[TW: This article discusses the general topics of child abuse sexual assault and how it is portrayed in Revenge.]
Revenge, starring Emily VanCamp as the scorned Emily Thorne (a.k.a. Amanda Clarke) and Madeleine Stowe as the diabolical Victoria Grayson, was a brutal story of betrayal and vengeance. After Emily’s father had been sent to prison for a terrorist attack that he had no part in, she grew up and sought justice for her father, vowing to take down the infamous and grossly rich Grayson family that had actually been responsible. The journey had its ups and downs, but the characters were far more intriguing than the plot for most of the show, becoming such complex beings that the viewer was left with complicated feelings for almost every character. Even with the show telling us who we should be rooting for, that didn’t necessarily mean we did.
As we followed Emily Thorne’s journey of revenge, it was easy to root for her at first. But, it wasn’t long before the collateral damage began to build up, and her actions began to destroy the lives of people who hadn’t been responsible for what happened to her father so many years before. This was most obvious with Conrad (Henry Czerny) and Victoria’s son, Daniel (Josh Bowman), during the inaugural season. Daniel and Emily did eventually play on an even playing field though — you know, after he tried to kill her. And, because Emily was the “hero” of the series, there were lines she wouldn’t cross… but Victoria would, which made her the most thrilling and enjoyable character on the show.
Throughout the show, viewers were treated occasionally to the writers delving into Victoria’s past. We were allowed to see the things that had driven Victoria to this point of her life, to a loveless marriage with Conrad. The more we saw, the more her instincts and reactions to things began to come together, painting a portrait of a woman whose existence couldn’t be given a particular point on the spectrum between good and evil.
As a child, Victoria was tormented by her abusive mother, whose incessant need for status and a man brought some horrifyingly terrible people into her life, some of which abused Victoria themselves. Because of her mother’s abuse, Victoria was searching for that love and approval from someone else. Eventually, the result of this became the revolving door of men in her life, many of which were abusive to her in other ways. At an early age, Victoria had to start looking out for herself, especially after she was left on her own at 16-years-old with a newborn son, fathered by an older man that had assaulted her.
From here on, Victoria was left with many hard decisions throughout life, stuck with contemplating whether to put herself or someone else first. Her instincts were always to survive, often meaning that her decisions would raise herself up while someone else suffered. But really, who could blame her, given the hell she had already experienced throughout her life? This is how she ended up with Conrad, a man with such wealth that she’d never have to worry about financial means again… but also a man with a dark side and a temper, who challenged her in other ways, particularly when it came to their children.
How Victoria ended up in the position to betray Emily’s father, David Clarke (James Tupper) became increasingly clear, and viewers began to be able to empathize with her situation without the show going too far to ever begin excusing the harm she had caused. She remained the antagonist, but it was far easier to sympathize with her and follow her story without looking at her as the devil reborn. These layers made Victoria one of the most detailed characters on the show, as her life and personality became more complicated (in a good way) with every new twist.
Victoria and Emily’s rivalry was far more enjoyable on Victoria’s side, too. Emily was acting offensively for so much of Revenge, often reclaiming the upper hand because she knew the dark secrets about everyone, but nobody knew her own — like the fact that she was Amanda Clarke. Victoria, on the other hand, was so often on the defensive. She knew that she was being targeted, along with the rest of her family, and was so smart and ruthless at trying to put an end to it. Without knowing who exactly her foe was, Victoria put up a great fight, somehow knowing how to bring Emily down to her knees with such style, leaving Emily needing to regroup and restart her mission repeatedly.
Plus, as mentioned before, there were lines Emily wouldn’t cross. Victoria, however, did not have these same moral limitations. Upon learning who Emily really was, Victoria got back at her by killing Emily’s fiancé, Aiden (Barry Sloane). This was the beginning of Victoria’s darkest turn yet. Her crossing this line, specifically in this way (by paralyzing and suffocating Aiden), was entirely unexpected, and such a blow to get back at Emily as revenge for the three years she had spent tearing apart Victoria’s life piece by piece. However, even after killing Aiden, it was still impossible to completely turn against Victoria and see her as the villain. It was simply how Victoria was raised to learn how to react in a situation like this. Also, because Victoria’s most recent love, Pascal LeMarchal (Olivier Martinez), had died shortly before by Conrad’s hands because of Emily’s desperation for revenge, it was reciprocation. Victoria kept Emily and the viewers on their toes because her actions could be perfectly unpredictable while remaining perfectly in-character.
While being the perfect foe for Emily, Victoria was a mother above all else. In her mind, she was always trying to make the best decisions for her children, despite it being painfully obvious that this was not always the case. Victoria’s instincts were correct most of the time, but it still pushed people away from her and crumbled their relationships, like with Daniel over Victoria’s distrust of Emily at the beginning of the show. Watching her interactions with Daniel, Charlotte (Christa B. Allen) and, later, Patrick (Justin Hartley) brought out such a different side to Victoria. These were the only people in her life that Victoria was truly powerless against because her love for them outweighed her need to keep her walls up and protect herself. She was willing to stop at nothing to protect her children, trying so hard to be the opposite of her own mother… but she took it too far sometimes, and became bad like her mother (but in very different ways).
After four seasons, Revenge ended on a rather sour note for the Grayson matriarch — her death. Her end was something both conflicting and, in part, relieving after the journey we had been on with these characters and the many layers to Victoria that had been explored. Stowe brought such vulnerable energy to Victoria that even when she was the one preparing to strike, you still felt why she was taking these drastic measures. From her words, the look in her eyes, or her body language, the vulnerability, and desperation to be settled for once in her life shined through. Victoria shined at all times during the show, clearly a character that so much thought was put into upon her creation and development. She never had an unenjoyable story or a phase where it was hard to be invested in her, which can easily happen with 22 episodes per season.
With her death, Victoria had found the peace she had always been seeking with anguish. Unfortunately, not before her relationships with her children were repaired. Perhaps it was the ending she deserved after everything she had done, but it’s still conflicting and heartbreaking. The mixed feelings about her ending are a sure sign of the beauty of the character and the writing that made it so you couldn’t help but empathize with her.
All four seasons of Revenge are currently streaming on Hulu.
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