Monday, February 20, 2012

"Revenge" Check-In - "Chaos"

Spoilers for the latest Revenge after the jump:

For most of “Chaos” I was wondering how apt the episode’s title really was. For a show featuring an enormous amount of twists and turns, Revenge has actually been a pretty orderly series. It’s never felt out of control even as its numerous complicated storylines – almost all of which are based in some way upon deception – have grown more wonderfully rich and complex with each passing week. And I think that approach has served the show quite well, and would likely have continued to do so if the long-awaited events of the engagement party had gone even somewhat close to what we were initially led to believe: both in the pilot and for much of the episode itself. But things instead wound up going a vastly different direction, in a fashion that definitely winds up meriting the title as well as ensures this episode’s place as one of the show’s finest to date.

Frankly, that has as much to do with the quality of the set-up material leading up to the chaos than with the chaos itself. Up until the final few minutes the episode feels pretty much like a normal episode of Revenge. Of course, “normal" on this show involves things such as Emily frantically trying to figure out who had taken her stuff from under the floorboards. To its credit, the show doesn’t hide this information from her or us for very long. It’s Tyler, who’s escaped from the hospital he was sent to after the events of “Duress”. It’s a bit odd to me that no one called with a warning that he was on the loose, but no matter. The plot is still incredibly effective, especially when Tyler reveals he’s kidnapped Fake Amanda and demands a ransom for the return of both Emily’s possessions and her friend. Or at least, that’s what he leads Emily to believe. Instead, he sets about successfully turning Amanda against Emily using the contents of the box, and uses her to get the upper hand on Emily during the exchange.

It’s here that there’s a masterful callback to previous events: one that works from both a character and plot perspective. Tyler reveals he’s not planning on leaving town with the money after all, but is instead intent on framing Emily (using the gun he’s taken from her, which now contains her fingerprints) for the murder of Daniel, in the same way she did to him with Frank. Not only is this a brilliant use of information that’s been lying dormant in the back of our minds for quite a while, it also fits with what we know about Tyler. He’s not going to let this go, even if the smarter play would be to run away and be rich. And in the end, his thirst for vengeance costs him his life. One wonders if this is a situation that will one day repeat itself for our central character: not necessarily in terms of life or death, but in terms of a life (the life she might have had with Jack, for instance) never lived. Revenge always has a cost. What Emily Thorne’s will be remains to be seen.

But while we may not find out what Emily’s price will be for a while, the costs for many of the show’s other characters has been a major theme of the show for many weeks. And in “Chaos” they’re front and center for quite a few of them. The most obvious example of this is Charlotte, who it appears is about to get addicted to painkillers after her grandfather  despicably dangles Declan’s place at school in front of her to prevent her from seeking the therapy she desperately needs after everything that’s happened. Victoria, Conrad, Emily, Nolan, and other characters with either a slightly skewed sense or no sense at all of morality (right now I’d put Grandpa Grayson firmly in that latter category) may be the most compelling part of Revenge, but it always takes special care to remind us just what all their lying and scheming does to the innocent people caught up in it. Charlotte’s story is perhaps the most tragic example of this to date,

Jack and Amanda’s is giving it a run for its money, though. In truth, I’ve never really bought into this relationship too much, mainly because I’ve been more interested in whatever Emily and Nolan are up to at any given moment. But this week I was captivated by it and was rooting so hard for the two of them to get on that boat and leave everything else behind, even as I knew it wouldn’t happen. They both clearly still have a role to play over the rest of this season, and sure enough Amanda’s conscience (and her bond with Emily) forced her to try and warn her friend of Tyler’s plan, and Jack to chase after her.

This is the Revenge we know and love: featuring compelling drama and various plot threads brilliantly converging at the same time in a manner that’s at once unpredictable, slightly over the top, and yet also quite logical and realistic given what we know about this show’s universe and characters. It’s some of the best material we’ve seen from the series to date, but it’s also not what “Chaos” will be remembered for. No, this hour will be remembered mostly for the events that ensued over its final few minutes. And what chaotic and memorable events they were.

Obviously the biggest development is Tyler being the one killed on the beach instead of Daniel. This is something that a lot of people have been predicting for a while, so it didn’t really come as a huge surprise. But I still felt it was effective, and as such I didn’t mind the show tricking us, no matter how obvious said trickery was. It definitely changes the dynamic of the show dramatically as we head into the season’s homestretch, which to me is a very good thing. What bothers me a tiny bit more is the show not giving us one clue what happened. One moment Tyler has the upper hand on Daniel and is about to tell him everything about Emily, and then a few minutes later he’s dead. Now I don’t believe for a second that Daniel’s the one who shot him (I think it’s pretty clear he’s being framed, possibly by Emily’s sensei), but the actual events surrounding the shooting currently remain clouded in mystery, as does what - if anything - Tyler told Daniel about Emily.

I doubt Revenge will keep this information secret for very long. That just doesn’t feel like the kind of storytelling it would be interested in, although I could be wrong. But if that does indeed turn out to be the case it raises another question: why did the show have to do it this way in the first place? Would there have been any harm in showing us what happened? I’m not sure, but right now it feels a little bit like a storytelling gimmick designed to temporarily increase intrigue when it didn’t really need to be increased, which is something this series has never felt the need to use before. I’m probably worrying for nothing, particularly since the show has earned a lot of trust at this point. The concluding episodes of the season will almost certainly address the fallout from Tyler’s death from a variety of different perspectives while at the same time giving us answers to all the questions it raises, and will likely be just as compelling as the journey leading up to it has been. Still, I'm wondering what the purpose of all of this is.  

In any case, this one minor issue shouldn’t diminish what Revenge has accomplished here. This is a fantastic episode of television: tense, impeccably written and filmed, and superb in the way it finally leads us back to the events seen in the pilot while still leaving room for this story to move forward in the season’s final seven episodes. While in some ways they’re bound to be a bit different than everything that came before (after what happened here, it’s hard to imagine business as usual in the Hamptons for quite some time), here’s hoping the show doesn’t lose the blend of compelling characters, strong storytelling, and commitment to its dark – and, I admit, occasionally over serious - tone that has made it one of the few standouts on broadcast TV this year. I don’t think it will, even with all the sudden chaos that’s been introduced into its narrative.

Other Thoughts

- Okay, so here’s my current theory about what happened at the beach: Takeda somehow had Tyler busted out of the hospital, then either killed him or (more likely since I doubt he would have had the chance) had him killed by someone else and intends to frame Daniel for it. This is what he meant when he told Emily her quest would soon be back on track. But I doubt Emily wanted this. She knows Daniel is an innocent in all of this and has clearly grown to care for him, so it’ll be interesting to see what she does now.

- Also interesting: Takeda picking up Amanda after she fled from the beach. Where’s he taking her, and what will Jack (who thinks Amanda’s involved with the shooting) do now?

- Let’s take one moment to recognize Ashton Holmes for his brilliant work as Tyler, in which he transformed a character who I initially felt was a distraction into one of the most memorable antagonists of the 2011-12 season to date. He will be missed, although probably not by Emily, or for that matter by most of the characters on Revenge.

- Not a lot happening with Victoria and Conrad this week. I do wonder what Victoria is up to, though. She signed the papers, but is planning to contact someone at the SEC. Thoughts on what that’s about?

Grade: A


  1. OK, hi.

    sorry I wasn't replying to the other posts, I have yet to review Justified so I decided not to read the reviews until I do, but I'm still here.

    Anyway, as to what Revenge is planning, you might ewant to find the January 28 (?) issue of Entertainment Weekly, Revenge was its cover story and it goes into detail as to where the season is headed from here on out (the season finale will take place during Christmas for example)

    But yeah, loved the episode, and I don't know if you saw the episode live or online, but the ads for the episode and the next one kind of spoiled what may have happened at the beach, both ads show(ed).

    But yeah, I think it was Amanda's sensai.

  2. Hey, no problem. I appreciate the comments immensely. And don't worry, it's not going to be all "Justified" for the next few months. I'll be checking in on this series again at some point (probably not until after the finale, though), and I'll likely be doing the same with the soon to return "Community", as well as "Parks and Rec".

    I did not see the ads. I generally don't watch previews for the next episode, just like I generally avoid movie trailers whenever I can. I prefer just to watch the finished product when it airs.

    Very much looking forward to the rest of this season. This show has turned into something pretty special, hasn't it?

  3. It has, I do wonder though how it will be able to keep going after this season.

    It still feels like something that won't survive for that long due to its storylines and stuff.

    Also, what did you think of the latest Parks & Recs? and Cougar Town?

  4. I know. At some point all these various storylines have to come to a head, and I have no clue what will happen after that. That's a good thing, of course, but it's something that concerns me a little bit. But again, the show's been so good to this point that I trust the creative team behind it has a plan. We'll see.

    As for "Cougar Town" and "Parks and Rec", I'd say they've both been pretty fantastic. The former hasn't missed a beat. It might be the most consistent comedy on TV right now. And the latter has been on a brilliant run as of late, although the last couple haven't been quite as great (merely good) as the majority of its 2012 offerings.

    Don't want to go into any specifics, since some people reading this may like "Revenge" but haven't had the chance to catch up on the other two shows. I think starting next week I'll post an open thread devoted to the week in TV, where people can discuss any shows they want without worrying about spoiling them for anybody else. Sound good? (It would also ensure that there's at least one new post a week even when I'm too busy to write stuff, which is a good thing.)