The Moth Chase

Elevating the Art of Procrastanalysis – Academics wasting time on pop culture

Humanity’s Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

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Dear Kathryn,

Before I get to plot, I have to note how much I enjoyed Vampire Diaries’ return to horror genre motifs last night!  This was something they played with in the first few episodes of season one: each opening scene appropriating an old ghost or campfire story into vampire lore.  The campy-ness of it is what originally hooked me into the show.  Somewhere between the limbed-from-limb campers and Elena running through the house with creepy musical undertones, camera moving slowly to focus on her hand on the doorknob – I knew we were in for a treat.  If there’s one thing I learned around those campfires when I was young, it’s if your boyfriend doesn’t make it back to the car, you DON’T go out to find him!  And never, ever stop for a body in the road!The immense focus on Rose puzzled me for a bit, at first – she’s a peripheral character, who is clearly going to die, so why spend so much time on her growing dementia and attempts to eat Elena?  But I got so caught up in her story, I didn’t even click into the fact that this was all going to be about Damon in the end, until it was.  Moving on from the fact that I have no idea how he got into and controlled Rose’s dream – the scene was nevertheless quite lovely.  One of the more philosophical questions that hovers in the background of this show is, what is a human?  They don’t make any bold, new, stunningly creative claims – but I nevertheless think I like both how they refuse to come down on one answer and how the answers they claim are actually pretty normal and expected.  This isn’t a philosophical show.  Friendship, family, love – sure.  The ability to find pleasure in sunlight warming your face – yeah, that too.  The ability to do a mercy killing – in Damon’s case, I guess so.  And of course, the ability to feel guilt, and try to choose the good – yep, that too.

I think in the end the show was trying to do the simple – human chooses the good; Damon’s return to monster entails choosing evil.  But there was something in the way that scene with poor Jessica came together that felt a little more interesting to me.  That might just be because it incorporated one of my favourite TV On The Radio songs.  But for a moment, it felt like the human/vamp, good/evil binaries weren’t so simple – and that it was the struggle itself, whatever the outcome, that somehow redeemed him.

I guess I had no moment of, oh no Damon’s bad again.  Maybe I’m just too used to vampire stories by now – granted, it might be a bad thing that I can take the death of an innocent girl driving down a dark road in stride as a narrative device.  But what makes Damon such an interesting character is how he occupies that middle, gray area between or beyond good and evil.  He’s not just a bad boy with a soul – he’s not even just a damaged soul with some yearning to it.  He doesn’t really move back and forth between good and evil but, rather, sits squarely between them.  You want to trust him, but you don’t for a second ever think you can.

On the TV On The Radio Song – nice subtle lyrical details followed the quite obvious, “Congratulations of the mess you’ve made of things,” opening line: Eternalised. Objectified.  You set your sights so high. But this is beginning to feel like the bolt busted loose from the lever.  Never you mind, Death Professor. You’re structure’s fine. My dust is better. Your victim flies so high, all to catch a bird’s eye view of who’s next…Y’all could use a doctor. Who’s sick, who’s next?

I don’t think they could have written a better song for this episode if they tried!

I continue to love the Caroline storyline – “Everyone just needs to stop kissing me!” – and yet next week it seems she’s going to get locked in a cage…when, oh when, is poor Matt going to learn what’s going on all around him?!?

Wishing my bathroom looked anything like Damon’s en suite…
Natalie

—-

Dear Natalie,

I also loved the return of horror motifs and tropes – it took me back to the early seasons and nicely paralleled the tightening focus of the season on the two major plots: the coming were/vamp showdown and the battle with the Originals (whatever that means, as Stefan said so nicely). I also like the pacing of this episode, even though it was a little sentimental and “personal growth” centered.

I agree that Rose’s descent into madness and inevitable death was a device to spotlight Damon and even more to re-raise the question of what it means to be human. What emerged as two central answers to that question were: the ability to feel intense emotion and connection for others, to sympathize and empathize, and the ability to be courageous in the face of danger. Rose tells Elena that she and Damon are alike – they both don’t want to care, but they continue to do so and to fight it. And the worst part of being a vampire is the insatiable desire to take human life, which cuts directly against the haunting, lingering feeling of sympathy for them. Rose admits that vampires aren’t particularly good at creating homes or families and this is clearly connected to that raging, murderous impulse. Of course, Rose also admits that she had a particularly hard time settling down since she spent centuries running from Elijah. That raises the second major human theme: fight for what you believe in, don’t be a coward. There is something fascinating about the idea of mortality and immortality when it comes to courage. Season 4 of Buffy dealt with this explicitly in the creation of the hybrid super-monster Adam. Part-demon, part-human, part-machine, he tells the other vampires that they are cowering in fear because their immortality has actually made them more afraid to die. I thought of this when Rose kept harping on how she wished she hadn’t wasted so much time in fear and her urging Elena not to do so. Perhaps courage is a uniquely human quality – since humans live with the knowledge of their own eventual deaths, it is easier to stand up for what they believe. Where the vampire becomes addicted to and thereby paralyzed by immortality.

If those are two special human traits in the Vampire Diaries world – intense emotion and courage – I love the way they fit perfectly into the adolescent world of emerging adulthood. What is harder as a young adult than making sense of the raging swing of emotions one is capable of and trying to figure out if feeling them is worth the pain and confusion? Add this to the difficulty of figuring out if there is anything worth standing for and finding the courage to make the stand and you get a pretty decent picture of some of the internal pressures of late adolescence in 21st century America. Damon embodies these struggles so perfectly, which is probably why he continues to feel like the show’s most interesting character. Where Stefan and Elena just seem like supporting roles to his journey (and maybe one reason I really liked this episode was the scarcity of Stefan/Elena goo-goo eyes).

Of course, Caro and Tyler are giving us a different picture of the struggle of young adults – what to do when it feels like the only person you can trust has betrayed you? I really hope “lock her in a cage and wait for the full moon to bite her” is just a first-stage answer to that question. I also don’t want to lose the amazing tension we saw in Caroline this week – she clearly feels attraction to both Matt and Tyler in different ways and that is a very real experience that is super hard to sort out at age 17. Playing it out in vampire, werewolf, human terms is really fun and I worry that if Tyler gets too alpha-wolfy that tension will be lost. Though a band of werewolves coming to town does sound promising for drama and action!

Where was Bonnie this week? What do you make of the fact that Elena told Rose she doesn’t think the moonstone has actually been destroyed? What would it mean for Elena to find her courage and take a stand? When are we going to learn more about Elijah’s master plan? And yes, good god, when will Matt get in on the action? Perhaps most importantly, will Uncle John be missing his fingers (or did they get supernaturally healed? I can’t remember).

Very glad to be back in supernatural soap opera land!

Kathryn

 

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