Spoilers for the latest "Revenge" after the jump:
With "Parks and Rec" and "Community" off, it's nice that "Revenge" manages to have its best episode yet the week when I decide to write about it. It's even nicer that "Guilt" is an example of everything that's so terrific about this series, which has my vote for best new show of the season so far. ABC is marketing it as a "guilty pleasure", but I don't feel that's accurate. "Revenge" is not simply a piece of brain candy, meant to be enjoyed each week and then promptly forgotten about. This is a good show, and one that's much smarter and deeper than you'd initially expect. And yeah, it's highly enjoyable and watchable as well.
For the first four weeks, "Revenge" has been something of a procedural. Only instead of solving a crime, we get to watch each week as Emily Thorne takes revenge on one of the people responsible for her father's wrongful imprisonment. For its part, the self-contained element has been immensely satisfying. But over the course of these opening episodes quite a bit more time has been paid to the larger story: namely, Emily's attempt to take down Victoria Grayson. She's insinuated herself into Victoria's life and has begun dating his son, though it remains to be seen what her ultimate plan is.
There is technically a self-contained story in "Guilt", but it's actually one that has direct ties to the pilot and has been hinted at in the episodes which followed it, as well as one that relates to the overall arc as a whole. And that's Lydia's return after being exiled by Victoria. From the very beginning it's clear that this isn't going to end well, as we see Lydia fall to her death from a window just as Emily's voiceover talks about the how "the guilty will fall" (a nice touch of dark humor there). "Revenge" has used this structure before, in the pilot's opening scene. And both times it's been done effectively, creating a sense of dread as we watch the inevitable unfold.
In this case that's mostly through a series of tense conversations, as Lydia attempts to regain her former life. It's a bit sad, really, to watch her try to get back in Victoria's good graces after first threatening her, particularly since (again) we know how this is all going to end. And yet we're still on Emily's side, and as such it's also quite thrilling to see her pin all her previous acts of revenge on Lydia in a single deft stroke. That is, until it's not. Lydia's final moments aren't played for any sort of thrills. They're terrifying and brutal. And while Frank is the one who directly caused her death, Emily's in part responsible, as is Nolan to a lesser extent. One gets the sense that Emily envisioned her vengeance as an idealized kind: ruining the lives of the people who framed her father, but bloodlessly.
That's off the table now, and Emily Thorne moves closer and closer to antihero territory. She'll never be Walter White or Tony Soprano, but the series has resisted turning her into an entirely righteous heroine. If she was, she would be a lot less interesting, as would this show. Instead, it's becoming an enthralling drama about lies and vengeance, while still retaining that escapist nature that attracts viewers. It could all fall apart creatively at any point, but that "Revenge" has managed to deliver on both of these elements so far is rather remarkable.
And that's without even mentioning the other storylines, which are less attention-grabbing but still very solid. Tyler's attempts to mess with Daniel and Emily's relationship don't particularly interest me, at least until we know why he's doing it (assuming there's a reason). I'm very much liking Daniel as a character, though. Once again, it would be easy to have all the Graysons be unlikable, but instead Daniel is proving to be rather sympathetic (as is Charlotte, and even Victoria in some ways). Daniel's made some mistakes, but he appears to be getting his act together, at least partially through his relationship with Emily. The question is whether she feels anything for him, or whether she simply views him as a way to get to Victoria. I think it's a bit of both, which is fitting since few things are simple on this show.
- I will not be covering this series week-to-week. But with my two favorite comedies off, I thought it would be a good time to check in on it. I'll probably be doing so again a few times this season.
- I realize "Homeland" is probably a better show (given everything I've heard about it), but I don't get Showtime and thus won't be seeing it until it comes out on DVD. So "Revenge" it is.
- Not much from Jack and Declan this week, apart from Charlotte and Declan's speeding incident. But Daniel going to work at the bar could prove to be very interesting indeed.
- Two things really bugged me in an otherwise terrific hour. 1) Victoria's verbal attack on Lydia in front of everybody. Even though it was whispered, why would Victoria be that stupid when Lydia could have gone right back up and revealed everything? And that leads me into... 2) Why didn't Lydia do just that? The storytelling in this show has been so tight and smart that it's strange to see such obvious details overlooked.