You are in complete control
Yes, it is good to be back! I am sorry I missed the conversation last week, which was a truly fun episode, but glad to jump back in now, where themes of self-control and compulsion were front and center. You wondered last week about whether or not compulsion was something a vampire could throw off. Damon reminded us that Stefan did that with Klaus when he’d been compelled to turn off his humanity. There is something fascinating going on with the idea that Stefan was able to shake compulsion because of his love for Elena, but Damon is not. I’m not sure it proves that Stefan loves Elena more than Damon does, but it does fit with Stefan’s more controlling personality! Stefan is the kind of person for whom the idea of love – and the idea of Elena – is necessary to hold on to his humanity. Without he always spirals into some uncaring psychopath. This has been the central debate between the Salvatore brothers from the get-go: what makes for better self-control, complete denial or moderation? Stefan’s long practice of complete denial and extraordinary will power is probably more to credit with breaking the compulsion than sheer love. Damon, on the other hand, is probably the better lover (as you said: who wouldn’t want to be with someone who accepts you fully instead of trying to fit you to their mold?), but that is partially because he gives into his passions more easily. Giving into those passions, I’m guessing, means somewhat less self-control when it comes to compulsion.
I like that Damon’s inability to conquer the compulsion added a complication to Elena’s insistence that true love should overrule all other desires – even compelled ones. Even though it only adds another level of confusion to the “what is real” debate in that increasingly weird love triangle. I was fascinated last week that Rebekah’s compulsion seemed to get Elena in touch with her “real feelings.” As though, under compulsion, she could see and say what was there beyond the sire bond. Which suggests that there is no other way to get at “real” feelings – one form of bondage (compulsion) frees you from another (sire bond), but never are you totally free or in control.
Which brings me to Bonnie! Yes, I love Bonnie’s rise in importance, but I am starting to get worried that she is just going to be a pawn again, this time for Shane, and not really her own witch. Clearly she is being hypnotized/compelled by Shane, right? Ironically by the trigger “you are in complete control!” You wondered if she represented a kind of superwoman, beyond the confines of good and evil, able to bend morality to her own will. But right now it looks like Shane is the superman, and Bonnie simply a very powerful tool he is bending to his will. Unless, of course, he turns out to be the father-figure she is going to have to kill (not her biological father) in order to claim her power as her own. I can’t help but think of Dark Willow from Buffy and how much more awesome it was to see a witch in complete control of her extraordinary power, even if it almost meant the end of the world.
Speaking of which, do you think it is weird that no one besides Cole seems to care about the impending Silas-apocalypse? Haven’t most of the crazy stories Original vampires tell turned out to be true? Why is everyone so dismissive of the idea that Silas is just a fairytale? I did like Cole’s interpretation of the apocalypse as the end of all time. I am not sure the writers were trying to be super clever/philosophical, but of course immortality depends on the idea of time itself. You only live forever if there is an endless stretch of time to live into. The fear of the immortal is not death, but the end of time. What, however, does the end of time look like for humans? Who can survive, and in what way, outside of the passage of time? I doubt we’re going to delve that deeply into those mysteries, but I was intrigued by the prospect!
I’ll let you discuss the no-strings-attached hook up between Stefan and Rebekah, Jeremy’s increasing resignation to his hunter fate, and the conspicuous absence of Tyler and Caroline.
I prefer more intimate get-togethers,
I love your interpretation of the Salvatore brothers and their in/ability to resist compulsion. I would say, yes – this does make Damon the better lover (surprise, surprise, there’s a bias in my analysis, I know!). Stefan’s all or nothing approach idealizes Elena, stopping him from loving the person she is and the person she’s becoming. In effect, he loves the idea of her, but I’m not sure he loves her. When the messiness of the actual Elena gets in the way, then, Stefan can very easily turn to no-strings-attached sex. Again, all or nothing. And so, his ‘love’ for Elena is only powerful enough to defeat compulsion because its singularity erases the actuality of her. As a result, Damon remains the more complex, multifaceted brother. Loving Elena for who she is – in all her imperfections – means that his love is one that allows for growth and change, for serendipity and surprise. In other words, it’s a love that doesn’t control – either her or himself. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be with someone who is driven and guided by a whole host of competing desires rather than someone who’s will bends to my own…even if – or, perhaps, especially because – that means things get messy sometimes. Life’s just too rich and full for whatever it is Stefan tries to do.
I’ve been thinking about the Bonnie/Willow parallel this season too – especially since Vampire Diaries has ripped off the black blood veins from Buffy’s Willow imagery more than once. I really like your take on Shane as the superman instead…at least until Bonnie slays him, perhaps. The comparison, then, between Willow’s power and Bonnie’s intrigues me. Bonnie, in a sense, demonstrates a patriarchal order – the passing of knowledge from a father figure down, but in a way that enables the male figure’s power to be exerted over the female figure. Willow, as one of the first lesbian characters on network television, gets positioned outside of this patriarchal order. Unlike Bonnie, the development of her magical gifts happens in communities of women (and in her romantic relationship with Tara). There is no man controlling Willow. Sure, as you point out, Willow completely loses control…but her growing up process has less to do with a submission to or slaying of a father, and has everything to do with taking responsibility for her own actions within a community of friends. Outside of questions around sexuality, this leaves me feeling like we’re missing out on such interesting possibilities with Bonnie’s development. Aside from the fact that there seem to be no gay or lesbian people in Mystic Falls (really, how is that possible?!), it continues to seem strange to me how little the development of Bonnie’s powers has to do with female power or stories that take gender seriously. After all, isn’t that what stories of witches are all about?! Whether it’s with Jeremy or Shane, or some cute male witch passing through town, Bonnie’s powers always rely on a male figure. Massive fail in my view!
I have no idea why Tyler and Caro were completely absent from this episode…but I think it works. Each episode covers so much ground at this point, their absence allowed for the story to drop a whole lot of narrative. Ensemble cast shows could make this move more, in my view!
I did appreciate the horror genre imagery used as Matt was being hunted, and I wish the show would play with these forms more. Remember how much they used that type of imagery in the first season – kids making out in cars under willow trees, strangers hitchhiking along the road, and so on? There’s a playfulness to it that can undo some of the melodrama of the soap opera storylines that take centre stage.