Review: ‘The Vampire Diaries’: Night of the living dead
I’d like to apologize for the absence of a review for last week’s episode of ‘The Vampire Diaries’. I spent several days working out my conflicting emotions regarding Elena’s return to the land of (mostly) positive emotions and then as I went to post it, WordPress ate it. Luckily, last week’s episode and this week’s share many commonalities so I’ll discuss them both here. I’ll try my best to keep it short for all of us because we’re busy people. We have things to do, like write odes to Austin Butler’s face now that The CW has renewed ‘The Carrie Diaries’. Ahem, I digress.
I had high hopes for the journey Elena was supposed to take in season four. For three seasons we saw a compassionate Elena, a character whose greatest strength and whose greatest weakness was her ability to feel compassion for those around her. That was what made her different from the rest of us. As a species, humans are greedy and selfish and those characteristics carry over no matter what supernatural form we may eventually take (I’d like to take the form of Sirius Black). While we certainly care about our friends and family and those whom we label as innocents, when it comes down to it we’re probably going to look out for our own well-being before moving on to each other. This is the natural human reaction. But that’s not who Elena was. Elena constantly put her family and friends before herself, something altruistic and admirable for sure – hey, it’s the reason Matt was alive to channel Xander Harris last week – but being so damn perfect all the time made Elena a rather boring central character.
At a time when both her friends and her world were changing, Elena was very much a fixed point around which everything revolved. When Elena became a vampire at the end of the third season, I had hoped this would be a new beginning, the birth of a new Elena, one who didn’t necessarily always try to do the right thing. Elena was so righteous that she seemed to exist perfectly despite the fractures of her life. She was the lone good character in a sea of damaged individuals and it was long past time for her to explore life on the other side (not to be confused with The Other Side).
The problem with that scenario is that when you take someone as compassionate as Elena and turn her into a vampire, her ability to empathize with people becomes magnified the way Caroline’s neuroses were magnified upon her own transition. Though she was a newbie, Vampire Elena was still very similar to Human Elena. She attempted to fight her natural urges as a predator, and the complex character development I was hoping would accompany her transition never really came. The writers desperately needed a way to transform her character in order to advance her story.
Let’s think about Damon’s story for a second. How many fans have gravitated towards Damon and his journey of redemption? He’s a deeply flawed character whom you can relate to and you want to see him succeed because you know how hard he’s worked to get to where he is. It’s hard to root for a character like Human Elena/Vampire Elena when you simply have her reacting to the things happening around her instead of having them happen within her. Non-Humanity Elena seemed to be the answer.
Until it wasn’t. I again had high hopes for where this third version of Elena would take us. I wanted a more balanced Elena, one who was still able to feel compassion and love but who also felt a bit more grounded, someone who let loose at times. Instead, we got another extreme version of Elena, one who was the polar opposite of Human Elena. There was just no winning. Though Non-Humanity Elena was fun for awhile – her ability to straight up not care about anyone but herself was exciting and a breath of fresh air – she quickly wore out her welcome. This was due, at least in part, to the fact that everyone kept trying to get Elena to turn her humanity back on – to fix her. Elena was broken, but the constant nagging wore me down in much the same way I imagine Stefan’s constant desire to fix Elena wore her down.
I also take issue with the fact that everyone kept describing the situation as Elena having turned her emotions off. That’s not true. What she did was flip her switch on humanity – her ability to love and be loved. Elena still felt emotions during this time. They just happened to be negative emotions like hate and anger. It might be semantics, but I have a journalism degree – words are kind of my thing, guys. Words have meanings. Let’s not forget that. But I digress. In order to turn Elena’s humanity back on, we really needed something, or more accurately someone, that shared a strong bond with her prior to the start of the series that could break through the brick wall and return her humanity. With her entire family buried (or burned as it were) in the Gilbert family plot at the Mystic Falls cemetery (I imagine she’s getting discounted rates on plots by now … too soon?), that left only one person – Matt. But that’s not the only reason it had to be Matt.
Last year I wrote a piece about the familial relationships of ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and in it I attempted to explain how the show was similar to the mother of all supernatural genre shows, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ In addition to being a show about unconventional family bonds, the show also shares similar character archetypes. Matt Donovan being the show’s sole human, but also the heart of the group, fills the shoes of the one and only Xander Harris. Xander and Matt are the two characters who can see everything because no one is busy watching them (though it might be wise for us to set up some sort of Pudding Pop watch just in case). They’re loyal and remarkable in their humanity. With Jeremy gone (and the catalyst for Elena’s transformation in the first place), there was simply no one else who had the depth of friendship and love that could bring Elena’s humanity roaring back. We often forget that the two of them dated prior to the series and were close friends before that. We focus so often on the love triangle between the Salvatores and Elena that we forget she even had a life before vampires breezed back into town. Matt was that life. Matt is the sole remaining human in her life, her last tether to a time before her life went to hell. It had to be Matt that Damon killed otherwise it wouldn’t have worked.
At this point I have to wonder though, after four seasons of watching Damon snap the necks of people she loves, how is it that Elena didn’t immediately think to look for the Gilbert family ring? To be perfectly honest, I just assume that anytime someone dies they’re wearing it, even if they’re supernatural. It’s just what I do. The show has rendered death irrelevant since death is almost never permanent on this show. Oh and HEY, LOOK AT THAT SEGUE.
In tonight’s episode, several of our favorite characters returned once Bonnie dropped the veil between our world and The Other Side. We knew it was coming (oh, the wonderful modern age of spoilers), but it was still positively delightful to see Alaric return and pull the stake out of Damon’s chest. The tender broment that followed – hug, alcohol and pep talk included – was everything I could have ever wanted. But having said that, what’s the point in poignant character deaths – and Alaric really did have probably the most beautiful death (his original death, not his evil vampire death) of any character save for Jeremy – if they aren’t permanent?* This is a problem that ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and ‘Supernatural’ both share. In a world where people die and return, how is it that we can look at death as anything more than an intermission, a temporary inconvenience?
*Please note, this does not mean I want Alaric to return to the land of the dead. I would like him to take up permanent residence in Mystic Falls again, perhaps in the Lockwood Mansion. He can start tutoring children after school, maybe open a distillery. I’d just about die to see him play football with Damon and Stefan. Who knew that the cancellation of ‘Cult’ would be the greatest thing to ever happen to us?
Also returning tonight – late, I might add – is Jeremy, but he was wearing a shirt so who really cares? Just kidding. I care. You care. We all really really care about Jeremy. As mentioned above, Jeremy’s death was the most painful but the most beautiful – I’m talking the actual scene in which Jeremy’s lifeless body fell to the floor of Silas’ tomb (Seriously, lighting guy? Congrats on being really good at your job), as well as his final scene as the Gilbert house burnt around his body. His death was the catalyst for Elena’s transformation into
Angelus Non-Humanity Elena. But even after she flipped her humanity switch back on last week, she channeled all of her emotions into rage and vengeance. She was dead set on killing Katherine for all of the pain and strife she’d caused Elena, as well as Damon (when he told her she couldn’t and shouldn’t kill Katherine, she asked him why he cared, why he didn’t want her dead after all the pain she’d caused him) over the years. It wasn’t until Jeremy’s reappearance that Elena really allowed herself to fully feel her entire range of human emotions. You and me both, girl, you and me both.
Jeremy’s appearance was the most important and the most influential in terms of storytelling as his story is tied to Elena’s return to her natural state and Bonnie’s future actions. Alaric is mostly tied to Damon, Lexi to Stefan and Grams to Bonnie, but Jeremy’s return was so much more than that. Jeremy’s return brought with him a compassionate Elena, one who felt happiness and pain, one who felt guilty for punching Stefan in the face (a scene I personally loved, though I kind of wish he’d taken a swing back), but is she the same Elena as before? I don’t know that she’ll ever be the old Elena, and I don’t really want her to be. I want a more balanced Elena, one who has the ability to feel compassion, but who also takes no prisoners. I want an Elena with a backbone (and one who isn’t sired to Damon), but one who also cares about her friends. Let’s hope that after experiencing both extremes we can find a happy medium.
Speaking of Bonnie (no we weren’t but let’s pretend we were), we’re told that the characters could only exist within the limits of the expression triangle and only for a little while until Bonnie puts the veil back up. But because she’s Bonnie (God bless her) she refuses to listen to Jasmine Guy and attempts to bring Jeremy back forever. The end result is Bonnie’s own death (again, is it permanent?) and what looks oddly like a reboot of the Bryan Fuller show ‘Dead Like Me’ in which grim reapers reap the souls of the dead. It starred, you guessed it, Jasmine Guy alongside Mandy Patinkin, Callum Blue, Ellen Muth and Laura Harris. It’s a great show, you should probably all watch it. But again, I digress.
Bonnie’s grief over Jeremy’s death and her hunger for power (much like Willow’s in season six of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ – the season in which Xander saved the world by being her emotional bridge back to the real world) leads to her own demise, but it also causes a bigger disturbance
in the force in Mystic Falls. The dead are returning, and not just the good guys, but the bad guys too: the vampire hunters. (I can’t believe I just categorized vampire hunters as bad people. What has TV done to me? Whatever.)
With Bonnie dead, the veil is still open, and for now our favorite dead are free to walk the earth for a little while longer. But how long that is we have no idea. In a perfect world, all of our dearly beloved would be able to stay forever, but the veil has to close eventually, right? We can’t just have a portal to The Other Side open permanently, can we? And it’s kind of unclear about what happens when someone dies again after returning to the land of the living (i.e. Kol). In theory, with the veil still open, couldn’t anyone who died just waltz back in to Mystic Falls if they have a reason to? Also, does this mean that everyone who returns does so in human form? Stefan snapped Kol’s neck and he died – how is that possible? He should need a white oak stake to the heart to die. And Alaric didn’t come back as a vampire. I’m not exactly clear on how this whole thing works because magic is hella confusing, but it seems that anyone with unfinished business is able to return (which is why we didn’t see Jenna tonight – her only unfinished business is her master’s thesis and who really cares about that?)
As for Silas, Bonnie was able to return him to his dessicated state tonight after playing a very fun game of Guess Who? He’s currently in the trunk of Damon’s car waiting to be dropped in to the ocean (their original plan for Klaus’ body, if you’ll recall). For all that’s happened in these past two episodes, you’d think that the season was over, but we still have one more episode after tonight. I’m personally reinvigorated after tonight’s episode. For awhile now I’ve felt underwhelmed by the direction the show was taking us in. I know I spent an awful lot of time trying to explain to you all that the show wasn’t going downhill, that it was simply evolving with its characters, but the heavy emotional stories definitely began to drag down the action for awhile. Elena’s entire battle with her humanity meant that the real action, the breakneck pacing and intense storytelling we’ve all come to know and love and associate with this show, was put on hold. But it appears those days are behind us. The vampire hunters are back, Silas is still technically alive, Bonnie is technically dead, Jeremy, Alaric and Lexi are all still technically dead but walking Mystic Falls, and Damon has the cure. I’m just as excited for next week’s finale as I’ve ever been for any of the three previous ones.
Some stray observations:
- “I’ll call my mom. Maybe she knows what’s going on.” Oh, HONEY.
- “I don’t care about Bonnie,” Elena says as the entire fandom applauds.
- If we only get to keep one of the dead as a permanent character again, I vote for Alaric. I love Jeremy, but Alaric has always been my favorite character and his death last season left me crying in the fetal position. That being said, can’t we keep them both?
- I immensely enjoyed the scenes in which Katherine was basically put on a kid leash by Bonnie.
What did you guys think? Did you let out a really embarrassing squeal at the sight of Matt Davis’ face like I did? Did you notice Lexi subtly pushing Stefan in Caroline’s direction (to be honest, I basically see Caroline as the new Lexi, not as a romantic possibility)? Are you mad I didn’t talk about Rebekah and Matt in this episode (because I just realized it, but think nearly 2,500 words is already too much)?
Note: Photo courtesy of The CW.