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Revenge: Double-Edged Entertainment

on Mon, 02/27/2012 - 00:00

They say that revenge is a dish best served cold, meaning that the most effective form of vengeance is not enacted in the heat of the moment but rather in a thought out and unsuspecting manner. Another popular saying holds that revenge is also a double-edged sword, signifying that such actions often cut both ways. On the ABC drama Revenge, each of those adages are on display as the former Amanda Clarke returns to Southampton 15 years after her father was framed as a terrorist, unjustly imprisoned and vilified in the process. Clarke is as cold and calculating as they come as she plots the demise of those involved in the conspiracy while likewise feeling the aftereffects of her actions when they inevitably take a turn into chaos.

Revenge is loosely based on the classic literary work of Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo, in which an innocent Edmond Dantès is sentenced to life imprisonment only to escape 14 years later and make his way to Paris in order to enact his own form of vengeance. Like Amanda Clarke, who changed her name to Emily Thorne, the newly minted Count of Monte Cristo constructs elaborate plots to deceive his intended targets, leading to their ultimate downfall at their own guilty hands. Greed, ambition, blackmail and betrayal are all incorporated into the aristocratic France of the Nineteenth Century that is portrayed in The Count of Monte Cristo, and the same holds true for the equally upper-class Southampton of Revenge.

Amanda Clarke (Emily VanCamp) was eight years old when her father was carted away to prison and would have gone her entire life believing that he financially assisted in the downing of Flight 197 if it wasn’t for software genius Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann). “If you emptied the bank accounts of everyone at this party, it wouldn’t add up to the interest his makes in a week,” it is said in the pilot episode of Revenge, but that is only half the story. When Ross first started out, he was rejected by every potential investor he approached except for one—David Clarke (James Tupper). “Now that you’re 18, you’re officially 49 percent owner of my company,” he tells Amanda Clarke when she is emancipated from a juvenile facility. In addition to financial security, Nolan Ross also gives her a box containing her father’s personal papers and notes that detail the treachery that undermined him. Armed with knowledge and wealth, Amanda Clarke transforms herself into Emily Thorne and returns to the scene of the crime with the same readiness for revenge that drove Edmond Dumas to Paris in The Count of Monte Cristo.

With finely executed precision, Emily Thorne ensnares the key players from the plot against her now deceased father, all of whom have benefited from their treachery. Bill Harmon, for instance, built a hedge funds empire after pinning his own insider trading duplicity on David Clarke, while the prosecuting attorney in the case went on to become a United States Senator. The child psychologist who institutionalized Amanda Clarke at a young age, meanwhile, parlayed her involvement in the conspiracy into a financially rewarding private practice, and lowly journalist Mason Treadwell discovered fame and prestige for his fictitious biography of David Clarke. In the end, each of these individuals are led to their demise as Emily Thorne expertly manipulates their secrets and ambitions to her own advantage.

At the top of Emily Thorne’s revenge list are Conrad Grayson (Henry Czerny)—the actual money laundering culprit who masterminded the framing of David Clarke—and his wife Victoria (Madeleine Stowe), who had an affair with Clarke before his arrest. While the sinister schemes against the pawns in the duplicity are enacted and resolved over the course of one episode, the plot against the Grayson’s run throughout the series as Thorne maneuvers her way into their life via their unsuspecting son Daniel (Joshua Bowman). As the installments roll along, however, Emily Thorne’s best laid plans are disrupted by unseen events and the arrival into the narrative of three key characters—Jack Porter, Tyler Barrol and the real Emily Thorne.

Jack Porter (Nick Wechsler) is the childhood friend of Amanda Clarke who still carries a torch for the eight-year-old girl that he used to play with on the beach, and his unwitting entanglement in Emily Thorne’s plans is the lone source of regret on the part of the Revenge protagonist. Daniel Grayson’s Harvard roommate Tyler Barrol (Ashton Holmes), meanwhile, is an unstable con artist who discovers Thorne’s secret agenda and threatens to reveal her true intentions, while the actual Emily Thorne (Margarita Levieva)—whom Amanda Clarke met in juvenile detention and later switched identities with—is equally unstable and only complicates the proceedings when she becomes romantically involved with Jack Porter and refuses to leave Southampton.

Although the former Amanda Clarke has gone to great lengths in the crafting of her revenge schemes, many of her actions result in unforeseen consequences nonetheless. When her father’s one time secretary, who testified against him in court and later married wealthy, is pushed off a rooftop by the Grayson’s head of security, the now Emily Thorne shows little remorse despite the fact that her actions led to the tragic event. “This wasn’t supposed to happen,” she tells Nolan Ross. “I didn’t set any of this in motion, they did.” As these unintended events continue to mount, however—and the romantic entanglement between herself and Daniel Grayson, as well as the real Emily Thorne and Jack Porter, heats up—it is unclear just how much collateral damage the former Amanda Clarke is willing to rationalize before the price for revenge becomes too great.

Greed, ambition, blackmail and betrayal are key components of soap operas as well, especially the prime time versions that range from Dallas in the 1980s to The O.C. over 20 years later. Revenge thus lives up to its billing as a descendent of these classic television shows of the past in addition to being a modern day adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. The underhanded dealings of the Ewings were contrasted by the less financially stable Barnes family on Dallas, while the wrong-side-of-the-tracks Ryan Atwood is introduced into the equally unscrupulous atmosphere of Orange County on The O.C. Revenge has its own economic divide with the Graysons representing wealth and privilege, and the Porter family the personification of the working class. Jack Porter and his teenage brother Declan (Connor Paolo) own a bar outside of Southampton, and the two siblings are drawn into the world of the entitled elite when Jack meets Emily Thorne and Declan becomes involved with Conrad and Victoria Grayson’s daughter Charlotte (Christa B. Allen).

At the end of The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantès completes his acts of vengeance and is able to find the peace that previously eluded him in the process. Although it is unclear whether the same fate ultimately awaits Emily Thorne, the final words of Dantès in the Alexandre Dumas novel offer an inclination of the possibility nonetheless—“Wait and hope.” In the meantime, fans can sit back and enjoy the double-edged entertainment that is enshrouded in Revenge.

Anthony Letizia

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