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Revenge and The Count of Monte Cristo

on Wed, 02/29/2012 - 00:00

The ABC drama Revenge is a prime time soap opera in the tradition of such classic 1980s fare as Dallas, Knots Landing and Falcon Crest. Wealth and privilege evade the Southampton of Revenge in much the same way that it did in California and Texas on those shows of the past, with plenty of greed, betrayal and ambition thrown in for good measure. Despite being an entry into a genre with such a strong tradition, however, the roots of Revenge actually extend to the literature of the 1800s and The Count of Monte Cristo. Alexandre Dumas’ timeless masterpiece is the ultimate tell of revenge, and its inspiration and influence on the ABC drama is evident on a variety of levels.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, the youthful Edmond Dantès is betrayed by a small group of friends and framed for a crime he did not commit. Sentenced to solitary confinement on the island prison of Chateau d’If, he meets a fellow inmate named Faria who takes Dantès under his wings. After spending fourteen years locked away under the harshest of conditions, Edmond Dantès escapes his imprisonment and finds a lost treasure on the uninhabited isle of Monte Cristo, a fortune that the now deceased Faria had originally located. Armed with wealth beyond his imagination, Dantès transforms himself into the Count of Monte Cristo. After years of careful planning, he then returns to his native France and enacts an elaborate plot against those responsible for his incarceration.

On Revenge, it is the father of eight-year-old Amanda Clarke that is betrayed and likewise convicted of a crime he did not commit. After serving ten years herself in a juvenile institution, Clarke is emancipated and finds that not only is her father now dead but innocent as well. She also discovers that she has inherited a secret fortune from billionaire software magnate Nolan Ross. Amanda Clark goes on to change her persona into the wealthy Emily Thorne, plots her own strategy for revenge and eventually returns to the Southampton of her youth in order to extract vengeance on those who incriminated her father.

The crimes that both Edmond Dantès and David Clarke are accused of amount to treason in their respective eras and locales. For Dantès, it is conspiring with the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte and orchestrating the former emperor’s triumphant, albeit brief, return to France in 1815. Clarke, meanwhile, is charged with the Twenty First Century equivalent by financing a terrorist organization that was responsible for the downing of Flight 197 and the subsequent death of two-hundred forty-six Americans. Both Edmond Dantès and David Clarke are thus enemies of the state, sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole or reduced sentence.

While the specific crimes may differ due to the two hundred years that separate their respective narratives, the main conspirators who framed Edmond Dantès and David Clarke—as well as their motives—are very similar in nature. Greed, ambition and social standing drive the prosecuting attorneys, financial bankers and aristocrats of Nineteenth Century France in the same manner that they motivate their modern day equivalents of the Twenty First Century. Monsieur de Villefort, the man most responsible for sending Edmond Dantès to his island imprisonment, is able to rise to the position of Deputy Minister of France, for instance, while federal prosecutor Tom Kingsly becomes a United States Senator following the conviction of David Clarke.

Baron Danglers, meanwhile, is an extremely wealthy banker who used privileged information provided by his wife’s government official lover to acquire his fortune. On Revenge, hedge fund operator Bill Harmon leveraged illegally obtained knowledge regarding a pending corporate merger to build his own empire. The greed of both men play a prominent role in their takedown by the Count of Monte Cristo and Emily Thorne—Monte Cristo bribes a telegraph worker to send a false message about political turmoil in Spain, while Thorne misleads Harmon into believing that Nolan Ross is about to bestow a lucrative contract with a Chinese smart phone manufacturer. When it is inevitably revealed that the information is false in both instances, Danglers and Harmon lose a substantial amount of their fortunes in the aftermath.

Following their respective incarcerations, both Amanda Clarke and Edmond Dantès delay their quest for revenge by becoming experts in the art of swordplay, fire arms and martial combat. “I should fight a duel for a trifle, an insult, a contradiction, a slap—and all the more merrily for knowing that, thanks to the skills I have acquired in all physical exercise and long experience of danger, I should be more or less certain of killing my opponent,” the Count of Monte Cristo declares. “But in return for a slow, deep, infinite, eternal pain, I should return as nearly as possible a pain equivalent to the one inflicted on me. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, as they say in the East, those men who are the elect of creation, and who have learnt to make a life of dreams and a paradise of reality.”

As alluded to above, Edmond Dantès was schooled in the ways of the Mystic Orient after his escape from imprisonment, and Amanda Clarke likewise turns to the East for both training and inspiration. “As you were warned, revenge is a stony path,” her personal sensei, Satoshi Takeda, tells her. “Inside the vipers nest, you must be a viper too.” Takeda also warns Clarke of the potential pitfalls of her secret mission. “The task in front of you requires absolute focus. If you let your emotions guide you, you will fail.”

The emotions of both Edmond Dantès and Amanda Clarke do indeed sidetrack them from their respective quests for revenge. For the Count of Monte Cristo, it is his love from decades earlier, Mercedes Herrera, that distracts him. “She said these words with such overwhelming grief, in such a desperate voice, that when he heard it a sob rose in the Count’s throat,” Alexandre Dumas writes in his novel. “The lion was tamed, the avenging angel overcome.” On Revenge, Amanda Clarke’s soft spot is her childhood friend Jack Porter. When Porter is beaten, bloodied and bruised—the unintended victim from one of the many aspects of her trickery—Clarke begins to reconsider her mission. “After what happened to Jack, I think it’s clear I need to minimize the fallout for what I’m doing,” she says. “I think it’s a good time to push pause on all of this.”

The Count of Monte Cristo likewise places his own schemes on hold when the collateral damage of his efforts becomes too great. He leaves Paris and returns to the Chateau d’If, his former prison that has since been shut down and turned into a tourist attraction. While visiting the facility, however, he is reminded of the torment he suffered and rediscovers the will for vengeance. Amanda Clarke’s suspension of her own plans are likewise temporary—when she realizes that Victoria Grayson, who had an affair with her father, has insinuated that she was raped by the man instead, the thirst for revenge again grows strong within Clarke as well.

By nature of their respective mediums, The Count of Monte Cristo is a finite—albeit sprawling—novel with a limited number of conspirators for Edmond Dantès to evoke vengeance upon. With a twenty-two episode initial effort and the potential for multiple seasons to follow, Revenge has incorporated a much larger quantity of enemies for Emily Thorne to combat, as well as numerous subplots to keep its soap opera elements churning along indefinitely. At the heart of each beats the same classic tale of revenge, however, with the original a literary classic that has withstood the test of time and the latter a worthy Twenty First Century adaptation in its own right.

Anthony Letizia (February 29, 2012)

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