Revenge recap – 1×20: ‘Legacy’

Courtesy of ABC

It’s like a high school reunion! With only a few episodes before the big finale, Revenge goes into flashback mode to 2002 and the start of Emily’s (Emily VanCamp) quest for REVENGE. The real fun, however, is seeing everyone she screwed over back in the game.

Let’s bitch it out…

It’s always risky for a show to “take a break” from its traditional format to do an unconventional episode. Both Fringe and Mad Men have played with their respective narrative timelines in recent weeks: Fringe - as per its tradition – used its 19th episode to jump into the future, while Mad Men went the Pulp Fiction route and explored three parallel stories over a single day. So Revenge‘s all flashback episode isn’t a unique novelty, but it is a little surprising that the show waited until so near to the end of its season to reveal why and how this all began. The danger is that you derail the forward momentum leading into the finale at the expense of telling your audience a story that they more or less already know.

So was ‘Legacy’ a waste of time? I would argue that it was a 75% success, with 25% of it feeling a little redundant. The other danger of a flashback episode is that if you’re stuck in one time period (as we principally were: Dec 28-31, 2002), it can feel as though it’s mighty convenient for everything we need to see happen in the space of a few days.

For ‘Legacy’ the problem is mostly exacerbated because the date in question coincides with the Graysons’ decision to throw a lavish New Year’s party to try and suss out who sent them a threatening card about David Clarke (James Tupper) with the word “SHAME” written in it. I suppose we should have known it would turn out to be Mason Treadwell (Roger Bart) – last seen killing Charlotte’s credibility in 1×18 ‘Justice’ – since he has such a flair for the dramatic. No matter, the reason that the episode works because we know where these people will end up. If the danger of these episodes is a feeling of wasted time, the strength is that you do less set-up and more pay-off because your audience is already aware of who these people are, and what their motivations are. As a result, the question is not whether Lydia (Amber Valletta) will betray Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) by having an affair with Conrad (Henry Cznery), but rather “has the affair already begun?” (Answer: It begins at the party – which I would actually throw into the “too convenient” pile).

Courtesy of ABC

It’s also great because the episode reintroduces old favourites. I personally love it when shows work hard to maintain their narrative consistency by bringing back the same actors, or paying off episodes from earlier in the season (or series). The CW’s Ringer frequently tried to do this over its first (only?) season, but it felt like a desperate attempt to recalibrate poor story telling. Here Revenge casually brings back Emily’s take-downs from episodes two through four as the usual suspects are drawn into the Grayson spiderweb of mistrust. And so, in addition to Lydia, we see Bill Harmon (Matthew Glave) – the sleazy gambling addict Nolan (Gabriel Mann) helped to ruin in the second episode, politician Tom Kingly (Yancey Arias) that Emily outed as a baby-daddy in episode three, and disgraced/drunk psychiatrist Dr. Michelle Banks (Amy Landecker) whose videotapes Emily released in episode four. Such fun to see these bottom feeders again!

Of course, the man I was most excited to see again was dearly departed Frank (Max Martini), the Grayson henchman killed by Fauxmanda way back in 1×07 ‘Charade’. While I think that Frank’s murder – in addition to Lydia’s rooftop dive – really helped Revenge turn into must-see  television, I realized when he appeared just how much I missed having him around. Oh sure, his presence means that innocent people like Roger Halsted (the great John Billingsley) are being killed, but he’s infinitely more interesting than other heavies on the show like Lee.

Speaking of Roger, I would argue that he’s the big “reveal” in the episode. The fact that David Clarke had a confidant who felt powerless to oppose the Graysons – but was apparently smart enough to recognize Amanda Clarke when no one else did – is the catalyst for pushing the angry, troubled youth into action. And with his death – and a bottle of bleach – our vengeful queen of REVENGE! was born.

Other Considerations:

  • Our introduction to 2002 Amanda (it still feels weird to write that since we’ve called her Emily all season): ripping off a toilet seat in order to bash an unfaithful douchebag at a club. Hilarious! Is she high on PCP or something?
  • The wigs were tolerable for the most part (do you prefer Nolan as a blonde or brunette? Discuss). The winner, by a mile, has got to be Jack’s (Nick Weschler) absolutely terrible shoulder-length, death metal look. Hottie status revoked! It was kinda fun to see Amanda/Emily with brown(ish) hair again – apparently when she’s up to no good (ie: beating the crap out of people and stealing their keys in order to frame them), she reverts back to her ‘troubled youth hair’
  • I found Declan much more tolerable as a child who has no dialogue. I didn’t mind Charlotte or Ashley either (wait…they weren’t in the episode? Ohhhh, that explains why they were so good!)
  • It wasn’t all 2002, as Victoria also jumped back to her first meeting with David Clarke at a previous New Years party. While I did not care for her ginormous ponytail, it was nice to see the Ice Queen smile when she and David Clarke first meet.
  • We also learn that Jack was dating a slutty bartender back in 2002 (way to keep it consistent bud). Anyone else get the impression this chickie might come back some day? Also, Nolan was the one responsible to evicting the Porter family and forcing them all to move into the Stowaway, but I didn’t really care about any of this.
  • Favourite scene of the night: Since I’m currently obsessed with blocking (see my recent Game Of Thrones recap), I did love the moment when Conrad begins his midnight toast in the foreground as Lydia (freshly f*cked) rearranges her dress and steals away in the background. The divide between the puppet masters – Conrad and Victoria on the balcony – and the puppets – their underlings below – was also a lovely reinforcement of just how much these idiots hitched their wagon to the power of Grayson Global, which – after pinning terrorist charges on an innocent man – is back in the black.
  • Least favourite scene of the night: Amanda reading Roger’s note and discovering her power by getting the infinity symbol tattoo’d on her wrist. I get the symbolism of a permanent reminder of her father, as well as the moment she decided to go all in for REVENGE, but it’s forced and even a little cheesy. Much like the voice overs, the show could stand to dial it back and be a little more understated. Scenes like this can tip the soap elements over into the realm of camp, so they need to be wary of them.

And that’s our flashback. What was the most interesting moment for you? Did anything surprise you? Do you feel like this break from the present day was worthwhile, or are you eager to get back to ‘Emily’ and leave ‘Amanda’ behind? Personally I think it was nice to have a reminder of why Amanda started all of this, and perhaps to show how off-track she’s gotten since initiating her plan. What do you think?

Sound off below!

Revenge airs Wednesdays at 10pm EST on ABC.

About cinephilactic

cinephilactic is a university contract instructor in Film Studies. He is an avid TV watcher, particularly science-fiction, fantasy and drama series. His favourite shows currently airing on TV include The Good Wife, Breaking Bad, Justified, Hannibal, Game Of Thrones and a smattering of shows on The CW. He has a tendency to "hate-watch" particular shows and likes to think that his sarcastic voice comes through in his reviews, though sometimes he's just being bitchy

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