I finally had see what all the hype was about. I found Emily VanCamp first endearing, then later super annoying on Brothers and Sisters. (The pilot of which I really must write about at some point.) This show has been billed as the ushering in a new era of prime time soap operas to rival the heyday of Dallas, priming us, of course, for that reboot.
The pilot starts in media res, and why not, since the title tells us where we’re headed. The question is, will the show make us care about how we get there? After a brief voice-over from the heroine describing her girlhood sense of right and wrong, we’re thrust into the midst of a glamorous party at a Hamptons beach house where the uptrodden* are all dressed according to a theme — the women in red and the men in white — of “fire and ice.”
Like every show on ABC, this one is teeming with beautiful people in gorgeous clothes and impeccable hairstyles. So when, in the first few moments Emily has a tense exchange with a guy named Nolan (Gabriel Mann), we know he’s a bad guy, ’cause his hair is not impeccable. He’s kind of a Hampton’s hipster. “You shouldn’t be here,” Emily tells him. “That makes two of us,” he replies. The next thing we see is a person dragging a body from the ocean onto the beach. When a young, hot couple traipses down to the beach to get it on, they find the body and scream like everyone does when they find a body on TV.
We cut to a tight-faced Madeline Stowe growling to Emily, “Where the hell is my son?” Implication: the body is that of her son.
Then we flash back five months to when Emily first rented her sprawling beach cottage, and we get our first glimpse into her origin story. A flashback reveals a little girl named Amanda, spending the summer in the same cottage with her loving father. The father explains that he loves his daughter “infinity times infinity,” and illustrates with overlapping figure-8s in the sand.
“Infinity tines infinity”? To me that just sounds childish, as in “You’re a big slimy dork, no backsies, infinity times infinity.” But it’s going to be important.
As Emily moves into the cottage we meet her friend, Ashley (Ashley Madekwe), and a “new girl in town” trope ensues where Ashley fills Emily in about the local color. Emily’s neighbor is Victoria, “reigning queen of The Hamptons.” We meet her for ourselves soon enough, along with her husband (Henry Czerny), son and snarky teenage daughter. Emily’s landlady is Lydia (Amber Valletta), Victoria’s best friend.
Living parallel lives with the haves, of course, are the have-nots, a family running a rustic harbor-side cafe. The hipster tries to buy a boat named Amanda (remember that name?) from Have-not Jr. (Nick Wechsler)
The rest of the episode builds to at $10,000-a-ticket fundraiser that Victoria is hosting. In the run-up, Victoria’s husband sleeps with her best friend paving the way for party drama proportionate to the price of admission. Along the way a few more flashbacks help us connect the characters as they are today with the people they were when Emily was Amanda and the acts for which she is seeking her revenge. At the party there’s more of Ashley pointing people out to Emily and explaining who they are. It’s increasingly hinted that Emily already knows much more about this cast of characters than she is letting on.
This pilot is devoted more to painting an alluring picture than to making us care about the protagonist. For soap opera audiences, that might be okay. It promises plenty of ostentatious gowns, bitter rivalries, and vicious betrayals. That’s obviously what a lot of viewers want. I could have done with more character development. I don’t need Emily’s back story all spelled out — it’s more fun to have things unravel slowly — but I find myself wanting to know more about what kind of woman she is. Is she justified in her blood lust? I’m just assuming that she is responsible for the death of her finance in the opening scenes, but maybe that’s where the writers are misleading us. (I haven’t watched any further episodes.) For all I know, she actually loved the guy and had nothing to do with his murder. I guess the moral of The Count of Monte Cristo was that revenge doesn’t pay, but I don’t know how ABC feels on that issue.
*I cannot take credit for this awesome term to describe the ridiculously rich and beautiful, the uptrodden. I got it from a dear friend, who got it from her late husband, a society and travel journalist based in Palm Beach–he knew from whence he spoke.