Revenge mixed things up a little bit with its vengeance of the week structure in “Duplicity” and the results don’t argue strongly for ditching the more procedurally focused setup we’ve seen up until this point. The previous three episodes laid out clear goals for Emily to achieve and we saw her do just that over the course of the episode as they finished with Emily’s target being laid low. “Duplicity” instead decides to frontload the killing blow, placing it right around the midway point at another social gala, a trope that seems to be emerging in every episode. (It’s The Hamptons so I understand why there would be so many social events and charity fundraisers but it’s getting a bit too played out as Revenge’s stand in for the drawing room where a detective lays out just what happened in a mystery.) The episode then shows the fallout of Emily’s revenge and how it plays into her larger war against Victoria, but it’s clumsy in doing so and it lacks much tension simply because we know that Victoria isn’t in any danger yet. It’s only episode four after all, there’s just no way Emily and Victoria’s cold war is going to truly heat up this soon.
It’s a decision I admire, I’m happy the writing staff and credited writer Wendy Calhoun decided to try and focus on the larger story and use a weekly player to do so, but the results are unimpressive and the episode ends up being plagued by character beats that haven’t been earned yet. This feels like an episode that should have come much closer to the mid-point of the season rather than this soon. We’re just beginning to get to know and like these characters, so having events like Daniel giving back in to his drinking or Charlotte and Victoria’s relationship degrading occur before we’ve truly latched onto these characters and that robs the moments of their dramatic potential. Daniel turns from the honest, kind man we saw last week into a petty, jealous boyfriend who neglects to even ask Emily what’s going on in no time flat. The fact that he then quickly resorts to alcohol at the bidding of his Harvard friend, whose name I can’t recall and don’t particularly care too, makes him seem like a gigantic pushover in the same way that last week’s episode did everything in its power to make him seem like the perfect boyfriend.
Revenge has ticked along nicely when it’s managed to make Emily feel devious and ahead of the game, but while “Duplicity” has a few great moments in this vein, going to a therapist for over a year and dropping multiple dark secrets at a charity event are both delightfully badass and fun, but when the plot ends up focusing on Emily trying to implicate Victoria in the therapist’s disappearance things become more nebulous and the momentum drains from the show. The real problem is that by the end of the episode it seems that the takeaway we’re supposed to get is that Emily implicated Victoria in nefarious doings, but that’s not something we’re surprised by, nor is the fact that it’s Emily who has kidnapped Michelle and ransacked her office. Every secret the episode holds in reserve and seems to think will be shocking instead ends up being obvious and since there’s no real payoff to the storylines either it leads to a decidedly unexciting second half of an episode.
Like other episodes of revenge we get some flashbacks that further deepen our understanding of Emily’s childhood, which is nice. Here we learn that Michelle was a harried child therapist for the state who got a cushy position in The Hamptons thanks to Victoria for ensuring that a young Amanda never saw her father again. It’s another well deployed flashback for the way it cheerfully aligns us with Emily’s vengeance while doling out more pieces to the mystery that is both Amanda’s younger life and Victoria’s relationship with David. It’s just too bad that the rest of the episode ends up being so muddled, it ends with a wholly ridiculous speech where Emily moralizes about something or other and then muses on how we can never really know anyone, not even ourselves, as she ponders Victoria’s true motives. That’s what’s wrong with a lot of this episode though, we know too little about what Emily’s machinations are building towards, asides from hurting Victoria and everyone around her, to truly be invested in the subtle steps forward she makes here. When there’s a more pressing vengeance to be had that part of the show works because we aren’t so focused on the fact that Emily doesn’t seem to be making all that much progress and we can be entertained by rich folks getting what they deserve, which is just fine by me.