In ‘Brave New World,’ Caroline deals with a permanent change to her (after)life, as the episode around her reflects the slow shifting of the whole show from high school reality into supernatural metaphor.
In an episode based around a school carnival last year, the emphasis would have been on the normal school world which was being rudely interrupted by a supernatural interloper or two. Our focus would have been Elena’s attempts to balance the two, to attend to girlfriend woes with Caroline or sibling issues with Jeremy whilst still avoiding the homicidal undead things out to get her. But things are changing in Mystic Falls as the vampires and their attendant troubles start to weigh on the town. Over the whole course of this episode, every interaction we see involves at least one character with supernatural abilities. Not once do two completely normal humans get to sit down and drink unvervained tea. That, it would appear, is not the show this is any more.
Caroline is the microcosm of this change, the normal girl who wakes up to find sunlight suddenly unfriendly and bags of blood disturbingly appealing. Candice Accola gives a fantastic performance to show us Caroline struggling through as she figures out what’s going on and finds her own way through it. Unlike Vicki, she takes ownership of her new vampiredom and almost manages to continue being her bubbly, bitchy self. Little did Damon now how much of a headstart all those erased memories would later give her – if she still thought vampires sparkled in the sun, she’d be in trouble.
And yet Caroline, despite her brave face and the apparent success she has at combining her two selves when she manages to restrain herself from eating the hospital nurse and instead compels her to tell very Caroline-y tales about her husband, is in trouble. She may be empowered enough to finally give Damon a very small part of the comeuppance he’s been deserving for a season, but when her new undead status intrudes on her relationship with Matt – the sweetest, most normal boy in Mystic Falls – she begins to realise that it won’t be as easy as that. Even with her new vamp eyeliner and high-heeled boots, when things get too stressful and difficult to deal with, her new instincts get the better of her old control and she eats the designated victim of the week, ending up with blood smeared all around her mouth in a total failure to colour-coordinate with the rest of her outfit. Her breakdown in the boys’ toilets with Stefan is the culmination of a truly bad day, all the awfulness of her new life finally breaking through her façade and leaving her a sobbing wreck that just wants to understand why this has happened to her, like a child seeking explanations for all the bad things in the world. With Stefan’s example of restraint, she manages to regain a measure of self-control and can even hold herself together around Matt at the end of the episode, but she knows now how difficult the merging of her two worlds is likely to be.
Does Mystic Falls itself have a similar critical tipping point in its future, a sort of vampire event horizon where the last pretences of sleepy small-town normality are ripped from it? It seems likely to me. The ‘history repeating’ precedents are well established on this show (thanks for the reminder, Damon) and we know that in 1864 the town turned on itself in doing exactly that, ripping the vampires out with fire and vervain and attempting to start anew. We saw a version of that story in last year’s finale, but the stakes were much lower – only Elena was going to be hurt by Stefan or Damon dying, no-one knew about the Mayor, and the tomb vampires were just faceless monsters. It doesn’t really compare with Johnathan Gilbert (I hate that spelling) turning Pearl in, or Daddy Salvatore shooting his own sons dead merely because they sympathised with a vampire. That’s a whole new level of lovers and families turning on each other that Mystic Falls hasn’t seen for 146 years, and I suppose in that respect at least they were successful (but not as thorough as perhaps they should have been…).
Katherine precipitated that state of affairs last time, and it seems likely that her return is propelling us in that direction again. We know she turned the majority of the tomb vampires, who at the time would have had local families and connections very similar to Caroline’s. We don’t know why she did it, but the most likely explanation is probably just for fun. Given that she seems to revel in chaos, it would only make sense that she will indulge in a little rampant destruction on the side no matter what her actual purpose in town is.
Caroline is a good first victim if you want to get the town, or Elena, off balance. Although Katherine’s message is sent to the Salvatores, I don’t think this one’s for them as much as it is a distraction. And perhaps a test – do they kill her, or do they try to help her? Either way, Katherine wins – killing Caroline would turn Elena against whichever of them did it, where keeping her alive is a huge liability for anyone trying to keep the vampire secret under wraps. Sheriff Forbes was carefully kept out of this episode, but she knows enough about vampires to pick up on even the smallest slip, and she cares enough about Caroline to go off the rails entirely if she figures it out. The Council is already in sufficiently dire straits to be making Damon head of an investigation (really, who’s left in the Council other than Carol Lockwood and Liz Forbes, anyway?), and if Katherine knows about the Lockwood ‘curse’ then she knows that nobody’s in the best state for dealing with a sudden vampire resurgence.
As for the rest of the town’s inhabitants, their daily interaction with undead monsters from the beyond seems to be affecting them even without Katherine’s help. Matt has barely a friend left in the world, what with Caroline’s issues on top of Tyler’s issues on top of his dead sister and his absent mother. Alaric, though sadly absent from yet another episode, has always had a running theme of operating too much in the supernatural world and not being able to just leave it alone and live a normal life. Jeremy wonders whether he should try to find a vampire-hunting purpose to his life, but in the end settles for alternately poking the Damon-bear and bonding with it. And Bonnie now takes her powers so much for granted that her version of lashing out at someone she wants to hurt includes fiery death. Elena pulls her back from that, tells her that that “can’t be us,” but for how much longer can she try to keep the two worlds separate?
As the inverse to Caroline plunging headfirst into being a vampire, Elena’s insistence on having a ‘normal’ day is shown for what it is by the episode – an exercise in slightly childish repression which is ultimately entirely futile. Elena is seen to be ignoring the important and even life-threatening things going on around her for the sake of a few moments’ play-acting at normality. Attempting to have an uncomplicated evening is one thing, pretending your baby brother didn’t just have his neck snapped is rather another. After everything conspires to force her back into the world of vampires and witches and doppelgangers, she’s able to admit that she was silly to even try, but it’s clear that she still thinks she wants that idealised existence as opposed to messy reality. She used to take the lead on figuring out what the lurking evil was and trying to fight it, but now she’d rather hide under the blankets and pretend it doesn’t exist? I don’t like this version of Elena, and more importantly I think it puts her at a huge disadvantage in whatever Katherine may be planning. But perhaps she’s reached the point where she either has to dive into the supernatural world entirely or else turn her back on it, the balancing point which the town also faces and which Caroline and Bonnie have been forced onto opposite sides of.
One thing only is for sure: Mystic Falls isn’t going to be getting any more normal any time soon.
The leap up onto the Ferris wheel was oh-so-cheesy (and surely unnecessary, Stefan could just have compelled the guy into operating it for them), but it did nicely evoke the O.C. for me. (I’ve seen other people draw Dawson’s Creek comparisons, but I’m happy to say I have no knowledge of them.)
Jeremy and Damon bonding over the difficulties of whittling was perhaps a little bizarre but won me over by being entirely hilarious. Whittling!
I may not be a fan of Bonnie’s character at the moment, but Katerina Graham is still doing a fantastic job with the acting. Her face as Bonnie tried to deal with everything was a study in anger and hurt and not being able to cope, and her ‘ugh’ as Elena led her away was just perfect.
Stefan’s ‘ninja turtle’ comment was not only very funny but also contributed to a really nice exchange between him and Damon. They are clearly comfortable around each other now and that much-mocked ‘brotherhood’ between them actually appears to be growing into something real they can rely on, despite Katherine’s shenanigans. It’s nice. So of course it won’t last, but for now I’m enjoying it.