By Darren Franich
Updated September 29, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT
Carol Kaelson/ABC
S1 E2
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I was a big fan of the premiere of Revenge last week, which found a nice tonal mixture between soap-opera froth and high-melodrama insanity. That’s a difficult tone to hit every week, and I fully expected a drop-off in quality in the second episode. Not so! To my eyes, last night’s episode followed through on creator Mike Kelley’s promise that Revenge will keep things moving lickety-split. In just one hour, the show featured the fall of a Wall Street titan, a post-affair shakedown, a potentially fatal heart attack for a somewhat extraneous character (farewell, lovable poor dad?), and a polo match. I’m definitely intrigued.

In some ways, Revenge is almost starting to feel like a secret remake of Lone Star, last season’s best-show-ever-for-a-week. Both shows are about characters who use secret identities to enmesh themselves in luxury super-cultures; both shows feel uniquely attuned to the current burn-the-rich moment in America. At the same time, watching both shows gives you a voyeuristic kick: It’s fun watching the rich play, especially when they’re playing against each other. (Is Revenge as good as Lone Star was? Maybe not. But it will air a third episode, which is nice.)

Last night, Emily turned her Sniper Rifle of Vengeance on another one of her father’s old friends — a hedge fund trader named Bill Harmon who has managed to continually make money during the Recession. I figured we were being prepped for some kind of Madhoff melodrama. But Emily’s plot turned out to be a lot simpler: She just convinced Bill to invest all his money in Allcom Cellular, a company which appeared to be on the cusp of signing an exclusive contract with Nolan.

This led to one of the least realistic portrayals of Wall Street ever committed to film, with Bill screaming “Buy Allcom! Buy everything!” and everyone in his office flop-sweating while they invested $2 billion based on a tip from a mysterious young woman who their boss met one day earlier. It was a bad move — Nolan was actually investing in their competitors, and the hedge fund was ruined.

This was a pretty simple twist; Emily’s little mini-missions of vengeance are going to have to get more complicated to keep us interested. But the show kept all the other subplots zipping along at a fast pace. Nolan stuck a deal with Jack — the man with the povo-glam stubble — promising to give back Jack’s boat if he promises to be Nolan’s friend for a summer. Jack’s little brother Declan continued his flirtation with Charlotte, who is currently some Wealthy Douchebot named Adam. Lydia tried to blackmail Conrad over their affair. In the episode’s best scene, Emily sat down with Victoria for a nice little afternoon tea; thrillingly, every word the two secret enemies said to each other was a lie. They even got into a nice little semi-existential argument: Emily explained that she had a passion for history, since “Our past defines us,” while Victoria explained her own belief that “Our choices define us.”

The most fun thing about Revenge‘s second episode was that the show’s regular flirtations with pure camp are tempered by the fact that nearly every plot comes down to one thing: Money. The Porters are feeling the squeeze of our bad economy: Dad is broke, and the bar is barely hanging on. Lydia is descending into financial ruin — losing her house, her jewelry, “even the dog” — and she’ll do anything not to live like common people. There’s a great, almost dystopian sense that the rich families in the Hamptons have erected a wall around their community, where it’s still 2005 and Alan Greenspan never retired. The episode’s best line was almost a throwaway from Adam the Douchebot: “Stay on your own side of the economy, you little dog!”

By the end of the episode, another face was crossed off Emily’s photo. But vengeance comes with a price. She might have had a fun first date with Daniel, and an even nicer surprise birthday party. But in the end, she had to wish herself –her real self — a happy birthday, all alone. Her closing words had the soothing tones of a Meredith Gray wrap-up narration, but the subject matter was much colder: “The only person we can truly trust is ourself.”

I think I’m sticking with Revenge for the forseeable future. Viewers, what did you think of the second episode? Were you as sad as I was that we didn’t get another Confucius quote in this episode? I mean, sure, Oliver Wendell Holmes is nice, but I know Confucius, and Oliver Wendell Holmes is no Confucius.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

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Welcome to the Hamptons, a glittering world of incredible wealth and privilege, where smiles hide secrets—and nothing is colder than revenge.
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