This week in Mystic Falls, as secrets are confessed and backstory exploded, everybody turns out to be not so different from each other after all.
(Quick note: although I’m posting this after 2.09 ‘Katerina’ has already aired, I wrote the majority of it over the weekend when I was away with no internet access and hadn’t seen the next episode. So if I seem prophetic, it’s not because I’m cheating by having watched the next episode – I’m just that good. Right?)
This episode made me very happy in a multitude of ways, and hereby earns the top position in the list of ‘episodes of television I have watched with the word rose in the title.’ (Contenders come from Doctor Who and Dollhouse – am I forgetting any more obvious onces?) It might even earn the title of top episode in this season so far, for me. But even apart from all the plot twists and character moments, something that made me particularly happy: I have a unifying theme to talk about! Hurrah.
I am always, always a sucker for parallels in storytelling. The obvious type show us the same character in a similar situation twice, once before an important life lesson has been learned and once afterwards. A clear moral can be drawn about the better consequences that inevitably result the second time round, and everyone goes home happy. The type I find more interesting, however, tend to show us different characters in similar situations, and show us not only how the characters differ, but also occasionally how they are more similar than we might have thought.
The Vampire Diaries has previously shown us that it likes that kind of parallel, turning what seems like a potentially repetitive storyline into something entirely new. Vicki got turned into a vampire; badness ensued. Caroline gets turned into a vampire; awesomeness ensues. Two supporting characters who at first glance might have seemed similar – supporting character teenage girls each with a certain helping of shallowness – but the differences between the addict and the control freak turned out to be rather important when it came to survival as a vampire. There have been a few subtler parallels before now as well, such as Alaric and Jeremy both getting killed by Damon and both ending up friendly with him afterwards. This episode, however, felt like it really piled on the parallels between some obvious characters and some unexpected ones, mostly to excellent effect.
Stefan and Damon are, as we have always known but as they are very reluctant to admit, not so different from each other in some ways. For once this week they seemed able to recognise a small part of themselves in each other and learn from it. For the first time, Stefan seemed to be able to accept the idea that Damon might love Elena without being overly defensive about it or insinuating that Damon’s motives are less pure than his own. Damon may not have wanted to indulge Stefan’s desire for roadtrip brotherly bonding, but his inability to even muster up a convincing smirk in response let the silence speak for him. Also for the first time, Stefan seemed almost entirely okay with that, even using an ‘I love Elena more than you’ challenge to overcome Damon’s hesitation to charge into the ridiculously-ancient-vampires’ house of ambush. I think we may even have seen Stefan’s reasons for reacting less jealously about all of this than we might expect (or than Damon has always expected): we’ve known since A Few Good Men that Stefan does sincerely believe that Damon could change for the better, and is willing to look past a lot of bad blood between them for the sake of that possibility. In the car, he says that he stopped ripping people apart for the fun of it when he found something else to live for, and the looks he and Damon exchange at that point seem to encompass that unspoken subtext: that Damon is also no longer regularly ripping people apart for fun, and that he therefore might know what it feels like to be developing something else to live for. The other key to Stefan’s behaviour, I think, comes at the end of the episode with his confession that he turned Damon because he wanted Damon’s company in the afterlife. In true Stefan fashion, he manages to tell the exact truth there whilst also leaving a tiny sting in its tail for Damon – he ‘needed’ his brother. Not wanted, but needed. Because of course what he got wasn’t a big brother to look after him and make being undead less scary, it was a bitter enemy who vowed to make his life misery in return. In that one exchange and apology, their brotherly roles for the last century and a half reverse – Stefan is now the one reminding Damon that they are brothers, trying to bring out the similarities between them. He may have wanted to disown his brother for 145 years (shouldn’t it be 146 now, Stefan?) but in the end Damon has been too important to him to just give up on.
With the guilt from that, and Stefan admitting enough selfishness to bring him down off the ‘I’m the good brother and you’re the bad one’ pedestal, Damon seems to see enough of Stefan in himself to allow him to believe he can do the right thing. I think he’s aware of the pattern he’s been set – he specifically calls himself selfish when talking to Elena, and also follows Stefan’s lead of confessing something obvious but unspoken to clear the air. The difference, of course, is that Stefan knows enough of Damon now to be able to leave that confession out there and damn the consequences: for Damon, confessing love to Elena is a lose-lose situation if he’s trying to do the right thing. If she responds positively, he’s screwing over Stefan far more than Stefan deserves, since Stefan is as much responsible for his rehabilitation in many ways as Elena is. If she responds negatively, again, when he’s being sober and sincere this time, I don’t think he could sustain this attempt at selflessness. The closest to that risk he dares to come is to tell her before he compels her, allowing her to reject him from her heart if she truly has no feelings for him, but not giving her time to make a rational decision with her mind. And now I’m getting all sappy and fangirly, so to get back to my original point: Damon and Stefan learning from each other, not just working together because they have the same temporary objectives but truly seeing themselves as brothers? Fantastic stuff, and almost perfectly paced in its development from the start of season 1 until now. Long may it continue.
In other parallel news, being a supernatural teenager is hard. Caroline wants to help Tyler because she went through this same sort of horror not so long ago – and probably only owes her survival to the fact that she did know other vampires – but in giving him even the tiniest hint last week that he’s not alone, she’s shown him his only glimpse of a lifeline and he’s too desperate to let her back off now. She tries to avoid him, but he forces the matter and I was cheering as she rounded on him and bared her fangs, followed by that wondrously understated ‘I’m not a werewolf, okay?’ Whether or not Damon’s right that Tyler knowing about them can only lead to problems, Caroline has too much in common with Tyler not to want to help him. This gives me hope for the vampire/werewolf feud I discussed last week, since if Tyler’s only friend is a vampire he’s less likely to be able to decide they’re all evil once he finds out that Damon killed Mason. Tyler’s life expectancy, of course, cannot be high at this point, but I have hopes that he may at least survive his first transformation with Caroline’s support (though probably not her actual help, though how she’ll justify that without telling him his bite will kill her remains to be seen).
Being a teenager, of course, can seem all too difficult even if you’re not supernatural. Jeremy is fully back in emo mood this week, but he’s sort of adorable in his confession that he feels alone ‘all the time’ like he’s the first person in the world ever to realise that. Aw. Ickle Jeremy. Bonnie is a little further ahead of him, and at least is able to hide her ‘oh I am so alone’ woes with a healthy helping of aggression towards anyone who might take advantage of that. I’m not sure that I’m a fan of this pairing, really – for a show that has characters dating across a 145 year age gap, I don’t know why a one year separation should feel quite as icky as it does – but it’s going hand in hand with both of them becoming less annoying to me at present, so I’ll wait and see.
Possibly most difficult of all, however, is being a human teenager when various supernatural people far more powerful than yourself are intent upon killing you. That’s got to suck. Elena manages to stay pretty upbeat and question-filled in the face of it all, but for the first time we have a real parallel between her and Katherine, ‘the first Petrova doppelganger.’ Well, isn’t that interesting. It looks like someone else, back in the mists of time, was going to be sacrificed to break the moonstone curse and found a way to avoid it – and I am going to guess that said way was to be turned into a vampire, which of course raises the question of whether that’s an option Elena would even consider? We know that Stefan would tell her not to because she’s all pure and innocent and stuff and he’ll protect her, but I’m fairly certain Damon or Caroline would help her with a little blood for the sake of saving her (un)life. The question really is whether Elena could see herself as a vampire, or whether she’s been existing in that happy Buffy season 3 haze of totally ignoring the bigger questions about her relationship with Stefan in the hope that they’ll go away. I think she has, and I’d be interested to see her forced to confront that. I also find it a very hopeful development that Katherine is getting a backstory wherein she herself was a damsel in distress. How Katerina and Elena’s responses to the same threat differ will be interesting to watch as it plays out.
– Caroline just continues to get more awesome, doesn’t she? I love how she’s (sensibly) scared of Damon, but doesn’t let that stop her doing what she thinks she ought to. I also love how breezily positive she always tries to be about teenage vamp-hood.
– When did I start to like Tyler? Michael Trevino almost broke my heart with his ‘I’m scared.’
– Rose’s English accent is… a little annoying. I can cut vampires a lot of slack, given the centuries of moving around, but she seems to have made that annoying mistake of going for a really posh accent but having been told that Brits drop their t’s, so ending up with this weird polyglot of something that sounds like the lovechild of RP English and sahf Lahndahn twang that is just… urgh. But then, I learned to live with Spike, so I’m sure I’ll manage. (And Trevor’s was worse, so at least the right one got killed.)
– Elijah was quite convincingly scary. I approve of this in a new bad guy. I really hope Klaus is sufficiently extra-scary when we meet him to outweigh his silly name, though.
– I love how Elena just doesn’t stop with the questions even when she’s been knocked unconscious for it. It’s really nice to have a non-superpowered heroine in a supernatural show who is not disempowered by the number of times she gets kidnapped, and I don’t think I’d have believed it could be done.
– And in entirely shallow parallels of the week, is it just me or have Paul Wesley’s eyebrows started to learn from Ian Somerhalder’s? They had a particularly expressive moment when Damon couldn’t just step out of helping as easily as he stepped in.
– And whoops, I’m over 2000 words for the first time. I really liked this episode…