Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Vampire Diaries (Season 4) (2012-2013)

Elena: Remember that time you tortured me until I told you how to find the cure? You ruined my relationship with Stefan, and then you trapped us with a werewolf?

Rebekah: Yes, so?

Elena: So, you're not a good person.

The Vampire Diaries Season 4, Episode 19 "Pictures of You"

It's difficult, even perhaps pointless, to step back from the in-the-moment experience of watching The Vampire Diaries to then reflect on whether this past season was a strong one. What I know is that, throughout its fourth season, this remained the show that, week to week, I would most look forward to, the show I would consistently helplessly get caught up in—the breathless pacing and all the insane twists and cliffhangers that would leave me jaw agape in a mix of awe and bewilderment.

The big "moment" this season was—SPOILER—Silas announcing himself by snapping Jeremy's neck. Brutal. I had always felt Elena's kid brother was dead weight, but The Vampire Diaries continued its tradition of unexpectedly killing off characters right at the peak of their coolness. As with Alaric the previous season, they took a character that had, for a good while, been in a limbo of having no clear role to play and probably needed to be cut loose, and they gave him one final moment to shine, sending him off in the most awesome way possible. Well, maybe it wasn't awesome for Jeremy, but his death was used to create an awesome moment. Seriously, this was, as much as anything I saw on scripted TV all season, one of those "where were you when" moments for me. I mean, obviously I was at home watching Vampire Diaries, but it was one of those moments where I had to take a minute there to just process what I had seen . . . . So, to be honest, I do feel pretty cheated that they decided to go back on it this time. All I can do is give the writers the benefit of the doubt in trusting that 1) it was not a planned fakeout but merely one decision to kill him off, and then a later, second decision (no less valid and carefully considered than the first) to bring him back, and 2) they will hopefully find ways to keep this character interesting.

I suppose it shouldn't have been all that surprising that they chose to resurrect Jeremy. I mean, this is the show, after all, where characters are constantly getting their necks broken, but it's not a big deal, because a vampire can get back up from that in maybe under an hour, just as soon as their healing ability repairs the damage. And, more absurdly, even humans can and have come back from broken necks, provided they were wearing one of those special rings that will resurrect them if they were killed by a supernatural being (even if a broken neck doesn't seem like an especially supernatural cause of death). Which brings us to my other favorite moment this season.

If perhaps Jeremy has seemed like dead weight at times, then surely Matt's consequence has been even more in question all along, as the one member of the regular cast who has always been just a normal human, with no powers nor supernatural lineage. And yet, I've always liked Matt. He's humble and loyal and reasonable. And even if he's the most ordinary character on the show, he does kind of defy expectations by being the quarterback—not normally a sympathetic character in young adult fantasy—yet also the easiest character in the show to relate to. Against the vampire love triangle that is the core of the show, not to mention all the high-stakes supernatural warfare surrounding it, this regular guy had often seemed like a complete afterthought even in the eyes of the girl he was always there for. It was a great touch, then, having his death be the trigger that brought Elena back from the dark side. Was it cheap that it was all an obvious ploy, since it turned out he had the resurrection ring on? In this case, no; it was just a clever move by the brothers Salvatore. What's more, you have to believe, given everything we've learned about these characters over the last four seasons, that Damon would have gone through with it and snapped Matt's neck even if the ring hadn't been in play, if that had been the only way to get Elena to feel anything. And Stefan would have let Damon do it too, because these guys prioritize Elena's life above her will and above what is "right," because, at the end of the day, they're not heroes and never have been. And they have never given a damn about the quarterback.

I've always been fascinated by how, even though there are both good vampires and bad vampires, the show in general has rather a skewed sense of morality. This was most embodied in the long-problematic character of Klaus, who was introduced in Season 2 to be the big bad (the ultimate bad, in fact—almost supremely powerful, and a total dick about it), but whom we were then also supposed to buy as a legitimate romantic interest for the virtuous Caroline, even though he never really did anything to convince us that he was anything less than the most evil and sadistic character on the show.

This was the guy who killed Caroline's actual boyfriend's mother, and then, just a few episodes later, we're supposed to believe that he has a sweet side, and we're supposed to be invested in that potential relationship? And then another few episodes pass, and he nearly kills Caroline herself, and then afterward, once again, fans are supposed to go right back to shipping them? And these are, debatably, not even the worst things Klaus has done over the course of his time on the show. Remember that time he murdered Aunt Jenna? Or remember also that time he killed Tyler in order to turn him? Or how about that time he compelled Elena's mother to kill herself?

But it's not just Klaus. Remember that time Elijah slapped a dude's head off, just because they once both liked the same girl? And then we're told over and over again that Elijah is defined by his mighty morals? Or remember that time Rebekah killed Elena (leading to Elena becoming a vampire)? And then, for the rest of the season, we're apparently expected to feel pity or something for Rebekah because she's actually the most sentimental and emotionally vulnerable character on the show? Even everybody's favorite character, Damon (my favorite too, until I actually watched Season 1, after having originally gotten into the series starting with Season 2), is, remember, a guy who raped and murdered teenage girls. And now, three seasons later, he's the show's hero and the guy who gets the girl? And, yeah, I know we're not supposed to think of it as rape or murder or even to think of these high school girls as minors. Let's not forget that he also murdered Stefan's best friend just to cover his own ass. Or that Damon himself at one point snapped Jeremy's neck, having no idea that Jeremy was wearing the resurrection ring at the time, just because he was pissed, not even specifically at Jeremy but just in general. And that was after Damon was one of the "good guys"!

As of the end of Season 4, I'm pretty sure there's not a single main character on the show who hasn't committed mass murder. Even Matt, the stalwart human, presumably (if unknowingly) wiped out a ton of vampires when he staked their great-grand-sire Finn, who seemed to be the one good guy among the Originals (which means he was probably some kind of serial killer, like everyone else on this show). And always the show moves on very quickly and expects us not to dwell on the many horrible things these characters have done.

The only way, not to excuse it but to rationalize it, is to consider that anyone who has lived for over a hundred years (and themselves died along the way) is very likely going to be blase about a lot, and so of course they get over things quickly. It may sound like I'm giving the show too much credit, but it all comes back to that great Season 3 moment, when Stefan and Damon, wondering what would happen between them, if ever Elena were to make up her mind and choose one of them, agreed that the one not chosen would leave to give the happy couple space until Elena passed away at a ripe old age, after which the brothers would go back to being brothers, no girl between them. That's the insane perspective that comes with being a vampire. When you can look ahead ninety years with no regard to age, how deeply can you be concerned about these days that you know are just going to die and fade away? Kudos to this show for sincerely exploring at least some of the implications of what it would be like to live as an immortal.

Mixed feelings about the Originals getting spun off into their own show. On the one hand, the fan in me is thinking, "Yes! TWO hours of Vampire Diaries every week! It's gonna be Buffy and Angel all over again, hopefully with more crossovers and none of that complicated split networks business." On the other hand, that episode of The Vampire Diaries that served as the backdoor pilot was definitely the worst episode of the season. Part of it is that I'm accustomed to The Vampire Diaries pushing forward at a constant breakneck pace (no pun intended), whereas this episode was completely a midseason sidetrack that consequently felt like a lost week.

Moving Klaus off of Vampire Diaries might be the best thing for that character. He had become too popular a character, and Joseph Morgan far too ridiculously charismatic in the role, for them to ever kill him off, and yet, for the reasons stated above, he could never work as a hero, so keeping him around as a sub-antagonist or wildcard was just going to make an already tangled story messier and messier. Of course, I don't know how he's supposed to be any more believable as the hero on his own show, especially when its antagonist appears to be just a regular vampire leagues beneath him, and there doesn't appear to be anything else to hold Klaus back from murdering everything. It also leaves us with some unfortunate lack of closure over on The Vampire Diaries, since neither his mortal nor romantic rivals could ever decisively best him, but instead it feels like they just managed to outlast his interest in their town. And I'll admit, as preposterous as I always found the Klaus-Caroline pairing, there was something sweet about how Klaus arrived to the rescue for her graduation in the finale—made for the best graduation episode ever in my eyes, even if the high school angle was increasingly an afterthought on this show (which hopefully means at least that, instead of a clumsy attempt at a college phase (a la Buffy Season 4), the writers will just recognize that school is not a priority for immortals).

I'm more surprised that Rebekah is moving over to The Originals. The finale gave no indication of this, so I'm guessing this was a late decision. It should make The Originals a better show than that pilot we saw with only Klaus and Elijah. And if she's more of a core character on that show than she was on Vampire Diaries, I suppose I'll no longer have to worry as much about how sad I would have been when they inevitably killed her off in brutal yet awesome fashion. Yes, as much as I established that she's not a good person, the show still managed to make me feel for her. Damn this show for getting me to fall for unscrupulous serial killers. Hopefully they'll spend at least a moment next season to give her Vampire Diaries story more closure than her siblings got with their abrupt exits. And, yes, crossovers, hopefully.

As for what's in store for Vampire Diaries itself, that was some crazy season-ending cliffhanger. Stefan trapped in a coffin at the bottom of a lake (ripped from Angel, but still cool), while the new bad is walking around town with his face? Does this mean the villainous Silas will be replacing Stefan as Paul Wesley's main role on the show? It's been said before that the core three characters are the only essentials—the only ones who are safe from the threat of getting killed off at any moment. But is it really more the three main stars who are essential, rather than their characters? Both Nina Dobrev and Paul Wesley now have multiple characters that they play on the show, so even Elena and Stefan could theoretically be killed off without it affecting the actors' contracts. I don't honestly think the writers would ever do that, but, still, having Paul Wesley play Silas could be a game-changer. Stefan had gotten stale a while ago, not necessarily through any fault of the actor. I used to find Elena pretty boring in the early seasons, and yet I loved Katherine. It was hard to believe that Nina Dobrev played both characters, since Katherine came across so much more charismatic, more deliciously saucy, and, I could have sworn, more physically attractive even than Elena. Maybe giving Paul Wesley likewise a villain to play will invigorate his performance.

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