We begin at what I presume will be the end of the first season, at a beachside nighttime soiree where the reigning social queen, Victoria Grayson (Madeline Stowe), is announcing her son’s engagement to Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) while down on the beach, Emily’s intended is facedown in the sand. A man in a hoodie lurks around while out in the water, Victoria’s daughter, Charlotte (Christa B. Allen) is close to skinnydipping with a boyfriend. They spy the lurker, get out of the water, find the body, and the girl starts screaming and races up to the house in her underwear (yes, really). Victoria is demanding that Emily tell her where her son, Daniel, is just as they’re all called down to the beach. And then we jump back five months.
Emily arrives in the Hamptons just in time for the Memorial Day kickoff and promptly inserts herself into a beach house just below, and in line of sight of, the massive Grayson home. What we know, and what Victoria will soon find out, is that this isn’t Emily’s first time within those walls. As a child, the oceanfront cottage was her idyllic home with her father, until the police carried him out (while Victoria watched) and ripped her away to spend the next decade as a ward of the state.
Emily’s friend, Ashley (Ashley Madekwe), is the PR person for Victoria, so that connection, and a $10,000 check, get her into the Grayson fundraiser, which is where she meets Daniel (Joshua Bowman). We find out through the exposition fairy that Daniel used to be an “epic drinker” and the family hushed up a DUI where a girl was hurt (or killed, we’re never told outright). He arrives home to Victoria, who is very happy to see him, and Charlotte, who is again barely dressed and on her way down to the beach in a teeny bikini.
On the “wrong side of the tracks,” we have the Porters, who run the local dive bar, which is where Charlotte turns up to be flirty with younger son Declan (Gossip Girl’s Connor Paolo). The elder son, Jack (Nick Wechsler) has a boat named Amanda, so there’s a backstory there. Also in the mix is an Internet billionaire, Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann).
Emily’s first item on the to-do list is to shame Victoria’s husband, Conrad (Henry Czerny), about his affair with Victoria’s closest girlfriend, Lydia (Amber Valleta), whose house Emily is renting. She finds them at the South Fork Inn, slips him something that causes chest pains and is conveniently curbside when he’s taken away by ambulance. Victoria races to the hospital and sees the robe from the inn. Then, Emily drops the query to Lydia later about her husband (from whom she is estranged, clueing Victoria in very quickly), and by the end of the gala, Victoria has performed an “off with her head” pronouncement essentially exiling Lydia from the Hamptons. She and her husband then have a throwdown that also includes a passing reference to Amanda’s father.
At the party, Emily chats with Daniel while Victoria grows increasingly nervous about it. Separately we find out that Jack has to sell his boat to Nolan to keep the bar afloat. Meanwhile, Nolan, while trolling his images from the party, recognizes Emily and we dial back to the day of her emancipation when a very bitter 18 year old walked out (of what looks more like a penitentiary than foster care, so maybe she was in juvenile detention?) to find Nolan, then a Mark Zuckerberg type, waiting for her with a box that contained a letter from her dad (who died six weeks prior), and a deed assigning her 49% of a sh-tload of money because he had invested in Nolan’s company. Sidebar: I love that they don’t feel like they have to tell us; we just assume it’s a freaking lot of money.
We find out that while inside, Amanda’s been bitter, party of one, for a decade because she believed her dad to be guilty. Nolan clues her in that wasn’t so. Amanda reads the letter from her dad telling her to forgive and move on (with oh, so much money) but Amanda’s not having it.
Back in the present, Nolan comes to see her, giddy to help, but she wants to do this on her own. They détente at the idea that both are dangerous, and we close with Emily standing on the dock below the Grayson house in a quiet, “I’m right here” sort of challenge as Victoria watches her and makes a phone call asking that she be investigated.
A couple of things sort of hanging out there – Jack still has Amanda’s dog, who comes running up to her, but Jack doesn’t recognize her (I call BS on that, or I think he’s not “supposed to” yet). I’d like to know how much time has passed since Amanda’s emancipation for her to put this plan together. One casting note – Amanda’s dad was played by Marc Blucas before he landed Necessary Roughness and is now played by James Tupper (Men in Trees).
So, I liked it. It takes a little while to see Emily VanCamp as a villain. I also want to feed her. I LOVE that last year she was bounced from Brothers and Sisters, which didn’t come back this season, and now she’s headlining a tentpole show. The pilot was directed by Philip Noyce, who I like so much for The Saint. The overall cast is a mix of folks I know and like (how can The Last of the Mohicans be almost 20 years old?) and total newbies, so I’m intrigued to see where it goes. I’ll be watching.
Photo Courtesy of ABC