It was the exact kind of frothy, high-octane camp that made most of Revenge's first season delectable, largely because it was between these two characters. Even Victoria's face – a slowly yet subtly morphing expression of surprise as she opens the door – was sensational. To see the show striking the same tone in its second season was a reason to feel relieved. No sophomore slump here. Everything's going to be fine.
Of course, everything wasn't. Shortly after, Revenge got too lost in its deep mythology, sacrificing its pedal-to-the-metal plot drive for answering questions with questions. Put simply, it pulled a Lost or, more accurately, an Alias. It became an action-driven series that saw Emily facing off against (and being assisted by) scores of far less interesting (mostly) men and (a few) women. There was talk about "the Initiative," a shadowy group with little identity or clear purpose. It was deeply tied into the show's mythology, but it failed to grab the audience's interest.
Rapidly, the show turned into a striking antithesis of its first season, Revenge season two was boring, and a soap opera really can't afford to be boring.
Fast forward a year. Creator and showrunner Mike Kelley steps down – or is forced out; it's never been made quite clear – and another producer, Sunil Nayar, is tapped to take the reins. Within the first episode, Nayar showed that he had a keen sense for what made the show great. In a spectacular twist, Victoria and Emily team up to oust Ashley Davenport, the aimless and uninteresting thorn in the show's side since day one. But instead of just sending her away offscreen during the midseason, the series leads dispatch her in spectacularly over-the-top fashion.
"Get on that plane, and go back to Croydon," Emily spits at her, channelling pure Krystle Carrington. When Ashley responds that the two women are evil, Victoria doesn't deny it. "What we are, like it or not, is family." It's like Dallas moved to the Hamptons.
Other moments in the episode indicated the new showrunner knew what he was doing. The flash-forward mystery – who shot Emily at her wedding? – was enticing. Dumb plot threads were cut at their base, while potentially quite campy and enjoyable ones (hello, Victoria's hunky and sexually flexible son Patrick) were fostered. And in a nod to viewers' complaints about the show's complex and shadowy organization, Emily told her partner Nolan Ross, "Let's never say the words 'The Initiative' ... ever again."
Unfortunately, because so much damage had been done to the show in season two, it took some time to recover. New, less interesting plot threads about a French magazine owner's family were introduced. The show kept Aiden, Emily's least interesting lover, around for the entire season. Even if the show knew what to do, it couldn't speed it along for fear of narrative whiplash.
That's why the last four episodes of the third season were so sensational. After a year of just wanting to get there, get back to what made the show great, it finally got to make its move. Conrad went down. Aiden was killed. Victoria, finally learning the truth about Emily's identity, was committed to a mental institution after falling prey to an impressive gambit. Emily's revenge was complete.