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Wednesday, 30 of September of 2020

The Vampire Diaries – “The End of the Affair”

She chose Stefan, too? Clearly she must have never met Damon.

My partner has a little game he plays when we watch CW shows—each time sensitive, sad pop music starts to play in the background, he shouts, “CW show!” since this embrace of contempo-pop is a CW trait. (Note: he does this for other shows with a strong CW influence, like ABC’s Revenge). Another common trait–this time of the genre of TV vampire programsis the flashback episode. Typically, these episodes resolve a sort of conundrum—a mystery that drives present-day action or character motivation–a mystery about which the audience is unable to fill in the blanks on their own. For example, learning that Damon did not want to complete his transition to a vampire after he was turned by (and abandoned by) Katherine helped viewers better understand why he’s such a prick to his brother. Thus these episodes work best when a long-standing question is resolved in a satisfactory manner.

There is, also, another type of flashback episode—one that introduces an entirely new mystery by rewriting what viewers think they know of the past. My partner refers to this as a classic soap opera move since it is largely dependent on a present-day character having an amnesia of some sort to justify the new information being delivered. This is a cheaper form of plot development because it lacks grounding in the foundational mythology of the text, adding new information that may or not push the suspension of disbelief too far.

I write all this because my evaluation of this particular episode depends on my understanding of when the flashback works well and when it does not. In “The End of the Affair,” we get a cheap flashback, and I’m not sure I yet buy it. Now, I use the word “yet” because if TVD embraces this new narrative thread to such a thorough degree that it gradually incorporates other characters (like Damon) and then becomes integral to our understanding of this season’s central plot, this episode may become a new classic [really don’t believe what I just wrote, btw, but I’m trying to be a “glass is half full” person]. Until we get further into the season, I will remain somewhat hesitant to embrace the show’s reveal of Stefan’s past friendship with Nick (see how I did that, those of you that have already watched the episode? I just hid the spoiler). More about Nick and Rebekah and another new, as-of-yet nameless, big bad after the jump.

At the moment, though, I found myself issuing annoyed comments throughout this week’s reviewcap. If you read regularly, you know I am already annoyed by Klaus being sort of a pathetic bad guy–not scary enough by far. I’m also struggling to understand why Stefan remains with Klaus. They better find a more convincing motivation for this than, you know, his word. If we are going to keep taking a trip down memory lane with Stefan, let’s see some true evil that haunts him—such that he no longer feels fit for Elena. A real crisis of self would perhaps motivate Stefan in a more believable way. We are seeing hints of this—the cut up bodies, the gross blood thing this week—but it needs to connect back more fully to Stefan’s view of his own worth. Some of this may be operating under the surface, but one thing that TVD is not great at is subtlety. So let’s make Stefan’s journey a bit clearer, huh?

The show opens, as it often does, with Damon pouring himself a glass of liquor (Scotch? Bourbon? Anyone know for sure?).  Not sure just what has made Damon feel a need for some liquid sustenance, but trouble quickly follows in the form of a phone call from an unlisted number. I assume Damon thinks the caller is Stefan, but instead we see our favorite evil doppleganger on the other end of the line.

“I’m homesick,” Katherine whines. Damon charitably assures her that “no one has thought about you since you left.” Katherine then trumps Damon’s efforts to belittle her by pulling out her ace—she knows where is Stefan (you can hear the smugness in her voice). Damon is intrigued—is she looking out for her former lover? “Maybe, maybe not. I’m conflicted,” Katherine admits.

Stefan and Klaus arrive in Chicago, a place that Klaus assures Stefan was a favorite haunt of his back in the day. Stefan admits that he was in Chicago, but explains that most of his memories of that time are hazy at best. Klaus begins a “this is your life” tour with his best bud, Stefan, explaining that he needs to find a witch to help him resolve his hybrid problem.

FLASHBACK to the Jazz Age, with Stefan finishing a meal of some nubile young thing and then exchanging pleasantries with an African-American singer at a club. He runs into a lovely blonde, who immediately captures his interest when he senses that she, too, is a vampire. She plays coy with him, flirting.

Elena rolls over in bed to find Damon laying there. “You know you were dreaming about me…explains the drool,” he teases. While Elena protests the 6 a.m. wakeup call, Damon goes through her underwear drawer and explains that he knows where Stefan is, should Elena want to go chase after him. Damon pulls out a pair of lacy red panties: “put these in the ‘yes’ pile,” he advises.

Awesome Vampire Caroline is still tied up in a dang cellar. Her less than awesome Daddy enters the cell and says, with true sincerity, “I’m sorry this happened to you.” [This bring up a longstanding issue I have with this (and other) vampire shows—if it doesn’t suck at all to be a vampire, then why wouldn’t everyone do it? Elena has given us a slight sense of this with her desire to live and have kids, but Caroline’s father’s sadness that his human daughter is dead provided another opportunity to reflect on this matter—something the show chose not to do here.] In sweet mode Daddy asks Caroline how she walks in the daylight, and she gestures with her ring finger. He removes the ring, frightening Awesome Vampire Caroline. When she insists she is perfectly fine, he holds a packet of blood in front of her face, drawing our her vampire eyes and teeth. “Blood controls you, sweetheart…this is how I’m going to fix you,” he says as he opens a shaft in the back of the cell, exposing Caroline to pure sunlight. She screams.

While Damon and Elena are driving to Chicago, he pulls out Stefan’s diary. Elena refuses to violate his privacy, but Damon is undeterred, reading a passage about the countless women Stefan has difficulty remembering from his days in Chicago. “I’m shocked,” Damon feigns, “Stefan is not a virgin!”

FLASHBACK to Stefan at the club being scolded by the blonde vampire, Rebekah, because he is talking while Gloria is singing.

We cut back to the present to find Gloria still very much alive, which shocks Stefan. She’s a witch you see (‘natch, she’s African American, after all), and her power has let her sustain herself to some extent. Klaus wants to contact the witch who created the spell he supposedly broke at the end of last season. In exchange for her help, Gloria insists Klaus bring her Rebekah, who has what Gloria needs. As they chat, Stefan wanders around the club and finds a photo of himself and Klaus, arms wrapped around each other from many years past. He’s stunned and confused. [be sure to pause on the photo–cause the look on Klaus giddy face is hysterical]

Tyler shows up at Sherrif Forbes’ house and we shift quickly to Caroline’s continued torture by her father. “Please stop,” she begs. Her father explains the method to his apparent madness—he hopes to force her to associate blood with pain, thus causing her to repress her vampirism. “Daddy, you can’t change who I am,” Caroline cries. [This bums me out. Again, the show deflects a serious engagement with human death in order to assert a sort of “self affirmation” message. Caroline is a vampire but is still the same sweet girl. I cry foul! There is potential for this show to go deeper—why does it insist on resorting to pop psychology rather than the more complicated challenge of examining deeper human emotions?]

Damon and Elena have arrived at “Stefan’s second personality’s home.” Damon reveals to Elena a secret room behind a bookshelf, where she sees a lot of hidden liquor (a nod to the fact that Prohibition was in effect during the 1920s when Stefan lived in Chicago). Elena is unimpressed until Damon directs her attention to the very long list of names on the wall—all of Stefan’s victims. She tries to brush off the anxiety that arises when faced with Stefan’s potential for true evil by asking Damon, ‘what were you doing in the 1920s? Paving the way for women’s liberation?” [Nice one, Elena.]  Damon leaves Elena in the apartment so he can track down Stefan and Klaus.

Stefan is confused, unable to remember knowing Klaus in the past. Klaus says, “we didn’t get off to a brilliant start. To be honest, I hated you.” FLASHBACK shows us Stefan and Rebekah making out while draining a young woman.  He comments on her necklace, and then Klaus (going by Nick) shows up and breaks up the necking.  Rebekah, we quicky learn, is Klaus’ sister. Now Stefan is more confused than ever—he knew ANOTHER original vampire?  Klaus opens a casket and we see Rebekah entombed (like Elijah) with a dagger in her chest).  Stefan doesn’t recognize her. Klaus removes the dagger.

Klaus continues the journey down memory lane, noting that he learned some of his favorite tricks from Stefan. FLASHBACK to Rebekah, Stefan, and Klaus chatting. She notes that Klaus gave every family member a chance to choose a side—she choose correctly and therefore lives still. Stefan is approached by the very angry husband of a waitress. He compels the husband and waitress wife—slitting the wrist of the waitress, he drains some blood into a wine glass and sends her off to bandage the wrist. The husband he then forces to sit and drink the goblet of his wife’s blood. He asks for the man’s name, a gesture that goes unexplained for a moment.

[This is a good moment to continue my rant that Klaus not only pales in comparison to Elijah as far as evil-awesomeness but now he also pales when compared to Stefan. That forcing of the husband to drink his wife’s blood was not only cruel but also deeply gross. How did vanilla Stefan become scarier than Klaus? Isn’t this a problem if Klaus is supposed to be our big bad this year?]

Klaus brings Stefan to his old apartment because he wants to prove his intimacy with Stefan by showing him a big secret that Stefan shared with him [We’ve gone from Klaus, er, Nick hating Stefan in one scene to being best buds in another, btw.]

Damon tracks Stefan to the club, but finds only Gloria there. He’s impressed by how good Gloria looks: “Damn, if I knew you were going to age like this, I would have stuck around.” She smiles, “I always did like you better, but I see your brother is still running in the wrong crowd.” [which makes me want to know where Damon was during these flashback scenes—that’s the backstory I’d be interested to see more of.] Gloria refuses to help Damon, “you may be cute, but you’re still a vampire.”  [This makes zero sense, btw, since she is apparently planning to help Klaus.]

Elena is bored in Stefan’s apartment, reading in his diary that Lexie was continually trying to get him to turn away from the darkside to no avail.  She hears Stefan and Klaus approaching the apartment. She hides in the secret room behind the bookshelf [and I throw my hands up in the air—are you for real? Elena hears Klaus but he, with his super ears and nose, does not sense her presence in the room AT ALL? I cry foul!]

Klaus explans to Stefan that he asked for the husband’s name so he could track his kills on the wall of his apartment. Stefan walks in to the secret room and sees Elena. She looks at him with sadness and no small degree of longing, but his face is harder to read [it is a good scene.] He leaves the room with a bottle of liquor to share with Klaus.

Damon returns to the apartment to find a very jittery and frightened Elena. She’s angry that he seems unconcerned with the danger she in, so Damon calmly explains, “I had an hour to realize what a bad idea it was to leave you here alone, process it, and move on.”

Back at the club, Klaus insists that Stefan used to want to be Klaus’ wingman. FLASHBACK to a very eager Stefan referring to Klaus as a king [Klaus referred to himself as as abomination, so here we have another example of dumb self-help dialogue–Klaus wants Stefan with him because it was Stefan that taught him about self-esteem and true evil, blah blah blah].  Klaus warns him that Rebekah will move full-steam ahead with a romance with Stefan but then will leave him in despair.

Awesome Vampire Caroline’s dad is feeling perhaps just the tiniest touch of remorse that he has to hurt the thing impersonating his daughter, because he shares that he cried when he learned Caroline had died. Awesome Vampire Caroline keeps saying she doesn’t need to be fixed, but her father answers that he must fix her so he can avoid killing her.

Sherrif Forbes finally arrives on the scene, gun in hand [Awesome Mommy to the rescue!!] “Hello, Bill” she says with steely eyes, “that’s our daughter in there.” He replies, “let me do this, Liz, not because she’s a monster but because we love her,” a pretty savvy emotional appeal. But Sherrif Forbes isn’t buying what he is selling. She sends Tyler in to get Caroline, shooting near Bill when he tries to interfere. Tyler picks up a wounded Caroline, who winces in pain.

Stefan is still trying to figure out if Klaus is telling the truth [he sounds a bit drunk and slurry here, which is fun]. “If we were such great friends,” he asks, “why do I only know you as the hybrid dick who sacrificed my girlfriend on an alter of fire?) [Good line, Stefan.] FLASHBACK to the club, which is now under attack from the Chicago Police, who are using wooden bullets [Note: Klaus senses the cops before they start shooting, but Elena hiding two feet away?  That he misses]. Klaus/Nick becomes frightened and grabs Rebekah to escape. She drops her necklace in the confusion. Before he goes, Klaus makes Stefan forget he ever met them to facilitate their escape.

Back in the present, Stefan sees Damon out of the corner of his eye and excuses himself from Klaus, saying he needs a real drink. Stefan is angry with Damon, particularly because he brought Elena here. “She’s not going anywhere until she’s got you checked into vampire rehab and on the mend.”  Trust me, I’ve tried.”  Stefan reminds Damon that Elena is the one thing standing between Klaus and his hybrid army, so Klaus can’t know she’s alive: “She’s the key to everything!  Tell her to go home and forget about me.” “Tell her yourself,” Damon, chastened, suggests.

Damon sits next to Klaus at the bar, buying Elena time with Stefan. “I see they’ve opened the doors to the riff raff now,” Klaus says [seriously—even when he tries to be a smart ass, he kinda sucks at it. This guy needs an infusion of more entertaining evil, STAT]. “Oh, honey, I’ve been called worse,” Damon says, showing Klaus how the “sarcastic, ambiguously evil” schtick is done. Klaus is trying to figure out why Damon would be so dumb as to confront him. “What can I say, I’m a thrill seeker,” Damon cracks.  Klaus grabs his throat.

Elena faces Stefan, begging him to come home. She moves in easy, pulling him in to a hug. He lets himself feel it for a second, but then we see that she has a full syringe aimed at his back. Stefan is too quick for her. “I don’t want to come home,” he says with force.

Klaus repeatedly stabs Damon with a drink umbrella , which is pretty much the only interesting thing he has done all episode. “You want a partner in crime,” Damon comments between stabs, “Forget Stefan, I’m so much more fun…” [And suddenly I realize how this season’s central story could have gone. What if, to save himself, Damon had to promise Klaus that he would be Klaus’ man servant? Damon, the guy who hates being dead, who despises himself and all his actions, would likely relish the opportunity to throw away his humanity, as he was attempting to do last season. Then Elena’s truly conflicted effort to save Damon this season would be super interesting. Not saying the “redemption of Stefan” stuff isn’t going anywhere interesting, as as I don’t buy it (why he stays with him, whether his humanity is disappearing, etc), the tension sort of evaporates.] Gloria stops the fight, telling Damon and Klaus to take it outside. Klaus’ parting line, “when I’m done with [Stefan], he won’t want to come back.”

Stefan tries to make Elena give up on him. “It’s never going to be the same.” She says she knows, but he is not convinced. “I’ve left bodies scattered from Florida to Tennessee, innocent people, humans.”  Elena remains hopeful, “Lexie found you like this before.  In the 20s.  She saved you.”  “And you know what I did after that? I spent 30 years trying to pull myself together. To a vampire, that’s nothing.  To you? That’s half you life.”  “I can’t give up on you, Stefan,” Elena insists.  “Yes you can.  It’s done.  That part of my life is done. I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to be with you. I just want you to go.” And he walks away.  Elena looks like she can’t believe what she has heard.

As they drive him in silence, we see Elena fingering her necklace, noticing that it is Rebekah’s lost necklace.

Awesome Vampire Caroline is back home, drinking greedily from a blood bag handed to her by her mother. Her mother tries to explain how her father could hurt her like that…”Honey, your dad…all our families…we have beliefs that were passed down for generations.  And we were taught never to stray from them.” As she leaves the room, Caroline proves her awesomeness by being kind, “hey Mom, thanks for believing in me.” [Yes I’m annoyed that vampirism is again getting reduced to a social issue like a gay metaphor {sorry, True Blood, being gay is rather different from being, you know, an evil blood-sucking fiend} but I like seeing Caroline be close with her mother.] Tyler walks in and tries to lighten the mood, “would now be a bad time to give you crap for sneaking out on me?” He takes her in his arms as she sobs, “my dad hates me.”

Klaus returns to Rebekah’s casket and finds it empty. She then stabs him with the ashy dagger. He removes it with ease, pointing out that she knew it wouldn’t kill him. “Yes, but I was hoping it would hurt more.” FLASHBACK to Klaus/Nick making Rebekah choose yet again—between him and Stefan. She chooses Stefan [how is it that every character on this show chooses Stefan, but audiences seem to prefer Damon 25-1?  Or is that just me?], so he stabs her with the ashy dagger as he had done to all of the rest of his family [Dude must own stock in the ashy dagger company–how many of those things does he carry around with him?]. So Rebekah, awake now, is pissed. Klaus offers her a peace offering—Stefan. Klaus gives Stefan back his memories (convenient), and Stefan walks slowly towards Rebekah with wonder.  Klaus then says, “Stefan,” with a tone that is intriguing–it suggests Klaus is desperate for Stefan to remember him, too.  It suggests Stefan means a good deal to Klaus.  They refer to each other as brother during the flashbacks several times throughout this episode, so perhaps the direction of this story is pointed less towards Stefan/Elena and more towards Stefan/Damon, which I probably prefer.

Klaus then asks Rebekah what she knows that can help Gloria contact the original witch. Rebekah reaches for her necklace but finds it missing. Now she’s more angry and overthrows her casket [what? No kiss for Stefan?]

Damon is back home and on the phone with Katherine. He has to admit that Katherine was right—Stefan was in Chicago. They banter about where Katherine is calling from—Damon suggests Spain or Italy. But of course, she’s in Chicago. FLASHBACK to Katherine in the 1920s, seeing Stefan, now memory-less, picking up Rebekah’s necklace from the ground of the club. A man enters, asking Stefan if he has seen either Klaus or Rebekah, but of course, he doesn’t remember ever seeing them before.

A last word on the title of the episode, “The End of the Affair.”  The show’s titles sometimes operate on multiple levels, so this could reference Stefan’s relationship with either Klaus, Rebekah, or Elena.  Kinda wish that was clearer, too, cause I’m really not sure where to put my attention right now.  Let’s hope Rebekah is like a super sadist or something.  Cause we need a real bad guy to loathe and to make Stefan’s storyline more engaging, more tense, and more purposeful.  Cause right now?  We’re treading water.

[Oh, and please bring back Elijah, TVD, pretty please?]

PS I’m sorry this was so late–my weekend out of town prevented an earlier posting.


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