Won’t it be strange when we’re all fully grown? (The Vampire Diaries 2.15, The Dinner Party)

This week in Mystic Falls, maturity reigns. Just as well and wisely as you’d expect…

After the show’s recent focus on Tyler, Caroline, werewolves and the heart-ripping antics of good old straightforward violence, this week felt like an episode for the adults of Mystic Falls. Vampires are back fore and centre, and our story becomes about plans and duplicity and dinner parties. Much better than camper vans in the woods, right? I suppose vampires in any story always represent the intellectual joy of devouring other people – okay, among other things – but their world certainly looks the more rational, more twisty and intellectually engaging when compared to immature werewolf antics.

The vast majority of screentime in this episode focused on the ‘adult’ characters – actual adults of Mystic Falls, together with vampires of all ages up to whatever number of candles Elijah most recently blew out. (Mm, imagine the size of that cake. I bet it had tiers and everything.) Elena is the only young character centrally featured, but she has always been oddly more part of the grown-up camp (as represented by adult humans and vampires of any age) than the teenage world that the show would appear to more naturally inhabit. Now I come to think of it, this was a plot point even from the start as Elena had matured through the death of her parents and no longer fitted with her friends at school. Her accelerated education in all things supernatural and homicidal only added to that, and although her schoolfriends are now also maturing as they have to deal with more and more facets of an ever more complicated world, Elena is the only one who really has very few vestiges of childhood left. She’s able to be ruthless, selfless and completely badass all at once, and that seems to be this show’s definition of a worthwhile grown-up. (It’s not a bad one, in my opinion.) Stefan may rail that she’s barely lived yet, but Elena holds her own as a developed personality against any of those who’ve been hanging around for centuries.

So, what do all these tremendously mature people decide to do with their lives? Well, let’s see.

Damon, as always, chooses to wreak havoc in the hope that it will have interesting consequences. (He’s a little like Blair Waldorf, really, isn’t he?) There doesn’t seem to really be any reason to kill Elijah right now – he’s not a threat to Elena until Klaus arrives to perform the sacrifice, after all, and surely there might be a chance to get more information out of him before then – but Damon decides that trying to kill him sounds like a fun idea anyway. He gets lucky thanks to his brother and friend and doesn’t actually reap the consequences of that particular poorly executed awesome idea, but if Elijah ever wakes up again (as he will, right? Tell me I’m not delusional. He’s too awesome, he has to come back) I’m sure there’ll be a consequence or two awaiting Damon. All I ask is that it happens at a tea party, dinner party or other unnecessary formal event.

Stefan is still annoyed at Elena and not doing much else other than brooding and being complicit in Damon’s plan to murder Elijah. (Presumably that’s what he’s actually doing – keeping Elena out of town so she can’t find out and interfere. Why he himself is on board with plan Kill Elijah I’m not entirely sure, but I guess there’s no real reason he shouldn’t be since he doesn’t at all trust his girlfriend to make her own deals with the devil.) At least he’s honest enough to admit that he was worse than Damon before Lexi convinced him to do things differently – and I guess those flashbacks show why Damon wouldn’t have been receptive to anyone preaching similar things to him at the time. Stefan is vaguely searching for something to (un)live for beyond just the joy of eating people, whereas Damon is fearful and resentful and not at all in the mood to look forward to his new vampire life. Also, they’re at ‘irreparable odds.’ Aw. Damon as 19th century southern gentleman never fails to melt my fickle heart entirely.

Alaric finally gets an episode in the spotlight, and what a spotlight it is. He shows perhaps the most real maturity of anyone this week, whilst also being mired in the stickiest moral grey area in Virginia. I love that he’s confident enough of his friendship to Damon to call him out on lying and putting others in danger, but his reaction to Damon/Andie is… well, if I’m honest, it’s perfect. Moral grey area is no fun if it isn’t excruciatingly painful to watch, that’s kind of the point. If we’re objective, Alaric really has no right to tell Damon off for compelling Andie. Alaric has never chosen to adopt that role with Damon, probably because he senses how much Damon would entirely ignore it. But Alaric has stood by while Damon has killed a compelled human, actually helped him to kill a mostly harmless vampire, and turned a blind eye to the deaths of a werewolf or two who just happened to be in the wrong place. He knows Damon as a killer and chooses to be his friend anyway. Compulsion of ‘love’ interests may not be something he’s had to witness first hand before, but it’s certainly something he has to know is within Damon’s character (after all, he knows Caroline). If he disowns Damon and stops being his friend for that, I think he’d feel almost like he’d betrayed him – like he’d given up on the good in Damon in protest at the bad he already knew about and signed up to when originally choosing to become his friend. So he’s stuck with making it evident how uncomfortable he is with it but merely pleading with Damon not to make it any worse than this. Oh… I do love it when a character is put in this kind of position. He’s sticking by Damon for now, but would there be a point at which he simply couldn’t do it any more? As it is, I think Damon needs his influence, whether he’s currently listening to it or not. He needs something more understanding than the simple black and white judgements of his actions that Elena and Stefan so love.

Elena, as I said at the start, usually fits into the ‘adult’ spectrum of character on this show. She’s thoughtful, slow to judge and decisive in action, and her moral compass is usually the most reliable around. I like this, in a teenage heroine. It’s refreshing. However, I do have one problem with it, which doesn’t affect my weekly viewing pleasure but when looked at through the lens of many episodes is beginning to affect my enjoyment of her character: she is beginning to seem dull. Now, to a degree she always has been sort of dull in comparison to her melodramatic/emo/psychotic friends – indeed, my mother has been watching season 1 of late and recently described Elena as a long streak of misery – but this season it simply should not be true. In the course of recent episodes, Elena has made heroic decisions to sacrifice herself for the sake of others, she has escaped werewolves, killed an Original and stabbed herself in the gut. She is undeniably awesome. Yet… the show is somehow not making her feel awesome as you watch it. And I don’t know what to blame, because we know this show is capable of jaw-dropping moments and we know that Nina Dobrev is capable of making Katherine appear a million times more awesome than Elena ever gets to, but I worry they are risking making Elena unlikeable even when she is doing some of the most amazing things any character has ever done on this show. Do you remember Katherine cutting off John’s fingers? Katherine threatening to stab herself in the gut to hurt Elena by proxy? Those were deeply awesome moments. And I wonder whether I should find a better word than ‘awesome,’ but somehow I can’t bring myself to – they were awesome, and it’s something this show usually does very well. But somehow, Elena killing Elijah and actually stabbing herself in the gut merely for the chance to do so? Those moments are not going to live in my memory in the same way, because of how the show presented them. They were shocking from a plot stance, but they didn’t inspire that awe of the character in me that the badass moments of Katherine, Damon, Stefan – hell, even Caroline and Alaric – always do. Elena somehow managed to take absolute control over her own destiny while still appearing just a smidge like a damsel – or maybe like the boring version of ‘adult,’ where of course the character always does the right thing and doesn’t get any credit for doing so. That saddens me, because I think she deserves better, and it also worries me slightly: Elena is honestly a fairly excellent role model, and having her fade into the background of her own show’s awesomeness is doing a disservice to the audience.

Sundry observations:

– Jenna got to be a big girl too in her conversations with Alaric, and good for her. I hope she learns at some of the truth soon, because seeing her so easily played by John and so oblivious to what’s going on with Andie is kind of painful.

– No Caroline this week. And no Matt. I actually didn’t notice their absence, though, so overjoyed was I by an Alaric storyline…

– Even Bonnie and Jeremy had almost nothing to do, which might be another reason I really enjoyed this episode. Heh. Bonnie without powers, though? I bet that’s going to be annoying, but possibly a good thing for her character in the long term if she uses the opportunity to learn to deal with being in a position of relative weakness.

– Lexi was way more convincing as a 19th-century vampire than I’d have expected. As always, flashbacks on this show continue to be a joy and not eye-rolling exposition. And I’m glad that she was brought back up as a ‘remember when you killed my best friend?’ conversation between Stefan and Damon.

– Elijah. Sigh. I hope word of your doings this week never gets back to your Original friends, or you will lose some serious street cred. Killed by two humans in one night? Every commenter seems united in assuming you’ll be back whenever they need that dagger again for Klaus, though, so I won’t mourn your passing too much yet.

– I wonder if Johnathan Gilbert knew anything about the moonstone, given that George Lockwood ended up with it? More journals = surely more exposition to come. I kind of love that the ‘vampire diaries’ of the title can now be something as excellent as the ramblings of a crazy civil war scientist who comes back from the dead when eaten by vampires, rather than Stefan and Elena’s wussy woe-is-me stuff.


About Susannah

31-year-old who gave up her day job to go travelling for a few months, theoretically to help her work out what to do with her life. Amazingly enough, that seemed to work, and I am now back in the UK doing a PhD in a different field entirely. No longer posting regular travel blogs, because no longer travelling regularly. Boo.
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4 Responses to Won’t it be strange when we’re all fully grown? (The Vampire Diaries 2.15, The Dinner Party)

  1. biped says:

    ” ruthless, selfless and completely badass all at once, and that seems to be this show’s definition of a worthwhile grown-up”
    It’s a great definition of a powerful character, but if it’s the definition of grown-up only a minute fraction of manking has ever reached that state.

    Agree that Elena can appear dull. To me, one of the largest difference between Elena and Katherine is expectation, and to a degree, passion.
    Elena does not expect much of her life, not even long term survival. Her feelings seemed to be coloured by the death of her parents and her perception of her own guilt in those death which seem to have left her with an feeling that life is not worth living. I think it’s fair to say what happened after her parents death, including the acquisition of an undead boyfriend, did only help to re-inforce that view. Yes, she is brave, selfless ( which is easier when you don’t feel you really have anything to lose) and bad ass at times, but she does not feel in control of her life or thinks that she could change it if she really tried. [general point: I think she’s right with that assumption]
    Exchanging her not-so-worthwhile life for the ‘guaranteed’ safety of her friends would make a lot of sense if that is how she subconsciously views her own existence.

    Katherine on the other hand has both a very healty survival instinct and a passion for (un)death. Even though she is on Klaus’ list of unpopular vampires, she does not hide in a quiet church mouse manner, she still makes sure she enjoys herself and the destruction she gets to wreak.

    I think the Elena character is always played with an element with low-key despair, even when she’s having a good day, but it’s not too obvious because she’s not a martyr with it, but stabbing a foe because you see no other way out is never going to be as glamourous as cutting UncleDaddy’s finger off because you want to.

    • Susannah says:

      Hmm, you make some very good points. (And at surprising length, for you!)

      I basically absolutely agree with your reading of Elena’s characters an motivations. I also basically think this makes her a very interesting character, who has the potential to address a more realistic, low-key approach to life than most of the characters on this show. I still, however, think that ‘low-key despair’ does not an interesting plotline make, at least not how they’ve been using it to date. (Oh, except in ‘Rose,’ where I felt she got to be legitimately awesome even while trapped and damseling.) Basically, I only find her lack of passion regarding her own life interesting when it comes into conflict with her passion to save other people’s lives – at the moment she has a character-perfect way to save everyone else by sacrificing herself, and it’s not interesting because it doesn’t cause her a problem. What would be far better would be if they could address the fact that, even if she sacrifices herself, we know at least two other people have to die – one vampire, one werewolf. Why isn’t she smart enough to have worked out that it’s never just about her? But this is why, at the moment, I don’t believe her when she tells Stefan and Damon she’ll fight for her own life if they think she ought to. Because she won’t, not yet, and I worry that we’ll get more scenes treading the same ground until she is forced to confront how selfish a self-sacrifice actually is if there are any other options available.

      I went off topic there, didn’t I? Basically, I agree with you, and if I didn’t make my appreciation of Elena’s character clear in the original post then I ought to have done. I just worry that the show needs to spend more time on her characterisation if it wants to keep her as interesting and engaging to watch as the larger-than-life people she’s surrounded by, but it’s usually too focused on pyrotechnics and heart-ripping to do that.

  2. cheeky says:

    I don’t think I know exactly what’s going through Elena’s head. When I compare her to Buffy, in my mind, she always had people around that she could tell her fears and concerns and feelings to. They might have been good people to talk to (Giles) or not (Spike) but … I think Elena has to do some serious soul searching. (Alliteration FTW!)

    I would like to see her actually open right up to someone and tell them exactly how she feels… Like Damon did when he told her how much he loved her, then compelled her to forget it. If she could do that, I think she would. But right now she is bottling a lot of stuff up. I want to see her explode.

    Buffy had to keep fighting because the fate of the world depended on it. Elena doesn’t see it that way. In her mind, giving up would save the world, so she’s taking that (relatively) easy road. At some point, her willingness to die and Damon’s anger about his own untimely death need to clash. I look forward to it.

    • Susannah says:

      Ooh yeah, that would be a good scene. Stefan appears to have a few unresolved issues about dying early or causing early death of others, too. Hmm.

      Didn’t Elena basically open up to Stefan back when this whole curse thing first became clear (presumably in Rose, although I can’t quite remember now)? Standing on her porch, crying about how she wanted to blame everyone else but now she knew it was all happening because of her. I think that’s the closest she’s come to really making her feelings obvious, and of course immediately after that she went into sacrificial shutdown mode. So yeah, it’d be nice to see her break again sometime soon and reveal an actual opinion on, you know, anything about her own life…

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