Joanna Locasto gets a call from her ex-partner (and -boyfriend) telling her that former bestie Vivian Bowers has been murdered. They haven't spoken since senior year, after a weird night full of terror and miscommunication, but they grew up together: Joanna's mother, now in treatment for advanced Alzheimer's, was one of the Bowers housemaids. The privilege and big-business questions involved mean she must return to the house without letting on that she's a detective with the SFPD, or that she's now working with the FBI.
Yes, this show is exactly what it looks like: A response to Revenge by way of Twin Peaks with an African-American female lead, whose color-blindness is either very naïve or very timely, now that Scandal has proven unicorns exist. I suppose time will tell on that count. And yes, the "911" bugaboo that gave us permission to love-hate the rich people of Nantucket has been replaced with "Big Pharma" as a stand-in for 99 percenter-resentment. And so on.
But what I've learned from this job -- which has saved me a shitload of grief in my real life -- is that a list of the million things a show reminds you of is not actually a critique: It's simply a list of things. The show itself has yet to start, so you have literally no way of knowing the difference between "things I am reminded of" and "things this show is ripping off poorly." Which, contrary to what the internet has to tell you, are two very different things. Even for a show on NBC. Me, I live in hope of being pleasantly surprised, so I try to let that stuff slide and just begin the actual thing.
Likewise, a conversation about class, race and finger-pointing has very little to do with the show, which single-mindedly ignores all these things for now -- mostly to its credit, when you consider the only person of color on Revenge was also British, and entirely useless -- in order to place itself firmly in Shonda Rhimes color-blindness territory, all of which is built into the show from the get-go: And flagged up by a character actually calling her "like family," which is pretty much the only dog whistle you're getting for now.
Because worrying about what the show is not means ignoring what the show is: A frothy-but-not-soapy, complicated intrigue with a wonderful cast, and most centrally, that it is pretty darn good. One-liners abound without seeming schticky, the dialogue and emotional tone never fall into Revenge-style melodrama, and the stakes and inner turmoil seem pretty high for almost everybody.
So what does she walk into, our harsh and brainy Joanna? Well, the dad Robert (Victor Garber!) runs a pharmaceutical company pretty unethically, based on their whitewashed sale of a dangerous cancer treatment developed by Joanna's former crush, Vivian's sister and heir to the throne, Julian. His second wife, Sofia, mainly sits around getting drunk and saying awesome things.
Disgraced elder son Edward (Tate Donovan!), brings a bunch of shit to the table including an unstable ex-wife, two kids, and the decade-old stink of a possible rape-murder. It's totally believable that he killed the girl, but he also seems to be the only grounded person in the entire family, so it's a toss-up. Julian has a history of being particularly gross with women (not raping and murdering gross, just normal gross) and immediately zeroes in on Joanna with his mesmeric powers the second she moves in, so clearly both brothers are danger zones.
Most interesting is youngest daughter Mia (Lola from Gossip Girl, and excellent here), who seems to be following her big sister's path into Laura Palmer territory as quickly as she possibly can, hurling off zingers and popping pills left and right. But just like Vivian, she's drawn to figuring out what exactly her elders are up to, and may pay the same price. Especially if she figures the biggest secret of all: Vivian was pregnant when she was murdered, but it wasn't her first. Mia was.
After rekindling her relationship with her FBI handler and former police partner Will, and feeling icky whiplash from all the flashbacks, it's this last fact -- plus the creepy death of a paparazzo who'd offered to help Joanna and Mia, separately, get to the truth -- that gets Joanna over her temporary recoil and back in the game: A very complicated living situation, decades of resentment and yearning in equal amounts, agendas on all sides, a couple new identities, huge amounts of money making everybody act weird, and at least four ticking timebombs... All this, and Tate Donovan making extremely morbid jokes about maybe being a serial killer? Uh yeah, I'm in for now.
Notwithstanding all the mistakes heretofore that we will learn about over the next hour, I can tell you Vivian made several mistakes during her last hours on earth. Such as 1) wandering into a New York City alley 2) in high heels, 3) clip-clopping slowly away when she is menaced, 4) without Mace or a handgun at the ready and then 5) getting into her car just as the mysterious person is approaching who 6) clearly bears her ill will, then 7) giggling and inviting the person out for a night of adventure. That's how girls end up dead, Vivian!
Vivian is dead. Discovered on the floor in an expensive hotel room, of an apparent overdose, beat all to hell. I told you, Vivian. I told you but you don't listen.
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Board meeting, during which the board members sit around and talk about how their drug doesn't actually do this -- in fact kills people -- but that it's "testing really well" and that some studies show that it shrinks tumors, sure, whilst killing the people with the tumors. Head of the company Robert Bowers seems to have no problem with this, but he sure does have a problem getting interrupted by his assistant Hannah. And that's before he takes the call, which is that his troubled daughter Vivian is exceedingly dead.
His second wife, who is totally awesome, is at some kind of a doctor that we never figure out what kind, he seems to be many different kinds of doctor, but apparently none of them are the kind that is apprised of basic facts about his patients. To wit:
Doctor: "Let's schedule a mammogram and also, have you thought about getting a breast lift for old ladies?"
Sofia: "How fucking old you do think I am?"
(Hint: This information is in the file you hold in your hands, sir.)
Doctor: "I don't know, like 47?"
Sofia takes a call from her husband Robert Bowers, who has crawled onto a window seat the better to sniffle and sob fetally.
Robert: "She overdosed! They found her body!"
Sofia: "Jesus Christ, man. Pull it together. I'll take care of everything, you just continue to puss out."
Robert: "Can do."
Sofia: "First of all, fuck you I'm 44. Second of all, I have to take care of this stupid mess now. Still ruining my day from beyond the goddamn grave."