Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Vampire Diaries

The Vampire Diaries
Episode 19: Pictures of You
By: Carlos Uribe

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

Spoilers Ahoy!

There is a scene early in the episode where Stefan and Damon are throwing a football around. It's a scene that primarily serves to catch people up to what they're trying to do. It reminds viewers that Stefan plans to leave while at the same time that their goal is to give Elena the cure. Only this is complicated because Elena doesn't want to become human again so she's going to kill innocent humans for every day that they look for the cure. Their solution is to get her to turn her humanity switch back on because she would presumably want to be human again. I'm not entirely sure they're thinking this through completely. They bring up that she would have to deal with Jeremy's death but she would also have to process everything she did while her humanity switch was flipped. If she becomes human then her vampire past is going to haunt her. She's not going to be the same character before she became a vampire nor will she be the same person from before she turned off her emotions. Granted, I have the ability to take a step back and think about this. I'm not actually involved in this fictitious situation so I can look at it from an outsider's perspective. So the episode sets up the goal pretty on early in the episode: bombard Elena with as many emotional moments as possible to make her want to feel again. Which would make sense except it sort-of feels like they already tried this and it failed. What's going to be different this time? These characters should be learning from history and coming up with new plans rather than repeating the same old and expecting new results. That's basically the definition of insanity. The whole “let's make Elena flip her switch plot” was starting to run on fumes this episode so it had mixed results.

Let's talk about the good: Elena is on her way to flipping her switch when she feels a human emotion. The characters had it all wrong (no duh) when they tried to bombard her with kindness. That would have worked on emotional Elena but this is one without her heart. What finally made her having a feeling is when she tries to kill Bonnie. She's being practical because Silas is still using Bonnie. Get rid of the witch and he won't be able to bring back the dead. Bonnie is too powerful for Elena to take on. She's so powerful that she gets close to actually killing Elena. Elena gets scared and in doing so she starts to feel again. It's going to be a slow process but it exists. So at least we hopefully won't have to deal with failed plots in a future episode. It's at least a sign that the plot is moving forward in this front. Elena might be fun as an antagonist character but the series can't really exist in the long-term with her as a villain. She's the main character after all. This might be an ensemble drama to a point but this is still a story about her. The good is that the end starts to move on but sadly everything else was weak. A lot of the character moments depend on how Elena's friends (and lovers) react to evil Elena. They were strong on their own but the problem is that the series has already done these. The writers tried to justify this with the prom. The prom is a real-life event that rarely turns out to be anywhere as magical or important as a television version of it. I didn't even go to my school's version of prom and I don't regret it at all. The problem is that all this ended up accomplishing is Elena reminding all of the characters she doesn't feel emotions. Which was beaten into our heads in previous episodes. This version of Elena might be practical but she sure loves repeating herself.

I'd say that the strongest plot actually belonged to Rebekah. She's been going on and on about how she wants to be a human being. She wants to take the cure so she can be normal. Elijah decides that he'll give her this opportunity if she can prove that this isn't just one of her whims. All Rebekah has to do is go through a whole day without using a single one of her vampire powers. She can't compel, feed, or do anything superhuman. This challenge actually makes sense and she quickly finds that this harder than it looks. She can't just take what she wants. She can't compel her way into being prom queen and she has to beg for a dance. It's kind of sad actually but she's a trooper. She's willing to live like a human. So it looks like she's going to pass with flying colors. So the series throws a serious monkey wrench in her plan: it puts April's life in danger. Elena attacks April. The only way to save April's life is with vampire blood. The only nearby vampire is Rebekah. She can chose to be an original vampire and use the blood to save her life or she can chose to be human and not be able to do anything about it. Only Matt convinces her to save the life by appealing to Rebekah's romantic notion of what it means to be a good human. This last test was ultimately a multi-layered one where there really was no right or wrong answer. It was perfect in that it played who Rebekah wanted to be (good) against what she wanted to be (human). She saves April's life. It might cause her to fail her test but she won't be getting the cure anyways. Silas is able to impersonate Rebekah and get it from Elijah at the end of the day by pretending to have passed the test with flying colors.

Which brings us to my final point I'm going to cover in the review: the idea that Silas can be anyone. There's really two ways you can take knowing this trick. The first is you can just assume that everybody is going to turn out to be Silas which robs a lot of moments from any emotional power. This assumption is basically trying to get so far ahead of the show that it will ruin your enjoyment of the episode. The second is to take the trick as you’re supposed to where you question who is real and who is actually Silas. This creates a level of tension where you don't know who to trust. Now which way you take is going to depend somewhat on the individual but I found myself a little bit in the middle. There wasn't a lot of tension for me but I didn't just assume that everyone was Silas. This basically made it feel like an empty ploy to me but all the nice character emotional beats between most characters worked.

Pictures of You is a pretty good episode of the Vampire Diaries. It believes in the prom cliché of Hollywood a little too much and it's a little repetitive with a lot of the meat. Despite this, a lot of the character moments between Elena and her friends was strong. A lot of the moments not involving Elena were stronger and they all worked well together. There's more than just happened than prom and Rebekah trying to be human so the narrative momentum is able to keep going. The next episode is a small detout to New Orleans. It's going to act as a backdoor pilot as a potential spin-off. After that, we should be wrapping up the season in a few rollercoaster episodes.

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