A sad loss brings Emily and Jack close together. Much closer together

By Christian Blauvelt
March 29, 2015 at 10:30 PM EDT
Colleen Hayes/ABC
S1 E21
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As much of an emotional overload as “Grief” proved to be, one thought kept nagging at the edges of my consciousness: Takeda would not be pleased.

That’s because Emily has officially dropped her mask. Yeah, I know she hasn’t leveled with Jack about her true identity as his childhood sweetheart, but emotionally she kinda has. As she watched Jack bid his tender, heart-melting farewell to Sammy the Bionic Dog, she finally let herself feel what she had lost: her golden, interrupted childhood; the years she could have spent with her father, Sammy, and Jack; even her very identity. But I also think she started to feel the pain of what she’s still denying herself: a life of genuine human connection. Right now Emily is her own greatest obstacle to happiness. When she reached in and kissed Jack, leaving behind her convoluted web of schemes and lies, it was an expression of her truest self, which she may only just now be discovering.

I don’t know about you, but I was deeply impressed with Emily VanCamp’s performance in “Grief.” Throughout nearly all of this first season, her demeanor has been hidden, coiled, a “rage chilled into silence,” as my colleague Owen Gleiberman referred to Rooney Mara’s take on Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Like Mason Treadwell’s invocation of the two-faced god of doorways, Emily is a flesh-and-blood Janus, someone who facilitates exchanges without really changing herself. VanCamp has turned in one of the most consistently internal performances I’ve ever seen on television, with only a few hints here and there to the emotions churning underneath her composed façade. Her reaction when Daniel told her that Victoria  was raped by David Clarke was one of the few times she uncorked her raging inner life, however subtly. And when she cried for Sammy and kissed Jack, she let go of the mask completely. If Takeda’s right, if revenge can only be achieved by abstaining from any emotional involvement deeper than fury, then her plan is hurtling off the rails.

It doesn’t help that her greatest ally got knocked out from a chokehold by the White-Haired Man.Was that a gasp-worthy cliffhanger or what? In our TV finales preview, EW ran a photo showing Nolan and Emily bloodied, bruised, and chained to a wall. Well, after “Grief” it seems pretty likely we know who the culprit behind their imprisonment is. The episode started with James Morrison’s fixer meeting with Conrad about that little matter of the SEC investigating his company for underhanded dealings and, you know, domestic terrorism. Conrad had become a “bad asset.” Even though the Grayson CEO claimed he had the situation under control, Old White-Hair said, “I’m afraid your word isn’t going to satisfy the Initiative.”

And so it begins: months of inter-season speculation about exactly what the Initiative is and what the motivations of its members are. Is the Initiative the terrorist organization that downed that jetliner for which David Clarke took the fall? Or something even bigger? Is what happened to Emily’s father just the tip of the conspiratorial iceberg? Personally, I love these questions, and the possibility that Revenge is going to zoom out and reframe the focus of its narrative by presenting an even larger context of deception and intimidation than we ever dreamed fills me with giddy delight. Maybe the Initiative is like SPECTRE or the Alliance of Twelve. Or maybe it’s actually the re-constituted Dharma Initiative, and they’re still crashing airplanes. In any event, it’s clear now that the White-Haired Man is just a liaison between Conrad and the Initiative, not one of the actual power-holders. That doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous, though. Did anyone else think, when he picked up that photo of Daniel and Emily in Conrad’s office, that it was actually a sly acknowledgement of the fact he knew there was a camera in there?

NEXT: Daniel continues to prove that he really is a Grayson after all.

Daniel’s becoming the Grayson scion he was always meant to be. Now he’s put away childish notions like flying off to Paris, or running Grayson Global without secretive plotting, or living in the poolhouse. He wants to buy Jack’s silence with a $1 million check and meet with Ashley to arrange plans for a wedding that will be good PR for the family. Maybe that little stint in Rikers really did shake him up. Maybe he realizes now how much he has to lose and that he has to protect his family name and assets at all costs—even if those assets are based on a foundation of Federal offenses.

Of course, Daniel is still devoted to Emily. Devoted enough that he’s living in her house, anyway. All the better for Emily to record a video of them in bed together—via a camera hidden in a George Orwell novel, lest you miss the Big Brother symbolism—with which to make Conrad think White-Hair is threatening him. Nolan Snarkgasm of the Night: “Okay, this is getting kinkier and creepier by the moment,” when Emily told him she wanted him to anonymously send it to Conrad.

Back at Grayson Manor,Victoria now had a biometric lock on her safe to prevent any other valuables from going missing. In the midst of dealing with Agent McGowan, saying things like “Why isn’t my ex-husband in prison?” and concoting a way to search Conrad’s Manhattan apartment for incriminating evidence, she deigned to give Charlotte a moment of her time. Of course, Charlotte wanted her to invite her father for a family therapy session, which is a little awkward when you’re trying to get him charged with treason. But that gave her two birds too kill with one visit to his Manhattan penthouse.

I loved the Cheshire Cat-like side-to-side glance Victoria gave Conrad’s apartment before entering. She had to pause a moment and admire the “De Kooning” displayed in his living room. Based upon her flashback, it now seems apparent that Dominic could only do his best forgeries when she was in his bed. And the fact that Conrad had recently sent him packing again—this time possibly for good—only stoked the fire of her own vengeance. She took off her black overcoat to reveal a pomegranate red dress, the perfect ensemble to seduce her ex-husband and find the dirt that would send him on a one-way trip to Rikers himself. How can you not love a show that has an exchange of dialogue that begins with “Hello, Conrad, you’re looking well” and ends with “And you look like a demonic succubus”?

This apartment wasn’t big enough for two succubi, however, and when  Conrad poured some of his 80-year-old Scotch into two glasses, he didn’t offer one to Victoria…but to Lydia, that flax-haired minx last seen recovering from her Frank-assisted fall from the roof of her apartment building. Lydia had one-upped Victoria, I’m afraid. She sashayed in wearing only a bathrobe and fuzzy stilettos. Game, set, and match, Lydia. All Conrad could smugly say to Victoria after his mistress’s entrance was, “Please invite me to allow you to…leave.” Who else thinks Henry Czerny has the oddest but possibly best delivery of anyone on the show? He always finds a peculiar emphasis yet appealing lilt in his overheated nighttime-soap dialogue.

NEXT: Victoria discovers that Conrad’s forged De Kooning is a little more valuable than she realized.

Well, that meeting was fruitless, so Victoria decided to stop by again the next day. This time she wanted to extend an olive branch, and a lifeline, to Lydia, who was optimistically reading a wedding magazine. Lydia wasn’t biting, citing that frequently-flubbed “Fool me twice, shame on me” line. “Well, in this case, the shame is on all of us,” Victoria countered. Snap! She’d help Lydia get immunity too, if she also testified against Conrad. And just to prove that she knew what she was doing, she carved open that De Kooning and found a taped-up package full of just the incriminating evidence she was looking for. Victoria’s Bitchism of the Night: “The question is, why would Conrad hold onto something he knows has little value whatsoever…other than you, of course?”

Conrad had plenty of other worries to deal with, though. He got that anonymous email with the video of Emily and Daniel in bed, which he immediately assumed was a threat from White Hair. He asked him to meet at a restaurant in Brooklyn or he’d “unleash a contingency plan of my own.” Emily had to be there. White Hair was the man who killed her father. She had to follow him from that meeting and exact bloody satisfaction. That’s right, for the first time she was going to kill. The only problem was that she had forgotten all about a meeting with Daniel and Ashley in which the party-planner turned publicist turned henchwoman would reveal her “epic plans” for the wedding. So Nolan had to sub for her, and he tracked White Hair down to a one-story bungalow in suburbia full of clocks, a pretty clever visual metaphor for his desire to control everything around him.

After Daniel left their meeting in a huff—I mean, who was his fiancée to be bored by Ashley?—Emily followed Nolan to the address. But the billionaire technocrat is clearly a fan of The Silence of the Lambs because he pulled a wrong-address fake-out on her and sent her straight into the motherly arms of Aunt Carol. Because only Tess Harper can help someone get a proper perspective on what they’re doing. Or open people up to talk about sad personal histories because, oddly enough, this is the first time Emily’s really talked about her mother at length, saying that all she remembers of her is that she was very sick when she was a kid, then died.

Nolan visited White Hair’s real address, posing as a cable repairman. I mean, come on, you’re a famous corporate titan and the best disguise you can muster is a mustache? You don’t even have a fake business card on you? Sigh.

NEXT: Playing a game of “I Like and I Need” is always the best idea for family counseling.

All of this was gripping TV. But, of course, we had to have a subplot…with Declan. Good for him, he has a new lab partner! From Yonkers no less, which, based upon her description, I have to surmise is a tough town. I honestly don’t know, since I haven’t followed any of Yonkers’ history post-Hello Dolly. Her mother had recently won the “slimy rich husband lottery,” but until then she grew up in a bar environment like the Stowaway and was game for a round of table shuffleboard. Sadly, table shuffleboard had been ruined for Declan since that was a pastime he had shared with Charlotte.

Speaking of Charlotte, she indeed did get her parents and Daniel together for family therapy, which ideally always involves a pass-aggro game of “I Like and I Need.” Conrad said he liked Victoria’s desire for “self-preservation” but that he needed her to come to her “anemic senses” and return everything she stole. Charlotte decided that the only way out was to leave. Surely, Declan would hold the answers she needed, right? Well, she found Yonkers girl wearing one of his T-shirts after they’d gotten soaked looking for Sammy. And, of course, Charlotte assumed the worst. Charlotte’s Butterknife-sharp Wit in Action: “Yonkers, huh? Didn’t even need the trashy tee to figure that out.”

Only drugs can help you now, Charlotte. And that’s what she apparently realized, deciding at last to go full-out Traffic on us and buy coke from a drive-up dealer. Not that any of her family cared to notice. They were too busy threatening one another.

In the midst of all this, and after thinking she’d “been betrayed” by Nolan, Emily found Sammy on her front porch. He’d used up the last of his strength to get to his first home. Jack quickly showed up, but it was too late to bring Sammy back to the Stowaway. Anyway, this was where he wanted to be. Jack didn’t even know if he had the strength to say goodbye, but when he finally did it was about as moving as you can get. If Emily hadn’t already rediscovered the feelings she had for him as a kid, she found them now. To me, the most purely romantic exchange occurred when Jack said, “He was a really good friend,” and Emily countered, “So are you.” How could the music not swell and they not share a kiss? Alas, Ashley saw them, since she pops up Whac-a-Mole-style whenever you least want her to be around. She really must be a cousin of Ellis on Smash. Anyway, Emily said she didn’t know what she and Jack could or would do next. They’d have to wait and see where exactly their emotions would carry them.

NEXT: Nolan’s outwitted by the White-Haired Man. After all, he is a former head of CTU.

Victoria turned over the evidence to Daniel that would incriminate Conrad. He immediately called his father to tell him of their victory, and in that moment Victoria realized her son was no longer on her side. This couldn’t have worked out better for Emily, though, because when Daniel arrived at her house to spend the night, he brought the briefcase with him. This thing is like the nuclear football of MacGuffins, the piece of evidence she’s been looking for this whole time to rain terror on this family. Now, it’s just feet away from her sweaty paws, begging to be snatched away. And so Emily put on her mask again and, with victory so near, re-committed herself to her vengeance. She decided that happiness can wait.

It’s a much harder path she’s chosen, though, and one that’s as likely to destroy her as the people she’s targeted. And that’s when we came to our cliffhanger. Nolan was monitoring White Hair’s living room via his newly-installed hidden camera, when he noticed something strange. It’d been 8:20 for a really long time. Like, hours. If Nolan’s a fan of The Silence of the Lambs, White Hair must really love Speed, because he’d been using that film’s tactic of showing the same loop of footage over and over again. And just at that moment, White Hair’s arm snaked around his neck in a chokehold grip, and Nolan was knocked unconscious. Yep, the Big Bad had followed him back to his house, entered it without being detected, and neutralized Nolan before he was the wiser.

The Agatha Christie Theory of Revenge Revisited

A couple months ago, I presented to you the Agatha Christie Theory of Revenge, in which I suggested that the plot of our show may not resemble Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo so much as Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. The latter text still seems relevant, as there may indeed be a group of people—not just Emily—who’ve independently, or in tandem, taken it upon themselves to seek vengeance against the Graysons or their superiors. But, putting plot aside for a moment, and focusing more on character, I can’t help but feel there’s a connection to be made between Revenge and another Christie classic, Ten Little Indians. Treadwell mentioned it last week in relation to Conrad and Victoria’s Christie-esque idea of having all of the suspects in The Case of the Bloody Christmas Card over for their New Year’s celebration.

Do I Really Need to Issue a SPOILER Warning for a 70-year-old novel?

In Ten Little Indians, ten people are summoned to an island for a weekend getaway. Ten people who’ve been discovered to have committed some heinous crime that has gone unpunished. One by one, each are killed off in a manner that fits the nature of their original crime–and fits into the “Ten Little Indians” nursery rhyme. This is justice without mercy or compromise, and it fails to acknowledge the fact that a couple of the accused are more or less innocent. In the end, the mastermind behind these payback killings is revealed to be one of the ten, a judge who wants mortal satisfaction–and wants to indulge his Dexter-like serial-killer impulses–by murdering nine criminals who have gone untouched by justice. He plans to also kill himself, since he’d be a hypocrite to not punish himself for murdering others. The lesson: Achieving justice does not mean you’ll achieve happiness.

Especially now that the White-Haired Man is on to her, I feel a similar fate to that of Ten Little Indians‘ judge  may await Emily. That her path to revenge will not only involve more collateral damage—already Jack’s beating and Daniel’s murder charge—but could destroy her as surely as her targets. Some of you, I know, have already said that you think the series will end with Emily dying in her final moment of triumph. That would be a fitting ending, given the series’ ever more existential inquiry into why exactly people find being happy so difficult. Or it could be that she finally abandons the idea of revenge and chooses to live in the present rather than mourning the past. If that happens, she might be able to have a life. And sharing that moment—and kiss—with Jack seemed to put her on the right path. But that lingering glance back at Daniel’s briefcase shows she’s not ready to put the past behind her just yet. That’s good for us, because otherwise this show would be over, but bad for her soul. Remember, the series opened with that immortal saying from Confucius and James Bond, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

What did you guys think of “Grief”? Will Emily continue to pursue her feelings for Jack? Is the White-Haired Man going to come gunning for her in the finale? What is the Initiative? And how do you think Emily’s revenge endgame will ultimately play out: with bloody satisfaction or the discovery of forgiveness? And will Emily survive at all? See you next week for the season finale.

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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