ABC's Revenge's third season premiere starts some time in the future as all previous seasons has, providing a tease of juicy (and violent) action to come, only to then snap you back in time to show how characters got there. Only, instead of seeing a faceless victim, leaving audiences to wonder the "who" of it all, in addition to the "why," this time we see very clearly who may be paying for sins. And it turns out that knowing before it happens doesn't really spoil any of it; in fact it is quite the opposite as it makes you want to stick with Revenge all the more to get to the bottom of how it came to this drastic place.
Revenge wastes only a few lines catching key characters-- and the audience-- up to where we have found the Hampton-ites when dropping back in on them now, preparing for the big Memorial Day bash. Because when are they not preparing for some big celebration, right? Emily (Emily VanCamp) spearheads that planning, still playing the dutiful fiance of Daniel (Josh Bowman) while setting Nolan (Gabriel Mann) up with a new place to live post-prison. While this leads to some expository dialogue, Revenge takes the opportunity to do so in a meta way, echoing many viewers' feelings, too, by poking fun at lackluster season two plot points and putting them to bed once and for all by having characters say they hope they never hear those names again. A personal favorite is Conrad (Henry Czerny) telling an unemployed Daniel that he better not "Kickstart a poetry book." If this third season premiere, "Fear," is any indication of the season to come (and really, it should be), the show is only looking forward and therefore hopes to be judged as such.
"Fear" is not a perfect episode by any means, but even will odd pauses during conversations that have characters staring each other down in a fashion typical of lesser, daytime dramas, it sets up new spins on already interesting dynamics. Nolan, specifically, is a shadow of his excited, cunning yet still childlike self upon his return. He still delivers razor sharp one-liners but in a much more grounded tone that allows Mann to prove he is more than the show has allowed him to be in the season's past. But don't worry, Revengers, Nolan gets more of his groove back by the end of the episode and makes quite the entrance into the party because of it.
Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) is actually genuinely happy-- her guard is down a bit, and a weight seems to have been lifted from her. She can still jab at (let alone kind of screw over) Charlotte (Christa B. Allen), but her laugh is fuller now. And it is an absolute delight to watch Stowe get to have fun-- real fun, not just fun at another character's expense. Charlotte herself as a new, more mature physical look, but she is also carrying herself as a worldlier woman, determined to prove she can go up against the best in her family.
It is worth noting that if you didn't read entertainment websites like this one and didn't already know of Justin Hartley's casting or character details, it would be all-too-easy to assume he is coming in as just another one of Victoria's playthings. In fact, his introductory scene, one he shares with her, is set on a stereotypical romantic activity, and his first line of dialogue is delivered a little tongue-in-cheek flirty that than makes the rest of their initial interaction slightly uncomfortable. The show spends half the episode allowing the audience to question who he is as certain characters assume he is her new "kept man," too. But in truth, maybe that's not so far off. After all, he showed up on her door-step at the end of season two without any DNA test results in his hand. Who's to say that he, like so many other characters we've come to know and love, is who he claims to be? Right now he seems so sweet and genuine, but if he doesn't have another agenda, then it seems nurture means more than nature, and that's certainly a bold, sweeping statement for this show to make.
It is also worth nothing that though Ashley (Ashley Madekwe) will be leaving, she has not left off-screen and does appear in the season premiere, in all her ineffectively scheming glory. But if you're worried she's a void you'll miss, don't be: there is someone new (and equally accented) already waiting in the wings to take her place.
Emily has been refocused by the events of the end of last year, and despite what some shippers may want to believe, the answers as to how Emily feels about everyone in her life-- men or otherwise-- is clearly and carefully layered into VanCamp's performance. "Fear" puts her back in the center of the story, with everyone else revolving on her, as the show always meant it to be. VanCamp commands every scene, but more importantly, her character, too, commands every room she is in. There is no question now that she is all business and will carry out her plan to its end-- even though it hasn't gone according to the original plan this whole time and even if it means she won't get a happy ending.
Revenge returns to ABC on September 29 2013 at 9 p.m.
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