In this week’s episode, flashbacks abound but modern-day plots are set firmly in motion as everybody acts their age… give or take a few centuries.
Flashbacks in The Vampire Diaries are almost always a treat, offering everyone a chance to dress up and play at courteous mannerisms, a world where vampiric nastiness is masked beneath niceties and bustles. There is always a risk, however, that too much historical focus will drag the modern-day portion of the episode down. The show generally treads this line well, and I believe Blood Brothers is the only episode to date where the 2010 plot failed to cohere around its flashbacks. Memory Lane, despite the name, manages much better at balancing the two and creates some actual momentum out of Katherine’s memories of 1864.
A question that I always find interesting in vampire stories – or, indeed, any story with immortal or long-lived beings – is that of which age the characters are truly written as being. Are they the age they were when they first became a vampire? Are they the age they have actually lived for? Or are they some dichotomous mixture of the two, an emotional teenager with an octogenarian’s knowledge and world-weariness? Stefan, Damon and now Katherine would seem to support that latter view of vampire aging. All three of them display a self-confidence which verges on arrogance purely through virtue of having lived so long that they believe they already know everything about themselves and the world. And yet in other ways, they are every bit as immature as the baby humans they are choosing to surround themselves with these days.
Stefan, being the one who kicked the whole story off by deciding to go back to school because he needed to ‘know’ a teenage girl, is quite clearly his original 17-yr-old self in some ways. Once upon a time, that boy loved Katherine before he knew what she was, and she believes he’s never quite outgrown that. Based on the evidence we’ve seen so far, she’s not necessarily completely wrong. Of course, finding out that your beloved is a murderous creature of the night would put a damper on anyone’s ardour, but 1864 Stefan showed every sign of still caring about Katherine after he knew what she was: he tried to argue her case with his father, tried to save her and then kept her photograph for a further 136 years. That’s not compulsion, that’s the behaviour of a broody teenager who never quite grew up. Yet in other ways, his century and a half of life show: neither Katherine nor Damon have ever quite managed to knock him off balance emotionally no matter how hard they tried, and he shows a surprising amount of devious cynicism at times for someone who professes such earnest morality. In this episode, there was no doubt that he was basically in control of his conversation with Katherine, even if in the larger scheme of things she was probably just playing along to see what havoc she could wreak. Stefan may not have got any of the information he wanted – possibly because, like Elena, he was asking the wrong questions – but he gave a very good impression of someone who had no feelings left for Katherine whatsoever.
Katherine herself is being fleshed out a little more this season, which is good. As a clear villain, she may never need as much depth as the Salvatores, but it was good this week to see something which hinted at just the remnants of her humanity in her interactions with Stefan. And yet at the same time, her selfishness and her single-minded determination that she gets what she wants, no matter what, make it clear that at heart she is a spoiled child, someone who has never had to feel the consequences of her actions and so has chosen never to do so. It’s hard to know whether everything we saw in her flashbacks was the exact truth, but there was a moment where it looked like Stefan’s unconditional, worshipful conviction that she was an angel might just have stirred some scrap of human conscience regarding her true colours. If that’s the case, she becomes much more interesting and potentially much more dangerous as an antagonist: push her too far, and maybe she will snap. Damon could tell you that a cold-blooded, methodical killer has nothing on an unstable emotional vacuum with hurt feelings when it comes to inflicting collateral damage.
Damon himself, as the final member of our Toothy Trio (hurray, I made up an even worse term than the Fanged Four), has always seemed to epitomise this vampire age divide, switching from a needy child to a world-weary immortal on the whim of a moment. Yet he is also the only one where we have occasionally seen evidence that he may be able to grow, to change, to mature. Of course, he may choose not to, but the point is that he seems to have potential to do so. And that therefore Stefan and even Katherine could do too. This episode presented Damon with a number of opportunities to be an adult, and even if he didn’t quite manage to take any of them, there is perhaps hope that he will learn from his failures. Trying to kill Mason Lockwood was, of course, the stupidest thing he did by far – and the best at making someone 150 years younger look more mature than him – and it may yet backfire spectacularly. (Though, given past history with Alaric and Jeremy, Damon and Mason are equally likely to be best friends within another two episodes.) He handled an impromptu encounter with Katherine with more aplomb than we might have expected, perhaps knowing better than Stefan how useless it is at this point to ask her direct questions about anything like what the hell she is doing there. He still managed to leave himself open to an attack on the front of ‘oh I’ve been telling your brother things I haven’t told you,’ but generally came away from the episode looking like he cared less about her than Stefan. Not a bad attempt. And then we have the interesting situation that Stefan takes care to leave him in at the end of the episode: having overheard his least favourite couple ‘breaking up.’ This seems like obvious set-up for Damon to take advantage of the apparent situation and try to replace Stefan in Elena’s affections, but I’m not sure. Firstly, it would be hard for his attentions to Elena to become any more obvious than they’ve been ever since Founder’s Day. Secondly, he’s still explicitly not even her friend at the moment and even Damon-logic surely can’t go straight from there to being her boyfriend. Thirdly, he’s usually smart enough to figure out when his brother is playing him. My money’s on him pushing at the situation just enough to prove whether they really meant it or not.
But of course, the real question raised by that scene is not ‘what will Damon do?’ but rather ‘what is Stefan playing at?’ When it appeared that he was really breaking up with Elena on purpose, I suddenly thought he might be wiser than I believed he was. Actually and completely breaking up, with Elena convinced it was real, would probably be the best way to keep her safe from Katherine – and maybe the best way to find out which of them Katherine is really there for, too. Or the other option, if you’re going to have it be a sham, is to bring Damon in on it so that he too can keep a conscious eye on Katherine’s reaction. The actual state of affairs implies that a) Stefan has far greater faith in Elena’s acting abilities than I do, b) Stefan underestimates the intelligence of both Katherine and Damon, and c) Stefan is playing a fairly nasty and distrustful game with his elder brother. He is consciously setting Damon up in a position designed to bring out the worst in him, after weeks of claiming that they need to stick together and months of both of them slowly rebuilding their trust in each other.
And that, perhaps, may be the most immature decision taken by anyone in the whole episode.
I’m a little disappointed that Caroline is following Katherine’s orders apparently purely out of fear for her own life. With such easy leverage as Matt or her mother available, I’m surprised that Katherine didn’t just start off threatening to hurt those she loves.
Jenna is so out of the loop. Damon and Mason’s edged banter regarding their lone wolf/ladykiller status was just wonderful, and it’s a shame she couldn’t enjoy it along with Alaric and the rest of us. Do you think Mason realises that Alaric knows all about them both?
Who did Mason kill, and how was it covered up such that there is not a hushed secret about why he left town? Did he kill after he’d left Mystic Falls? Probably not, as the potential for drama is that much greater if it was another Founding Family member of some sort…
That said, I don’t follow the logic that knowing about the curse makes you more likely to succumb to it – given Tyler’s rage issues, I’d say that fear of what will happen if he takes things too far can only help.
Henry! Aw, thank you flashbacks for letting us see poor dumb Henry again.