Vampire Diaries: Fifty Shades of Grayson

“Even if I forgave you, would that make you less of a horrible person?”

In this midseason finale, The Vampire Diaries began to address the questions that have plagued many of us on this site for years: how do we reconcile hateful atrocities with characters we love? How much redemption is possible, and how inclined are we to want punishment for those who have sinned?

I’m fascinated by how redemption works on TV. (What? Weird hobby? Should I take up crochet?) TV’s fictional nature means that death often provides the most convenient redemption. Death operates as a negation of future happiness. But death is also the ultimate cop-out: death is often portrayed as a moment of clarity in which the character realizes their sins and that they must pay for them…but we don’t have to see the hard work of that karmic pay-off.

A show like TVD, in which death is rarely more than a rest area on the great interstate of life, can’t often go to the death-as-cop-out well. Plus, killing off Damon (or Stefan, or Elena) is unlikely. So we’re stuck: how can Damon redeem himself? Can he be forgiven by those around him? By us, the moralistic viewers? What about by himself?

It’s that last question that plagues Damon this week, as he comes face to face with just one of his many past sins: Enzo. Is it enough that Damon turned off his humanity for dozens of years, committed atrocities, and now feels really bad about it? He doesn’t think so. Enzo reminded Damon of his inherent “badness,” and Damon happened upon the perfect penance: denying himself Elena on grounds of his indissoluble evil nature. He doesn’t ask for forgiveness; he seems to want to be hated so that his feelings about himself can be mirrored in Elena’s feelings for him.

Katherine, on the other hand, wants redemption, forgiveness, and cuddles. Katherine may have spent 538 years running for her life, but she has also spent most of her existence being wanted by men: wanted by Klaus, wanted by the Salvatores. Now that she’s aging and wrinkly, she wants to be wanted again as a way of reaffirming her sense of identity. Sadly, she is more annoyed than grateful about being wanted by Nadia; the girl-mance was never Katherine’s favorite flavor of relationship.

What does that mean for Stefan? I’m not sure. Paul Wesley did another great job this week; now that he’s over his PTSD he has some of the matter-of-factness of his amnesiac persona along with some of the kindness that we’re used to from the cuddlier Salvatore. Throughout the Elena-in-captivity/Damon-haunted-by-his-past, Stefan seemed distant. Curious, pragmatic, willing to threaten to get what he wanted, but ultimately disinterested in the proceedings.

Aaron, he of the “sad little eyes” (he does look like a human puppy, doesn’t he?) has some redemption issues of his own. Specifically, how he is going to deal with his guardian’s history of experimenting on vampires, and how that process does—or doesn’t—affect his feelings about Damon having killed his entire family. Aaron and Dr. Wes are not fascinating characters on their own, but the Whitmore family drama might continue to affect Team Mystic Falls.

TVD has gotten some (deserved) grief for its devotion to the love-triangle plot, and Damon’s actions at the end of this episode might be seen as yet another wrench in the love-works this show specializes in. But this feels earned rather than manufactured: how Damon and Elena deal with Damon’s past is—as Caroline has been reminding us for weeks—an important question, and one I’m glad the show is starting to address in earnest.

And Pieces:

• Once again, no Caroline, Bonnie, or Jeremy.

• Did anyone else get a homoerotic vibe from Enzo’s speech to Damon about how important Damon was to him?

• The song that was playing over Katherine’s slapstick dash from Stefan’s bed is Alt-J’s “Fitzpleasure.” I love this song, but whenever I skip to it on my car stereo, I hit a huge traffic jam. Every. Single. Time.

Three and a half out of four Dr. Creepy Ken Dolls

Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

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