Recap and review of Revenge – Season 2 Episode 13 – Union:
Revenge is a series where it feels as though we’re meant to forget just how tortured its heroine actually is, at all times. Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) is remarkably complex, yet she never gets much of a chance to show it, due to the necessities of her revenge mission. She has to maintain a certain persona in public, not allowing her true emotions to ever break through. Yet, in order to keep from being consumed by grief, sadness and the realization that she can’t really ever have the things she wants if she’s going to see this through, she has to maintain a singular focus on the mission, even in private. However, there are fissures in this facade, which most frequently are in evidence during her interactions with Jack (Nick Wechsler), the only living representation of the innocence of her childhood (well, now that Sam the Immortal Dog has died, taking my nickname for him with it). Her emotional weakness for all things Jack is evident throughout “Union”, as she struggles to come to grips with his wedding to Amanda (Margarita Levieva), while having flashbacks to her own childhood “wedding” to our favorite Porter (because Declan is no one’s favorite anything, bless his mousse-haired soul). It’s an episode that deepens Emily as a character by allowing us to see just how much she’s hurting, and I feel it’s remarkably effective, to say nothing of how compelling the story itself happens to be.
Emily finds out about Amanda accepting money from Conrad (Henry Czerny), and offers Amanda the money to buy back The Stowaway from him. Amanda fives Jack the money, though when Jack tries to pay back the debt, he’s refused by Conrad, who announces that their agreement has been changed, as per his new plans for the waterfront. Amanda, incensed, steals Emily’s laptop and confronts Conrad with evidence of his complicity in framing David Clarke. Kowtowed into submission, Conrad tells Nate Ryan (Michael Trucco) that plans for the waterfront are of, sending the ex-con into a rage and resulting in his offer to “take care” of the problem. Nate stows away on The Amanda, lying in wait for the new Mr. and Mrs. Porter, and there’s a certain tragicomic irony in the possibility of Jack or Amanda being killed by a stowaway in a conflict over the deed to a bar of the same name. That said, the episode ends on the cliffhanger of Nate infiltrating the honeymoon getaway, so it remains to be seen exactly who is going to bite the bullet and sink to the bottom with The Amanda (though I’m taking all bets now!).
The wedding itself is a well-staged scene that is as emotionally intimate as any this show has ever seen. It takes place on the beach and is officiated by Nolan (Gabriel Mann) and attended by Declan (Connor Paolo), Charlotte (Christa B. Allen) and Emily, and beckons back to the childhood nuptials Emily shared with Jack, exchanging vows with rings fashioned out of pipe cleaners. The flashbacks are a little cheesy, but totally worth it just for the payoff of Amanda opening the ring box to find the pipe cleaner ring inside, followed by Amanda looking to Emily for some sort of explanation, and Emily nodding her approval (in effect, letting Jack go). Then there’s Jack’s profoundly moving expression of disbelief that she’d kept it, asserting that this is just further proof of the destiny of their fated union. It’s a beautiful little scene that is all the more heartbreaking for how we see Emily gradually coming apart, an arc that culminates in a scene that is the mirror opposite of the wedding and its symbolic representation of new life, as Emily meets with Aiden (Barry Sloane) in a cemetery.
Aiden discovered through Nolan’s detective work that the video of his sister that the Initiative was blackmailing him with was actually from six years ago, meaning that there was nothing he could have done in the present to stop the girl in the video from ODing. Yet he’s nonetheless completely ravaged by despair, and he has no real incentive to continue on with Emily, as he decides he’s going to seek revenge on his own. Emily VanCamp is fantastic, explaining that her rough exterior is simply a necessity of what she has to do to get her revenge, adding that she’s hurting pretty much all the time, and that the only thing holding her together is the mission. She pleads with Aiden not to abandon her, but her pleas fall on deaf ears. It’s a gutting bit of drama, that’s as thorough a demonstration of Emily Vancamp’s acting capabilities as she’s ever been given the opportunity to show. Yet Aiden comes to realize that it would do a disservice to his sister’s memory to become another victim of the people responsible for her death, and so he decides to rejoin Emily before long. It’s pretty much the only decent thing that happens for Emily this week, since Daniel (Josh Bowman) breaks things off with her mere moments after she’s watched the presumptive love of her life get married to a person he believes is her childhood self (a sentence that makes this show sound way more ridiculous than it is, but no less awesome).
Daniel, for his part, is dealing with troubles of his own. Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) has decided to double down and reveal to Daniel the truth about Helen Crowley (Wendy Crewson) and the Initiative, a conversation being monitored by Ms. Crowley herself via hidden surveillance (you’d think with how many secret videos surface, these people would hire a team to come in and check for/clear out any monitoring bugs hidden in their offices/houses/cars. At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me if a bug was successfully placed on one of these yahoos without them noticing). Crowley confronts Victoria and threatens Daniel’s life, and if there’s one thing that’s always remained consistent about someone as terrifically complex as the duplicitous Victoria, it’s that you don’t f*** with her kids. Victoria shoots and kills Crowley without so much as flinching, and as she, Daniel and Conrad stand over the bloody corpse, with Conrad mouthing “What have you done?”, Revenge went back to being that deliciously salacious series it was in the early parts of season one, and has been only intermittently in season two.
The vagueness of the Initiative’s threat is still problematic, however. Nolan, against Emily’s advice, and without her knowledge, confronts Padma (Dilshad Vadsaria) about her reconnaissance against him on behalf of the Initiative. She reveals that she truly does care about Nolan, but she has no choice, since the Initiative is holding her father hostage. Gabriel Mann (who I still can’t believe is 40) almost accomplishes making this storyline into something compelling, but as much as I want to see Nolan happy, there’s just something about him tenderly admitting his feelings for someone that just doesn’t feel authentic. This is without mentioning that the Initiative is continually spoken about as a threat, yet never actually presented as one. This is a byproduct of Helen Crowley being our only representative for the Initiative. Her singular presence results in the organization feeling inherently less threatening since, save for a brief shot of a bunch of shadowy figures in an equally shadowy room several episodes back, we have no way of knowing that anyone else is actually in the Initiative. I feel that Victoria and the Graysons warding off possible retaliations from the Initiative will bear greater fruit, as will Nolan attempting to help Padma rescue her father, in terms of illustrating the very real threat the Initiative presents – particularly since the Initiative will now be the de factor primary villain for all of our most significant characters (except the Porters), from Emily to Aiden, from Nolan to Victoria. That organizing principle is something the show badly needs, and is already better for having once again.
“Union” is damn good television, and portends better things to come, as we finally solve the mystery of who sinks with The Amanda, next week.