Complex TV

p. 170-171: REVENGE

In rarer cases, new narrative information will create questions and resonant meanings retroactively, as we look back at what we thought we understood with a new layer of comprehension that prompts curiosity. Early in Revenge’s first-season finale, “Reckoning,” we are reminded of the already established backstory information that Emily’s mother had died when Emily was a child; later in the episode, Emily’s fights with a mysterious unnamed “white haired man,” who says, “You’re a hell of a fighter—you must have gotten that from your mother.” This line might raise the question “How does he know Emily’s mother?” but the scene’s context provides a more obvious understand- ing of the line—before the fight, Emily says, “I’m not here because of how my father was framed. I’m here because of how he died,” activating our established knowledge that this is the man who murdered her father. Within that context, we infer that the man’s comment is an insult aimed at Emily’s father’s inability to fight, not prompting us to even consider that he might know her mother—we assume “mother” signifies “not father” more than anything about her actual mother. But at the end of the episode, Emily learns that her mother is still alive and might be involved with this larger conspiracy—this new knowledge reframes this earlier inference, which we probably did not even consider could be taken two ways (I certainly did not), suggesting that this man might know of Emily’s mother’s fighting abilities firsthand. The line’s meaning transforms even more in the second season, as it is revealed that the white-haired man is actually married to Emily’s mother, retroactively changing our comprehension processes through new connections and contexts. Such moments of revelation and revision, transforming an invisible inference first into a conscious curiosity question and then into a deeper moment of narrative interconnectedness, contributes to the rewatchability of many complex serials, using our increased base of knowledge to increase our appreciation of foreshadowing or buried information or perhaps encouraging a critical analysis of inconsistencies or discontinuity.

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