Recap and review of Revenge – Season 2 Episode 7 – Penance
That may well have been the best episode of Revenge I’ve seen. If not the best, it was at least the most explosive. Even the previews didn’t really sell the full depth and breadth of craziness in evidence here. “Penance” is a long-running theme on this show, couched in the question of what suffices as recompense for past wrongdoings. It’s hard to know, where Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) is concerned. If season two of Revenge has one detraction, it’s that as Emily’s plot grows more complex, the harder it becomes to decipher what, exactly, her endgame is. In the first season, it seemed as though Emily had trouble balancing her desire to bring about the downfall of the Graysons, and the more earnest desire to see her father’s name cleared. This season, the latter objective hasn’t really been very much in evidence before tonight. If nothing else, it feels as though Emily has simply been trying to keep the various plates spinning any way she can. While she occasionally has a hard time of keeping her various schemes in order, there are now an entire host of wildcards entered into the fray:
Aiden (Barry Sloane): who gets Nolan (Gabriel Mann) to fork over proof of David Clarke’s investment in Nolcorp.
Amanda (Margarita Levieva): who decides, against Emily’s explicit instructions, to take the matter of Mason Treadwell (Roger Bart) into her own hands.
Mason Treadwell: who goes rogue on Emily and reveals the duplicity of the Graysons to an off-her-meds Kara Clarke (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
-And, most chaotic of all, Kara Clarke herself: who gums up the machinery of Emily’s carefully-laid plans by abducting Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) and Conrad (Henry Czerny) at gunpoint, and coming within a fraction of a second of killing them.
It’s something of a miracle that things don’t end up descending into an even worse disaster by episode’s end, since forces seem to be aligning to make revenge as difficult to obtain as humanly possible for Emily Thorne. And those forces are all motivated by the ever-present desire to make penance. First up his Amanda, who feels she’s served her penance to Emily and wants out. Taking a proactive role in freeing herself, Amanda sets up a meeting with Mason Treadwell to put an end to things. She indulges Mason’s theory that the connection between Amanda and Emily is of a “Sapphic” nature, telling him that Emily is “obsessed” with her, and has been since their time in juvie. Of course, this is only a ploy to lull him into a false sense of security, so that she can then bludgeon him to death with a crowbar. Luckily, Emily arrives just in the nick of time, and prevents Mason Treadwell’s brains from ruining the perfectly-arrayed detail of his investigative corkboard.
Emily, in perhaps the series’ most shocking act so far, confirms to Mason Treadwell that she’s Amanda Clarke. From this point forward, the episode has its foot planted firmly on the gas, as we barrel towards Emily’s big scheme, a Byzantine masterpiece of planning that still works out, even when a confluence of ridiculous circumstances lead to everything possibly going awry. First, Emily has Mason meet with Kara Clarke and give her Gordon Murphy’s watch, with instructions to leave town (this was Emily’s way of getting her mother to safe ground, after the former Mrs. Clarke refused to leave the Hamptons). However, Mason goes into business for himself, assuming that this is what Emily wants from him, penance. He confesses to Kara his role in helping the Graysons frame David Clarke, and as Emily spazzes out over the radio, telling him to stop, Kara decides she’s going to go deal with the Graysons herself.
Kara’s life from the time of her mental breakdown to now, has been living a life of relative penitence, yet now she has an even bigger chance, in her mind, to make amends. And so she heads on over to the Grayson estate, whips out a gun, and starts grilling them about their involvement in David Clarke’s downfall. Conrad, for his part, attempts to take all the blame, in an exceedingly rare display of gallantry, and an act that moves Victoria to tears (although it might have just been fear). Kara tries to force Victoria to admit she was never in love with David Clarke, and simply manipulated him, but Conrad vouches for the depth of her affection for the man. But that’s hardly all he vouches for, as Victoria directs Kara to the other half of the prison photo of David Clarke, which reveals that it was Gordon Murphy who killed him, a story which Conrad is all to eager to corroborate, saying that Murphy was “the worst of all of us.” I don’t doubt that Murphy was a sicko in his own right, but worse than Conrad? Eh…
Kara snaps (more so) and orders the Graysons to blindfold themselves and get on their knees. As Kara prepares to, we presume, end things once and for all, Conrad takes Victoria’s hand and tells her he’s sorry. Enter Aiden with a chloroform-soaked rag to save the day. He resumes the role of federal agent she recognizes him as, with Emily vouching for his credibility. Together, Emily and Aiden convince Kara to leave the Hamptons and never return, under threat of immediate arrest and prosecution. Kara hardly has time to process why Aiden stopped her from killing the Graysons or why Emily Thorne is helping her before they’re shoving money in her hand and telling her to start over somewhere else. Kara is crazy, but not crazy enough to ask questions, and so she takes the hint and leaves. And like that, the status quo is somewhat reestablished. Except for the problem of Mason Treadwell.
Turns out, Emily has set Mason up, framing him for the murder of Gordon Murphy. Mason threatens to expose her as Amanda Clarke, when Emily springs her full trap, revealing the dizzying complexity of her long con: If Mason gives Emily up, she will never provide the one piece of evidence that can fully exonerate him, her own confession. And so Mason must confess and do the time, until which point Emily’s work is done. If he does this, she will give him the full story of her life and her Machiavellian revenge scheme for Mason to publish. It’s the book he was “destined” to write, and it could very well make him wealthier and more famous than he could ever hope to become. All he has to do is keep his mouth shut and let Emily do her thing. What’s great about this plan is that even the unknown variables work in her favor. Mason Treadwell is now in her pocket, where before he could have been a volatile element, capable of exposing her carefully-laid plans. Even her mother’s detour into Riotsville worked in Emily’s favor, as Conrad and Victoria suspect that the Americon Initiative was behind it all. This puts Conrad into conflict with the group for which he is, ostensibly, a lackey. God help me, but I actually felt bad for the guy. Victoria seemed as puzzled by the tender forehead kiss as I was. I don’t think I can get used to a softer, gentler Conrad Grayson. Give me the jackass of old.
That said, there are other figures of penance this week, as Nolan hands over the check with David Clarke’s signature, he explains, out of a sense of fealty to the Clarke family. Emily is the closest thing Nolan has to family now, and he feels an instinctive desire to protect her, even telling Aiden, who admits he’s helping Emily as penance for having hurt her in the past, that if Aiden hurts her again, he’ll have to answer to him. Protective Nolan is aces, as is Insecure Nolan, who asks Padma (Dilshad Vadsaria) if she’d still care about him if he didn’t have as much at his disposal as he does. She asserts that a person’s situation can change, but that they’ll pretty much remain the same – which more or less means yes. Nolan continues to be one of the show’s most well-developed characters, and even if the prospect of a broke Nolan doesn’t thrill me, there’s still plenty of room for Gabriel Mann to infuse the character with nuance beyond what’s on the page. Unfortunately for Nolan, he might end up having to back up his threats to Aiden, since the risk is running high that Emily is going to wind up getting her heart broken by Downton Abbey over here, as the two hook up at the end of the episode. I don’t see many people shipping Aiden and Emily, but it looks like this is the match we’re getting. That said, I’m beginning to see Aiden’s worth as a character now, whereas in previous weeks, I was struggling to see the point.
As for the other players in the game, Daniel (Josh Bowman) finally has his Michael Corleone moment, organizing a meeting of the major shareholders of Grayson Global and enacting a takeover of the company while Ashley (Ashley Madekwe) delays Conrad at a press conference. I’m glad to see this arc finally come to the fore, as I’ve been interested to see if Josh Bowman’s conversion to a Conrad-esque figure of sly, high-born menace would take. He’s not entirely there yet, but I like the progress I’m seeing. Bowman has always been able to sell the darker undercurrents of Daniel’s character, and while it can tend to come off as a bit broody, it’s precisely in character with Daniel, as we know him (and even as we don’t, since we know more than enough about how he once was for his past to be able to inform his present, lest we forget his alocholic, drunk-driving, lady-paralyzing days).
Lastly, there’s the business with the Porters, and I still can’t muster up enough give-a-damn about the grift being run on them. The man who’s trying to con them meets with his brother Nate (Michael Trucco), who’s more gung-ho about taking advantage of the Porters than his brother. This scheme seems to be the result of some long-held grudge against Jack’s (Nick Wechsler) and Declan’s (Connor Paolo) late father, and I’m certainly open to theories on where this story might be headed, because I have absolutely none.
Oh, I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention those “Gift of Revenge” vignettes that aired during commercial breaks. The series of shorts involved Jack, Declan, Amanda, and Charlotte (Christa B. Allen) receiving gift boxes, delivered by a mysterious woman with the hair, contours, and black gloves of Emily. The boxes, white with black ribbon, contained evening wear and an address. This culminates in the characters arriving at a warehouse where we discover that Nolan was the one who had the boxes delivered – and not towards any nefarious purpose, no. He just wanted to gather everybody together for a party, to get drunk and listen to the dulcet tones of Gin Wigmore and celebrate the fact that Tyler didn’t kill them all last year. The shorts, sponsored by Nieman Marcus and Target, take the idea of product placement to a newer, tackier level than previously thought possible by network television. That said, it’s harmless enough to not really detract from the episode. If nothing else, the more time spent on “The Gift of Revenge” is thirty less seconds for ABC to air that maddening T-Mobile commercial.
1,2, Kalamazoo. 3, 4, Jersey Shore. 5, 6, West Phoenix…
All joking aside, “Penance” was Revenge at its finest, and is probably worth a rewatch or two. I’m really enjoying the increasing complexity of the schemes at play, and it’s leaving me guessing far more now than it did in season one, where every conceivably prediction I had about the show’s direction turned out wrong. I love a show that is rarely at risk of being predictable. See you in two weeks for the next episode!
A Grayson Thanksgiving? This should be positively rich. And hey, Victoria has a mother! And here I thought she just spontaneously entered into the world, fully-formed and ready to grin through her teeth.