Taking care of the kids
Well, any doubt that The Vampire Diaries is going for the Twilight-jugular have been put to rest. From Elena’s first hunt in the woods that almost transitions to that fabled vampire sex that is supposed to be so amazing, to the debates about whether or not she will be able to control her blood lust – it all felt like a Bella preview. Do you remember the episode in season 1 when Elena and Stefan had sex for the first time that aired the night before a Twilight movie came out? This episode felt like that to me – playing with the vegetarian vampire convention only to prove that The Vampire Diaries wants to take a darker, edgier stance. These vampires have sex (before marriage!). And they eat people.
Just like there was a lot of harping on Elena’s choices last week, the moral edge of this episode swung toward the idea that we can best control our desires through of moderation and indulgence. Don’t deny yourself the thing you really want (you’ll just go crazy and run off the rails) – indulge your desires in moderation to learn self-control. Since presumably none of us actually desire to drain other humans of their blood, whether or not this understanding of desire and self-control makes sense depends on what we identify with blood lust. Is it a metaphor for some other desire we might share (sex, power?) or is it simply a kind of violence/impulse to murder we can easily condemn? I’m not sure The Vampire Diaries knows itself and it was a little disappointing to have all this talk about Elena going crazy and killing someone and then do just fine drinking from Matt and stopping without any prompting. Really, she didn’t even have to struggle a little bit not to keep drinking? [not to mention that Stefan seems to have no problem with Elena feeding off of Matt, but lots of problems with him feeding off of Damon. I am assuming that the blood bond only works when vampires share blood?] I am very curious how they will keep playing with this idea of Elena’s desire for blood and desire more generally.
But it can’t all be about blood, can it, what with a new badass vampire hunter in town?! You are right, I didn’t bring up the priest character last week though I meant to, mostly just to suggest that it felt very cliched to me. When he lights the council up in a holy fire bomb I wondered if things would get more interesting but that is because I assumed he wasn’t really dead. And while he is not back on the scene yet, I still think we have reason to wonder if he is coming back. The reference to seeing his daughter again “when we all find our salvation” was vague enough to suggest that he might believe there will be a coming salvific moment that will reunite the living and the dead. Since we were reminded how many loved ones our characters have lost, and saw the manifestation of Alaric, I think we are primed to expect some one to come back from the other side. Plus, what is up with Jeremy seeing tattoos on Conner Jordan that no one else can see? If Jeremy can usually see the dead does this mean Jordan has a connection to the dead? Is dead? Is going to be dead? Is going to reunite the living and dead? I have no idea, but I love the possibilities! (I will say I continue to be astonished at how wrong a show like this can get its religious references: the priest wears a clerical collar but likes to be called Pastor; his memorial service is a Mass – a traditionally Roman Catholic service – but he himself was married and had children so can’t be a Catholic priest. Come on writers, haven’t you ever used google?).
I also loved Damon’s grave side conversation with Alaric. There is obviously something really problematic about conflating grief and emotional expression with childishness and Damon clearly has his own issues to work through. But I kind of laughed along with him because *it is so true* – there are no adults with any authority anywhere in sight and for better or worse Damon does function as the “adult” voice. He basically follows Elena and Stefan around trying to prevent their idealism and puppy love from getting them and everyone else killed. Though I can’t help but think that what these kids really need is a good therapist! What does it mean that the cynical outsider represents adulthood to the sometimes sentimental, often irrational fluctuations of the newly formed supernatural gang? In the scope of the whole series will Elena choose Damon as part of growing up, part of embracing her real (vampire) nature, part of choosing moderation instead of purity of will? I kind of like thinking of Stefan and Damon this way – allegories for stages or ways of coming into adult identity – and I wonder if it will hold.
I’ll let you speculate what is going on with April and how much longer you think Matt has before he loses his full-human status and joins the supernatural club.
New’s flash: we’re not Japanese.
I agree that this show is trying not only to be edgier and darker than Twilight, but also to demonstrate its awareness of its own edginess via visual and narrative cues. And so if I had a disappointment this week, it’s in their unwillingness to go all the way up to that edge and over, all the way into that darkness. As you point out with her feed off of Matt, Elena just has too much self-control right away! And even when she feeds on the animal, we all have to be assured not to worry – Bambi made it through. The little scuffle between her and Carolyn at April’s side looked to me like they were fighting over the last prom dress on the rack at Macy’s, not like Caro was trying to hold Elena back from the extremes of blood-lust. And that Stefan and Elena keep commenting on her extremely heightened emotions because she’s, um, crying gently about the death of a whole lot of important people or looking vaguely sad about her situation seems downright silly to me. If that’s what heightened emotion looks like for Elena, then this reveals just how shallow her emotional responses have so far been in this series. Indeed, the almost sex scene between her and Stefan in the woods also was not all that intensely sexy – again revealing just how boringly vanilla these two are! Given that this is the CW – home of Gossip Girl, a show that gives us teenage threesomes – I actually expect a little more!
And while I’m on the note of things that just don’t add up with Elena – I get that the scene at the end with April was supposed to show us how Elena is realizing that her new vampire skills might just help her be even more compassionate than she apparently was (not sure that’s how I would have described her, though, despite how many times it was referenced in this episode…would you?), but isn’t April going to be kind of confused with this memory that the funeral was lovely when everyone else in Mystic Falls is talking about the mayor’s son getting shot?!
That being said, this episode was still packed with fun, I thought – particularly, as often is the case, around Damon. The guy got some fantastic one liners: “It’s like giving a kid a calculator before they learn math.” “She’s alive-ish.” “I’m a germaphobe.” And my favourite, after crossing himself with holy water: “I don’t know why that always makes me smile.” Pair that with the arrival of Conner, and the pseudo-return of Alaric (which to me indicated the possibility that we’ll see him more), and we’ve got some fun shaping up for this season!
You’re dead on about how out of sync the writers are with their conglomerate-clergyman, though. But to me the more interesting point came in the contrast between the boring, ineffectual official ceremony in the church and the importance of the ‘kids’ later creating their own ritual. I like your idea of Stefan and Damon as allegories for different entries to adulthood – and if we read them that way, I’m reminded that Stefan’s leadership over an attempt at creative ritualizing (to borrow a term from Ritual Theory, meaning a form of fluid ritual that creates adaptive ceremonies on the fly out of a mix of other forms) seems quite silly (after all, we’re not Japanese) in comparison even to the funeral the real kids threw for Caroline not that long ago. At least Caroline’s funeral mixed forms that made sense in their own context – a vampiric type tomb and common eulogies. The Japanese lanterns, on the other hand, seemed out of place – especially, as Damon also pointed out, that they were originally purchased to memorialize people who had died in a fire! While I’m not a big fan of cynicism, Damon’s desire to commune with the departed actually seemed more in sync with reality – after all, Alaric could hear him…and most of the characters on this show are dead anyway. Either way, both the lanterns and the graveside chat stand in stark contrast to the image of official religion in the show which, paired with the image of the evil priest is, as you point out, getting just a little too cliched…hopefully they’re going somewhere interesting with this!
A few questions that linger – yes, what is with Jer seeing the tattoos? I wondered too, and I love your explanation of Connor somehow holding a key between the world of the living and the dead. I’m also wondering what the deal is with Elena’s rejection (i.e., puking up) of all the blood – I feel like there’s more going on here than she’s just having trouble adjusting. And I wonder if the over-the-top repetition that if Elena takes a life, she’ll shut off her humanity forever is a heavy-handed foreshadowing of something I’d actually like to see. There’s real promise in this new storyline around Elena – if they just stop going there so tentatively. But then again, maybe there’s an intentional build to our own anticipation happening here…in which case, whatever does happen is likely to be all the more explosive. And most importantly, why do characters on tv shows always squeal with surprise when they pop a cork on champagne? Seriously, don’t we all know by now that’s what happens when you open champagne? That little visual cliche really needs to be put to rest!
Still not convinced that Conner isn’t a either witch or related to Bonnie…might be a first for a black character on this show –