Episode 4×02 is titled “Memorial”, but isn’t particularly memorable for its positives – Plec & Co. are hell-bent on milking every unnecessary bit of stupidity from the irrevocable decision to turn Elena to the Dead Side. Here’s the worst of the some very bad stuff started in this ep:
So the pastor offed himself to signal the start of a war? Very dramatic, but ultimately sort of pointless, because nobody will suspect vampires as the cause of his demise. If you want anyone on the Coun – oh wait, you blew the Council up, nvm – if you want anyone ever to think you were anything but a crazy cult leader that preferred bombs to Kool-Aid, there’s this thing called a suicide note. You could’ve literally e-mailed it before going boom. What a waste of scary holy men, show.
Stefan and Elena’s denial is verging on terrifying. Her emotions may be heightened ( I can admit that the scene in the woods was hot, before all the vomiting), but their happiness is artificial, and she’s once again going outside their relationship to maintain it. Stefan used to be the specter between Damon and Elena, but now Damon is the wedge, the minefield that stretches inside their silences. Elena is different, but Stefan changed first, and there’s no going back, a fact only Damon is willing to readily admit. As the resident functional alcoholic, he knows from twelve-step programs, ok? And the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Stefan’s desire to save Elena from the pain of her new normal is stalling her “My name is Elena, and I’m a blood addict” moment. Trying to subvert the process with substitutes – animals, blood bags, Damon’s wrist – is literally killing her as her body continuously rejects everything she tried to keep down. By the end of the episode she and Stefan have come to terms with the fact that her afterlife won’t be all daylight rings and blood-tinis, but there’s still a lot of truth to confront on this front.
Matt’s regret is understandable, but dangerous. I know last time I said we could do without him, but now that Matt’s officially still with us I don’t need him forcing his own demise out of twisted guilt. Elena has too many brooding, tortured boyfriends as it is; it’s not healthy for Matt to get dragged into her drama in such a primal way ( never safe to mix food with friendship). He earned the title of this recap because of the shudder that went through me at Zach Roerig’s line reading: sure he was putting on a show for new hunter Conner (best keep an eye on a new black character that’s decidedly not a witch), but he also thinks this situation won’t end in a literally bloody mess.
Now for the very good in all this bad (there was more than I thought):
The “seat’s taken” gag was a wonderful mixture of humor and sadness that sums up Damon’s character at this stage of the story -even all boozed-up, he’s trying to handle the group’s issues as an adult. The post-memorial lantern scene was beautiful, and Stefan’s right that they never have a moment to grieve (probably because the list gets longer every time they even think about taking a breather), but Damon’s working on a different level, as the uncomfortable new head of this messed-up family. His own private commiseration with Alaric’s grave ( “Miss you too, buddy”. Oh, God, ugly tears at that one) was a weirdly wonderful meditation on the trials of single parenting, especially when one of the children you have to guide is your deceptively stable younger brother.
The whole “grief sex” scene epitomizes what I love about Caroline and Tyler – no matter how crazy things get (and getting shocked and shot directly after sex definitely counts) their love for one another is warm and consistent. For all their star-crossed circumstances, their affection for one another is wonderfully uncomplicated (Klaus nonwithstanding) after season upon season of messy triangles.
I appreciated everyone attending the memorial. Season One established that this is a town that does things together, even though we’ve sort of fallen away from that idea since “Founder’s Day”. I appreciated having the whole cast in a room for once: the thrumming tension of Connor’s presence in the balcony; everyone’s reaction shots to the smell of April’s blood; the “nobody move” order that only dogs and vampires could hear; everyone arguing under their breath during the hymn; Tyler taking a bullet to draw attention from Elena. The show could benefit from more team moments like this that remind the audience that vampirism is a tricky condition to conceal in public .
April might actually be a fun addition to the cast – her honesty and awkwardness is refreshing in the face of the show’s rampant self-seriousness. Her attempts to put her grief in perspective were a nice contrast to the group’s more self-centered approach to death (we haven’t seen a public wake since Tyler’s dad died), and God knows she’ll have a built-in support group if she starts running with this crowd.
Elena’s emotions continue to be all over the place. It’s sort of a relief to see such a self-contained character really unravel – I can’t remember the last time i felt as sorry for her as I did watching her try to clean up her mess int the bathroom. And I love that it’s Damon and Stefan’s successful progeny, Caroline, that steps in and helps Elena diffuse the April situation in the balcony. Seeing her help Elena help April was a nice reminder that the women on this show can support one another. Comfort doesn’t always have to come from brothers or boyfriends,
Speaking of which, Stefan was back to being the Team Boyfriend in this episode, helping Caroline with Tyler’s wounds and having the grace to be ashamed of Bonnie’s correct assumption that he only came by to ask her for help and not check in on her (though he provided a pretty awesome hug to make up for it). I appreciate when the show forces Stefan and/or to display some kind of regard for people not named Elena, and believe it would make for a richer, more interconnected story if they did it more often. This episode fully re-integrated Stefan into the group, and in the process firmly closed the book on last year’s dark chapter of his development ( I’ll miss you Stef(angelus), it was fun while it lasted).
Since this is late, I’m not gonna do a real wrap-up, except to say that 4×02 was hopefully an aberration in this season’s first arc, because if it was an indicator of how far the writers are gonna drag this triangle madness, we’re in for one long slog of a story this year.
Next: 4×03, “The Rager”. Here’s hoping it’s the party Elena needs and not the one she deserves