Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Vampire Diaries

The Vampire Diaries
Episode 18: American Gothic
By: Carlos Uribe

The Vampire Diaries is a show about Elena's love triangle with two vampires.

Spoilers Ahoy!

One aspect of the Vampire Diaries that is usually done well is the shifting alliances. One character can go from being an enemy to a friend within the space of a single episode if their interests happen to align. That the show is able to do this without betraying character is a remarkable feat in it's own but it also shows just how much effort goes into ensuring the characters remain consistent. So I was a bit surprised when Elijah turned out to be secretly seeing Katherine. He's a man of honor while she's the opposite. It's a juicy twist but the writers have to ensure it fits with who Elijah is. He has to have a reason for dating Katherine that fits within his integrity system. A lot of shows would have tried to justify this move and failed because the writers were trying to force the character's decisions into the narrative. The writers of the Vampire Diaries manage to pull this off because it actually makes sense when Elijah explains his recent dalliance with Katherine. He knew her before she had become a vampire. He hopes that there is still a version of the girl he once knew in the monster that exists today. It's this hope that clarifies the situation. I have no doubt in my mind that if the writers didn't know their characters so well then this plot twist would have felt contrived. If the writers didn't care so much about writing for the characters and if they couldn't make the twist work then it wouldn't surprise me if they ditched the idea. The Vampire Diaries remains one of the most thrilling shows on television even as the narrative momentum has slowed because the writers continue to ensure that they are writing the characters we've grown to love rather than treating like characters like mere plot devices. As long as the writers keep prioritizing the characters then this show will always be a strong character drama-which is always better than any other kind. Don't get me wrong: the Vampire Diaries remains a plot-heavy show but it works because it's really a character drama.

American Gothic is an episode that advances the narrative in a significant fashion without betraying the characters. Elena and Rebekah are able to keep up their alliance for the rest of the episode. They manage to find Katherine at the beginning of the episode but they don't get the cure before the Salvatore brothers show up. The major twist that Katherine is secretly seeing Elijah was revealed at this time. The show does have a lot of fun scenes in this episode. There's the part where an emotionless Elena basically dissects how Katherine is using Elijah. He doesn't really believe her until she brings up that Katherine killed Jeremy. Those are just great scenes as they take where the characters are and uses them to great effect. The other part has Damon and Rebekah searching through Katherine's house to find the cure. They believe they've found it but Katherine gets away. Rebekah takes it but it turns out to be a decoy. I admit that I saw that coming but it was still well executed. It might not have come as a surprise but it worked in a different level because it showed Damon hesitating stopping Rebekah from taking the cure. He claims it's a sign of weakness but it's clear that he's still not entirely sold on the idea of forcing Elena to take the cure. He might claim he's committed but he clearly has doubts even if he doesn't realize it. It's all strong character moments. In the end, Elijah goes with Rebekah to Klaus with the cure. Damon, Stefan, and Elena are left behind but the biggest shocker comes when Elena delivers her ultimatum. As long as Damon and Stefan plan to give Elena the cure, she's going to be dropping dead bodies. It's a great ending especially because the two brothers have just promised themselves to commit to forcing Elena to take the cure.

As this is all going on, we get some really strong character moments from Klaus and Caroline. He begins the episode still in pain from Silas' attack. He hasn't been cured yet. He believes it's because a piece of the stake is still in his body but he can't get it out. This is a problem because if the steak reaches his heart then he believes he'll die. A show employs a great trick in the beginning when Caroline comes in and expresses concern. Only she reveals herself to actually be Silas. This allows the writers to establish that Silas could be any character at any given point. They technically did this with Shane but using Caroline is going to create distrust in future scenes. Shane used to be the face of Silas but now he could use anyone. It's a clever plot technique that I'm sure the writers will exploit. The plot moves forward when the real Caroline does come and visit Klaus. He's not sure she's actually Caroline but she's eventually able to prove who she is. He recruits to help her but she backs out when she realizes she could use the situation to get Tyler pardoned. He'll be able to return home and Caroline can be reunited with him. It's a strong stance that she sticks to for most of the episode. She does inadvertently help Klaus when they get in a big fight. Klaus' pain disappears and it's revealed that the piece of the stake doesn't exist. He merely thought it did because Silas put it in his mind. Caroline was able to completely free his mind from Silas' control. It's good that he's no longer in pain and is getting closer to the cure but it does reveal a troubling revelation. As Caroline points out, how powerful is Silas if he can make Klaus think he's going to die?

American Gothic is a pretty great episode of the Vampire Diaries. The plot moves fast, the characters stay consistent, and it has some pretty legitimate shocks. The ending of the episode really helped build up excitement for the next one to the point where it's painful to know that I have to wait for a few weeks before this show comes back. Elena's ultimatum and Elijah heading to Klaus with the cure is exciting. I also don't think Rebekah is going to take kindly to Silas using her brother to steal her shot at becoming human. There are so many layers to the ending with so many possibilities that simply proves why the writers of this show remain master storytellers.

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