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Revenge Recap: Thanks for the Memories

REVENGE - "Lineage" - Hindsight's 20/20 when a flashback to 2006 has Victoria getting a surprise visit from her estranged mother, triggering memories of her tumultuous upbringing. Emily embarks on her first mission under Takeda's training, where she meets Aiden and learns of his revenge path. 2006 is also the year Nolcorp goes public, and Carl Porter gets into hot water when he crosses the wrong people on the docks, on "Revenge," SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 25 (9:00-10:01 p.m., ET)

We could question the timing of Revenge’s post-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving episode, or we could simply be thankful. This is the series at its best: dark, complex, and soapy. There are flashbacks within flashbacks. There are major character revelations. There is special guest star Adrienne Barbeau. With so much to be grateful for, it’s easy to forget that the holiday already passed.

The year is 2006. Saddam Hussein has just been sentenced to death. Pluto is no longer a planet. And General Hospital’s Luke and Laura are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. For Victoria Grayson, however, 2006 is the year in which she reconnects with her mother Marion, a horrifying sociopath who makes Victoria and Kara look like Moms of the Year.

Marion arrives at the Grayson Manor on Thanksgiving following an invitation by the dopey but well-intentioned Daniel. The rapport between mother and daughter is icy — you know, as opposed to Victoria’s rapport with literally everyone — and there are hints of a dark past. Something very bad happened between Victoria and Marion, and Revenge is not above giving us a flashback-flashback to help uncover the truth. Kudos to the show’s audacity — and to the casting director, who found a young Victoria who looks eerily like Charlotte.

Meanwhile, Emily is busy trying to take down a Russian prostitution ring, because that’s apparently what Takeda has her do in her off hours. That’s where she meets Aiden, who is working his own revenge scheme against creepy mobster Dmitri. It’s also Em’s first run-in with Ashley; turns out the expert party planner was one step away from prostitution before Emily swept in and offered to pay for her non-sexual services. These backstories give much needed insight into two characters who have always been a bit opaque.

The strength of “Lineage” is that it tells a self-contained flashback story that is also fully relevant to the present-day plot. For one thing, we begin to understand Emily’s relationships with Aiden and Ashley, as well as Victoria’s relationships to everyone she’s ever met. (Short version: Her mom ruined her.) But we’re also learning more about how these stories tie together, and that’s essential with so many divergent plotlines. Aiden may be searching for the sister whom Dmitri kidnapped and forced into prostitution, but his father was another pawn in the Initiative’s terrorist plot.

But back to a Very Awkward Grayson Thanksgiving. Marion has brought her new beau Ben to dinner, which seems like maybe the worst idea. There’s no better way to screw things up than a holiday dinner with your estranged daughter. And Victoria has good reason to loathe her mother: Through flashbacks, we learn that Marion tried to woo a rich guy who only had eyes for her 15-year-old daughter. When he tried to leave, Marion shot him and forced Victoria to take the blame.

Did we really need to know why Victoria is the way she is? I would have said no — her machinations and sociopathic behavior always just seemed like fun little character traits. But this dark backstory is fascinating, and it helps us sympathize with Victoria just enough. We understand her, even if we’re not rooting for her to win. Victoria was shipped off to the psych ward — surprised she and Kara never bonded over that — and returned home to find her mother married to Maxwell. After Marion spotted Maxwell sneaking into her daughter’s room (what is it about this woman and pedos?), she kicked 15-year-old Victoria out on her ass. And that’s why Victoria is kind of a B.

“Lineage” also tells us more about Nolan and his penchant for sleeping with Attractive CFOs of Color. In 2006, it was Marco Romero, and their scenes prove once again that Nolan just has better chemistry with dudes. (R.I.P. Tyler.) For most of the episode, it’s unclear how any of this ties into the larger plot — but it involves Nolan kissing a guy, so who really cares? In the present day, however, we see Daniel place a call to Marco, who left Nolcorp after finding out Nolan gave Daniel Clarke’s daughter a staggering $500 million. Fingers crossed that instead of Marco ratting Nolan out, the former lovers kiss and make up.

I’ve been overwhelmingly positive, but I should at least address the episode’s weak point: shady dealings at the Stowaway, which devotes an awful lot of screentime to Carl Porter. Jack and Declan’s dad died in season one, and I haven’t given him much thought since, so I was a little annoyed to get such an overload. Couldn’t we have spent the entire flashback watching Jack scratch behind Sammy’s ears? Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention — and I’ll admit to my eyes glazing over —but I’m still not sure what the deal is with the Stowaway, and why I should care about Kenny and his evil brother in the present day.

That aside, “Lineage” is a high point for Revenge. While I’m still not convinced the writers had this all plotted out from the get-go, I appreciate the effort to shove it all together in a mostly cohesive way. The flashback may be a cheap device to deliver exposition, but at least it’s an entertaining one. I mean, did I mention the part about Nolan macking on Marco?

And all of that is secondary to the delightful showdown between Victoria and her mother. As it turns out, Marion’s boyfriend is just an actor hired by Victoria to get revenge. Thanksgiving ends with Marion getting kicked out on her ass, her karmic reward for what she did to her daughter. “You vindictive bitch,” Marion snaps. “Oh, I learned from the best,” Victoria replies. Marion may be broke and alone, but at least she can take comfort in knowing she taught her daughter the art of the bitchy comeback. That’s quite a legacy to leave behind.

Photo: Colleen Hayes/ABC