Emily Thorne’s Inner Ninja—and yours, too!

(originally posted on 5/20/15)

I’m almost embarrassed to admit how long ago a friend of mine recommended I watch Revenge—because it was pretty much yesterday and I just finished watching the last episode of the series. I’m truly skilled at binge watching. Suffice it to say, I devoured the series, which was a compelling combination of action-packed and soapy.

Reflecting on why Emily Thorne is such a fascinating character, I’ve landed on this: what woman doesn’t want to be fully embraced by her inner circle as both sophisticated 1%-er and bad-ass ninja? I completely want her wardrobe—both the couture and jewelry, and the hoodies and boots. Every woman has an inner ninja, a side of ourselves that we will bust out with ferocity if properly inspired to do so. But it’s a side of women we seldom get to see on television.

Along those lines, we don’t see a lot of anti-heroes that are women. We’ve got Dexter and Frank Underwood, and other male anti-heroes. So it’s delightful to encounter a female character who breaks the law and does awful things to people, and to root for her every step of the way. It’s also particularly gratifying to hear her say to Margeaux, to Ben, to Nolan, with no hubris whatsoever, that she’s a master at this and no one is going to beat her. It’s a kind of (male) confidence rarely seen in women on television.

And Victoria. What a riveting combination of ruthlessness and relatability. She’s an excellent foil for Emily for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is this: all Victoria wants is children as devoted to her as she is to them, and Emily is nothing if not a devoted daughter. If circumstances were different, they could be exactly what the other needs. But they’re like two magnets that can’t be flipped, doomed to repel each other for all time—for infinity times infinity.

And so the central relationship in the series is between two women who aren’t mother/daughter, who aren’t lovers or besties, but who are mortal enemies. I’m hard pressed to think of another series that offers this relationship as its primary focus. Women can be just as ruthless as men, Revenge demonstrates, and I for one love it.

Having said all this, I confess I was disappointed in the ending for two reasons. (Spoilers for series finale follow!) First, David didn’t belong in that final showdown between Emily and Victoria—no one did. Their reckoning should have been reserved for the two of them alone. A big part of me wishes they would have killed each other—the series was set up as a Greek tragedy from the beginning, with the body count steadily climbing each season, so ultimately all the major players should have died save one who lives to tell the tale—probably Nolan. David’s presence in that final scene bothers me for another reason: I have a problem with Emily being one of the only characters (Nolan is the other) who doesn’t kill someone—and I mean directly kill, not indirectly like Conrad with Amanda. Reserving her “goodness” by ensuring that she never directly takes a life sets her up as too much of a Madonna/angel, a trope that the series managed to avoid in a lot of other arenas.

The other problem I have with the ending is that this wasn’t a pretty-pretty-princess show, and it shouldn’t have ended with a storybook wedding. I appreciated that the fourth season spent a lot of time on Amanda’s loss—not the loss of her childhood, but the loss of her revenge. Who is she post-revenge? Well, we know what she’s not, and that’s a tired/conventional woman who just wants to sail off into the sunset with her man.

The show had other weaknesses, the first among them being the choice to resurrect, well, almost everyone, but specifically David. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the way the show handled his reunion with his daughter. It wasn’t an overly-sentimentalized cry-fest; it was Amanda yelling at him, and the two of them being separated almost immediately after David figures out she’s his daughter. I had been thinking during Seasons One and Two that Emily had transformed her father into something of a saintly figure, and I love that the show undid that image when David returned to the land of the living.

All in all, a great show and a fun ride for feminist viewers who love watching a sophisticated woman be a ninja.

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