In the ABC primetime drama Revenge, Amanda Clarke takes on the identity of Emily Thorne, a half-borrowed, half-constructed ideal of contemporary femininity to infiltrate the lives of the Graysons, the family who put her father, David Clarke, in prison many years prior. Emily represents the ideal female: beautiful, charming, wealthy, philanthropic, and ready to play into multiple male fantasies. Revenge and its central antihero present the stereotypical ideal female as primarily a tool of manipulation, subverting what it means to be a powerful woman.
To gain access to the Grayson family, Emily targets son Daniel Grayson, whom she perceives as the easiest point of entry. From the start, Emily represents Daniel’s ideal wife, adapting as needed, allowing her to have continued access to the inner workings of the Grayson family. Of course when no one is looking, the real woman living inside the facade of Emily Thorne, Amanda Clarke, emerges. Amanda takes on traditionally masculine characteristics, which we learn she has gained through her years at juvenile detention and martial arts training. Out of all the characters in the show, Amanda is established as the one most likely to win a battle, whether physical or psychological. She is clearly the smartest and the strongest person on the show, while also being the most charming and graceful. She’s a fully realized character in a show that passes the Bechdel test (however shakily), and convinces the audience to side with her sociopathic tendencies.
Emily Thorne is just the latest in a long line of femme fatales in fiction and on television, but what sets her apart is her position as main character. She is not luring the main hero to a bad decision-she is the black widow heroine, making audiences question the blurry lines between good and evil. Her closest contemporary comrade is Olivia Pope of Scandal, who also bends the rules of morality for a living. However, Olivia’s redemption as a female character lives in her continued love affair with President Fitzgerald. Amanda/Emily has a few main love interests, but mostly she just uses her sexuality as a way to gain power and influence. Olivia Pope is a public woman of power, while Amanda Clarke operates through a masquerade, invoking Butler’s theory of drag exposing the drag-like nature of everyday gender construction.