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Better bullets than a lightning bolt, amirite? (Heathens.)

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

 

Praying this situation improves

Season Four’s premiere title, “Growing Pains” is an insufficient term for what The Vampire Diaries and its cast are experiencing this season. The show’s use of “transition”, i.e. “the painful reality of life in spite of death”, better communicates how irrevocably the finale changed things. “Transition” encompasses the falling away of old realities as new abilities and urges come to the surface, and this premiere  did its best to contain all those conflicting stages – but as Elena learned, all change is not forward, and we found ourselves back in some unfortunately familiar states at the start of this new year (For us, anyway. For the students of Mystic Falls, senior year evidently can last forever).

The most obvious change brings us to right where we left off, with Elena opening her eyes to her worst nightmare. The whole “Elena becomes a vampire” choice is rife with problems both in-and-outside the TVD universe, but let’s focus on the positive first:

1. The opening scene with the Salvatores was PERFECTION. Have Damon and Stefan ever been in her bedroom at the same time? I’m gonna say no, and this instance perfectly illustrated why – these two have never been on the same page when it comes to how to relate to their objects of desire. Seeing Stefan’s desperate denial chafe against Damon’s cynical, disgusted realism in those first horrible moments when Elena’s fate was rapidly crystallizing? Delectable (seriously, you could taste the tension) because the show is admitting that this conflict is completely untenable, and not just because it’s the same disagreement the brothers have been having since the day they were (re)born.

2. TVD usually sticks to a pretty specific aesthetic – dark and darker, with the threat of intrusion lurking at the edge of every frame (Think about it: how many characters not named Damon have scenes to themselves? These writers have character-separation anxiety). This go-round the cinematographers followed Elena out of her comfort zone, into bright lights, overbearing noises, and sight-lines crammed with information. The random flares, buzzes, and Council goons popping into frame granted us unprecedented access to Elena’s perspective, an intelligent choice that deeply involves us in her death in a way we never were in while she lived. (The manic giggles were another plus – people almost never actually laugh out loud on teen dramas).

3. I am wary of the wider ramifications of Elena’s transformation, but will keep an open mind for the sake of the single moment when Damon’s dual compulsions unravelled,  revealing the depth of his feelings for her. That was a scene almost two seasons in the making, and very nearly lived up to the potency of its set-up. The super-imposition of the memory on Elena’s current reality highlighted its relevance as the symbol of all the parts of her she unwittingly keeps buried for fear of the consequences. I’m excited to see what other aspects of her largely-opaque personality will finally rise to the surface.

Now for those unfortunate negatives – and there are many – that I fear might plague the story going forward:

1. Teasing the possibility of returning the narrative to its original dimensions holds more weight when there’s an actual chance of its success, but Stefan’s vow to use this last day of Elena’s life to save her was obviously more about him than her from the get-go, rendering the whole futile exercise emotionally irrelevant. We were there with him when she said she didn’t want to be a vampire, which is why we couldn’t believe he didn’t pull her from the water a second time in last year’s finale. If we’re to accept that he’s now inadvertently given her a third (!) chance at life, I want to see him own that and move on. Begging Bonnie to once again do the impossible on command wasn’t fair to her or Elena; not only had Bonnie just pulled off some major mojo that had preserved the lives of most everyone they hold dear, but dangling the idea of revival in front of Elena was unnecessarily cruel. Two seasons ago when Caroline found herself in this predicament, nobody pleaded to retrieve her soul; Stefan was the perfect mentor because he understood her confusion and set about the business of helping her adapt. Dopplegangers aren’t in any way exempt from the effects of dying with vampire blood in their system (otherwise we would’ve never met Katherine, and Klaus would have a lot more hybrids) so while Bonnie’s run-in with her grandmother on the other side was a fun freak-out for the audience, it ultimately proved no greater point than Damon being the more brutally realistic brother, which we established in the first scene, so why do this again.

2. The B plot, that brilliant body-snatching switcheroo that shocked everyone last May? Yeah, that’s over, with way too little fanfare for something that required that much magical exertion. It just seemed cruel that Bonnie performing her scheduled soul restoration was what pushed the Other Side to punish her (those dead witches apparently have no patience for mission creep). Plus it was a waste of perfectly decent dramatic tension re: this whole Forwood-Klaroline fustercluck that Plec and Co. have decided should be a thing. I was just as happy to see Joseph Morgan’s face again as anybody else, but storytelling-wise this was “Stefan gets trapped in The Tomb” all over again. It was fun to see Michael Trevino play Klaus playing Tyler – the scene where the Hybrid was too high on actually getting one over on Caroline to care about outing himself displayed the humor and hubris that reside in equal measure within the character. (That it happened in the midst of a forest hookup only added to the disturbing hilarity. This kind of ridiculousness is just par the course for Tyler and Caroline at this point). I just wonder where Klaus goes from here, besides his delightfully executed fraternal split from Rebecca. The writers gave us a million little cracks in their bond ( in this episode alone there was his not telling her he was alive until leaving her in the midst of a vampire-hunter car wreck after she’d run Elena and Matt off a bridge to avenge him) that built up to a satisfying explosion of emotions and blood-bags that felt less like a bratty rebellion and more like self-immolating defeat. All they do anymore is take from one another, and she can’t survive on any less than the little scrap of soul she has left. That leaves us with no Original siblings left to play with Klaus, who himself is down a doppleganger…so what does he do now?

3. The deal with the minister taking over the Council was the second-fastest burned-through plotline of the evening, where once again concept triumphed over execution. I’ve been waiting for an injection of Jesus into these proceedings for a while now, and this was the perfect moment – Avenging Angel Alaric revealed to the devout residents of Mystic Falls that there were demons in their midst, and not everyone is as quick to consider coexistence as the Founding Families have been over the past year. Of course some religious leader would rise up to restore order, as the good reverend did dragging Stefan, Caroline, Rebecca, and unwittingly Elena to his backwoods farm where no one could see them burn. My issue with this scenario was the resolution – after the gang was freed (and Elena had her first postmortem snack on one of their guards), this man of God decides to give up the fight and go out in a blaze of glory with his most dedicated compatriots at his side (Well, trapped there anyway. That explosion was a rather unexpected surprise) .

My question is “To what end?” If they got free, catch them again; if you want to garner sympathy for your cause, at least make it look like a series of animal attacks/ grisly Ripper murders, not a bomb. This isn’t Lost or Breaking Bad – here our characters disintegrate slowly and dramatically, or disappear altogether. We don’t really do earth-shattering booms or blinding light, especially when it serves no narrative purpose but to once again kill off a potential villian before he has a chance to really flex.

4. Stefan and Elena on the roof at the end made me want to die, and I’m one of the few people left who can stomach them as a couple with some level of maturity. A) Bonnie had no time to make a daywalker ring, she was pulling Freaky-Fridays all day; B) the whole retcon where Damon met her first was stupid and cheap, but it happened, and needs to be acknowledged, along with the First Confession of Love, which was neither stupid nor contrived, and definitely bore repeating. When Stefan comes to himself and starts teaching her to be a vampire for real, he will tell her that in this afterlife taking the easy way is tantamount to losing your soul (if you still believe you have one) and she is certainly taking the path of least resistance right now. Her choosing Stefan in the finale is immaterial; she died in the interim. That gives you leeway (and certainly time, considering her condition) to weigh your options. I don’t care if she reaches the exact same conclusion, I just want a re-evaluation. I was under the impression this episode began with her finally opening her eyes.

Next: 4×02,  a town-wide “Memorial”, where I’ll make up with Jeremy and Matt for leaving them out of this recap 9so many boys, so little time)

Mind says goodbye, body says hello

I could not stand TVD’s Season Three finale the first time I saw it, and it derailed my recapping for a majority of the summer. Two weeks ago, I forced myself to look with fresh eyes, and found I couldn’t tear myself away (I ended up watching it twice just to soak up the nuances). Though my efforts to cover last year are rendered pretty much irrelevant at this point, here is Better Late Than Never Part 3, the official quick-and-dirty version of where “The Departed” leaves out three favorite females (because this is a girl blog, dammit, and we can do more than drool over pretty boys. Though these guys made it hard to look anywhere else this episode…)

Bonnie is “done getting pushed around”

Between surviving Storage Wars with Damon and pulling one hell of a Hail Mary-switcheroo, I think it’s finally fair to say that Bonnie has come into her own. The necessity of Klaus’ existence v. the necessity of his extinction seemed an impossible conundrum to resolve (did we ever sort out whether he was the founder of The Bloodline? Was that one of those “hiding-in-plain-sight” plot-points?) but the writers teased an unseen Door Number Three with Bonnie’s rundown of the Original Hybrid’s many sins over the season – “so what do I with you?” – that culminated in a mind-screw of a final scene between her and…TYLER?! While this initially inspired “I-can’t-believe-she-didn’t-break-the-Gilbert-device” levels of horror, the more I think about it, the more disturbingly awesome it becomes. Obviously Bonnie’s gonna have to answer for this one, but this is the year she at least has a credible, non-Jeremy related excuse, and all those dead witches can just get bent.

Caroline “would go anywhere with you”

The “Romeo and Juliet” vibe of Tyler and Caroline’s relationship went literal this round, with the added twist of their mothers telling them to run (the hunters pursuing them feature into one of my most anticipated plots of the new season). Even though we TV obsessives know that any plan to flee made in the first act will be tragically thwarted in the third, it was sweet to see these two make the admittedly smart plan to get out of dodge. My major question is why Tyler insisted on seeing Bonnie before going, unless the answer is the obvious one  (self-sacrifice). Either way, this supernatural spin on The Host will be a great addition to the show’s “Times When Forwood’s Relationship Turned Utterly Twisted” Hall of Fame.

Elena fears that “every time someone walks out of this house, there’s a chance they won’t make it back home”

So Elena and the men in her life had a bit of a time this year:

On the family side, Matt went from second-string boyfriend to first-class confidante; Jeremy became a medium while trying to come into his own; and Alaric struggled with his demons before ultimately succumbing to a far more evil force. Matt’s eventual place in the circle surprised me at first – he was always portrayed more as Tyler’s bestie than any real friend to Jeremy – but then when you consider that his best friend and recent ex are now sleeping together it makes sense for him to find himself on the Gilbert side of things (plus he and Jeremy have the almighty Vicky connection). Their initially fake plan to get Elena out of “Mystic Mayhem: Part V” once and for all was inspired on two levels – as both a gambit to throw Alaric off, and a solution to the ongoing “doppleganger danger” issue, they exemplified the appropriate way to rob loved ones of their agency. Jeremy’s man-of-the-house status was further cemented by that final, beautiful scene with Alaric’s ghost, a moment that served the dual purpose of a farewell and a passing of the torch. Conversely, Damon’s having to lose Alaric all over again only highlighted the hell of a day he was having.

Said hell can best be explained as the brothers Salvatore, who reversed roles in every conceivable way over the course of this season, remaining in Elena’s eyes in exactly the same positions as always, in spite of all Damon’s efforts to sway the odds in his favor.  More specifically, Damon can play the boyfriend part to realistic perfection and still be (admittedly) The Guy That Snapped Jeremy’s Neck, but Stefan’s near-crash off Wickery Bridge (this is what BREAKING UP looks like, Elena) did nothing but…send Elena off Wickery Bridge while on her way home to him. While we’ll never know if choosing Damon would result in Elena’s eventual vampirism (I’d call that one about 70-30 in favor of his mantra to protect her life at all costs) we can without a doubt say that if turning around to say goodbye to everyone but him didn’t seal her fate, Stefan’s choice to let her make life-and-death decisions while drowning shoved her off the mortal coil with a vengeance.

To be fair: nobody knew Elena had vampire blood in her system, and the episode did its best through those lovely flashbacks to show us that she cares about the feelings of others above all else (if she felt too guilty to dump Matt back in the day there was no way she was letting him drown the same way her parents did, especially when he’d spent his night driving all over Virginia attempting to alternately keep her happy and save her life). But while I love Matt, and he wouldn’t exactly be going out in a blaze of glory, I ask both Stefan and the writers “what is his purpose here?” To the latter, If we killed Mason Lockwood, a character hoarding a host of information salient to an entire subplot, within five episodes of his introduction, we can let the quarterback go, right? And to the former, 1) yes, Elena’s death was the only way to rid the gang of Hunter Alaric ( a plot point so neat it’s a repeat, from last season), but you guys are the kings and queens of Plan B;  2) as stated above, times arise when the desires of the endangered have to be overruled, and this was Stefan’s moment to do so.

The fact that he doesn’t epitomizes a difference of opinion dating back to season one, that one brother will attempt the impossible to make Elena happy while the other will do the unthinkable to keep her alive. Up until now their combined efforts have produced a successful, if emotionally uncomfortable, result, but this night Stefan over-relied on the capacity of Elena’s lungs and the extent of their luck, and now must face what failure looks like – an Elena whose eyes are pried open by forces beyond her control, whose fate has caught up with her. What will she see when she looks at him?

Next: The Season 4 premiere, “Growing Pains”.  I’m finally getting caught up, show me that smile again!

Oh, I’mma get mine

Before Sunset is a sequel to the equally gorgeous Before Sunrise, a mid-90s talkie centered on a night-long interaction between two proto-hipsters in Vienna. It is the wrap-up, the exploration of lost potential, missed opportunities, and the lessons we learn from both. Episode 3×21’s version performs a similar taking of stock – has anyone really learned? Changed? In the face of all the plotting and loss and hooking up, has the Gang accomplished anything? As this cataclysmic year comes to a close, Better Late Than Never (pt 2 of 3) is a final exam on surviving Mystic Falls with head and heart intact:

Alaric: Fails by default because he died, though he couldn’t help the whole transition thing – the witches offered Bonnie’s neck on a platter.

Learned: That the show never lets us down when it comes to delivering a year-ending Bigger Bad. The question of “Who will supplant Klaus?” was answered brilliantly by creating an enemy from within (the group and Alaric himself). Esther’s avenging angel brutally exploited his former connections (see Elena’s entry for the nastiest bit) in his quest to take down vampire-kind, going so far as to out the Mayor and Sheriff’s hypocrisies to the Council. He’s so dangerous that his defeat isn’t even factored into everyone’s declaration that the episode is a “win” – Elena’s role as his lifeline renders him untouchable, and a good day is just one where he decides to leave them be.

Elena, our title provider, comes out about 50/50. She acknowledges her shortcomings…but isn’t quite ready to face the consequences of resolving them.

Learned: That hurt can come from inside too. Her fatherly figure’s transition was the most painful in a long year of undead parental drama; it took seasons’ worth of loss and confusion about Elena’s family and threw it back in her face.  “How many times have I told you not to trust vampires?!” Alaric, her former Watcher,screamed at her, now including himself in that number. “…Do you think your parents would be proud of you?” he sneers later, after calling her a child and giving a with-us-or-against-us-type admonishment about her choice of friends. Her indecision is causing similar distress, a fact she acknowledges to her pair of pseudo-lovers as they all try their hardest not to look directly at one another on her porch. “If I pick one, I lose the other…and I just can’t lose anyone else.” Lame and manipulative? Absolutely, but at least it’s the truth. Lost: The understanding that superhumans are cool in a crisis, so call some once in a while. I don’t care if the bad guy tells you to come without backup, at least leave a note for your two boyfriends, your brother, and your best friend the Bennett witch. Then maybe they won’t have to dodge debris until the bad guy calls to inform them of your whereabouts.

Klaus: I know he’s the ultimate enemy, ok? I know he should fail by default. That does not mean I didn’t get choked up when his heart stopped beating.

Learned: Being a good guy has perks. Not only does teaming up with the Gang mean he gets to play hero to Caroline (swooning does not make me a traitor) but he gets to out-Damon Damon while protecting “their” bloodline (nobody believes it, but whatevs) from the only monster scarier than he is. Lost: Loyalty goes both ways. Rebecca tries to call sibs-over-doppleganger-dibs at the top of the episode, but Klaus’ focus on ensuring the survival of his potential “backup” family comes back to bite hard when he abandons Operation End Alaric for his own two-punch plan: exsanguinating Elena kills Alaric and gets him his hybrid mix to-go. His sudden reversal (ok, reversion to normal) forces not only Tyler’s reveal of their broken bond but betrayal by his recent allies, who decide that pursuing their usual mission of ending his miserable existence is the more realistic goal today. He ends the episode even drier than he would’ve left Elena.

Bonnie and Jeremy: Pass with an asterisk. It’s weird that they spent half the episode together and never really talked.

Learned: “Grown-up” looks good on them. Baby Brick House is helping Elena paint over their loss in the middle of the night, taking this “man of the house” thing seriously even if his request for a vamp-free day was literally thrown back at him in the form of Klaus pseudo-bombing their house. Bonnie puts aside her difficulty with…everybody, from her mother to her ex-boyfriend to Damon, her friendly neighborhood nemesis, and corrals the Salvatores and Klaus for a joint venture (this time it’s not her fault it failed). Lost: Their ability to communicate? Her spell involves stopping his heart and there’s no “hey, remember that one time I brought you back from the dead? Let’s hope this ends better”? I know this is just my little shipper heart talking, but C’MON. There’s getting shafted, and then there’s this relationship. Significant glances are not enough, show.

Tyler and Caroline: Pass with flying colors, because they are so freakin cute

Learn: A power couple is only as awesome as the sum of its parts, and this episode found Tyler finally holding up his end, blowing the cover on his broken sire bond for the sake of Elena. Caroline’s early-episode meeting of the minds with Rebecca gives me hope for a world big enough for two fantastically bitchy blondes, and her end-of-ep victory party at Elena’s with the original group was beautiful, both in its simplicity and in reminding the audience that there was a time before the Salvatores. Lost: The gory torture scenes are one of the things that help TVD keep pace with True Blood, but usually we save the casual mutilation for Damon, who at least snarks through it. Please stop making Caroline cry. Those pencils kinda took us to a place.

Damon and Stefan: Oh, big pass. I couldn’t stop smiling whenever they were onscreen

Learn: A refresher in Things We Already Know and Love: Team Salvatore firing on all cylinders is the best work the writers of this show will ever produce. Stefan’s “return to sanity” as Damon so happily put it, also meant a return to his role as peacemaker between his brother and the rest of the world, and Damon was visibly relieved to have the freedom to sit back and smirk. They divided and conquered with ease, Damon backing up Bonnie with her mom (he really has grown!) and Stefan dealing with Klaus, ex-best friend and present Shipper on Deck (that’s two to Damon’s one for the scorekeepers at home). Watching Stefan watch Klaus die was a lovely piece of silent acting – we see the horror and a bit of heartache as he forces himself to see his tormentor’s imprisonment to the end – that was complemented by both brothers’ honesty in the porch scene. They know that Elena knows that they know this triangle has no truly happy ending, and their road trip to drop Klaus in the Atlantic (Once more with feeling! We WON!) underscores just how loathe they are to see the other cut to pieces on its sharp edges. Just because they fought for a century doesn’t mean they enjoyed it. Lost: Nothing yet, but Alaric’s still out there, and when are they ever really done with Klaus?

Despite all of the very real angst about family and friendship, “Before Sunset” was fun. All of my favorite television dramas, from The OC to The Wire, understood that good tragedy is made sweeter – and more poignant – by the presence of good comedy. Having a sense of humor makes you more human that any bus crash or budget crisis or murder plot ever will; those things are news stories that happen to other people. Rolling your eyes, laughing at your pain, making fun of the cosmic joke that is your own miserable life? That to me is the mark of humanity, because to laugh is to move on, if only a little bit. From top to bottom people’s sarcasm, eye rolls, and ridiculous poses couldn’t fail to make me laugh, and almost made me forget the finale. Like last year, part of me wishes Episode 21 was it.

Next week: Better Late Than Never, Pt. 3 of 3, “The Departed”. Mark Wahlberg is not responsible for what happens next.

A final toast to the Grille’s second-favorite patron

So this is Part One of my “Better Late Than Never” trilogy of recaps. This episode, 3×20, was the initial cause of my derailment—I hated the idea of Alaric becoming a vampire so much that I couldn’t find perspective on the episode as a whole. With a month’s removal and the final two episodes under my belt, this re-watch was my most rewarding to date, bringing “Do Not Go Gentle” from the doghouse into my Top 10. In my teaser for “Heart of Darkness” I asked “Who will rage against the dying of the light?” The answer is all of the characters, in their own unique ways—everyone is struggling to stave off the increasingly inevitable.

There is a flurry of mythology at the start of the episode in the form of body-switching and multiple personalities and various deceptions that really only amounts to one thing: nothing will be what it seems. This was supposed to be the third in the annual tradition of “dance” episodes, but we only really spend ten minutes there – and its “Twenties” theme, an interruption of time’s march after the Fifties and Sixties, highlights that something is off. For these characters it was a decade of loss—Rebecca lost a lover, Klaus a brother, and Stefan another piece of his soul—and this dance will prove no different, in spite of the players’ best efforts.

Esther’s objective is, as always, a more black-and-white version of The Gang’s: to rid the world of those that would destroy the living. Her mission is not deterred by the grey realities family, morality, and logic illustrate; she will send evil back to hell, even if that evil is her children, even if it means stealing her daughter’s body, even if it means repeating Original mistakes. Her rage is pure, and unbending, and ultimately defeated (for now) by its own self-righteousness—for how could Alaric, her solution, be her undoing?

Klaus’ rage is similarly unchanged: his desire to be free to survive, in spite of the abomination that is his existence, manifests once again in his continued pursuit of Caroline. The fact that she isn’t interested in him, that he stole her boyfriend’s free will, that his thriving rides on destroying all she holds dear? Irrelevant. This night, she is the Daisy to his Gatsby, that which cannot be possessed by the man who has everything. His supposedly unlimited power will not let this stand, and so he reaches for the light across the bay, sowing doubt that the life she has is the one that will satisfy the demands of eternal life. The title of this recap is his modus operandi. We’ll see if it serves.

Caroline and Tyler find themselves at odds again, but at once more intimately and more tragically than before. While his return saw a contribution to a never-ending string of missed signals and disagreements, the Twenties dance lays bare their overall worldview going into the final arc of the season. Caroline remains, at the heart of all their misfortune, hopeful, cheering for a reunion between her friends Stefan and Elena, cautioning Matt to protect his heart, and reassuring Tyler of her lasting fidelity. Tyler, on the other hand, ends the night resigned—why not just kill Klaus while everyone’s trapped here and be done with it, bloodline consequences be damned? His inability to claim Caroline as his own at school, a place of comfort and control, leaves him despairing of anything but tragedy for the two of them. In this moment, he’s done raging.

Damon, no stranger to the struggle against exterior and interior natures, continues as he usually does in these scenarios—playing the “adult” who puts it all together while the “kids” worry about dances and dates. He initially refuses to let Alaric fall off the grid, but upon discovering how far he’s fallen (you have to take the herbs for them to work) is the one to make the decision, as he did with Abby, that the only way to save the dead is to add to their ranks. In the end Alaric’s actual death is out of his hands, as the vampire hunter kills his killer before deciding it is best to die now, as himself, than let his rage consume his possible eternity. And so Damon’s forceful nature must yield to the wishes of his best (and only) friend, lighting torches for a silent farewell (I think they were his idea), saying goodbye to Meredith, and keeping it light as they sit side by side for one final drink—“is this the part where you give me a dream?” ‘Ric teases, proving that Damon always had more confidantes than just Elena— before letting go of the brother he chose.

Jeremy is finding it increasingly harder to contain his emotions. After months of loopholes, escape clauses, and Hail Mary passes, he refuses to believe that their luck in defending one another has run out—of course they can save Alaric, and anyone who says otherwise is simply giving up too easily.  He will rage, and rage, and rage until the last, rejecting Alaric’s passage of the torch because he has already accepted the end of his childhood and beginning of life as a Gilbert man. His final drink with Matt says as much—all the fathers are dead. It’s up to them to represent the regular men of Mystic Falls.

Elena and Stefan push back by literally going back in time—to the style of the Twenties and the start of their relationship. True time travel is of course impossible, and their acceptance of history as an integral part of their present was a deft way to slide Stefan into his old persona without too much narrative dissonance. This is the Stefan we remember—witty, thoughtful, apologetic, and bound to make Delena fans gag. My only response is Caroline’s—after the previous episode’s epic roadtrip, it’s his turn. Whether you believe the “epic love” stuff is up to you, but that scene in the gym where he brought their relationship this season full circle came dangerously close. While I’m of the mind that Damon never quite got his fair shake this year, there is no small amount of emotion left between his brother and Elena because their love was interrupted, not ended, and that might make all the difference in the end. Now that Elena has no chance of returning to the child she was—“I don’t have anyone anymore”—the choice of who will face adulthood with her just became much more fraught, and such uncertainty can thrust us towards the familiar, especially if it is unfinished. Damon is losing his window, should he have the emotional energy to be concerned about it.

Bonnie’s rage is . . . muddled in this episode. It definitely has not disappeared—her coldness towards both Klaus, who is willing to repeat his earlier emotional torture to find his doppleganger, and the Salvatores, who are not begging her to make any major sacrifices for once, is proof of this—but the audience gets the sense that she is attempting to sublimate it in a way that isn’t entirely healthy. I understand the exhaustion and wistfulness evident in the responses “apparently that’s what I do” (to the question of her constantly saving everyone) and “sometimes I think that I’d settle for just ordinary” (to her not-brother’s compliment that she is in fact extraordinary). I fully appreciate her need to have someone that is just hers, and not the brother or ex-boyfriend of someone else. But I can’t see her confiding in Jaime as anything but evidence of the extent of her isolation, always slightly self-imposed but lately reinforced by both circumstance and her friends’ overreliance on her abilities to undo someone else’s mistakes. Bonnie is adrift, with no particular anchor within a unit that considers her an intrinsic part. Such loneliness turns her vital strength into a weakness, leaving her vulnerable to outside influence in a way the others, with their multiple confidantes prepared to drag them from the edge, would never understand. When the witches task her with completing Esther’s desperate task, her desires are pushed aside to serve the fury of the natural order. Her rage is once again lost in the cosmic shuffle.

Alaric’s funeral song tells us “Be still/And know that I am with you”, and this installment reached for stillness—there is no peace in Mystic Falls, but the muted states of regret, despair, and quiet hope were enough to suffice. It is perhaps the best possible tribute to Alaric Saltzman, the man in constant upheaval who befriended the men he should’ve hunted, mourned women that never wholly belonged to him, and parented children that were never biologically his. His journey is finished, but his rage remains—undying, armed, and anything but gentle. This will not end quietly.

Next: Part 2  of “Better Late Than Never”, a look back at “Before Sunset”(3×21).

He looks how I felt. These two need to get a room already

So, here’s the thing about Heart of Darkness – the first time I read it, I didn’t like it, partially because The Poisonwood Bible seemed so much cooler and partially because I had not yet developed my current obsession with beautiful language. Thank God the writers of this week’s episode were better English students than I was, whipping up a whole list of magical lines that explore “the horror, the horror” of giving in and/or getting exactly what you want. In honor of their genius, today’s recap will be broken up into the lines that best sum up each story of the night (bet you can’t pick just one). Here are the four paths to everyone’s “Heart of Darkness”:

Rebecca (and a little bit of Matt):  “But I haven’t lived at all”

Full disclosure, I’m gonna be doing a lot of squealing over cute boys in this recap, because they all just got haircuts/finally came back from the wilderness/ have reverted to season-one levels of gloriously unfettered hotness. Matt falls into the final category (Henleys are the gifts that keep on giving), adorably aiding Caroline’s escape from dance-planning by siding with the “wrong” blonde before driving said blonde home. The scene in front of The Mikaelson Mansion was Dawson’s Creek- level cute even thought everyone involved knows Matt has ulterior motives. (Note:  Yay for the Decade Dance’s Twenties theme – much better than Seventies – but the gang needs to STOP GOING TO THEM. No one has any fun, and they’realways there to kill someone). Many fans are probably tired of Rebecca’s “poor little immortal girl” shtick by this point, but the fact that she refuses to let go of opportunities to be a high-school mean girl or blush over boys belies a humanity that’s vital to understanding the Originals as people and not just the Big Bads (well, except for Kol – his angst-less take on sadism is sorta a breath of fresh air in the midst of the constant sea of emotions). TVD is first and foremost a show about loss, and of the surviving Mikaelson siblings Rebecca is the least comfortable with her role – she keeps attempting to define herself as something more than the ice-princess-only-sister, but she struggles because there is nothing left for her to become. She can never be the sister or daughter she was, a fact that underscores her scene with Esther, who forced her to trade normalcy for life and now wants to force an impossible reversal ( like an anti-Sheriff Forbes, if you’ll accept that their mother issues and Klaus/Stefan/Tyler/Matt entanglements speak to a serious symmetry between the blondes). The fact that Esther would rather possess Rebecca than fade away only epitomizes this – her daughter literally has not been in control of her body for a thousand years.

Stefan and Alaric: “He’s not you, he’s the darkest parts of you. Parts we all have.”

This is not a character combination we see very often, but that was sort of the point – after the year Stefan’s had, and the month Alaric just experienced, nobody else understands one like the other. Both have been sorting out their issues, but only really discussed them with Damon, who’s already learned to embrace his demons. In fact, the elder Salvatore’s absence gave Stefan space to illustrate 1) The brothers understand one another – Stefan can’t deal with the ambiguity of Elena’s emotions, and Damon can’t torture his best friend, so they switch crises; and 2) Group therapy is the best kind. Without Damon there to tell them they’re both going to be fine, Stefan and Alaric can drunkenly commiserate over exactly how much the path to control/sobriety/mental stability absolutely sucks. Understanding that their dark sides get results – the location of the stake is only obtained through the use of violence bringing out Alaric’s Mr. “What drives him is me” – is the first step, something Stefan communicates brilliantly with his dressing-down of Klaus: “… now that I’ve accepted it, it can’t control me. And neither can you… Unless you’re gonna stake me, why don’t you get the hell outta my house?” Everybody has been trapped/tortured in that basement, but The Salvatore boarding house is a place of healing tonight. Demons that dare enter get slayed.

Tyler and Caroline: “How much did I miss?”

First off, TYLER Y’ALL. Like, he and Caroline did it in the Lockwood slave cellar and I couldn’t bring myself to give a care about the kinkiness of that, such was my joy at their reunion. That said, the fact that this awful place is the site of most of their bonding moments says almost as much about their relationship as the question above. Much of Caroline’s story since she turned has been about Tyler – protecting him, rejecting him, resisting him, accepting him – and so we perceive him through her eyes. When he leaves, we only experience the waiting for his return, as opposed to witnessing him forcing a hundred transformations in the Appalachians, and he always says he’s leaving for her more than himself, though both are relevant. So when he’s brought up to speed on the intended demise of his bloodline, it’s intriguing to experience the news from his perspective, as the realization dawns that he is one too many degrees removed from Elena to be, in Damon’s eyes, worth keeping alive. The same goes for his reaction to Klaus’ drawing in Caroline’s room. Yes, we know that it was Klaus who reminded her of the benefits of immortality when the men in her life made her want to die. We know that she has the ability to appreciate the Hybrid’s attention while simultaneously rejecting everything he stands for, that she exploited his affection multiple times at great risk for the sake of her friends and her relationship. Tyler, however, only knows that once upon a time he couldn’t beat out her first love, his best friend (a fact the writers acknowledge with a beautiful beat between Caroline and Matt after the fake fight), and now he might be vying for her affections against the First Hybrid, with whom he may unwillingly possess an even more durable and insurmountable bond. Yes, Caroline missed him. No, she doesn’t know why she kept the picture. Both are the truth. But their relationship was fraught with miscommunication before the Mikaelsons came to town and overturned everyone’s dynamic, so the night of his return from changing into an animal in the freaking mountains is not a ripe time to enter emotional gray areas. Tyler is not equipped to process how much he may have missed.

Damon and Elena (and Jeremy, and Rose): “He could be the best or the worst thing for her”

I love TVD road trips, in part because a speeding car provides the perfect opportunity for spilling guts in a private location, and also because when people decide to go on the journey they are fully aware of that fact. The forced isolation is a choice, albeit often one of necessity, and to get in the car is to surrender to the process. Elena says Stefan thought she should go to Denver with Damon, but Damon rightly accuses her of knowing it too – a fair point considering their history. Goodness knows she isn’t going for Jeremy, a fact that Jeremy himself calls her out on (“What, so you can make out some more?”). Even Rose can tell, throwing shade on the situation from beyond the grave. I say all of this to highlight the fact that all season Elena’s been under the impression that the people she interacts with are unaware of her motivations, and this episode attempted to declare once and for all that she is hella obvious and needs to start considering the true ramifications of her actions. Everybody can see her flailing, and they’re getting tired of waiting for her to figure that out.

That said, the whole Denver/middle-of-“no-tel” sequence was WOW. Kol , in his brilliant viciousness, kneecapped Damon with an aluminum baseball bat because Damon as a rule must be taken out at the knees once a road trip. Jeremy and Damon’s banter is proof that their non-brother-in-law-pseudo-bromance still thrives beneath the surface. Death agrees with Ghost Rose, who was more relevant as a sassy angel over everyone’s shoulder (and Shipper On Deck) than she ever was alive. “Scary Mary” was hilarious as a concept even if we were too late to see her in action. Damon’s recollection/confession about his deceased friend’s final moments was a piece of Ian Somerhalder’s beautifully subtle acting throughout the whole series of scenes, capped perfectly with “It wasn’t about you” (We love her, but sometimes the doppleganger needs to be reminded). The “I see you seeing me seeing you eye-sexing me” silent encounter almost topped the epic ATTMO that followed, except that my mind-meld with the music supervisors chose this moment to complete and Florence + the Machine’s “Never Let Me Go” started blaring (as it damn well should) and I started screaming and circling my living room as a result. The B.S. call /emotional beatdown Damon laid down on Elena supplied the title of this recap, and can only be summed up as H.Y.F.R., because Elena needs a daily reminder that the people around her are not the same people she started the series with; that evolution is an inevitable part of life, one she is not exempt from. She must make choices and not be afraid if they actually move her forward instead of back.

My only question is, are they driving Jeremy back to Denver, or bringing him home with them? Since he and Kol became “friends” there it seems unsafe for him now, but then doesn’t he need to transfer schools and pack up his room and retrieve his dog? (We’re praying Kol didn’t use it as a demonstration of his crazy). What does this mean for Bonnie, absent this episode but most likely bringing Not-Related Jaime to The Dance next week? Making her choose between Ri’chard and McQueen is just cruel, show.

Next week: 3×20, “Do Not Go Gentle” as in “into the good night”. Who’s going to rage, rage against the dying of the light?

Like I was gonna go with any other photo. This is obviously the money shot

Whoa. WHOA. After two weeks of supernatural crime shenanigans the “drama” side of The Vampire Diaries was back with a vengeance last night, giving nearly every name character a chance to dig deep and emote. From its title on down, “The Murder of One” was fantastically scripted, a perfect balance of mythology and humanity, showing the intimate implications of large-scale decisions. Here’s a hit list of where this game-changer leaves our crew as we drag ourselves through (yet another) excruciating hiatus:

The Gang: The opening stake-making scene was baller, but I highlight the group as a separate entity in order to properly lavish praise on the early scene where Matt, Caroline, Elena, Stefan, and Damon shared the screen, which was glorious for the following reasons:

  1. It was a pseudo-training session, not a general party scene, so they all gathered there with the intent to interact.
  2. We finally got to see information transmitted, as opposed to the usual TVD exposition trick of “So-and-so just filled me in, what’s our next step?” With all the switcheroos and secret murderers on this show it’s always been shocking to me that they don’t have daily meetings to catch up on everyone relationship status/info level/emotional state. It seems like information that would come in handy when handpicking participants for their grand plans.
  3. They used prior knowledge of participants to create a grand plan! I appreciated all the little self-aware references to past character interactions (“Because he’s obsessed with you”, “Beefcake holds Bombshell”, “No last-minute attacks of pity”) because I felt rewarded for paying attention, a feeling that would continue throughout the episode.

Elena: I’ve been low-key hating on Elena over the past couple of weeks while simultaneously congratulating the Brothers Salvatore for leaving her be, but this show is built on triangles for a reason, and that reason is that the three core actors absolutely shine in their shipper scenes no matter what the outcome. Tonight was a welcome return to form: Elena’s big heart was an asset instead of a weakness as she did her best to serve all parties, forcing Caroline to gain perspective on her father’s murder, pushing for Damon’s rescue, and being a (somewhat unwilling) sounding board for Stefan’s mounting angst. Her inability to voice her love for Damon was a bit of a stretch, but is she really going to admit that to his brother, whose declaration of love she just returned?

Caroline (and Alaric): My unabashed favorite was in fine form last night, full of grace in the face of irreconcilable truths about what it means to be a killer. I haven’t been the biggest fan of the whole storyline with her dad (at times it felt like the writers were piling on a character that really had more than enough to deal with) but it dovetailed beautifully with the show’s larger narrative about death and who delivers it, because Damon dismissing ‘Ric’s sense of responsibility (after being forgiven for killing the man’s wife) doesn’t resonate as much as absolution from Caroline, whose father Alaric recently, publicly murdered. They’re’s was hands-down my favorite scene of the episode, because there was no twist, or “part two” – she “has blood on her hands” as well, and mutual understanding of what that means is enough. The final scene of Alaric’s frantic search for the last stake only reinforces how much that reality is getting to him – I don’t know how much longer he’ll stay sane knowing what he’s (unconsciously) capable of.

Caroline (and Elena’s) other banner scene of the evening was, of course, the second part of the bloodline reveal (which will get its own spotlight later). It epitomizes the “political is personal” theme of the night, with the realization of Tyler’s vampire parentage reinforcing the fact that there are no magic bullets/stakes/solutions to these people’s current condition. There will always be big fish existing to influence the actions of littler fish – the ecosystem demands it, and if you upset that hierarchy, you’ll lose something precious before you realize it was even in danger. Sometimes it can seem like Caroline exists to remind us Tyler exists, but considering all he’s come to represent (the normal-turned-supernatural-turned-super-supernatural under the thrall of the enemy) that’s not an unimportant role in the slightest.

Bonnie: Oh my GOD, you guys. This girl doesn’t need a break, she needs the Witness Protection Program. We’re known for our continued defense of Bonnie around here, but that’s because no one else appears particularly concerned. I’m not saying her friends don’t love her – these past few weeks show that they do – but this week highlighted that it’s not always the correct level of attention. In spite of enduring horror after horror there’s just this assumption that they can catch up with her later,that all that power means she can take care of herself. Which she can, but she’s the only female protagonist on this show that is required to do so. Klaus can torture her with images of Jeremy because Elena sent Jeremy away (I don’t care that they broke up. Every Elena and Stefan scene only further proves the irrelevance of break-ups on this show) and can twist the knife with threats to her mother because she’s already insecure about her mother’s love after losing her again so recently. Elena and Caroline’s mothers love them (Elena in fact had three, and all found time to prove that). Elena and Caroline’s boyfriends do not get deported (Sure, they aren’t actually together with any of them at the moment, but let’s be real; Matt’s been a fantastic back-up lately. And they didn’t get cheated on.). As for leaving Damon hanging in the Original Mansion… he’s killed people for a lot less than the hell he’s put her through. And when she curls up outside after untangling the Originals’ lifelines and sobs her heart out, you want to cry too, because Damon has someone planning to save him. Nobody’s coming to rescue Bonnie.

Damon: Mostly served as Rebecca’s side of beef for most of the episode (though the dream sequence was another great reminder of that particularly unsettling little trick, and of the times Elena’s gone to save Stefan without Damon’s approval). He wins Most Horrifying Moment of the Night for attempting to pull his hands out of bear traps on command. Am I the only one that recalls him wearing the Saw-style splinter collar last season? The writers really have a thing for messing up the pretty. One wonders if Damon will have any sort of serious reaction to news of Sage’s demise – she was the Lexi to his Stefan, but her recent betrayal for a cause he knew to be pointless may lessen the sting in a way that his direct responsibility for Rose’s death could not.

Stefan:  Last night was more Stefan-centric than the show’s been in a while as his hatred of all things Original took center stage – that scene where he and Elena debate Damon’s desires versus their most logical course of action was particularly revealing regarding his continued fixation on Klaus’ destruction – but that was all thrown out the window once the Bloodline mythology was sussed out and he went to parley with Klaus. The Hybrid’s assertion that Stefan should be grateful for a target, a place to channel his self-hatred, was both a masterstroke of deflection and complete truth, a fact that did not go unnoticed. Stefan now wonders what all his anger was for – did he hate Klaus for what he made him do, or what those actions forced him to lose? Some may tire of the unending rounds he and Elena go about their non-relationship, but I’ve asserted before that “ex” looks good on them, because distance seems to have heightened, not lessened, the intensity between them. When he can declare his love and blame himself for allowing Damon to become a rival for Elena’s affection in the same breath we have serious conflict, and him saying it aloud in her hearing means there’s still some angst to be wrung from this triangle, which is totally fine with me.

The Originals (and Sage): So I have this serious problem  where I’m deeply in love with Klaus and every line out of his mouth sounds like perfection (but seriously, Joseph Morgan, throw me a bone and deliver an emotionless line reading once in a while, I can’t stomach any more delicious British nuance). The Original Hybrid was in fine bullying form last night, hitting the pressure points of family and foe with equal abandon as he tied up the last of this white-oak stake drama.  Mikaelson fraternal madness, however limited, was welcome – I adore Rebecca’s sadistic-princess shtick but her game is always elevated when her brothers come to town. Kol didn’t even have to be in town to be threatening – his stalking of Jeremy in Denver was made creepier by the fact that we never even heard him speak. Finn was as put-upon as reported, though his brief reunion with Sage, where she attempts to introduce him to the world he’s missed while buried undead, was as sweet as could be managed considering how short-lived contentment is on this show. Seems nine hundred years of life experience couldn’t teach her that there’s no permanent happiness to be found in Mystic Falls.

In any case, their chain-reaction deaths introduced one of my favorite entries into the Mystic Falls canon – the “bloodline” concept beats “sun-and-the-moon curse” any day (I know Klaus made it up, but he didn’t make up the weeks I had to endure everyone obsessing about it). Shady and I have had many a conversation over the lack of “maker” importance in this mythology; at first, it was rendered moot by the fact that vampire bites don’t make a vampire, but then this year’s “siring” plot point made us cry “So doesn’t that make Damon Caroline’s vampire dad?!” in near-unison more than once. It’s a neat little corner the writers painted themselves into, simultaneously giving weight to the term “Original” and rendering at least two of them completely off-limits no matter their future wrongdoings (There’s the issue of who made Rose, the blood of Katharine’s blood, coupled with the fact that Klaus literally sired Tyler). As a person that wants the Mikaelsons to keep quipping and killing until the end of time, this is great, but the part of me that worries for the forward momentum of the plot after nearly three seasons of increasingly Bigger Bads wonders how satisfyingly this whole thing will wrap up come episode twenty-two. What’s scarier than an Original Hybrid no longer concerned with his siblings? Especially when the only person he was ever truly scared off was killed before New Year’s?

Next week: Nothing. We have officially entered our Yearly Wait for the Return of Tyler. They could’ve at least scheduled it to coincide with Lent.

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