In elementary school, I went through a phase where I chose my reading material based on how long it was. Enter Little Women, Gone With the Wind and, coming in at a mere 1,276 pages, my favorite, The Count of Monte Cristo. It's a classic tale of revenge, forgiveness, love, happiness and the limitations of human justice, with such perfect lines as, "Often we pass beside happiness without seeing it, without looking at it, or even if we have seen and looked at it, without recognizing it."
The story of Edmond Dantès is inspired by the real life story of François Piçaud, an innocent man denounced as a spy and jailed for seven years. Similar to Edmond, a prison friendship led him to acquiring a great fortune, and upon his release, he sought revenge on those who'd accused him. In Alexandre Dumas's fictionalized version, the innocent Edmond escapes from prison, finds a fortune his dying friend tells him about, feigns the identity of a wealthy count, and sets about the business of a thousand pages worth of revenge.
Now, nearly 170 years later, we have the deliciously melodramatic nighttime soap, Revenge, loosely based on The Count of Monte Cristo. The visceral truths about human brutality and the dark appeal of vengeance (especially to a voyeuristic audience) appear somewhat unchanged in the last century. In Revenge, Amanda Clarke's father is falsely accused of a crime he didn't commit and dies in prison. Amanda ends up in a series of foster homes and finally juvenile hall, believing her father guilty until she is released and learns the truth: he was set up! What ensues is a very Alexandre Dumas-ian web of vengeance, complete with some familiar twists and turns: new-found wealth to facilitate elaborate revenge plots, a false identity in order to infiltrate the enemy, some time to train the body and mind toward invincibility, and of course an old love to complicate matters and test resolve.
While Edmond becomes the Count of Monte Cristo, Amanda Clarke becomes Emily Thorne. In this renaming, they're reborn, which is also a death of sorts, as the priorities of this new person take over who they once were. We know that revenge doesn't actually bring the satisfaction it promises for so many different reasons, and yet, of course, we want Emily and Edmond to get it. There's something practically primal about this hope. Mostly, though, revenge illuminates the impossibility of the closure and fairness it seeks to find, a central theme of The Count of Monte Cristo and a truth that lends some actual emotion to what might otherwise be a pretty silly show. Emily's main targets are the Graysons, rulers of a corporate oligarchy, whose castle-like home looms over Emily's beach house, and who are most directly responsible for framing her father. But since this is TV, there are many other sub-villains who need to get their comeuppance too. Some juicy romantic distractions, like a fellow vigilante who broods and has an accent, also help delay the final confrontation.