This post contains spoilers for ABC’s Revenge.
Revengers revenging in Season 2.
I’ve been meaning to write about this for a couple of weeks, but between finishing my thesis and trying to collect what I wanted to say, this post is coming around a little later than I’d intended.
Revenge‘s leading lady, Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp), is what I think of as a larger-than-life character. She spends the first season tearing through people’s lives, wreaking havoc with that cold little smile of hers. At the beginning, revelations about Emily’s past make her vaguely sympathetic, yet she shows so little emotion that one begins to wonder if she is, in the words of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, something of a “high-functioning sociopath.” None of the supporting characters, including Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe), even approach Emily’s level of skill with power plays and manipulations. Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann) keeps things interesting with his various eccentricities, as does Amanda Clarke–faux Amanda, that is (Margarita Levieva). But by and large, Emily handles them without much fanfare. This was why I liked the Americon Initiative storyline in Season Two; it took an entire organization of terrorists to give Emily a worthy opponent. I was disappointed when that path was abandoned.
The Initiative aside, Season Two ventured deeper into Emily’s character. For that, we needed more information about her past and the training she undertook in preparation for carrying out her vendetta. And what better to legitimize a fantastical undertaking of revenge than the introduction of a second revenger?
Enter Aiden Mathis (Barry Sloane). When we see Aiden for the first time, he’s standing beside Emily’s mentor (“revenge is a thing,” says Aiden’s presence) watching the tide rise around Emily, who is tied to a pole like Tiger Lilly. Unbeknownst to Aiden and Takeda (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), Emily’s using this training exercise as an attempt to relive forgotten memories about her mother that only surface under duress (“seriously, it’s a thing,” says Aiden’s presence). Later, in Season Three, they attempt to recreate this phenomenon by shoving Emily’s head in a bucket. The effect, sadly, just isn’t the same.
Anyway, right when Emily’s about to drown-slash-remember, Aiden pulls her out of the water so naturally, she responds by trying to kill him. Sort of. Aiden and Emily have a romantic history that the revenge lifestyle (it’s a thing) has called to a halt. Not that she’s bitter about that or anything.
We got two seasons with Aiden Mathis, who somehow managed not to be underutilized as a supporting character as everyone else took nosedives in Season Three (remember when Daniel had shades of gray and Nolan got stories?). With Aiden’s death, I’m not so sure about the direction Revenge is going to take. In order to cope with my many feelings* on this sad subject, I made a list.
Don’t worry, Emily. Aiden will always be alive on Netflix.
Five Reasons To Mourn Aiden Mathis
-Aiden humanizes Emily. When he eventually wins her trust, he becomes the one person who can both understand what she’s doing and challenge how she’s going about it. When Aiden tells her she’s not alone, only to turn and walk away (he comes back! he always comes back), we see actual despair from Emily. Her emotional journey with Aiden transforms her from a robotic sociopath to a human being.
-Aiden has his own compelling agenda beyond Emily, something the other characters often lack (this agenda disappeared for a good portion of Season Three, along with Nolan’s one-liners, but it did eventually resurface). His motivations sometimes run parallel to Emily’s; at other times they oppose her, allowing him to push against her.
-Aiden’s character evolves with his story, as opposed to Jack’s (Nick Wechsler). Jack pretty much remains an idiot from day one. When Aiden completes his own revenge by killing the man who murdered his sister, he realizes that Emily will never find fulfillment from her quest. This is something that Emily will never get. Revenge is a thing, Aiden’s presence says, but his character tells us that even in the best case scenario for Emily, this thing is not going to bring her the victory or the peace she expects. Nolan may tell her this, Jack may tell her this (in his rare lucid moments), but Aiden knows it to be true. There’s a difference.
-Aiden is better than Jack, who is the worst ever. Everyone in Jack’s life drops dead from boredom. First his dog, then his wife (faux Amanda), and finally his little brother. He wanders around aimlessly, allowing thuggy guys to take over his bar, repeatedly trusting the Graysons, and dating random French girls. I give props to the writers for avoiding the love triangle temptation, because there was no contest as long as Aiden was breathing.
-Aiden’s death replaces David Clarke’s (and by the way, it was pretty brutal and will be etched in my brain for the foreseeable future. Thanks for that). If you have to kill a character in such a way that makes it absolutely certain he’s a corpse because you’re about to bring back a character who’s been dead for THREE SEASONS, it may be time to rethink. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in feeling cheated about the fact that David Clarke is alive. Why have I even been watching this show, investing in these stories? By all accounts, they’ve decided to reboot–and it feels like a cheap trick.
Aiden deserved better, and so do Revenge fans.
As excited as I am to watch Barry Sloane fight aliens with Jess from Gilmore Girls in The Whispers, I’m nervous about the direction Revenge will take without Aiden. The show started out as a unique kind of drama, and the first two seasons had great writing and character development. I barely made it through this season, and I’m not sure that larger-than-life Emily VanCamp–who is one of my favorite actresses**–can carry the show all on her own. Let’s hope the writers can give her something better to work with for Season 4.
*The issue of my overly emotional responses to Revenge is a subject for another day.
**She knocked it out of the park as Agent 13 in Captain America: The Winter Soldier….and should be heavily featured in the next Cap movie.