I am becoming more and more convinced that the main strength of The Vampire Diaries is knowing how to take an old thing and make it new again. It is a problem the show has faced and overcome with panache ever since its premiere, when Twilight fans saw it as a rip-off, Buffy fans saw it as a sad indictment of the decline of girl power in tv, and everyone else saw it as oh no, not another damn vampire show. But anyone who stuck with it through its shaky first few episodes, even if they were a member of one of those sceptical camps to begin with, know that it has surpassed those assumptions – and that it has done it by embracing them. Stefan and Elena are every bit as True Love and teenage escapism as Bella and Edward*, but they come with less perfection and more infectious youth and enthusiasm. Elena will never be Buffy, but Alaric does just fine as a badass human Slayer and Elena’s self-determination and willingness to fight back in tight corners carry on the spirit of an empowered teenage girl in a supernatural world without the actual superpowers to help her. And the age-old vampire myths are there in recognisable form, but twisted just enough to give rise to new situations we haven’t seen done a million times before.
*disclaimer: no, I have not read/watched/otherwise engaged with Twilight, nor do I plan to. So please correct me if I’m wrong here but from what I understand of the storyline – and Twilight fans I know online who still love the extra energy and kickassness of TVD in comparison – I don’t think I’m too far off.
This ethos also seems to extend to its plot points, and is perhaps a partial explanation for how the plot on the show continues to move crazily fast without ever apparently running out of steam. In theory, many plots have already been re-used even within the one and a half seasons to date, but in actuality it doesn’t feel like that because the show keeps moving forward such that when we see an old plot point it feels new again, because the context has changed. There are multiple examples of this, but the obvious one coming to mind right now is Vicki vs. Caroline – technically the exact same plot, so much so that they had to have Damon point it out within the show, but boy oh boy did it feel different due to their different characters and the different slant within the show by this point on the different ways to be a vampire. And so old is made new again, and several episodes of heart-wrenching pain and joy are wrung out of a storyline that we thought we already knew.
Rather than adopt my usual approach of looking at each main character and seeing how their actions fit into the theme of the episode generally, then, I’m going to look at each of the main plot developments instead this week (so brace yourself, this could be a long discussion) and see whether they fit this mould of having your cake and eating it too.
Plot point 1: Telling Matt (and potentially Jenna) the truth: definitely yes. Although it’s been a long time since we saw someone with no knowledge have the whole concept of vampires explained to them from scratch – in fact, the only example I can really think of is Elena, where a whole episode was devoted to Stefan slowly explaining everything in a nice, calm tone. The show has managed to take a shorthand route with exposition for everyone else since then: Elena explained the situation to Bonnie when Bonnie was already aware of supernatural things, Jeremy had many gradual introductions to the idea, and Caroline came pre-packaged with helpful memories. None of that will apply to Matt or Jenna. I’m not certain we will see both of them brought into the secret at this stage – it’s looking like Caroline may have to resort to compulsion to prevent Matt from spilling her secret, and it might be possible for Elena to come up with semi-convincing lie to explain Isobel – but I hope at least one of them is. When Elena found out about vampires, the exposition was for the audience as much as for her, covering vampire mythology and Salvatore history. She was special and central and given as much time as she needed to process all this new information, and to her credit she had basically figured it out herself. The audience, however, now belongs to those in the know, and seeing the circumferential humans brought into the game at this stage cannot be the same – neither Matt nor Jenna will be over the first shock before they are inevitably dragged into the last Salvatore/Petrova/Original plot, I am sure. And so we get to see the same storyline, probably speeded up a little, from the opposite viewpoint – from the side of those who have lied and betrayed and kept those they love in the dark for months. That’s definitely making the most out of a repeat plot point.
Plot point 2: Katherine being out of the tomb again: in a more low-key way, this is also an example of plot/character recycling. Since we last saw her on the loose, she has been demoted from Big Bad to merely a Supplementary Bad, and her behaviour in this episode reflects that. Obviously she still has a hidden agenda, is still manipulating people and will probably turn out to be Elena’s enemy (which Elena, at least, has not forgotten), but she’s putting her plans on a back-burner for a while. As such, while she is still definitely herself, her behaviour is also strongly reminiscent of Damon’s around episodes 5-9 last year. Stefan overpowered him and proved him fallible, some of his backstory and motivation was laid a little clearer, and without any immediate plan for releasing Katherine from her tomb he settled down to enjoy toying with the human who looked like her and a little mild Stefan-baiting on the side. Similarly, Katherine is getting as much useful info on the Salvatores & co as she can, whilst indulging in a little everyone-baiting-but-particularly-Damon on the side. I approve. This allows her to fit into an expected mould on this show, so without making her a particular focus of this week’s episode (despite its title) she becomes an established part of the world and we know roughly what to expect of her.
Plot point 3: Gilbert journals: er, definitely an example of something we’ve seen before. Though this time it looks less like they’ll be used to elucidate bored teenagers on matters of the supernatural and more as plot gizmos which will reveal whatever is needed from 1864. But it’s an excuse for more flashbacks, which can only make me happy.
Plot point 4: Luka and Jonas’ deaths: only partially a familiar plot. Luka and Jonas are, in some ways, a retread of Anna and Pearl, but the specifics of their deaths were specific to this current plotline. With Elijah rotting happily in the basement, they stood in the way of the need to resurrect him – they knew enough about his plans that the Salvatores & co could feasibly act without him. With the Martins gone, however, even given Bonnie’s new knowledge, I’d say they need someone with inside Klaus knowledge who they can even partially trust – which comes down to Elijah or Katherine. I know who I trust more. So I guess their deaths were inevitable for the sake of bringing Elijah back at some point (which the writers must want as much as us, right?) and since I found them kind of boring I’m not too worried. (As plenty of commenters have pointed out, killing off the magical coloured people is hardly new ground for this show, sigh, but as actual characters there was less precedent for their arc on the show.) In specifics, also, being burnt to death is a new one for non-vampires on this show.
Plot point 5: Isobel returns: well, the clue is in the description. Will Elena be able to stop Jenna issuing an invitation to a vampire and repeating that particular mistake for the hundredth time? Who knows.
I think that pretty much covers everything important that happened. So to conclude… yes, I think my assertion has been validated. We saw almost nothing last week that we haven’t seen before on this show in some way or other, but it was all retooled and seen from new angles that made it exciting and unexpected nevertheless. So long as the show can keep pulling off that trick, I think it can sustain its plot momentum. (Even with evil hiatuses to interrupt it. Grrr.)
– what did Damon find in that journal that he was keeping from Katherine but sharing with Stefan? We know he probably already knew Emily’s place of death simply by being around at the time, which means he knows where the other witches were burned. Is there any other piece of information they know they need which they haven’t currently got? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just the specifics of Emily’s death (I can’t imagine Johnathan Gilbert not recording that event, after all), but I hope it’s something new and interesting.
– is Katherine playing Damon? Again? Her admission that she knew he’d die and considered it worth the price of her own escape felt true enough, but her later ‘explanation’ to Damon that John allowed her to choose one of them and she chose Stefan… no. I’m not convinced. Firstly, we didn’t see John visit Katherine until after he’d already given Damon the dagger, though obviously there could have been previous meetings we didn’t see… but even so it makes no sense. Katherine gets out of the tomb if Elijah dies. With John in possession of the dagger, who cares which Salvatore brother she nominates to die? John would give it to whichever one he wanted dead anyway. Similarly, if Katherine had told Damon what she knew last week, she could still have played it such that Elijah died but Damon did not – after all, if Elijah dies then no matter what ‘deal’ she’s made with John, she gets out of the tomb. All in all, I see that little speech as Katherine just having fun messing with Damon’s head some more, trying once again to drive a wedge between him and Stefan, just taking the situation and having fun with it to exploit other people’s weaknesses.
– As much as Candice Accola has a lovely singing voice, and I approve of the song choice, I felt that scene went on just a tiny bit too long. If it were possible to product placement an actor’s voice, that’s what that felt like to me – an audition tape for the actress, rather than a heartfelt moment for the character.
– Loved the throwaway comment that Elena and Stefan keep forgetting to go to school. Heh. Along with everyone else. When was the last time we saw an actual lesson? Middle of last season sometime?
– Now that I’ve had a reasonable quantity of Matt and Alaric in recent weeks, I’m missing the Sheriff instead.
– I’m glad that both Stefan’s and Damon’s first instincts re Katherine/Elena in the first scene were correct, and that they only doubted themselves once Katherine played the confusion to her advantage.
– It still makes absolutely no sense to me that John and Isobel and Katherine are apparently all working together. None whatsoever. Any theories?