With the end of Revenge’s first season, Jace Lacob examines the show’s most memorable moments so far.
The first season of ABC’s Revenge wrapped up on Wednesday night, leading to a major cliffhanger that will propel the Mike Kelley-created drama into its second year of betrayals, bait-and-switches, and vengeance plots, as Emily Thorne (Emily Van Camp) continues her campaign of destruction against the mercenary and venal Grayson clan after learning a key secret about her own past.
Revenge itself can be looked at in several ways: a revenge fantasy for the 99 percent against the wealthy ruling class embodied by the morally corrupt Graysons, an ensemble drama set in the heightened reality of green-screen backdrops where the high cost of privilege is explored, or simply a wickedly good soap about one woman attempting to avenge her beloved father’s death and pay back those whose deeds led to her own family’s destruction.
“Reckoning” saw Emily coming face to face with the man directly responsible for her father’s death, but not all of the various subplots were tied up neatly, and the season finale offered more than a few questions going into the second season. Under the watchful guidance of Kelley and his writing staff, Emily’s quest for vengeance has expanded significantly enough to provide several seasons worth of plot for Revenge’s story engine. Along the way, the plot has swelled to include a number of intriguing, villainous, or plain crazy characters who have either ended up becoming part of Emily’s master plan … or collateral damage along the way.
While it’s impossible to include all of the many twists and turns this season, the list below reflects 12 of the most surprising, exciting, or upsetting moments on the first season of Revenge, from the death of a loved one to kidnapping, murder, and the truth about what happened on the beach.
WARNING: The below contains specific plot details about the entire season of Revenge, so proceed with caution if you’re not up to date.
While the season finale contained plenty of surprises, one of the most intriguing twists was the revelation--in the episode's final minutes--that Emily's mother, long believed to have died many years ago, was in fact alive. Even more interesting: Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe) is aware of the fact that the wife of David Clarke (James Tupper) is alive and that this is just one of many secrets surrounding Emily's mother.
It's Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann) who discovers this truth, uncovering a video encrypted on the mysterious hard drive that was part of the evidence hidden away by Conrad Grayson (Henry Czerny). Evidence that, along with several key witnesses, were blown up on a plane en route to Washington D.C. before they were able to testify against the Graysons... and link them to terrorist group Americon Intitiative.
While it initially appears that Victoria is one of those aboard the plane when it crashed (she's on the passenger manifest), it's important to note that, while we saw Victoria board the plane, we never saw her seated on the airplane, nor did we see the plane take off... So, don't count Victoria out just yet.
The best bit? The final line of the season belonged to Emily who, after beginning to tear up at the realization that her mother was still alive, steeled herself once again. "Let it play," she said, as the resolve and intensity returned once more to Emily Thorne.
When we last saw "Amanda Clarke" (Margarita Levieva)--otherwise known as the real Emily Thorne, who had swapped identities with our lead character years earlier--she had been kidnapped and taken to parts unknown.
But in "Reckoning," Amanda returns... just as Emily had broken up with her fiancé Daniel Grayson (Joshua Bowman) and was about to embark on a relationship with her childhood sweetheart Jack Porter (Nick Weschler). But Amanda's unexpected return to Montawk isn't the only surprise: she's also pregnant with Jack's child, throwing yet another complication into the Jack/Emily relationship. Explanations about just where Amanda has been and how and why she's resurfaced will have to wait until Season 2, but her presence raises a host of concerns for Emily.
It was only recently that Emily learned the truth about her father’s death, something that the audience has suspected since the start of the season: David Clarke wasn’t killed by an inmate during a prison riot, but murdered by an associate of the Grayson family, a man referred to rather enigmatically as “The White-Haired Man” who is in the employ of the Americon Initiative. This is hardly a surprise, given the grand scale of the show, but it does connect the Graysons even more tightly to David’s destruction.
While the identity of The White-Haired Man is still unknown, here’s what we do know: he’s a fixer and cleans up the Graysons' messes, particularly those that have to do with the Initiative. This includes the murder of David Clarke (with whom he was photographed—posing as a prison guard—on the day of his death), the hanging of former Grayson henchman Lee Moran (Derek Ray), and likely multiple other casualties along the way. He may be connected to a terrorist group that was responsible for the downing of passenger plane Flight 197. Conrad Grayson was laundering money for the group. When he was exposed, the Graysons framed their business associate David Clarke for supporting the group financially, using their friends and colleagues to engineer a conspiracy. It didn’t hurt that David was having an affair with Conrad’s wife, Victoria, who later—unbeknownst to Conrad—became pregnant with his child, Charlotte (Christa B. Allen), who—shock!—is Emily’s sister.
While he’s represented a nebulous threat so far, The White-Haired Man became a very real danger in last week’s episode when he kidnapped Emily’s billionaire confidante, Nolan Ross. After Nolan lied to Emily about The White-Haired Man’s whereabouts in order to protect her (and stop her from murdering him outright), Nolan bugged TWHM’s home and narrowly escaped with his life … only to be later choked into unconsciousness by the mystery man in his own home.
What’s Up, Doc?
While Emily has had her hands in all sorts of nefarious action, the kidnapping of psychiatrist Dr. Michelle Banks (Amy Landecker) early in the season propelled Emily from plotting on the periphery to becoming far more active and physical in her revenge scheme. While it’s Emily who is responsible for stashing Dr. Banks in a storage container, Emily also calls an anonymous tip into the police so that she’s rescued. It’s a small detail, but one that proves that Emily isn’t willing to cross certain lines in pursuit of her goal and that she has a moral code that doesn’t—at least at that moment—include murder.
When the season began, each episode was largely a self-contained single “takedown” of one individual who had played a role in the conspiracy that destroyed her family. In this case, Dr. Banks was responsible for institutionalizing Emily (then, yes, still Amanda) after her father’s incarceration, willingly trading Emily’s well-being in exchange for a private practice, set up by Victoria. Of course, if Dr. Banks hadn’t institutionalized the young Amanda Clarke, she wouldn’t have eventually met Emily Thorne, with whom she swapped identities in order to get close to the Graysons.
All Dogs Go to Heaven
When Emily was a child—still going by the name Amanda Clarke—and living with her father next door to the Graysons, she had a puppy named Sammy. After her father’s wrongful imprisonment in 1993 and her own incarceration in a juvenile detention facility, the dog went to live with Amanda’s childhood sweetheart, Jack Porter, who has raised Sammy to adulthood.
When Amanda returns to the Hamptons under the alias Emily Thorne, the only clue to her real identity is the fact that Sammy appears to recognize her and continually show up at her house, the same one she lived in as a child. Sammy, for much of the season, seemed to be immortal. It beggared reason that this dog would be running around and wandering from Montauk to the Hamptons on a regular basis, given that he’s roughly 20 years old, and Sammy’s presence offered fans a way to puncture the “reality” of the story.
Whether Mike Kelley was influenced by viewers’ criticisms of Sammy drinking from the dog bowl of youth or whether it was always intended to be part of the larger story is unknown. But what is known is that last week’s episode, “Grief,” offered one of the saddest moments in television this year, if not the saddest, as Emily and Jack were forced to say goodbye to the dog that they both loved … and, in many ways, to the last vestiges of their childhood as well.
As a dog owner, Sammy’s death struck me to my core and I watched the scene where Jack and Emily said goodbye with tears streaming down my face. Jack’s words—before he dissolved into a grief-stricken sob—“I thought you would live forever”—broke my heart entirely. In a show that’s as filled with betrayal and murder as Revenge, it says something that the death of a pet produces the most genuine emotion. While we’re not meant to sympathize with the callous individuals who framed Emily’s father, the innate innocence of Sammy and the genuine love he engendered echoes even after his death.
Earlier in the season, Grayson family enforcer Frank Stevens (Max Martini), on the outs with the family, managed to track down the real Emily Thorne, posing as the disgraced Amanda Clarke, whose downward spiral led to her working at a seedy strip club. (There is more than a little Buffy/Faith resonance to the twisted, almost psychosexual relationship between Emily and Amanda.) While “Emily” has coached “Amanda” well, there are elements of her story that just don’t add up … and this Amanda Clarke looks like the mug shot of Emily Thorne that Frank has dredged up. She told Frank that his theory is correct—she was paid to swap places with the real Amanda Clarke—but the money had run out and she’d been trying to track Amanda down for years. They agreed to meet in the parking lot after Amanda’s shift ended.
While Frank finally believed that he had enough evidence to takedown Emily and get him back in the good graces of the Graysons, his luck ran out, as Amanda hit him over the head with a tire iron in the parking lot … just as he was about to tell Victoria the truth about Emily. And then she bludgeoned him to death, proving her loyalty to Amanda/Emily.
Beach Blanket Bingo
The major mystery of the first season—what happened on the beach in the pilot episode during Emily’s Fire and Ice-themed engagement party—was finally revealed in the show’s 15th episode, “Chaos.” While it was initially believed that Emily’s fiancé, Daniel, was murdered, the truth was far stranger than that, as the corpse on the beach wasn’t Daniel’s, but his mentally unstable college roommate, Tyler Barrol (Ashton Holmes), who had previously held the family hostage at gunpoint.
While Tyler and Daniel struggled with a gun, a shot went off just before Daniel was hit on the head from behind by an unknown assailant, who finished off Tyler with two shots to the back. Amanda, who had been shot by Tyler earlier, turned up at Jack’s boat before he left for Haiti (don’t ask) and then fled, with Jack pursuing her to the beach … where he found her standing over Tyler’s dead body. Believing her to be responsible, Jack ordered her to return to the car and then dragged Tyler’s body into the dunes … where he was briefly spotted by his brother Declan (Connor Paolo) and a drunk Charlotte Grayson, and thought to be the killer as well. (Jack later covered for Declan, believing him to be the killer, while Declan covered for Jack, believing his older brother to be responsible.)
Daniel’s assailant and Tyler’s killer is later revealed to be Emily’s “revenge sensei,” Satoshi Takeda (Hiroyuki Sanada), who was working with Nolan Ross to protect Emily. Satoshi not only murdered Tyler, but also arranged for Emily’s infinity box of secrets to be recovered from Tyler’s possession (it is then buried on the beach by Emily) and kidnapped “Amanda,” taking her to an unknown location. She has not been seen since.
Lydia Takes the Plunge
One of the most surprising turns in the first half of Revenge’s freshman season was Lydia (Amber Valetta) falling off her apartment building after being chased by Grayson enforcer Frank Stevens. Frank believed that Lydia was behind everything that had befallen the Graysons since she was cast out of Hamptons society when Victoria learned of her affair with Conrad.
While Lydia’s fall off the building—and onto the roof of a parked car—was an accident, Nolan and Emily came into possession of video that appeared to depict Frank trying to kill Lydia. Nolan, at the apartment to swap out a photograph that depicts Emily as a waitress at a 2002 New Year’s party with the Graysons, managed to slip out without Frank—or the police—seeing him at the scene.
Lydia later returned to convalesce at Grayson Manor, where she was more or less kept a prisoner by Victoria. She and Conrad rekindled their relationship in recent episodes, and she was seen at the Graysons’ Manhattan apartment by Victoria.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
The one negative moment on this list naturally is the heavy-handed and forced romance between Victoria and flighty artist Dominik Wright (James Purefoy), a forger with whom Victoria was involved when she first met her future husband, Conrad. Victoria and Dominik’s formative relationship contained a passion that she later tried to rediscover with David Clarke. Victoria, meanwhile, knowingly brokered a deal with Conrad for a forged Willem de Kooning painting, something that Conrad later attempted to use against Victoria.
In the present day, Victoria and Dominik reconnected and renewed their passionate affair. While I have nothing against Stowe or Purefoy, this subplot dragged on endlessly (though it was, in reality, limited to just a few episodes) and attempted to fuse the erotic possibilities of 9½ Weeks or Last Tango in Paris with a broadcast-network primetime soap, failing to inject the right level of heat or steaminess or find tonal balance. When Conrad blackmailed Dominik into leaving (claiming that he’ll have Victoria prosecuted for fraud for her involvement with the forgery sale), it was more than a relief: it was a return to normalcy within the show. Or whatever is considered normal for Revenge.
Revenge’s first season Talented Mr. Ripley-esque subplot took a turn for the strange when Daniel’s mentally unbalanced college roommate Tyler attempted to seduce Nolan—who proudly claims to be a “three” on the Kinsey Scale—unaware that Nolan is videotaping the entire encounter via a hidden camera embedded within a whale statuette. (It’s the same whale figurine—nicknamed “Shamu-cam”—which captures Frank chasing Lydia and numerous other occurrences throughout the season.)
Nolan, having learned about Tyler’s past as a hustler servicing men, recorded their session to use as leverage against him, in order to prevent him from taking down Emily. Unfortunately for Nolan, Tyler got his own back: he attacked Nolan and tied him up in his house. Now that you mention it, Nolan does get tied up and/or taken prisoner quite a lot.
Burning Down the House
A debt-ridden accountant turned journalist, Mason Treadwell (Roger Bart) covered the Flight 187 crash and interviewed a young Amanda several times about her father’s involvement in the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the downed passenger jet, as well as David Clarke himself. While Mason initially appeared to be on David Clarke’s side during the writing of his book, he switched sides when the Graysons paid him off in order to conceal the affair between Victoria and David and the paternity of Victoria’s daughter Charlotte. His success with the book propelled him to literary superstardom and Truman Capote-esque affectations.
Years later, Mason crossed paths with Victoria Grayson again, and Emily learned that Mason had retained recordings of his interviews with young Amanda and David Clarke. She broke into Mason’s house while Nolan kept the writer otherwise engaged, discovered a cache of tapes (which she stole) and set fire to the house … as Mason witnessed it burning to the ground, unable to stop the flames.
To further complicate matters, Emily tried to frame Amanda for setting the fire, putting some of the tapes in her bag above the Stowaway bar, where she was living with boyfriend Jack. Unfortunately, Victoria sent her henchman Lee to obtain the tapes from Amanda … and he was spotted by Jack, who was then brutally beaten by Lee during the robbery.
Having a penchant for disguises, Emily donned a blonde wig and blue contacts (along with a slutty ensemble) in order to flirt with Lee and gain information about the Grayson family from their gruff if dumb henchman. But when she had gotten enough, Emily lured Lee to his car, where upon she kicked the hell out of him, both for arranging the beating of Daniel in prison (at Victoria’s behest) and also for the attack on Jack. She additionally left incriminating evidence—Jack’s bloodstained hoodie—in Lee’s car and called the police, whereupon he was arrested for Tyler’s murder.
When Daniel considered confessing to Tyler’s murder in prison, the Graysons had Lee killed in prison and staged his death to look like a suicide, complete with a full confession. Lee’s “confession” of the crime led to Daniel being fully exonerated and freed from prison … and made Emily realize that the Graysons are far more dangerous than she initially suspected.