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Revenge – Recap: Nolan shows Initiative

Recap and review of Revenge – Season 2 Episode 17 – Victory:

One of the more interesting things that Revenge does is explore the implications and consequences of the choices we make. Sometimes, such conclusions involve a ton of logistical gymnastics to make sense. Other times, it doesn’t take that much work for a person to realize that their actions have resulted in someone getting harmed. Such is the case tonight with three characters: Emily (Emily VanCamp), Nolan (Gabriel Mann) and Eli James (Collins Pennie). We can chart the progression of this theme, that of the implications and consequences of one’s vengeful actions, over the course of the episode, as each character grows more and more melancholy over their own failures. It’s a very well-structured episode, and the last-act twist really elevates the entire story, even if it seems like kind of an ass-pull at this stage of the game. However, this doesn’t stop “Victory” from being a pretty terrific way to spend an hour, representing the continued return to form for Revenge, as the series gets back to its salacious, soap opera roots while not necessarily disposing of the political/shadowy intrigue that has become characteristic of season two. It’s a near-perfect blend of these disparate elements.

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

First and foremost, let’s discuss that twist. Eli retrieves a series of letters for Emily, which her father had written to her all throughout his incarceration. These letters were written while Emily was trapped in a Dickensian foster home with a cold-hearted, tyrannical foster mother at its head, Meredith Hayward (Dendrie Taylor). Hayward would often lock children in a holding cell in the basement, and was misappropriating government funds that she received as a result of her foster parenting. This is without getting into the psychological torment she afflicted on the children, telling a young Amanda that no one would ever adopt her because no one would ever want her. Thus, it’s no surprise when we learn that Miss Hayward hoarded all the letters from David Clarke, never giving them to Amanda, nor even telling her he’d ever written. In the present, Eli, through grotesque torture that happens entirely off-screen, learns that she sold them for profit to “some guy”. And who else would want letters of David Clarke except Mason Treadwell (Roger Bart)?

Emily visits Treadwell in prison and reminds him of their arrangement, that he can’t ever see release unless she allows it to happen. The letters themselves are gone, having gone up in flames after she burned his house down, but Emily isn’t satisfied. She presses him to be honest with her about the content of the letters. With little else to lose at this point, Treadwell reveals the secret contained within: Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) has another son, whom she gave up for adoption as a teenager. Emily and Treadwell share a conspiratory grin while Emily thinks of how best to use this new information. Regardless, she now has considerable leverage over Victoria that she didn’t have before. It’s among the biggest developments of the season thus far.

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

Less interesting is Jack’s (Nick Wechsler) continued investigation into Amanda’s death. Declan (Connor Paolo) pickpockets former breaking-and-entering cohort Trey, getting his cell phone and texting Kenny Ryan to meet with him. When Ryan shows, Jack is waiting for him, demanding answers about why he saved his life, and why Nick wanted Amanda dead. Kenny has no idea what Jack is talking about and adds that whatever Conrad Grayson (Henry Czerny) has his brother doing, he himself wasn’t a part of it. He does, however, reveal that Nick recorded all of his conversations with Conrad, and forks them over to Jack, who learns the full extent of Conrad’s treachery. Jack accepts a position on Conrad’s gubernatorial campaign in order to keep his enemy closer.

In similarly uninspiring developments, Victoria continues manipulating Daniel (Josh Bowman), this time using discreet photos of a private business lunch between he and Emily to convince him that the Initiative plans to make her a target. It’s not that the storyline in itself is bad (it’s just boring), it’s that Daniel was finally starting to come into his own, yet now he’s right back to having his strings pulled by his mother. And it’s always somebody pulling his strings, whether it’s Victoria, Conrad, Emily or the Initiative, someone’s always got the guy over a barrel without him knowing it. He has a near-complete lack of agency in his own life that I imagine would be infuriating to him if he were clever enough to realize it. But nope, he’s been manipulated by Emily into revealing that his father plans to let Aiden (Barry Sloane) take the fall for the Amanda Clarke Foundation money scheme. Poor Daniel. You’ll be a real character one day.

But onto the real meat of the episode, the exploration of consequences:

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

Nolan: Nolan promises that he won’t allow any harm to come to Padma (Dilshad Vadsaria) or her father, and that he’ll try to make as clean an exchange as possible so she and her father can safely start a new life somewhere far away. Nolan, however, admits that he isn’t allowed to know where they’re going, as it could compromise Padma’s safety. Padma doesn’t want to have to leave, and she tearfully confesses her love to Nolan. He returns her declaration and promises that once the Initiative has been exposed, they can be together again. I’m not exactly feeling this love story, as it feels somewhat forced, especially given how lukewarm they’ve been in recent weeks. But it does give Gabriel Mann an opportunity to play a romantic lead, and it provides him some of his best material for his performance later on. You see, as Nolan and Aiden meet at the drop-off, where Padma will give the Carrion program to the Initiative in exchange for her father, it quickly becomes evident that it’s a double-cross. Aiden is primed and ready to take a shot with his sniper rifle to end this all right now. He has Trask (Burn Gorman) right within his crosshairs, but Nolan stops Aiden from pulling the trigger, rationalizing that it could cost Padma’s father his life. But as Padma is shoved into the back of a black SUV that subsequently speeds away beyond Aiden’s range, Nolan realizes he’s made a terrible mistake, one that could prove to be the end for both Padma and her father.

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

Emily gives Nolan a pep-talk to snap him out of his feelings of blame and guilt, particularly after Nolan and Aiden discover that the Initiative was ahead of them the whole time, discovering the tracking device they placed on the flash drive containing the Carrion program. Nolan bucks up and decides he’s going to fight code-for-code against The Falcon, who has apparently defected from the Graysons and now works for the Initiative. Nolan is more driven than he’s ever been, and it makes for compelling viewing.

Eli: Though last week’s episode would seem to imply a larger endgame for Eli’s presence, it turns out that he’s not in the Hamptons to blow Emily’s cover, or to make life difficult for her, necessarily. He was apparently simply trying to make amends while getting some revenge of his own. As we learn, it wasn’t Emily who set the fire that burned down their foster home, it was Eli, who saw Emily’s fire die out and decided to start one of his own. It was his desperate ploy to keep them from getting separated, as he simply wanted Emily to get in trouble. Unfortunately, that fire landed her in juvenile detention for five years. Emily is furious with Eli because, she rationalizes, if he hadn’t set the fire, then she never would have gone to juvie, she never would have met Amanda, and Amanda would never have died. It’s circuitous logic, but she’s also kind of right. That said, Eli does his best to get her father’s letters back for her, or at least ascertain their whereabouts. He also uses the Amanda Clarke Foundation as the perfect ruse to get his revenge against Meredith Hayward.

Eli vouches for Hayward’s credibility as a worthy cause for the ACF to endorse, as the rebuilt foster home will close if they can’t pay their bills soon. Victoria agrees to endorse Hayward with a grant of $250,000 a year, and Hayward is over-the-moon. However, Eli had earlier been stringing her along with promises of more money to come, saying they’ll take those rich people for all they’re worth. It’s all part of his plan for the press conference being held at the Stowaway, announcing the grant to Miss Hayward. When Eli rises to deliver his glowing speech about Miss Hayward, he instead delivers a speech condemning her for what she did to him, and to the other children at the home. He says that his years with Hayward were the darkest of his life, and he produces several former foster kids, now adults bearing the scars of her cruelty, to vouch for Eli’s horror stories. Meredith Hayward is brought to ruin, and though Eli insists that exposing a fraud will be good for Conrad’s campaign, Victoria fires him outright. Which ties into…

Emily: …who is furious with Eli for setting the fire, telling him to leave and never return. However, when Eli produces knowledge of the whereabouts of her father’s letters, she’s grateful, and they part on less-than-awful terms, with Emily rationalizing that what’s done is done. Unfortunately, Emily still feels a pang of guilt for failing to be there for Nolan in his time of need. When the Initiative moved up the drop-off time for the Carrion program, Emily was out with Daniel, too far away to make it to the drop-off point in time. She tells Nolan that she feels as though she’s failed him, and though Nolan absolves her of blame, Emily gives him her word that she’ll help him save Padma and her father. I’ll always love scenes that strengthen Emily and Nolan’s friendship, though Emily really does have bigger fish to fry. That said, the story further exemplifies how the things we do (or, in Emily’s case, fail to do) have consequences that echo across circumstances, and possibly affecting those we love most. It’s been one of the predominant themes of the series, but it’s especially elucidated well here.

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

“Victory” is very much a continuation of the show’s return to form, as it feels a lot more like the fun, scandalous show it had been in the first season, and less of the conspiratorial slog it’s been in its second (well, the first half, anyway). The added twist of Victoria’s mystery son has made this all the more engaging as we head towards the season finale in two months.

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