Review: ‘The Vampire Diaries’: The more things change, the more they stay the same
It’s almost comical that a week after I wrote about the evolution of ‘The Vampire Diaries’, the show has an episode that not only resembles some of the best of season two in its surging forward momentum and tight storytelling, but also focuses primarily on how everyone’s still basically the same (yes, even Elena).
This episode is full of contradicting actions and desires, but it’s easy to see the logic from both sides of the aisle. For all of the changing our characters have gone through over the course of the series, they’re all fundamentally the same people when you look at what drives them and what motivates them. The only difference is how they use those drives and motivations to get what they want.
Whether it’s Stefan claiming to be tired of repeating history by falling in love with the same girl as Damon, or Elijah wanting to believe that Katherine has changed but being unable to do so after centuries of her duplicitous nature, we’re reminded that despite appearances, it’s rather hard to completely alter who we are. Sure, it’s easy to add a smoky eye and leather jacket and parade around as someone else, but those are cosmetic changes, they’re not real. And that’s part of the reason that Elijah sees through Elena-as-Katherine’s disguise so quickly. Well, that and her daylight ring (Katherine wears a bracelet).
While it’s true that Elena has gone through a monumental personal change, underneath the attitude and take-no-prisoners persona that leaves at least one sweet diner waitress a corpse on the floor, Elena is still fundamentally the same person. She might not have compassion and she might not have a conscience, and she might even seem like a “stone cold bitch” as Damon puts it, but the decisions she’s making still very much ring true to the Elena we’ve come to know over the course of the show.
Even as a human Elena hated it when decisions were made for her. She disliked it when the Salvatores told her what to do, even if they had her best interest at heart. She constantly pushed at the boundaries they’d set for her in an attempt to do what she wanted or what she saw as the right thing to do. By declaring that she doesn’t want the cure and never will and by snapping the neck of the waitress to prove her point, she’s essentially telling them the same thing she’s been telling them for years: “Stop trying to make me the person you think I should be. Stop trying to make my decisions for me.”
In the wise words of mean girl Cady Heron, “I know it may look like I was being like a bitch, but that’s only because I was acting like a bitch.” Elena is definitely acting like a bitch lately, but when you look at her underlying thought process and her motivations for her actions, it’s almost hard to be angry with her. I’m not condoning her threat of a hundred corpses, but Elena has every right to make her own decisions and if that decision is that she doesn’t want the cure, then who are the Salvatores to say otherwise? Elena without her humanity is definitely a storyline that has an endpoint, but curing her might not be the best – or only – option. All Elena needs is a reason to turn her humanity back on, just like loving Elena was Damon’s reason for his switch (I have a few theories on how they can achieve this, but they’re not complete and ready for publishing yet – but stay tuned because I hope to have them up soon).
It’s hard to watch that final scene in the diner after having just watched a series of very moving heart-to-heart exchanges between siblings. The switch in tone is very jarring, made even more so by the song playing over it and because we’ve come to view these quiet moments between Elena and the brothers at the end of episodes as sweet and emotional.
I’d also say that it’s hard to watch it knowing that Stefan thinks he’s prepared to finally leave Elena and his feelings for her in the rearview mirror, but only after he cures her of her immortality. Because for all his talk of wanting to change, the fact that Stefan still thinks the right thing to do is force Elena to take a cure she doesn’t want, means that he’s not nearly as ready to change as he thinks he is. He might be tired of fighting with Damon after a century and a half. He might be frustrated that he and his brother can’t seem to find two separate women to fall in love with, but he’s still desperate to fix Elena and because of that, it’s hard to see him ever really putting Elena and Mystic Falls behind him.
Another character who has claimed to have changed but we’ve yet to see how that’s true is Katherine. Her return this week was met with enthusiasm but tarnished by the memories that she killed the Littlist Gilbert. But she somehow managed to make viewers forget all of this when it was revealed she’s been carrying on a relationship with The Best Original, Elijah (and because both of these characters are seen so seldom, it’s easy to forget about their past).
After an episode in which Katherine’s duplicitous and manipulative nature is showcased (vervain fish tank, fake cure, stealing a page out of the Silence’s book on ‘Doctor Who’ by making everyone in town forget her unless they were talking to her), to end with a scene in which she claims that she’s ready to finally change, it’s hard to take her seriously. She might be so tired of running from Klaus and from being alone that she’s willing to hand over the cure to Elijah, but she’s so set in her ways that it’s hard to trust her. And I don’t think we’re supposed to yet. But if the show is tipping itself on its head by making Elena evil and Katherine trustworthy, we’re in for a hell of a ride in this final home stretch.
The third character who’s given us no reason to believe he’s a changed man (despite what Klaroline shippers would have you believe) is a wounded Klaus. After being stabbed in the back, literally, by Silas last week, he seeks help from a still bitter and angry Caroline to remove what he thinks is a lingering splinter of the stake that is causing him searing pain (as I rightly pointed out on Twitter though, if he was really in pain, how did he tend that fire in the fireplace?) Klaus can’t seem to figure out why it would take three phone calls to Caroline during prom season to get her to respond, because after all, they’ve made some googly eyes at one another and he drew her a picture of a horse. Klaus doesn’t understand that all of his problems have stemmed from his own pride and that he’s, you know, constantly trying to kill Caroline and her friends. Caroline rightfully points this out to him and it’s like the wool has been pulled off his eyes and he can finally see that she has a point.
After Caroline’s outburst to Klaus, he realizes that there was never any White Oak remnants in his back, just a mind game played by Silas himself. He also begrudgingly seems to promise to Caroline that he’ll stop hunting Tyler if he wants to come home, because as he puts it, he’s not really going out searching for him. Which is what I’ve been kindly yelling at my TV for weeks. It’s possible that Klaus might be ready to change, but we’ve got no reason to believe this.
This season has several common themes woven throughout it, the most obvious being the subjective line of thinking regarding what is good and what is evil. But this season is also about change and becoming the person you are and who you want to be. Elena wanting to remain a vampire makes sense because she is finally powerful and not a victim. She wants to be strong and she thinks this is the key to remaining strong. Stefan wants to stop fighting with his brother and start living his own life. Damon’s constant struggle to change who he is and his beliefs have been a constant theme throughout the show, but have actually taken a back burner this season to make way for the other characters. It’s refreshing to see him admit to Stefan that he let Rebekah take the “cur”e because he didn’t want Elena to have it, but at the same time he knows that the path that Elena is on can only end in one way if she can’t be convinced to turn her humanity back on.
In the real world, there’s no switch that allows us to turn off our emotions and erase our humanity, but it’s interesting to see that even after doing that and after all of the changes Elena has gone through over the course of the show, she is still the same person when you strip it down to the bare bones.
In order to change who we are as people, I mean fundamentally alter who we are, we have to not only want to change, but we have to fully commit to changing. If you go in only half-way, you’ll never be successful. And that’s what so many of our characters have been doing. They’ve been talking and talking about how they’re all different people now or how they want to be different, but in reality, they’re the same men and women making the same mistakes they’ve always made. What we’re seeing is just the appearance of change based on their recent actions. It’ll be interesting, to say the least, to see if any of their campaigns to change are successful.
*If you need another example of how everyone is still fundamentally the same and how you need to really want to change and commit to change if you’re going to change at all, look toward Katherine’s conversation with Rebekah in the diner about how everything she’ll be and feel post-cure will be the same, the only difference is she won’t be immortal.
Note: Photo courtesy of The CW.