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Revenge, “Pilot” (1.01)

Victoria (Madeline Stowe) in a red dress, on stage.

I’m trying something new for the next few pilot reviews. Check after the jump for spoiler-free highlights, and a spoilery review, of the episode written by Mike Kelley and directed by Philip Noyce

Spoiler-Free Highlights:

  • The premise, as far as I see from the pilot: What if there were a horror movie where, instead of being brutally killed off, the victims were just ejected from the Hamptons by a girl who looks like she belongs on 90210? That said, this is just the pilot, and I’m sure the titular revenge will ramp up.
  •  Emily VanCamp (as our vengeful lead) and Madeleine Stowe (as her eventual final target) are both fantastic here.
  • I tend to pre-like pilots a little based on actors I’ve liked elsewhere. So having VanCamp (who I liked in Brothers & Sisters), Ashley Madekwe (who I’m fond of from her Secret Diary of a Call Girl character) and Connor Paolo (who has long been the most grounded and sensible character on Gossip Girl, and one of my favourites when I still watched it). However, neither Madekwe nor Paolo were so big here that their presence radically changed my opinion. That opinion ended up being that it was a very enjoyable show that I’d continue watching.
  • This show knows what it wants to be – that is, a soapy story of revenge vs. forgiveness – and nails it. The cast has a few too many faces, not all of them memorable, but VanCamp and Stowe anchor it well enough that it survives the issue of too many minor faces bouncing around.
  • There are few to no surprises in this pilot, but I found it very enjoyable all the same. I give it a solid give it a watch.

Something More Spoilery

I liked that a lot.

Emily VanCamp worked very well as Emily Thorne (aka Amanda Clarke), the kind of psychopath that nobody sees through, and the pilot gave her plenty to do. She played the gamut from charming to cold fury, and it was all convincing. I don’t know whether or not that will continue as the action ramps up, as she’s only really had to sell her anger in sullen expressions for now, but I’m excited to see what happens if she ever has to do more than that.

As the villain to Thorne’s dark protagonist, Stowe was also pretty fantastic. She plays the vicious Hamptons queen with style and subtlety, with her speech ejecting Lydia from their society a wonderful highlight. That could have been so melodramatic and campy, but she nailed the mixture of light with rage underneath. There was a moment that felt a little bit like hand holding (“Isn’t that the van Gogh Lydia gave her…?”), but it worked in that it nailed into the audience that those present could all see what was really happening, even if they didn’t know the details of why.

There were some lines that, as written, would have been very clunky, but the direction nicely underplays them so that you notice the parallels yourself (as opposed to every line these days on Grey’s Anatomy). Moments where dramatic irony kicks in for the audience, where we knowour lead is thinking about her deception, for example. The direction also handled the glut of supporting characters well, with most players getting at least a moment to lodge them in our brains. I won’t know any character names without the use of Wikipedia for a few episodes, but that should change as the season progresses.

There were some beautifully shot moments here, as well. I want to draw attention to the opening flashforward, the fire-and-ice themed engagement party. Everything in that sequence, from Emily and Victoria’s red dresses to Connor Paulo‘s character’s flashy white tux, was gorgeous. The show revels in its use of the beaches and the grand houses of the Hamptons.

And the ending sets us up nicely for a slow-burning war between VanCamp‘s Emily and Stowe‘s Victoria, which should be a lot of fun. We’ll see if they can keep the tension going on a week-to-week basis, but for now, this one impressed me.

Emily VanCamp
Madeleine Stowe
Gabriel Mann
Henry Czerny
Connor Paolo
Ashley Madekwe
Nick Wechsler
Joshua Bowman
Christa B. Allen

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