Thursday, February 16, 2017

ABC's Revenge Taught Me How To Write An Ambiguous Romance

It might seem strange to realize this, but television and literature overlap despite being different mediums. One common element is romance. People will always love shipping (rooting for a couple) regardless of whether the couple is from a book or television show. Shipping isn’t silly because it’s the sports equivalent of fantasy football. One type of element related to romance is a love triangle. Common examples are Team Edward and Team Jacob in Twilight and Stelena versus Delena in The Vampire Diaries. However, there’s another complicated love situation people might not be aware of. It’s called a love square (or love rhombus). The former ABC television show Revenge made the concept of a love square famous because Emily (real Amanda Clarke) had three suitors (Daniel, Jack, and Aiden). But for today’s post, I’m going to talk about Emily and Daniel’s complicated relationship. Daniel and Emily’s romantic entanglement is a good writing teaching tool for illustrating how love is not always a binary.

Revenge starts season one with Emily pursuing Daniel Grayson so she can get revenge on his parents (Victoria and Conrad Grayson, and other elite Hamptons people) because they framed her father (David Clarke) for terrorism. Daniel therefore grants Emily access to Victoria and Conrad. However, the relationship isn’t black and white. Emily is the one who pushes her and Daniel to sleep together for the first time without hesitation. She also stands by Daniel during his murder trial-even though that postpones her revenge mission by making it take a back seat. She also accepts Daniel’s proposal despite how he’s the enemy’s son (a fake relationship is one thing, but an engagement complicates things).

The ambiguity festers in Season 2. Daniel and Emily are initially broken up. But she gives him advice on how to deal with his mother in addition to telling him how he can still be a good person and not be like his parents when they dance at Victoria and Conrad’s second wedding. Emily even tells Aiden that Daniel isn’t a joke after Aiden mocks Daniel (when Aiden and Emily have wine after Victoria and Conrad’s wedding). Emily admits Daniel is a casualty in her revenge. Doubt is clearly present because Emily has no reason to defend Daniel in that instance since Daniel isn’t there. Emily also fantasizes about Daniel when she’s really with Aiden while still trying to court Daniel for a second time. Emily even breaks up with Aiden just to court Daniel again, and flashes a nervous smile while saying, “please” when Daniel mentions he’s thankful for a second chance. Emily ultimately allows herself to become engaged to Daniel for a second time. Furthermore, she prioritizes talking to Daniel over Aiden when she is frustrated with Aiden at one point.

Season 3 doesn’t contain much ambiguity apart from Emily putting her relationship with Aiden even more on the back burner because she needs to see her engagement to Daniel through. Emily’s revenge is contingent on framing Victoria for her murder on her wedding night. The Emily and Daniel situation is more complex than her simply using him. Putting Aiden on the back burner is inconsiderate if her feelings for Aiden are 100 percent genuine. As a result, Emily will never be able to have an honest relationship with anyone while she pursues her revenge.

Season 4 is the payoff Revenge fans deserve. Daniel learns Emily is really Amanda Clarke. Daniel isn’t mad at how Emily treated him now that he knows she schemed because of being David Clarke’s daughter; not a shallow socialite. Daniel even looks at his laptop again at a photo of him and Emily like he does in Season 2 right before he likes her again. Emily admits there was a time when she and Daniel could have had a real relationship (in front of Daniel). Victoria also reveals she didn’t tell Daniel the truth after she learned Emily’s real identity because she was afraid he would side with Emily. Daniel even asks Emily about how she can’t say that she wasn’t in the moment with him when he proposed. Emily also pats Daniel on the shoulder in a subsequent episode when they talk. Additionally, Emily later says, “I’m not in the mood to do whatever it is we’ve been doing” to Daniel in Season 4 Episode 9. That’s yet another moment showing how there’s a spark between Daniel and Emily. But then Daniel dies in Season 4 Episode 10 when he takes a bullet for Emily. Emily holds Daniel in her arms while sighing before admitting it wasn’t all a lie with him.

Bingo. A direct admission on Emily’s part. Emily even admits she knew marrying him was wrong, yet she did it anyway in Episode 4x11 in addition to thinking back about a fun memory with Daniel and being furious when Victoria won’t let her go to the funeral. Emily wouldn’t have been furious if she felt nothing for Daniel. Emily also admits how too much blood has been shed (including Daniel’s) and is furious again when confronting Victoria about how she accidently set Daniel’s death in motion by meddling. Emily also subsequently reveals how she never wanted any of this (his death) to happen to Daniel.

Emily and Daniel should have been endgame because she always disrespected Aiden by not prioritizing him in addition to how she had ZERO chemistry with Jack.

Anyway, thank you for following my analysis. The point is, Emily and Daniel’s relationship is a powerful learning tool. Their dynamic informs my own writing by highlighting ambiguity. Ambiguity is necessary because life isn’t always black and white (side note: the Revenge Wiki page dedicated to Emily and Daniel’s relationship even concedes how it is unknown if she is in a relationship with Daniel out of genuine affection, just for her revenge, or if the truth is somewhere in the middle). Ambiguity makes Revenge richer because it would be so easy if Emily felt nothing towards Daniel or if they didn’t get closure in Season 4 with their interactions). But Revenge doesn’t take the easy way out. Writers can learn from Revenge even if they aren’t writing about love triangles/squares, or revenge schemes. Ambiguity is real because people often have contradictory emotions. For example, it’s possible to both hate and love someone at the same time. Ambiguity also creates clarity despite how the idea might seem nonsensical. For example, it is the ambiguity in Revenge that gives the show clarity because the confusion between Daniel and Emily exists in actual spoken words as opposed to subtext.

And to all my fellow writers out there, don’t be afraid to add ambiguity to your writing. I know I will. 

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