Recap and review of Revenge – Season 2 Episode 14 – Sacrifice:
“Amanda Clarke” (Margarita Levieva) has been a pretty divisive character in the Revenge fandom. In the first season, it seemed people were predicting her death every other week, as she seemed to serve little other purpose but to stir up trouble. When it became apparent that she’d not only survive, but that she’d supplant Emily (Emily VanCamp) as the “Amanda” of Jack’s life, she quickly became one of the more hated figures in the show’s lore, even while a sizable contingent of fans enjoyed having her around. She’s sort of like Declan (Connor Paolo) or Charlotte (Christa B. Allen): either you’re a fan of the character or you’re not. There didn’t seem like there was much that could be done to change anyone’s mind one way or the other. But then a curious thing happened: Amanda became kind of great. If nothing else, she’s been more interesting in the last several weeks than at any point in her run on the series, blackmailing Conrad (Henry Czerny) with video evidence of his complicity in the plane crash in last season’s finale, and really owning the role of “Amanda Clarke”. She’d made such a turnaround as a character that I was sad to see her go at the end of the aptly-titled “Sacrifice,” an episode that reorients the narrative of season two to a story with which we’re much more familiar: Emily vs. The Graysons.
While Amanda and Jack (Nick Wechsler) are on their honeymoon aboard The Amanda, Nate Ryan (Michael Trucco) gets the drop on them, holding the newlyweds at gunpoint until Amanda forks over the laptop with the incriminating evidence of Conrad. Thus begins an episode-long standoff that sees a series of intriguing developments: Amanda first lies to Nate by telling him that she was only using Jack to get closer to the Graysons as part of her revenge plot, while Jack fakes an argument with Amanda to buy them time while Nate searches below the decks for the laptop that isn’t actually there. Jack rakes her over the coals for how she lied to him, and what kind of person/mother/wife does that? And though it’s part of an act, Nick Wechsler’s emotionally-charged performance indicates that Jack at least means some of it, which unsettles Amanda to such a degree that she stops what she’s doing to reassure Jack, telling him that she truly does love him. She ultimately gets the opportunity to prove this when Nate, locked below deck, tries to shoot his way out to prevent Jack and Amanda from escaping on an inflatable raft. One of the bullets strikes Jack and, in order to save him, Amanda gets Jack on the raft and lowers it into the water, over his desperate pleas for her not to do this.
Emily, discovering from a photo on Charlotte’s laptop that Nate Ryan is aboard The Amanda, races out to sea with Nolan (Gabriel Mann). They discover Jack, unconscious in the raft, and this leads to a great moment where Emily asks Nolan if he’s capable of handling the situation and taking Jack to the hospital. Nolan responds, “Ems, this is JACK. I will do everything that I can.” It’s just a wonderful affirmation of Nolan’s connection with Jack, and his loyalty to Emily. It isn’t just that Jack means a lot to Nolan, it’s that Nolan knows how much Jack means to Emily. The moment is fleeting, but I loved it, all the same. And that’s hardly all the sentimentality in this episode, particularly once Emily catches up to The Amanda.
Emily and Nate tussle while both water and gas leak in equal measure, and their fight leads to a great moment where Nate, incredulous at Emily’s fighting skills, asks “Who the hell ARE you?” Emily responds, borderline maniacal, “You’ll never know!” When it seems as though Nate is about to turn the gun on Emily, Amanda grabs Emily’s gun and shoots Nate herself. As Emily and Amanda board the raft, Amanda goes back to retrieve the necklace Emily gave her on their last day together in juvie. Amanda sees that Nate is still alive, and he’s got his lighter in hand. And like that, the Amanda goes up in flames, but not before bits of shrapnel are lodged in Amanda’s abdomen. As Amanda bleeds out on the life raft, Emily breaks down, begging her forgiveness for drawing her into this. Amanda absolves her with her dying breaths, saying that Emily gave her what she never thought she’d have – a real family. A flashback shows that on the day of their parting in juvie, Amanda states that she and Emily are sisters, and that she loves her. Emily couldn’t return her declarations then, but she does so now, telling Amanda’s lifeless body that she loves her. Emily tries to hold on as long as she can, but eventually Amanda’s body slips away and sinks to the bottom of the ocean.
Emily VanCamp is outstanding here, really bringing home the weight of her guilt. We could blame the Graysons or Nate Ryan all we want, but the fact of the matter is that Emily’s revenge mission had drawn others into dangerous territory. Granted, Amanda’s death isn’t directly Emily’s fault, but it’s hard to imagine that Emily wouldn’t blame herself, in some fashion. Hell, had she been better about keeping her laptop secure, it never would have come to this. Sure, Jack would be out of a bar, but Amanda would still be alive. Of course, that’s still reaching, but grief borne of tragedy creates tumultuous, irrational thought processes. The entire plot is tremendous, from the tense showdown on the boat, to Amanda’s tragic death. It’s a real punch to the gut, even while it ended up being a fitting close to the character of “Amanda”, bringing her story full circle to where Emily no longer views her as a means to an end, but as someone she loves.
The Grayson end of things also delivers this week. Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) comes up with a pretty clever solution to the Helen Crowley problem, dressing up as the murdered Initiative member to fool her driver, and then play-acting a confrontational scene with Daniel (Josh Bowman) for the benefit of the Initiative’s cameras, and lastly, planting Crowley’s phone and scarf under Amanda Clarke’s bed. It’s a return to form for Victoria, who’s always been resourceful, but hasn’t always been given the chance to show it. And her scenes with Daniel further illustrate the theme of his gradual indoctrination into their criminal ways. He puts up an argument about how they plan to blackmail Amanda Clarke, claiming the moral high ground and reiterating his disgust with his parents, but it doesn’t mean all that much if he never really stands up to them, which is part of what makes his indoctrination all the more interesting. He’s fighting against it in name only. Sure, he’ll voice his objections to their methods, but it’s not like he’s going to blow up Conrad’s gubernatorial campaign over it. And really, that’s better for the show: Conrad as governor has the potential to make for outstanding television, even if he’s only just announced his candidacy in this episode.
However, not every part of the episode works. The business with Aiden (Barry Sloane) and Padma (Dilshad Vadsaria) is a bit of a chore, as Aiden tries to help Padma in her dealings with the Initiative, since Padma has no way of knowing if her father is still alive, or if they’re just playing her like they played Aiden. She gets confirmation, to this effect, from the man who has replaced Helen Crowley as the face of the Initiative to the viewer, an icy-eyed operative named Trask (Burn Gorman). While Padma never opens the box containing her father’s finger, Aiden takes one look and confirms it to the devastated Padma. Because apparently you can send body parts through the mail with no trouble whatsoever. I don’t think it was all that smart to kill Helen Crowley off, since we were only just getting used to her as the face of the Initiative, about which we know nothing. And now we must acquaint ourselves with a new operative, whose motives are every bit as obtuse as that of the Initiative themselves. This is why we’re much better off for the storyline returning to Emily vs. The Graysons, as it’s a more personal conflict that is directly relatable. It’s a myopic path towards vengeance against villains that are personified and knowable. It isn’t like we can’t get to know Trask, but we’re a little more than halfway through the season, so it’s kind of late to dispose of one villain to introduce another. But really, as long as we’re back to Victoria and Conrad as the primary antagonists, it’ll be easier to stomach the overarching Initiative plot, since it’ll be in the background while Emily vs. The Graysons, which made season one so immensely enjoyable, occupies the foreground.
“Sacrifice” is one of the best episodes of the season so far, if not the best. It’s a shame that Amanda had to go, but I like the possibility of it getting Jack in on Emily’s revenge scheme, to say nothing of how it ups the stakes overall, since there’s now been genuine loss. This episode not only succeeds in and of itself, it gives me considerable confidence for where the latter half of this season is heading.