The Klingons have always said that revenge is best served cold—and in the case of ABC’s gloriously entertaining new hit, Revenge, it’s better to serve it chilled, in a martini glass, in the Hamptons during one fateful summer.
A modern retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, the show centers around Emily Thorne, a mysterious and wealthy newcomer to the Hamptons. Unbeknownst to the inhabitants (particularly the reigning family, the Graysons, headed by social “Queen” Victoria), Emily is secretly the daughter of a hedge fund manager who was framed for embezzling and terrorism by the Graysons. He subsequently died in prison, but not before bequeathing a fortune and a chest full of journals explaining the truth to his daughter. Now she’s out to make the bad guys pay, and her devious, thoroughly enjoyable quest is now one of the most entertaining and popular shows on TV.
It’s not too late to join in the fun, and so for the uncertain and uninitiated, here are five easy reasons to save a little time for Revenge on Wednesday nights.
1. Strong Female Characters.
One of the best things about Revenge is how female-centric the story is, particularly the epic, season-spanning confrontation between Emily (Emily VanCamp) and Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe). Emily wades through the waters of the rich and entitled of the Hamptons like a patient crocodile, setting off ripples of intrigue that affect all around her. She’s Veronica Mars with a grudge, and VanCamp does an excellent job of portraying the sugar-sweet innocence Emily displays in public, as well as her iron-eyed determination to destroy when she’s plotting an enemy’s downfall. While Emily occasionally permits herself to rely on allies (such as Gabriel Mann’s delightful computer genius Nolan Ross), when things go pear-shaped, she’s capable of putting out her own fires.
But her major contender isn’t one to go down without a fight. Played with a delicate, razor-sharp touch by Madeleine Stowe, Victoria Grayson is the reigning monarch of the Hamptons, and she didn’t win that crown for being Miss Congeniality. She shows her teeth in the first episode when she verbally tars and feathers her closest friend for sleeping with her husband. Even as Emily’s machinations chip away at Victoria’s circle of allies and accomplices, Victoria still has claws in enough pies to make things very difficult for Emily.
2. Intelligent Twists.
Revenge may have storylines ranging from amnesia, to switched identities, to secret gay hustlers, but it’s all served with such sharp writing, excellent characterization and fast pacing that this is one guilty pleasure you can enjoy without the actual guilt. While the earlier episodes take an episodic format, the rest of the season takes the form of a slow-burning, vicious chess game of a storyline as Emily shifts her pawns into place to combat Victoria’s moves and the unpleasant surprises that have a habit of turning up (such as the recent appearance of the real Emily Thorne who had switched identities with our heroine in return for cash). Half the time, the enjoyment comes not from the actions of the characters, but from the (often intended) chain reactions of intrigue they incite.
3. A Well-Written Romance.
Given the website this article is for, it would be remiss not to mention the strong romantic element of Revenge, specifically the central love triangle. Emily romantically pursues Victoria’s privileged son Daniel in order to further her plans, but is simultaneously drawn to Jack, the down-on-his-luck bar owner who was her childhood friend before her father was dragged off to prison.
Like all the best love triangles, neither guy immediately comes across as the wrong choice or the right choice. Daniel, it turns out, is a good-hearted and honest apple who fell miraculously far from the evil, scheming tree, and Emily finds that pretending to be in love with him is becoming a disquietingly easy task. Meanwhile, while she longs to renew her acquaintance with Jack, she can’t risk getting too close and having him discover her true identity.
4. An Entertaining Supporting Cast
Emily and Victoria’s scenes and interactions are bolstered and complemented by a perfectly-cast ensemble of supporting players. Examples include Max Martini, who plays Frank, Victoria’s steadfast but sinister head of private security who takes his job a little too personally. Or Ashton Holmes, a Harvard pal of Daniel’s who’s willing to go to any lengths (and swing any which way) to reclaim his family’s lost fortunes.
But, one and all, they are overshadowed by the magnificent Gabriel Mann, who plays the technologically-gifted, socially-limited, and ambiguous-in-all-things computer genius Nolan Ross. Emily’s father was responsible for his company’s success, and in return he’s determined to help Emily succeed—whether she wants his help or not. Both an ally and a wild card, Nolan is an electric presence on-screen, and his push-pull love-hate exchanges with Emily make up some of the best TV dialogue this season.
5. Beginning at the End
Revenge doesn’t pull many punches, and one of the biggest hits comes in the first minutes of the very first episode—showing us an engagement party set months in the future that results in the shooting death of a major character before zipping back to the present as Emily first arrives in the Hamptons. It starts off the series with a literal bang and a slew of delicious, as-yet-unanswered questions. Does a murder really take place? Is Emily in on it? And what happens to Emily, Daniel, Victoria, and the other characters to lead them all up to that fatal gunshot on a beach?
At its heart, Revenge is the perfect mix of smart and guilty pleasure – wit and cheese in equal, and equally entertaining measure. With sun, sand, sex and scandal, Revenge reinvents the night-time soap.
Elizabeth Vail hails from Alberta, Canada. A book reviewer and aspiring YA writer, she currently runs the review blog Gossamer Obsessions under the screenname AnimeJune.