In this week’s Vampire Diaries, everything changes, everything stays the same, and all that matters is who you can count on to help you hide the bodies…
When I came to write this review, I kept feeling like I must have forgotten something. I couldn’t find the source of the forward momentum I had felt when watching the episode, the excitement of change and plot twists that this show does so well. When I looked back at the plotlines from the perspective of a day or two later, suddenly they all seemed like a perfect display of a stable time loop, with the status quo reset at the end of the episode. Sheriff Forbes won’t remember what happened, Mason Lockwood isn’t actually a rogue agent but instead is just another pawn of Katherine’s, and the Founding Families still like throwing bizarre social events for no good reason.
But then I realised that what is really happening in this episode is preparation for our characters to actually stand a chance against whatever the rest of the season has to throw at them. Set-up, maybe, but not a reset. And that preparation manifests itself in character relationships, with all of our main characters taking an important step or two forward or backward – but mostly forward. And that is the source of the momentum that I felt while watching, I think. There is a certain relief to be felt as some relationships revert to ‘normal,’ but in several areas there is also the exhilaration of new ground being trodden, new alliances forged which will no doubt take some strain whenever the next diabolical plan swings into action. The first few episodes of this season destroyed the status quo which the end of last season had built, threatening the Salvatores’ brotherly relations in a new way, destroying Elena’s trust in Damon, turning Caroline into a vampire. This episode did not restore the old status quo, but seems to have built a new one from the ashes in impressive style.
Elena and Stefan went from fake arguments at the start of the episode to real arguments at the end, and I liked how that was handled. Neither character is obviously in the wrong – in an ideal world, Stefan should be able to live without human blood, and Elena has reason to fear how he will react to it, but Mystic Falls at present is far from an ideal world and Stefan is understandably wary of a situation where the only person who currently stands even a tiny chance of besting Katherine in a fight is Damon. There isn’t a good answer to the problem (except for perhaps leaving Mystic Falls, which absolutely nobody ever mentions because this is fiction), and even if Stefan and Elena are fundamentally equally idealistic, this is a time where Stefan’s 146 years of additional worldly knowledge are likely to bring him down on the side of pragmatism. I am also glad that it was resolved by the end of the episode, since the strength of Stefan and Elena’s relationship has always been that it isn’t melodramatic, that each of them cedes a certain amount of power and decision-making to the other without question.
Caroline has been pushed to the periphery of all her own relationships since becoming a vampire, unable to be around Matt, scared of her mother finding out, rejected by one best friend and forced to spy on the other. This episode forced her relationship with her mother to near-destruction, but her resulting breakdown rebuilt her friendship with Elena. It remains to be seen whether she can convincingly continue reporting to Katherine in a double-agent’s role, but for now she appears to be becoming part of the central family.
Tyler’s own family have let him down multiple times over, from his super-violent father to his uncle who didn’t come back for him at all and is only forced into explaining things when he fails to get what he wants. Yet with Jeremy he made an effort in this episode to build a new friendship with someone who can at least partially understand what he’s going through, and hopefully this gives him some sort of basis to deal with the curse without fearing he’s just going crazy and imagining things. It’s not his fault that he still doesn’t know half the population of Mystic Falls is supernatural in some way or other…
Sheriff Forbes lost both a friend and a daughter in this episode, to her way of thinking (and, in fairness to her, the way of thinking that any sensible human ought to have). Her ‘friend’ lied to her and betrayed her, and Caroline is now not just a problem child due to poor parenting, but actually a monster – possibly also due to poor parenting. As a member of the Council, she can’t help but feel a total failure at protecting even her own daughter, and perhaps that explains the absoluteness with which she rejects vampire Caroline. Damon gets a pass perhaps because he is clearly still the same person he has always been, and therefore the person Liz got to know was still Damon, even if he was lying about a lot of stuff. With Caroline, she can’t help but believe that she must be a different person now and that therefore her daughter Caroline is gone forever. She clearly feels unable to deal with that, which allows us to accept her willingness to be compelled to forget everything. If that goes ahead, she will have her friend and her daughter back, though they themselves may never be able to reset the relationships to what they were. Caroline in particular is in the unenviable position of knowing that she can never rebuild what was destroyed here, since the mother she’ll get back will no longer know that she is a vampire and therefore it will be impossible to ever change her complete rejection of Caroline-as-vampire.
Damon is in the odd position in this episode of acting completely against what one might expect of him for the sake of supporting others. He is the character who started out explicitly caring nothing for anyone, then moved to caring what some people thought of him, and now seems to be expanding beyond that (and beyond Elena) to actually caring that people he cares about are happy, regardless of what they think of him. What’s funny about this is that it’s clearly catching the people who think they know him off guard as well – Stefan and Elena are as certain as Caroline that Damon will kill the Sheriff if she doesn’t grovel, and his hilariously surprised ‘guys, relax’ reaction to that, followed by his ever-so-slightly psycho reassurance that she’s his friend, have him being just as much of an unpredictable wildcard when he acts from good motives as he was when acting from bad ones. That makes for entertaining viewing. But he doesn’t just stop at finding a way to save the Sheriff by compelling her: he also has time for sympathetic glances at Caroline when she’s being left in no doubt of her mother’s opinion of her. The echoes of Damon’s father’s disapproval of him even pre-vamping were written all over that scene, and it was actually rather touching to watch him try to save someone else from that hurt. Damon and Caroline have the potential for a very interesting dynamic as friends, given their history, and I’d like to see that explored further. All this noble behaviour throughout the episode inspired Elena to give him a fragment of friendship and respect back in return, for which I am glad: despite the neck-snapping, he is generally doing the right thing far more consistently this season than he was when Elena first started to warm to him, so dragging out her total disapproval much longer would have started to make her seem hypocritical. And their relationship works well when it’s in a state of wary distrust, so I don’t need them to be completely friends in order to feel that they can rely on each other if needs be. Which is, of course, the role that Damon voluntarily steps into in giving her a bit of perspective on Stefan’s blood-drinking. There’s nothing for him to gain in encouraging Elena to accept it. We know that Damon thinks Stefan ought to learn to drink human blood and control himself on it, but I don’t think Damon has any ulterior motive in attempting to reconcile Elena to it – he simply wants to fix their quarrel, mend their hurts.
In many ways, the makeshift family at the centre of the show seems to have taken shape around this episode. Even Tyler and the Sheriff, outliers and only-sometimes-friends, are taken care of and offered a shoulder to cry on. Caroline appears to be being offered an unconditional place within the extended vampire family. And our central trio of Stefan, Damon and Elena emerge even stronger as a combined force of will which ought to give even Katherine a moment’s pause. She turned on her ‘family’ with no compunction back in 1864. Will this one be strong enough to finally turn the tables on her?
Who knows. This is the point when I remember that egads, we’re only five episodes in…
– So, the moonstone may not be anything to do with werewolves after all if Katherine wants it for herself. What does it do? Given that it stayed in the Lockwood family, who have managed to remain in mayoral control of the town since 1864, does it give some other kind of power to the holder?
– Mason is so dead within another episode, right? He’s a huge liability to the Salvatores and he’s served his purpose as far as Katherine’s concerned. Those aren’t good odds for his continued survival.
– Nice fake-outs on Tyler causing a death. I usually get annoyed by such things, but with Jeremy’s anti-death ring and the apparent red shirt girl-we’d-never-seen-before, I was almost convinced both times that it would really happen.
– Apparently we have a new regular human character in Amy (or is it Aimee?). That’s good, given the rate at which the rest have been killed off or exposed to supernatural influences – I think Matt was otherwise our only totally normal human remaining amongst the kids. (Jenna’s in the same position in the adults.)
– Where does the Sheriff’s story go from here? I can’t help but hope that somehow the compulsion doesn’t happen or doesn’t stick, since I can’t see a way to keep her storyline meaningful with such an important loss of memory. She can never find out again, because we’ve done that storyline now, but also she can never regain her memories without becoming a vampire herself, which I can’t see happening. I really don’t want them to kill her off, since I love her and it’s great to have a semi-competent adult on a CW show, but I’m not sure what they can do with her character post compulsion.
– How hysterical were the oh-so-nonchalant faces of Damon and Caroline when they were caught listening in on Stefan and Elena? Brilliant comedy by both actors (and yet again, Candice Accola gets great material in this episode and really rises to the occasion).
– I’m so glad I was right about Damon not being fooled by Stefan/Elena faux drama. I like it when characters are allowed to be clever.
– I’ve never subscribed to the ‘blood drinking is sexy’ part of vampire mythology, so as usual the oh-so-romantic vampire-drinking-from-his-true-love scene left me cold (and rather squicked out). In news of positive squick, however, the realism of blood drinking was kept fore and centre with Damon slurping at a dead Deputy and then spitting blood on the floor. I approve. But why oh why did Caroline not wipe her chin after eating? Is this an example of those bad parenting skills?