Recap and review of Revenge – Season 3 Episode 2 – Sin:
“When did punishing the guilty become more important to you than helping the innocent?” Jack (Nick Wechsler) asks Emily (Emily VanCamp) at one point during “Sin,” a wonderful follow-up to last week’s juicy Revenge premiere. While it seems like a fairly on-the-nose question for any character to say out loud at this point, it’s part of the thematic fabric of the episode, addressing not only the destructive nature of Emily’s revenge mission, but also the nature of redemption itself. In many ways, it’s the show at its most trenchant.
“Sin” focuses on Emily’s truncated revenge mission, as she’s now in a rush to get through the rest of her plan, given Jack’s ultimatum from last week. She has until the end of the summer before he blows her cover, and so she tracks down her next target in service of crossing another face off the Grayson Global photo. That next target is Paul Whitley, a man who helped Conrad procure investors to funnel money into Grayson Global, except there’s one catch: Paul Whitley is now Father Whitley, of the Catholic Church. Nolan (Gabriel Mann) is iffy on the prospect of doling out vengeance without carefully considering whether or not a person has found redemption in life, and it’s an observation that’s germane to the plot at hand. Emily isn’t really considering whether the intended target has any value to his or her community: she certainly didn’t think so in season one, when she took down psychiatrists and doctors without thinking that perhaps there were patients for whom said professionals were doing more good than harm (unlikely, but still worth considering). And so Nolan pleads with Emily to let this one slide, as she risks becoming consumed by her revenge to the point where she risks doing serious disservice to her father’s memory. “Once you start going after kittens, I’m out,” Nolan warns, yet Emily doesn’t take heed, not even when Nolan uses items from her Infinity box to try to convince her that her father wouldn’t have wanted this. Her rage makes her unreachable when she’s focused on a target, and Father Whitley is squarely within her sights.
To this end, Emily pulls double duty, getting close to Father Whitley by arranging to have him officiate her and Daniel’s wedding ceremony, and then staging incriminating photos that place him in bed with a woman. Emily is intent on seeing the matter through, although several situations weaken her resolve. While planning her upcoming nuptials, Emily has a discussion with Father Whitley in which she learns that he went to visit Conrad and was quickly thrown out, as the Grayson patriarch seemed to show little desire for absolution. But the conversation inevitably turns to the subject of family, as Emily states that her “parents” died when she was young, prompting Father Whitley to express his condolences to her. He astutely remarks that it’s a shame when a person loses their parents at a young age, because then that person is deprived of an entire lifetime of unconditional love. When he offers some of that unconditional love to Emily, she is forced to consider whether Whitley deserves to have judgment visited upon him. Doubly so once she visits a soup kitchen he runs, and finds that there is an entire parish of people who look up to and respect this man, if not love him. Emily VanCamp deserves all sorts of credit for wordlessly communicating the feeling of crushing regret slowly stacking in her mind as she realizes that it’s too late to undo what she’s done. She’s already sent the incriminating photos to the Pastor of Father Whitley’s church, and when that Pastor confronts Whitley in the soup kitchen, Emily recognizes she’s committed an injustice.
And so Emily returns to the church to light a candle and ask forgiveness, at which point she encounters Conrad, of all people. The Grayson patriarch has been having a rough go of it, thanks in no small part to Emily, who poisoned him once again at a family dinner, in order to keep up the appearance of his Huntington’s Disease. It was easy enough for Emily to get away with drugging him, since so much of the dinner focused on a family argument over the presence of Patrick (Justin Hartley), and the insinuation that Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) once paid Frank to threaten him after she learned he had come looking for her in his youth. In the midst of Patrick threatening to storm out, and Victoria pleading with him fro forgiveness, Conrad has an attack that everyone fears is the result of his illness. In seconds, he once again goes from being the strong-willed head of the Grayson family to a weak, feeble old man.
And things only get worse when Charlotte (Christa B. Allen) reveals to Jack that she blames herself for Declan’s death, a revelation that prompts him to reveal Conrad’s foreknowledge of the bomb at Grayson Global. Charlotte confronts her father and basically cuts all ties with him, despite his desperate pleas for her not to do this. Charlotte was the last good thing he had in his life, his last bastion of unconditional love and affection, and there’s genuine desperation in his eyes over the implosion of his entire life. With nowhere else to go, he turns to the church, and discovers Emily. Czerny is outstanding here, with Conrad coming to terms with the realization that perhaps he does need absolution, explaining he’s lost just about everything that has ever mattered to him. It’s difficult for us to find sympathy for a character like Conrad, but Czerny is able to render a fairly honest portrayal of a man who, despite his manifold evils, still has an abiding love for his family. And that love has been compromised, prompting him to reflect on his sinful nature. He laments that he has no one to talk to about this anymore, and it’s this revelation that gives Emily the idea for her most ambitious scheme yet: she’s going to get Father Whitley reinstated, and use him to get Conrad to confess. To everything.
It’s a terrific direction to take the show, as it requires a greater amount of tact and ingenuity to pull off than your average smash-and-grab operation, and I’ll be interested to see how they pull it off, if they pull it off at all. But at a deeper level, this comes with Emily’s recognition that she’s caused a lot of irreparable harm, meaning that if she can find a way to bring her revenge full circle without hurting anyone else, she’ll do it. It’s a way to get Emily back to being a character of a less ambiguous moral composition. We should be able to root for her without feeling bad, yet it’s been difficult to really get behind Emily’s mission the way we could in season 1 (or even early season 2) due to the amount of collateral damage. Of course, the series pilot did open with the Confucius quote that anyone setting out on a mission of revenge should dig two graves, and it’s hard to imagine that statement isn’t foreshadowing for the inevitability of this mission’s end.
While I generally enjoyed “Sin,” not all the plotlines were as effective as the main arcs: it’s hard to know what Aiden’s (Barry Sloane) angle is at this point, but it involves him getting Victoria to believe that Emily and Nolan stole the Grayson fortune, using the deed to the house Emily purchased Nolan as proof. But then, isn’t Victoria aware that Emily’s “backstory” involves her being independently wealthy? What need would she have of the Grayson millions? It’s disappointing that Victoria so readily believes the con, even if it makes a certain kind of sense that she would, since it confirms her bias against Emily. I suppose I just figured Victoria was much savvier than all that. But then, she’s not really the only Grayson to surprise me this week, as Daniel (Josh Bowman) managed to prove himself a shrewd businessman. Margeaux offers him sex and a job, and he turns down the former while considering the latter, getting advice from Emily before making any huge decisions. It’s not a hugely important storyline at this stage, but I found myself liking Daniel far more than I have in some time, as he represents one of the few characters on the show who isn’t the least bit decisive about what he truly wants. He wants Emily, and everything else is ancillary to that goal. Sure, he waffles a bit on whether or not to accept the publishing job from Margeaux, but that indecisiveness is rooted in his love for Emily, as he didn’t want to jump without her input. Daniel makes sense in a way that not every character does. And Bowman’s portrayal continues to grow more effortless as Daniel grows with similar effortlessness into his role as a legit businessman, and not simply an heir to a fortune with an accompanying career.
So, all in all, I really enjoyed this episode. Revenge is getting back to basics with its third season, and it has resulted in some remarkably engaging television. “Sin” isn’t simply about the mistakes characters have been prone to making in the past, it’s about how they atone for those mistakes in the present, as well as the question of whether a person can atone, or if a given sin places a permanent mark upon the soul, incapable of being erased. That’s a far more engrossing conflict than you’re likely to find on your standard cut-and-dry primetime soap.