Mike Kelley truly understood that his show was a hit when people began arguing about it at a Los Angeles hair salon.
All Kelley wanted was a trim, but when he mentioned that he created "Revenge," his stylist began raving about how he loved the high-end fashion on the show, which was his favorite new soap opera. Another customer corrected the stylist and said that the show was really a murder mystery. A third salon patron chimed in with yet another interpretation of the show.
"If you've hit the salon in L.A., you've become a success," Kelley said with a laugh. But the spontaneous debate about the show, which has been a breakout hit for ABC, made him realize "that people can get whatever they want out of this show," whether that's schadenfreude regarding the wealthy, a soapy slice of escapism or a well-paced serial drama with a clue-laden mythology.
To help out those who haven't discovered the pleasures of Emily Thorne's quest for vengeance against rich Hamptons residents who wronged her father, ABC has put all 10 episodes of 'Revenge' online, so people can catch up over the holidays. (But don't wait too long to dive in -- some episodes will disappear when the show returns Jan. 4. By the way, newbies might also want to read my recent piece in praise of the show).
For those who have already become addicted to "Revenge," Kelley promised lots of exciting new developments in 2012: At least three new characters, including a love interest for Victoria (Madeleine Stowe), will arrive in the second half of the season, which will also reveal who died on the beach at the engagement party in the series premiere.
"People will be surprised at two things that happened that night, and one of the big surprises is who the killer is," Kelley said.
If you just watched the mid-season finale of the show, keep reading to find out answers to your burning "Revenge" questions, from how the show's resident canine has survived for decades to the series' ultimate end. Be aware that the first part of the story below is spoiler-free, but if you're dying to know what happens after Wednesday's mid-season finale, you've definitely come to the right place. There's a metric ton of "Revenge" intel in the second half of this post (and don't worry, if you want to remain spoiler-free, I'll warn you before you get to the juicy information about what's coming).
So is Kelley, a Chicago native who previously created "Swingtown," surprised that "Revenge" viewers have so many differing interpretations of the story of Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp)? Not really, he said. As the first season progressed, Kelley explained, he and his writers realized the show can embrace a lot of different premises and ideas without straying outside of its nicely calibrated tonal range, which successfully blends aspects of soap opera, melodrama and more nuanced, emotionally grounded drama.
"We wanted it to be able to live in a bunch of different places, so there are different styles of 'Revenge' episodes," Kelley said. "You can have a take-down of the week. You can have a dark, revealing story about the mythology of the show. And you can have [Victoria] be a sneering, wicked witch, but you can also have her be a sympathetic character. You can make it funny, and then there's Nolan as a sort of Greek chorus. We thought we would be a little more tied down to the backstory and to a certain tone, but we find that has opened up a lot since we started."
And Kelley is one of those rare showrunners who actually does know what his ultimate endgame is -- and is willing to talk about it. (Of course, if ABC has anything to do with it, the show's final scene won't air until some time around 2020.)
"I started the show with a quote from Confucius: 'Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.' In Emily's mind, success equals burying her enemies and most likely, burying herself alongside them. She says in her voiceover, 'This is not a story of forgiveness.' [But] she protests a little too much," Kelley said. "If we do our jobs right as the writers of the show, this story ultimately ends, however many seasons down the road, with Victoria and Emily standing across from each other, and all the bodies between them, and they forgive each other. So that's sort of where we're headed, eventually, but it's going to take a long time to learn that lesson, if indeed she does learn."
Actually, as Kelley pointed out, vengeance tales usually conclude with everybody dead or with enemies deciding to forgive each other. "I'm not sure which one we're going to end up with, between Emily and Victoria, but it's going to be one of the two," he added.
Kelley, of course, has his own explanation of what the show is and why it has succeeded (though, as his salon experience taught him, his interpretation of "Revenge" is far from the only one). Still, he firmly believes that timing had a lot to do with the show's success.
"I think the show is about control -- I think it's about how people have lost control of their lives and their futures," Kelley said. "People's finances and jobs are disappearing, [there are] real hardships on the family, and they feel like they're not in control like they used to be. So they like watching somebody like Emily wrest control back from that 1 percent of the country that seems to be controlling everybody else."
But who's really in control? Emily's plan to take down Victoria and Conrad Grayson (Henry Czerny) hasn't exactly gone smoothly, and complications are cropping up at every turn, as we saw in the mid-season finale.
So what's next for Emily?
As you might have guessed, this is where those who want to remain spoiler-free should exit this festival of "Revenge." If you want some tasty clues about what's coming up, as well as some fun facts about the lives of Emily, Nolan and the other Hamptonites, read on.
What happens when the show returns in January?
Here's the basic sequence of events: We'll see a more vulnerable side of Victoria when the show returns Jan. 4, but she'll also have to contend with Lydia, who comes back with a revenge plan of her own. Tyler is still around and plotting furiously as well. Then, in the next episode of the show, Kelley said, "We are doing another big take-down."
In the episodes after that, the show will "reset" Emily's revenge goals regarding Victoria and Conrad. "Something really dramatic happens" a few weeks after the show returns, Kelley said. Emily learns "a new piece of information and it absolutely reaffirms her goals, which leads us to the engagement party on the beach."
When do we find out who died at the engagement party on the beach, and could it have been someone other than Daniel?
The 15th episode of the season, which does not yet have an air date, is where the big engagement party reveal happens. And yes, we don't know yet if the body on the beach is Daniel. "I think that until you know for sure, you don't know anything on 'Revenge,'" Kelley said. "The one thing I can guarantee is the murder on the beach is not a dream." And, as Kelley said above, there will be "two big surprises" in that episode, one of them having to do with the identity of the killer.
What happens after we find out who died?
Episodes 16 through 22 follow the trial of the alleged killer. Those episodes will take place in the Hamptons' off-season, so when the show begins Season 2 (which has not officially been ordered by ABC, but it's only a matter of time), the summer season will be starting again.
Will Tyler, Emily and Nolan all still be at war with each other when the show returns?
"Yes," Kelley confirmed. "Everybody is sort of at each other's throats and we need to keep building the tension, all the way up to the engagement party."
But don't despair. It doesn't sound like Nolan and Emily spend the rest of the season battling each other. "They fight like cats and dogs and they make up. They're family, like it or not," Kelley noted.
By the way, as fun as the Tyler-Nolan dynamic has been, don't assume that the tech titan will only date dudes. According to Kelley, Nolan called himself a "three on the Kinsey scale," meaning that the character is into both women and men.
Has Nolan been secretly obstructing Emily this whole time, as she seemed to think in Wednesday's mid-season finale?
No, but we'll find out much more about Nolan's close relationship with Emily's dad, which is making Nolan increasingly uncomfortable with her quest.
"I think in the beginning, Nolan hated these people just as much and thought, 'Wouldn't it be fun to take them down?'" Kelley observed. "You'll find as we move forward that the reason that David wrote all of these journals to his daughter was so that she didn't live her life believing that he was guilty of this crime. What he didn't want was for her to have it eat away at her and turn her into a vengeance-minded person. So he trusted all of this information to Nolan and said, 'Make sure that my daughter knows the truth but that she doesn't get wrapped up in these terrible people.' And unfortunately, that's what she's doing."
Does Emily have real feelings for Daniel?
"Yes, there are real feelings bubbling up and it's making it much more complicated than she planned." Kelley explained that between the time Emily decided on her revenge quest and the time she arrived in the Hamptons, she researched her targets for eight years. (Expect scenes from those years to be shown in flashbacks). Her research made her think that Daniel would be "this entitled little brat," but the truth is more complicated than that.
"When she arrives in the Hamptons, we have a whole eight years of stories to bring out about how she got to know what she needed to know about everyone, including Daniel. She expected Daniel to be one thing and it turns out that he's just as much a victim of his mother as anyone," Kelley said.
What's next for Queen Victoria?
"We're going to really explore her backstory and you're going to really learn what makes her tick. It's clear that she's not just evil. There's something that happened to her in her past that made her the way she is, and giving up David and the love that they had was not something she did easily."
And, as mentioned above, Victoria will get a new love interest, but she'll still have to contend with a "very sticky" divorce from Conrad.
Will we learn more about the fall of Emily's father, David Clarke?
Oh yes. In upcoming episodes, the plan is to "reveal his history. We want to tell the story of David and Victoria's love coming up. There's so much more to learn about this conspiracy that brought David Clarke down. [We'll learn more about] Victoria's role in it, but also an unexpected character's role in it. There are surprises coming up."
What's next for Tyler, and why is he popping pills?
"He has a serious disorder and he's on antipsychotics, and he's run out of these," Kelley said. When the show returns, fans will "find out why he showed up in the Hamptons when he showed up. You'll find out what his dark past is. We've been calling him 'The Talented Mr. Hamptons' for a reason. He was always inspired by 'The Talented Mr. Ripley,' but this is a character that has some serious mental disorders and he becomes quite dangerous in the next run of episodes."
Will Tyler and "Amanda Clarke" stick around for long?
The plan is to wrap up their current arcs this season, but Kelley said there's a chance they could return in the second season, if the show gets one.
Will new characters arrive in the Hamptons?
Yes. The current plans call for "Grandpa Grayson" to show up, along with Victoria's new beau. "It isn't set in stone yet, but we're also working on a story about Victoria's mother and how Victoria became Victoria," Kelley added.
What's up with Emily's mother?
"You will learn the story of her mother, but I don't want to tell you what it is yet," Kelley said. "There is definitely a story behind where her mother is and what happened. This is a pretty big story of self-discovery for Emily."
Will Emily's Japanese mentor, Satoshi Takeda, be back?
Yes, Kelley confirmed that the current plan calls for the character to return. Here's an interesting side note about the guy I call the Vengeance Sensei: The character was created because a Japanese television network asked ABC if a character from Japan could appear on the show. The Japanese network, Kelley said, was interested in running "Revenge" in prime time (a relatively rare event for an American show, apparently), and the addition of a Japanese actor would help make that possible. So Kelley and the scribes wrote a role for Hiroyuki Sanada, who, according to Kelley, is "the Harrison Ford of Japan."
Does Emily have dirt on Victoria's new divorce lawyer?
Emily "definitely has plans for him. She has dirt on him and she will be able to use this man."
The inevitable question: How is Sammy so frisky at his advanced age?
"It's funny; I get lots of [crap] from people saying, 'How could that dog possibly be that old?' And yet, I've gotten threats from people that say, 'If you kill that dog, I'll quit watching your show.' So, I'm torn between the people that need to get their Sammy fix and the people that [want the show to have] a reality check," Kelley said.
There had been a plan for Sammy to die on the show, but then Kelley's dog of 14 years passed away earlier this year. "I couldn't bring myself to do it," he said. "So we're holding on, but we'll actually have a very satisfying story whenever that time comes. I've already thought about it. But nobody has to worry just yet!"
As for the dog's relatively youthful looks, Kelley joked, "We got him in L.A. -- of course, he's had a little work done."
Will we see more of the Nolan's trusty little whale camera (which fans have dubbed Shamu-cam)?
Yes! "We will see much more of the whale-cam," Kelley said.
And here are some fun "Revenge" facts:
Fun Nolan Fact: "One of my favorite things the actor, Gabriel Mann, decided to do, is have Nolan smell things. It's really funny -- if you go through every episode, he smells every drink he tastes. In the bar, he gets some sawdust on his fingers, and wipes it off and then smells his fingers. He always smells everything, and I think it's hilarious." But the choice makes sense for the character, Kelley noted: "We always wanted him to be a little bit Howard Hughes -- Howard Hughes with a sense of humor."Fun Celebrity Fan Fact: Kelley was excited to learn that Stephen King, who wrote about the show in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, is a fan of the show. "We had offered to put him in a scene and he politely declined, but he did say, from his representation, 'Steve was delighted with your invitation and would love to do this, but he isn't planning to be in L.A. But he did say he would wear a tux, and if you knew Steve, it's a big deal. He basically is a jeans and t-shirt sort of guy.'" Fun Mike Kelley Fact: Perhaps this is not surprising, given that the show is shot in Manhattan Beach, California, but Kelley has never been to the Hamptons. Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.