Foxy and his sister. Yuck.)

Last night's "Revenge" episode, "Confidence," featured a few other plot twists -- Emily manipulates Daniel some more; Victoria uses a press event to announce that Charlotte is David Clarke's daughter, and to introduce Amanda as a member of the family; Declan gets caught stealing; Jack gives Amanda an ultimatum about getting close to the Graysons. But despite the usual furious plotting, and continued good ratings, something's not right. The show isn't fun to watch anymore. We've lost confidence. What's wrong with "Revenge"? And can it be fixed?


Problem #1: The bad guys have gotten too bad…

This isn't to say that you can't dig villains, and/or enjoy their élan, and "Revenge" has some of the most dastardly Snidely Whiplashes in the business -- but it's no longer believable that any of the other characters would continue to associate with Victoria or Conrad, whose interpersonal skills top out at "unpleasantly gelid."

In the first season, the senior Graysons seemed to have other qualities and interests besides scheming and hating each other so intensely that random props threatened to burst into flames nearby. Not many… but some. They appeared to like their children a little bit. Occasionally they played tennis. Now, the entire character brief is "glaring." Daniel and Charlotte's willingness to let themselves get herded back into that toxic fold strains credulity.

The Solution

Pull back on the "War of the Roses" loathing for a few episodes, and find at least one of them a semi-sympathetic motivation for all the double-crossing. Or a hobby.

Problem #2: …and the good guys aren't any great shakes either

It's hard to root for the Grayson kids when they don't root for themselves. Even Daniel, not the sharpest knife in the block, has to realize that his parents' only use for him or his sister is as chess pieces. It makes no sense that the kids continue the charade.

Jack Porter presents a similar problem; why hasn't he either figured out that Amanda is not "his" Amanda, or just told her he doesn't love her instead of moping into a highball glass? The show wants us to want him and Emily together in the end, but if he's this clueless and ineffectual, she could do better. (And on that same tip, stop showing flashbacks to David Clarke, who is more easily led, cheaty, and unworthy of vengeance in each one.)

Declan has no relationship to the main plots at this point (and wasn't very interesting when he did), and Nolan is sidelined in a glacial subplot with his teenage CFO.

The Solution

Give Jack a backbone (possibly already in progress as of last night's ep) and let him listen to his gut about Amanda; escort Declan's "townie agonistes" subplots to prison, where he can do time for the robberies until the show figures out how to use him; have Daniel emancipate Charlotte, then move them both into a house on the other side of Emily's; and join all three of them and Nolan up in a vengeful Scooby Gang. More realistic, more fun, and plays to the show's strengths.

And just more Nolan, period. Gabriel Mann is a star. Let him be one.

Problem #3: We know more than Emily does

Emily's first-season ability to think, and execute, seven steps ahead of the Graysons and everyone else around her really made the show pop. Not since Sherlock Holmes had we seen that kind of a compulsive genius. (Or a pop-collered Watson as rad as Nolan. Have we mentioned that Nolan is great? Don't worry, we'll mention it again.)

In the second season, it seems like she's constantly scrambling to fix mistakes or address oversights. Last year, she knew way more than the audience; this year, it's the opposite.

Problem #4: The plotting feels rushed and anticlimactic at the same time

Keeping Victoria's survival a secret for too long wouldn't have worked, but her return seemed poorly thought out, and what should have gone off with a bang kind of fizzled instead. WHM also got killed off too early.

The Solution

Problems #3 and #4 have the same solution: the writers need to take a minute, breathe, and figure out what the season's arc is. It's clear they felt the pressure after the show's success last year to dazzle us with even bigger plots and feuds, but instead of raising the stakes, they're scrambling, and the complex strands of mystery that were so enjoyable last year are feeling confusing and desperate this time around.

The show must figure out what the season's overarching story is; it must let Emily know what it is; and it must involve Emily actually getting the vengeance she seeks this time. The American TV model doesn't always allow for closure at the end of a season, but that closure is the point of the show. It's in the title.

Problem #5: Identity crisis

"Revenge" wants to be a soap opera and an episodic mystery with a pinch of action thriller, and as a result, it isn't any of those.

The Solution

It's sort of hard to say why the balancing act isn't working; "Revenge" expertly mixed puzzle plots, romantic intrigue, and the occasional "Matrix"-y fight sequence last year. It probably goes back to Problem #4, to building a solid central mystery, then adding in the other elements.

Last year rocked, but if "Revenge" wants to go full frontal soap, it needs to do that and only that, in the classic style. Dumb the plots down, amp the melodrama up, and let's see some fights in fountains and wigs getting ripped off. And romance! Base it on a tissue-thin pashmina of lies if you have to, but the show needs more couples -- good ones. Daniel and Ashley have the approximate chemistry of jury sequestration.

Do you agree that "Revenge" is on a downward slide? Or is it just as good as ever? Let us know in the comments.

And here's "Confidence" in its entirety, in case you missed it: