TV Review: Everyone Shines in Revenge’s “Struggle”
Though the title of this week’s Revenge instalment may have been “Struggle,” the hour was resplendent with seamless narratives.
Allowing its principle characters to shine throughout, “Struggle” resolved several of the scrummy conundrums left dangling by “Payback” and set the stage for ample intrigue to keep us on the edge of our seats through Spring.
Though mid-season hiatus allows for nail-biting cliff-hangers, it can also prove challenging in regard to plot continuity for viewers. Key elements and small but significant details have a way of disintegrating without a smidgen of reinforcement over a seven week period. Last week’s episode fell victim to exactly that. In pleasing comparison, Revenge’s fifteenth episode, “Struggle” was an engaging, satisfying, and hopeful hour of entertainment.
Though there were several noteworthy scenes in this week’s episode, most impressive were three central threads featuring the struggles of the following pairs: Jack and Stevie, Aiden and Emily, and Victoria and Patrick. Behind the scenes and undergirding it all, Nolan Ross, was the voice of reason and compassion throughout.
“Payback” left us with our mouths agape when Stevie Grayson revealed she was Jack Porter’s biological mother. In “Struggle” the maternity mystery unfolded effortlessly and to a very satisfying end. An alcoholic Stevie Grayson (Gail O’Grady) and tavern-owner Carl Porter Sr. were lovers when Jack (Nick Wechsler) was conceived. When, after a week as the mother of a newborn, Stevie knew she was an unfit mother, she left Jack with Carl Sr. and his wife, and then disappeared to sober up and get her life together. After over thirty years, nineteen of them sober, Stevie finally mustered the courage to face her abandoned son.
Greatly adding to the fluidity of this particular storyline are Stevie’s dignity, and Jack’s contentedness with his current situation. We see in Stevie a genuine and hard-won unshakable sense of self-worth. For his part, Jack is in a healthy romantic relationship, has a thriving baby, and, as of last week is a new home owner. But that’s not all that alerts us to his general demeanor.
The magicians who create entertainment for the small and big screens, a.k.a. the ‘Revenge Fairies’ in this case, are experts at nonverbal communication, or ‘subliminal messaging.’ They use color, light, music, and camera angle to manipulate our experience and convey their specific intent. This is also done explicitly for each character through wardrobe, makeup, hair color or style … you get the picture. Case in point, note the length of Jack’s hair these past two weeks. It’s shorter and more conservatively coiffed than in any of the previous 2.5 seasons. It used to be wavy and almost collar-length. Also, though he has historically sported a degree of facial scruff, it is now much more manicured. Message: Jack has gotten his life together. He’s content and happy.
The next significant struggle is that of Emily and Aiden, masterfully portrayed by Emily VanCamp and Barry Sloane. Upon Nolan’s insistent urging (God bless Nolan!) Aiden emerged from the shadows to administer extraordinarily tough love to Emily allowing her to overcome her subconscious fears, recapture her sanity, and recommit to her original agenda: clearing David Clark’s name. For the first time in a long time, the real Emily Thorne takes a stand. In the process, however, she accesses several painful memories including one of her father in bed with Victoria (Yowsa!), another of her begging her father to leave the hateful Victoria, and another of her dad’s words of love for Emily as he carved the double infinity sign on the post at the beach house.
Curiously, it’s intimated that Emily’s mental blockage was based on her fear that her father wasn’t worth it; that he didn’t deserve it. We can assume this ‘it’ refers to having his name cleared. What remains unclear is exactly what she’s referring to when she says her father is to blame for everything; that it was he all along. Does this mean she can relinquish her own guilt over everything that happened to them during her youth? Or does it mean something nefarious … like that he really was guilty of the crimes he was imprisoned for? Time will tell, Revengers.
Not to go unmentioned is the incredibly tender final scene between Emily and Aiden. How much do we love Aiden Mathis at this point? A hell of a lot more than a bushel and a peck, my friends. And more every episode, especially now that Jack seems to be comfortably settled into the friendship category. And you know what? It feels really good that way, doesn’t it? The entire Emily-Aiden sequence is now at the top of my list of Revenge favorites: the relentlessness of Aiden’s commitment to Emily’s sanity, the emotional intensity of their physical struggle against each other, and more significantly, Emily’s struggle against her own subconscious and the mental blockage that caused her black-outs and her sabotage of her own efforts to achieve her Revengenda. Color me a confirmed Emiden or Aimily shipper.
By the end of the episode Emily has another recollection: David Clarke’s mention of a prison visit from Stevie Grayson once she’d received her law degree. Emily has now sworn to uncover all of Stevie Grayson’s secrets. Could it be that another take-down is in the coming? I hope so! Get out your red Sharpies, Revengers!
Perhaps the most understated and difficult struggle of the episode—and also the most surprising—was Victoria’s when she arranged to have Patrick receive an apprenticeship with artist Stefano Leone in Tuscany. It has been clear since he arrived at Grayson Manor that Patrick has been the only source of joy in Victoria’s tortured existence. He seems to be the only pure love of her life.
This week, Patrick went looking for punishment by attending his rapist father’s Irish wake and spitting upon the man’s portrait, making himself the center of a brutal attack. Though she warned him not to allow his rage to consume him, she could see Patrick was powerless to relinquish that rage and always would be. Enter Nolan, the only other person who truly loved Patrick.
In a compassionate tête-à-tête, and despite the fact that he’d recently been beaten and robbed by Patrick, Nolan brought to Pat’s attention that he’d changed considerably since arriving in the Hamptons (and not in a good way) and that he hadn’t always been like this. Best line of the episode: The word accident is fast becoming a euphemism for ‘Patrick did it.’ This scene wins honors in the top of my favorite Nolan scenes of all time.
In a clever cinematographic maneuver, we see Patrick standing in Victoria’s room saying goodbye to her as he prepares to leave for the apprenticeship in Tuscany. Then as the shot switches from Patrick to his silently crying mother, we see that he is not actually there … she is simply listening to his voice on her cell phone. His beautifully delivered soliloquy includes the realization that his darkness comes from his father, and that as long as he stayed in Hamptons he was afraid other people might get hurt. Most importantly, he was now in pursuit of doing something he hoped would make her proud. Pass me the Kleenex. #IMeanIt
Though Victoria may have an extraordinary vocabulary and a rapier wit, loads of cash and possessions, and the current title of Grayson matriarch to match her Queen Anne throne, she will never have the self-confidence bred from higher education and independence like Stevie does. The question is, how will this play out as the two vie for dominance over Grayson property?
Elsewhere, an increasingly lubricated Daniel hired a Bronx thug to spy on Emily. The result: photos of Emily and Aiden kissing. Please, Revenge fairies, don’t let Daniel put a hit out on Aiden! Also, Conrad gleefully began preparations to see Pascal, Margaux’s father, who will be arriving in time for the next Revenge episode.
Next week in “Disgrace,” the stage is set for a “devastating revelation” when Emily and Victoria go head to head in a very public showdown during an evening at the opera. Sunday, March 23 (10p.m. ET) on ABC.