When it comes to her revenge plot, Emily Thorne is all about getting back on track. There have been countless moments throughout Revenge in which our vengeful heroine announced a renewed focus on taking down her enemies, whether spurred by a new discovery, the death of a friend, or the writers’ realization that the show was spinning its wheels.
The problem, of course, is that in order for Emily to get back on track, she has to have gotten off track to begin with. Revenge’s second season was an exercise in frustration, with Emily — and the series as a whole — repeatedly losing focus. Every episode that showed potential was followed by a head-scratching narrative decision, a depressing reminder that we were no longer watching Season 1’s delightful high-stakes soap. So when Season 3 purported to once again put Emily on the correct path, the promise was tempered with doubt. Had Revenge strayed too far to ever find its way back?
It’s too soon to say if the third season will ever reach the heights of the first, but the most recent episodes of Revenge are at least major strides in the right direction. For the first time since Season 1, Revenge feels like appointment viewing — a show to devour eagerly because you’re dying to see what happens next, not because you’re morbidly curious to find out which strained plotline the writers will make even worse.
Where did Revenge go right? The Season 2 finale began the process of undoing all the wrongs, namely killing off Declan, outing Emily as Amanda Clarke to Jack, and removing the “Initiative” from its vocabulary. Season 3 has continued the slash-and-burn, quickly ditching another superfluous character — poor, underused Ashley — and getting rid of subplots that never really mattered. Remember when Conrad was going to be governor? Great, now we can move on.
Without all the filler, Revenge has been able to focus on the greatest asset is has: the blisteringly bitchy relationship between Emily and her soon-to-be mother-in-law Victoria Grayson. Conrad may be the real villain of the Grayson family — he’s certainly shown far less remorse for framing David Clarke than Victoria — but from the beginning, Revenge was at its best when it pitted Emily against ice queen Victoria. Madeleine Stowe has perfected the subtle barb spoken through a tight fake smile. And Emily Van Camp shines when Victoria pushes Emily to her breaking point: Just look at the electric showdown in “Confession.”
At the same time, Season 3 of Revenge has also given the supporting characters more agency. It’s a return to form for Nolan, who broke out as a fan favorite character in the first season for his fluid sexuality and eccentricity. Season 2, meanwhile, constrained him to being Emily’s sidekick, with a forced romance no one liked. (Side note: Nolan may be canonically bisexual, but he’s just not as believable with the ladies.) Whether he’s romancing Victoria’s long-lost son Patrick as part of a larger plan or out of genuine lust, it’s a thrill to watch. And not only because Gabriel Mann and Justin Hartley look very good together.
Even Jack and Daniel have grown backbones — with Jack forcing his way into Emily’s plans for a taste of his own revenge against Conrad Grayson, and Daniel starting to question things about his fiancée that just don’t add up. Let’s be clear: This will always be Emily’s show, and while the men in her life come and go, Emily remains in charge. But that doesn’t mean the other characters should be reduced to pawns and ciphers: It’s just not fun to watch. More assertive versions of Jack and Daniel up the stakes for Emily, but they also keep Revenge interesting when she’s off-screen.
It would be naïve to put Revenge back on the must-watch list immediately. There are still doubts: While easy on the eyes, Patrick could be a retread of Tyler from Season 1, and Jack’s inevitable romance with Margaux feels a little forced. But we can at least allow ourselves some cautious optimism. It’s unlikely Revenge will ever be the same nighttime soap we stumbled on in its triumphant first season. But as long as it remembers how to entertain, it will be a major improvement on the mind-numbing slog of Season 2.