The highest degree of revenge I’ve ever taken involves a wide-scale prank on Facebook involving embarrassing photos. But in my vocabulary, revenge is more in the good nature of fun. For Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp), the main character of ABC’s soap-thriller “Revenge,” she enacts the precise dictionary definition: “the action of inflicting hurt or harm on someone for a wrong suffered at their hands.”
“Revenge” is just another one of ABC’s new successes this season, joining “Suburgatory,” “Once Upon a Time” and “Pan Am.” Seeing the show be picked up for a full season and receive prominent reviews from the guilty-pleasure audience, I figured it was time for me to hop on the bandwagon.
Four hours later, I emerged from my marathon completely enthralled. The characters aren’t particularly likeable, and the plot is not 100 percent believable, but “Revenge” delivers one of those premises that just captures you and refuses to let go.
Beginning at a tragic engagement party, the pilot’s first five minutes reveal the beach front death of Daniel Grayson (Joshua Bowman), son of the most powerful family in the Hamptons and fiancé to Thorne. Then she wipes sand surreptitiously from her hands, and the show flashes back five months earlier.
Thorne arrives at her new Hampton’s home well-dressed, well-connected and well-endowed. She would appear to fit right into the fold of rich, self-obsessed socialites. Instead, her complicated past unfolds — she used to be Amanda Clarke, daughter of Hamptonite David Clarke (Jamse Tupper), who was betrayed by each and every one of his friends in this skewed social hierarchy. After being set up as the financial backer of a terrorist plot, David was sent to prison for life, and the fairy-tale life of young Amanda was stripped from her as she was forced to growup believing a lie.
Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann) — a fellow Hamptonite, über-rich technology fiend and one remaining friend of the Clarke family — presents Amanda with the truth upon her emancipation and becomes the one person who sees past her façade as Emily. “Revenge” becomes an odd amalgamation of the serial and procedural, as each week presents a retribution-filled stand-alone episode with Emily crossing off the photos of wrongdoers against her father one-by-one. She does seem to be playing some sort of game with Daniel, but if that game turns out to be killing him for the pure sake of causing the same pain to the Graysons that they caused her, I will be disappointed.
Emily is one character who is nearly impossible to understand because she seems to have an unbelievably clear conscience for someone who is ruining lives left and right. She has no shame, no guilt and no remorse. Or at least that is the only way she is presented in the show because Emily has no one to confide in except Nolan, whom she refuses to acknowledge.
The way that we learn about characters is through their honest conversations with friends — or enemies — and the way they reveal themselves over time. Emily’s character flaw is that she refuses to be a self-conscious being. I cannot believe that her pure desire to settle the score with these Hampton socialites will be enough to provide therapeutic relief.
In contrast to Emily, the steely-cold Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe), Daniel’s mother, reigns queen over all the land from her beachview mansion balcony. Of all the characters, her back story and general demeanor are perhaps the most fascinating, upstaged only by Nolan, whose role as a misunderstood community outcast makes him simultaneously annoying and remarkably likeable.
Presumably, by the end of the season we will fall back in line with the opening scene of the pilot and discover the events leading to Daniel’s death. This leads to the obvious question: how on earth will this show plan out a long-term game plan beyond the first season? Maybe we’ll find a whole new score of characters to take revenge on.
With twisting plots, characters you love to hate and over-the-top charity events, “Revenge” plays on the rich-soap drama of “The O.C.” with the thrill of “Damages.” Imagine “Cruel Intentions” relocated to the Hamptons. For now, Emily and the upscale society of the Hamptons are captivating enough to get my hands a little dirty in the name of vengeance.
“Revenge” airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.
Rosenberg is a member of the class of 2012.