Vampire Diaries: One Way or Another

“This sense of disappointment must be what it feels like to actually have you as a brother.”

Lots of backing and forthing again this week, as TVD continues to grapple with the challenge of relocating characters from Mystic Falls to the entire American South (which is much smaller than I remember it being!).

I’ve gotta be honest, dear readers: I’m just not feeling it right now. Maybe it’s the April doldrums—so many shows are spinning their wheels before revving the engine for a big finish in May. Maybe it’s the inevitable letdown after this season’s constant flashforward teases. Maybe it’s the mild stomach flu I had for most of this week. Or maybe TVD has just lost its je ne sais quoi.

Ambiguous doubts and French phrases aside, I did put on my thinking cap to try to figure out what was so completely not working for me this week. This is what I came up with:

Remember Mystic Falls? It used to be a character on this show. The council, the parties, the high school. Even Whitmore College, which wasn’t in Mystic Falls, but was close enough to count. The first half of this season was all about the loss of the town: Our Heroes (remember when we felt okay rooting for them?) evacuated the town to save people from the Heretics. Then the Heretics fizzled out as baddies. Then Julian did turn out to be bad and took over the town after everyone (except, as always, Matt) had left. Then it all receded into the background.

We’ve known for a long time (since last season’s cliffhanger finale) that the flashforwards would relocate at least some people to Dallas. Since the show has jumped to its current three-years-later timeframe, though, we’ve bopped around from Virginia to Texas to Tennessee to North Carolina—not to mention the Philippines, if we count those flashbacks.

On a practical level, this results in lots of conversations on cell phones while people drive around. Those are not as exciting as they may sound.

On a thematic level, though, the Great Mystic Falls diaspora is making it hard to focus the show—or the viewer, or the characters—on the larger stakes. There are lots of minor problems that need to be fixed, and characters occasionally bump into each other, but everything feels very separate and diffuse.

Remember Damon? I sorta feel like I don’t. He’s bad, he’s good. He’s selfish, he loves Elena—those are the things we know about Damon. But last week was all about how selfish his actions were, throughout his life, especially towards Stefan. And this week was, rather counterintuitively, about how he selfishly removed himself from the lives of Stefan, Alaric, and Bonnie. If my friends hated everything I did and me trying to do nothing, I’d be really confused and hurt. Desiccation just might seem preferable to that sort of weirdness.

Some of my discontent about that plot might be due to Bonnie, though. I like Bonnie. But her anger about Damon’s decision to hibernate through a few years feels selfish to me, because I can’t imagine getting angry at a friend for choosing not to be miserable, even if that means I have to miss them. And, since everyone else is constantly talking about what a useless troublemaker Damon is, I can’t imagine Bonnie wanted him around for support or assistance. Also, I liked their friendship; her anger feels like an artificial roadblock.

Remember forward momentum? That flash-bang force that keeps us watching? That OMG, no-they-didn’t, how-did-that-happen thrill? It’s gone. It’s gone for all the reasons I mentioned above, plus one more: I don’t even know what we’re supposed to be rooting for, long term. Are we supposed to want Alaric to bring his baby daughters into the orbit of a bunch of supernatural drama queens? Are we supposed to want Caroline to leave her daughters behind to be with Stefan? Are we supposed to root for Stefan and Damon to make up, or part ways? For Bonnie to stay with Enzo? In other words: what would be the best way for this season to end? What would be the worst? I seriously have no idea where these plots are going.

But we do know where we’ve been: Stefan is back in his body. Bonnie is dying of Raynaitis. Valerie finally gave up on Stefan. The Armory is the new Big Bad, or keeps the Big Bad in their Bennett-locked Basement.

I miss Caroline.

Two out of four keg stands.

Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, 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?)

4 comments:

Paul Kelly said...

You nailed it, Josie. I had a think this week about what's wrong with the show, and you covered just about everything that went through my mind. I miss Mystic Falls. I miss Elena. I miss the story of moderately naive people discovering supernatural shit and reacting to it. They're all so battle hardened now that a dinosaur in a pink tutu riding a broomstick could appear and no one would be particularly surprised.

In short, I think there's no story left to tell. The characters have grown as much as they ever will, and everything now is just a retread of the growth/stories we've already seen. Plus, the way they dumped Lily's group half way through the season was baffling. Were we supposed to care about those guys? As you say, with no town to care about--Mystic Falls has now been relegated to a pantomime set with zero atmosphere--where is our focus supposed to be?

With Elena gone, Caroline should have stepped up her game, but since Candice King has been mostly pregnant this season, they've had to rely on a bunch of dispensable strangers to keep the show going, and now they're all mostly dead, I'm not sure what they were attempting to do.

I kind of wish this were the last season. I can't think of anything they could do to reinvigorate the show with the best stories probably behind them, actresses missing, and a ghost town for a set. I think is was Julie Plec who said that after Elena leaving she realised that the show was actually about Stefan and Damon. I disagree with that. I think it was always about Elena, and now she's gone and the focus has shifted to the Salvatores, it's just not the same show.

On the plus side, I really like Bonnie. If you'd have said to me in season two that she would end up my favourite character, I'd have taken you by the hand straight to the hospital for the terminally bonkers. Which is either indicative of how good they're writing for Kat these days, or perhaps how far the rest of the characters have fallen.

Also, Enzo is shit. Since his introduction they haven't known what to do with him. It's just irritating. And on that final 'positive' note I'm off to my folks to eat them out of house and home. Excellent review, Josie!

Billie Doux said...

What Paul said. You really did nail it, Josie. I was actually unhappy with Alaric in this episode, and I didn't think that could ever happen. That is, when he's not turning into Klaus.

What can they do to get the show back on course for a final season? Is it possible? Or will they simply be limping to the finish line?

Anonymous said...

Elena being dead is not the problem..season 4 was irritating because of her, season 5 was the worst of the lot, while 6 and 7 so far are hit and miss week to week.
Never should have killed Katherine and Nadia who had actual story left to tell and growth to do...Katherine's ending really pissed me off.

TheShadowKnows said...

They are limping to the finish line.

I never especially liked the character of Elena (although she was a huge improvement over the book version) but I miss Nina's pretty face and all the other characters she played. The show isn't the same without her, and it seems to have demoralized the writers. Or at least that's one explanation for the work they've been turning in, which has gone from sometimes hit or miss to abysmal. The writers seem to be utterly at sea, and are taking the cast and viewers with them on the voyage.

I expect next season to be similar to the last season of True Blood - which is not a great expectation to have - but at least TB still had its protagonist at the end. We won't even have that in this case. I hate to say it, but hopefully next season will indeed be the last for TVD. The story cupboard is pretty clearly bare, and the show has resorted to chopping it up with an axe and serving us the splinters. At some point, enough is enough.