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Sunday, 19 of August of 2018

The Vampire Diaries – “The Departed”

The way I see, she could be the salvation of #TVD. And that just may save her absolutely devastated, wasted character.

Last year, I used to complain about certain aspects of The Vampire Diaries. I would note that this world made being a vampire seem, well, kind of awesome. Like, so awesome that trying to keep any of these people human made ZERO sense. And the show’s writers seemed, themselves, completely fascinated by the life of vampires, so much so that when they tried to give Damon a more complex backstory by reminding us that he is a reluctant vampire (or was), they couldn’t make the story work. We had one episode where Damon was experiencing angst and killed someone—seeming a sharp rupture from his new life of relative abstinence. And then the show never returned to that topic at all.

I now dream of last year’s problems. The show has become so convoluted as to be worth nothing. Without any constant—without any set  of stable reference points or code—the viewer has nothing to hold onto. This becomes most problematic when all I can think when watching a character “die” or a bad buy seemingly get put out to pasture is–wait, will it stick? Should I go ahead and be impressed that the show did something bold? Nah, I shouldn’t. Cause these writers always find a loophole that undoes their bravery, rendering it less brave and more shallow.

I don’t trust these writers any more. I believe them incapable of recognizing their really interesting characters (Michael, Elijah, Mama vampire) due to their truly bizarre preferences (menace-free Klaus, whiny Rebekah, who the hell is Kol and why is he still alive?). Would I go so far as to say the Original family has ruined #TVD? I might. Because once you create a bad guy that is somewhat invincible, the story loses stakes. When a bad guy is too powerful, your characters become helpless, and weak characters are not interesting characters. Worse, when the too powerful bad guy becomes a showwriter favorite, it seems all other characters are sacrificed on his altar of mediocrity.

So here are a few reasons why Klaus should have stayed dead, and a few other deeply troubling character journeys this season. While not a complete rejection of the show, this exploration documents my growing antipathy, even while it is, in itself, an expression of love for a show that used to delight me.

Klaus should have stayed dead Reason #1:

Klaus was not a very good bad guy this year. His relationship with Stefan had potential to be interesting, but the writers’ did not know how to focus it. We all know that the relationship between Damon and Stefan is the heart of the show, so why was that not more developed? We needed to see Damon fear Klaus more—we needed to see his jealousy of Klaus’s relationship with Stefan. And we needed to see Stefan enjoy being bad way more—why would we have any reason to understand the allure of Klaus if Stefan’s evil was only possible with a complete rejection of his humanity? Stefan becomes way more interesting (and admirable) if he chooses to be human-blood abstinent because of his will, and that possibility was elided when the show choose not to delve deeper into Stefan’s dark admiration for Klaus. By seeing Stefan embrace the evil that exists inside, we could then experience his conscious acknowledgement of it and his rejection of it.  Instead, we saw Stefan emerge, as from a haze, with few lessons learned because he was forced into it in the first place.  If we had learned more about the Stefan-Klaus brand of bromance—fans could have felt a little torn—as we due with Delena and Stelana. Both bromance pairings needed to be vital, and the base for that value needed to be Stefan’s own inner demon / attraction for what Klaus offered.

Instead the show made mush of Stefan’s journey. We know that he decided to get off the human blood again after his terrorizing of Elena on the bridge. But what pushed Stefan so far that he would traumatize the woman he loved? Stefan’s journey this season was all about half starts and empty promises. At the time of the bridge, he was already on his way back—we had already seen a few ambiguous conversations with Elena that made us think he was sort of snapping out of it. Guess what? Sort of snapping out of it lacks a thrill. Stefan became a cypher this year—with his feelings either absent of deeply buried. Wrong choice. As a cypher, we couldn’t really root for him. But when he started to come back to us, we never really knew the fight was on, so it was hard to root for him. It seems like there were so many missed opportunities here—but chief among them is the fact that Klaus did NOTHING to make Stefan a better character.

Klaus should have stayed dead Reason #2:

Did Klaus actually DO anything really evil this year? He had Stefan kill a bunch of people, and he made a bunch of werewolves into hybrids. But with his henchmen off doing his dirty work, Klaus lost his evil edge. What Klaus did on a number of occasions was threaten great evil. And our heroes believed him—every single time. Why? Someone pointed out to me that Klaus was actually scary last season—may so. But find me good evidence of Klaus actually committing some dastardly deed this year (other than turning off Stefan’s humanity, which is covered under reason #1 above). Please. I’ll wait… Nothing? Yeah, that’s what I thought.  A bad guy earns fear–it is a sort of respect, actually.  When he does something horrifying, characters learn to admire his resolve, even while the gird themselves for a more intense battle.  The stakes with Klaus did not raise this year because he was all talk, no action.

Klaus should have stayed dead Reason #3:

Klaus destroyed the character of Bonnie. She’s now so wishy-washy and unmotivated as to be virtually useless as a character. The “reveal’ of the finale is a case in point. Okay, tell me, when you saw Bonnie kick Damon out of the storage unit and lean over Klaus, did you not know that she was going to do something stupid? Was this secret plan of hers not highlighted with a freaking spotlight by the writers? Maybe if we actually believed Bonnie’s relationship with her mother was a valid motivating factor for her, but her mother was in what, three episodes? Did she and Bonnie ever have a really tender moment? Did you ever learn something new about Bonnie from this relationship? Wait, I’ll answer that. No, you did not. Because Bonnie may not have had a mother, but she had one heck of a grandmother (alert—ANOTHER character that #TVD didn’t know was awesome—this show’s bias against old people is really hurting it. I mean, we lose Bonnie’s grandmother but keep Carol freakin’ Lockwood???!!! I cry foul).

Anyway, Bonnie had a great grandmother as a mother stand-in (and based on what we know of Bonnie’s mom, she would have made for a crap mother), and she reportedly has a father who has stayed behind to love and care for her. This girl was not an orphan. She missed a crucial figure in her life, yes, but when she met that person, she learned she was not only super weak but also perfectly willing to turn her back on Bonnie yet again. So, no, her mother becoming a vampire does not count as a real loss. If he dad has become a vampire, then that would be loss (even though we’ve never met him, he’s way more of a parent for Bonnie than her mother).  The only way the “Bonnie’s mother is turned” plotline would work is if it made Bonnie super mad at the Salvatores. Now, that would be interesting and appropriate since they are the ones who foiled that effort to kill Klaus by killing Bonnie’s mother. Instead, Bonnie was trying not to be mad at Elena (WTF?) and stayed off screen for a bit.  Give this girl a reason to be angry–let her direct her anger at Stefan or Damon–the people who have actually cause most of this trouble with their refusal to leave Elena alone.

In season 1, Bonnie had a moral code. She was Team Human, and that meant she had little patience for Elena’s panting heart. During her time of being anti-vampire, Bonnie offered the show a balancing force—while everyone else was falling for the charm of the undead life, Bonnie was a reminder that there was danger there. Once she lost that moral code and certainty, she gave up her crucial role in the show. Worse, Bonnie has been transformed, repeatedly, into a victim of manipulation by the vampires around her. Basically, she has fallen into the same pattern of her enslaved ancestors, who did the vampires bidding rather than fight them.

Here’s an example. During one of the many attempts to kill Klaus, Bonnie found some magical way to save him. Remember this? Damon was trussed up by Rebekah (that’s the episode where Rebekah did something actually evil, and to be honest, it made me like her character more). Bonnie was held hostage by Klaus, who had threatened to kill Jeremy. The rest of the team was off trying to kill a random Original we never really got to know (and of course they would kill the Original who actually wanted to kill his siblings—cause that makes just so much sense). So Bonnie has helped make it possible to kill all vampires by killing one sibling. She’s the reason this fight against Klaus and Co. can all be over. And what does she do? She undoes the freaking spell. Bonnie used to be the moral force of the show—she should have KNOWN that sometimes the responsibility of a witch is to do what has to be done, whatever the stakes.  Elena is the one who always wants to save people–that’s her character.  Bonnie’s should be the willingness to act when it is hard. Now, THAT would be character development.

Instead, Bonnie falls for Klaus’ threats. Every. Single. Time. She’s a puppet, unable to show her defiance, unable to stand up for her values. If this show wants to make the stakes for all these characters their desire to make sure no one around them dies, then that means there are only a few heroes on this show—those willing to die themselves for a higher cause. (Yes, that’s you I’m talking about, beloved Uncle John). Any time our hero isn’t willing to do what must be done, the show undermines its characters. And Bonnie, as the one character with genuinely frightening power, loses all her appeal when she’s willing to violate her integrity by using her power to help Klaus. I hate to say that love makes you weak—but that was the central tenet of Bonnie’s character appeal during season 1: she could see what Elena could not. Elena was all emotion, and Bonnie was all virtue. Now, I don’t know what Bonnie is, cause the rules change every episode.

This finale, though, was the topper. So, where is Tyler? Did Bonnie sacrifice him? Why not put Klaus in a Salvatore, a character that Bonnie has an actual reason to dislike? Was Tyler’s life less valuable for Bonnie than her abandoning mother whom she barely knows? It makes ZERO SENSE. And it seems like the show just can’t stop “cheating” its mythology. Whenever there seems to be any hard line, the writers find a way to make that line fuzzy. If the mythology is not consistent, it becomes a mess. And right now, #TVD is a bit of a mess.  No character has been violated repeatedly by that messiness than Bonnie, the go-to-gal for undoing whatever has been done.  She’s all reaction, no action.  And it make her character pathetic, and that makes me sad. Cause she could and should be more.

Klaus should have stayed dead Reason #4:

An invincible character is boring. Haven’t you ever heard this about Superman? On earth, he’s pretty much all-powerful—save for one tiny exception in a piece of green rock. But that piece of rock is REALLY, REALLY important, because it makes Superman vulnerable. In the end, it is that vulnerability that makes his character matter to us. Klaus was invincible. Why, therefore, did he not simply grab Elena and leave town a long time ago? Um….cause he wanted Stefan to be his buddy? Really? That’s why? Dumb. Unstake a sibling if you are bored. Klaus is a pathetic character, at heart, because the show has made his reason for being his loneliness. Can I tell you how LAME that is? Where’s his dastardly “I want to take over the world” plan? Where’s his evil laugh (have we ever seen Klaus laugh, at all)? Where’s his genuine threat? When the writers made Klaus invincible, they made it impossible for their characters ever to win. Why do I want to watch characters never win? If I want that, I’ll go watch Game of Thrones. The only victories our characters have experienced this year is to exist. That’s it. If they continue to exist, that’s a win. Those are the stakes. Klaus wanting to become invincible—that was a dastardly plan— thwarting that plan could have been the season’s motivating force. And I would have cared. But instead, the driving force became killing Klaus—yet every single time they got close, some character wussed out, some mythology was re-written, and NOTHING HAPPENED. We returned to the status quo. Again and again and again.

Klaus should have stayed dead Reason #5:

Of all the Originals, Klaus is the least interesting. Kol seems pretty uncorked, and that means he might be actually scary. Rebekah, when she’s not whining or complaining about missing prom, has genuine anger issues and can act out in frightening ways. Finn had a mission—he had intergrity—so he was okay. Elijah had me from the moment he flicked that coin. Because Elijah has tremendous power, but he tempers it with a code. Does Klaus have a code? Does he have a desire to act? Does he have wit? Does he have sexual appeal (drawing a picture of a horse does not count unless you are twelve years old and really into horse books)? I didn’t want to see Klaus be romantic with Caroline—I wanted to see him be sexually powerful. I wanted to see her explore her dark side. If Caroline wants to go to Europe, she can go on her own. She doesn’t need Klaus for that.  But she could be persuaded that Mystic Falls is keeping her down, that her power is greater and could be employed rather than sequestered.  The point of evil is that power is alluring.  Or at least, that should be the point.  Every time the show tried to make Klaus more interesting, they made him even lamer.

Let me be clear—I am not against the actor. I can be won over. I thought Elijah was lame, once, too. But he won me over, gradually and fully (as he did Elena). But I haven’t seen anything to make me fear, loathe, or admire Klaus. And that makes him a crappy villain. Just bring back Katherine or something.

Klause should have stayed dead Reason #6:

This year it became clear that Elena had to die—in fact, the show seemed super eager for Elena to die because they kept tying her fate to the big bag guys’ fates. For Klaus, he needed human Elena’s blood to make his hybrid vampire-wolf creatures. For Ric’s alter ego, he would die when Elena did. So the show had a pickle–for a bunch of reasons, keeping Elena human was becoming really, really difficult.  yet for some reason, we were supposed to want her to stay human, because that is what drove the Salvatores and therefore the entire plot. Increasingly, Katherine’s hard-ass choice to become a vampire seemed ennobling—she was willing to pull the trigger in a way none of our characters were willing to do with Elena. So let’s grant that I have some reason to want Elena to stay human, just for kicks (even though her following Katherine’s lead would save all her human friends because she could then protect them and make her character not the glaring vulnerability that she is).  Dang, sorry–I’m giving the show the benefit of the doubt for a second–so, Elena needs to stay human, and that is how we evaluate success on this show.  If she stays human, then we win.

So when Elena finally does (seemingly) become a vampire, it happens by accident, not by choice? What the f is that? A random character we barely know—Dr. Fell—is the reason Elena becomes a vampire? It isn’t because Damon made an impossible choice and turned her to save her? It isn’t because Elena wanted to be with Stefan forever and chose to end her life? It isn’t a reason that would advance Elena’s character? No, it is due to a clause in the contract, a happenstance, a randomness. And though real life may be a victim of the random, I don’t expect a scripted drama to suffer the same fate.

The worst part is that I think Julie Plec decided to pull a Solomon and cut the baby in half. I’m guessing we’ve just seen the sun set on Elena and Stefan. He was her human love. And Damon will be her vampire love. Everybody wins,  right?

Here’s the trouble: I could be wrong. The show may find a way to make Elena NOT a vampire. And the fact that I consider that a possibility shows how far the show has fallen in my estimation. Here we are at the finale—the moment when the shit hits the fan, when all the characters come together, and when we experience genuine loss in some way. This is the moment when our characters have to regroup and fight on. And all I can wonder is whether this choice will stick?

Am I the only one who feels like this? Like the writers have committed so many unjustified acts of mythology violation that I no longer can count on anything? And without something to count on, I don’t know whom to value, whom to fear, and where to put my investment. Keeping Elena human was a driving force of the show. It was a choice Stefan made a long time ago—he would protect her humanity, even at the cost of his own life and their future. I admired it.

If Elena is a vampire, then what will be the show’s stakes? And why in the world keep Klaus around if his modus operandi (exploiting Elena’s blood) has now been eliminated? If we are pushing “re-start” on #TVD, then why not re-start for real? Get a new bad guy. Find a new reason for the show, based in character instead of plot. Don’t make it about how clever can be the writers in finding a way out of the hole into which they continually write themselves.

Let’s get back to basics—what do these characters want, as people? If they aren’t constantly fighting outside forces, what will happen? Will Caroline decide Mystic Falls is too small town and want more? Will Elena see what daily life is like with Stefan and yearn for some of Damon’s fire? Will Jeremy find a reason to exist in this world (dare to dream—I could write an entire post about Jeremy alone—a character with potential routinely elided)?

If the writers show a heretofore (this season) unseen fortitude, then Elena has died and been turned by an accident.  Seems a wasted opportunity.  And while letting her explore her relationship with Damon would make me, a Delena fan, happy, I’m not sure how the show will continue now that the “keep Elena alive” reason-to-be is gone.  If I could count on the writers having fortitude, I’d be sort of excited to see what happens next.  But instead I’m just mildly curious.

So after all this bitching, here is what I need next year to make the show work.  The Big Bad needs to be Bonnie. Show us how she has lost her way. Let her go all Willow on us. Make the show about relationships, not external events. Give the characters real stakes (not based on vagaries that we are supposed to accept as important just cause). An evil Bonnie will allow that actress something to do, for one thing. But more importantly, it will demonstrate the danger of having darkness in you–of finding yourself too comfortable with power—and it can serve as a real warning for vampire Elena. The danger in being a vampire is not really about lust for blood. Instead, it is about losing yourself in power. So let’s see Bonnie come into her own in a dangerous way. Let her suffer the consequences of some of her choices—and give all the characters a real villain, a real lost soul, and a real person in need of redemption. Cause Klaus sure as hell wasn’t that.

 

P.S. I really, really, really hope they don’t let Klaus in Tyler’s body remain unknown.  Cause if he sleeps with Awesome Vampire Caroline, this will be the second time we will see her be mind and body-fucked by a man.  It is called rape, and it will be deeply revolting.  Now, I keep saying I want Klaus to be evil, and that sure would be evil.  And it would put Bonnie on a straight path to hell if she allows it.  It would also give Caroline a reason to be less perky and more angry, and that may be cool… Oh no, I’m not talking myself into this.  Way too much of an “ick” factor.


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