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Saturday, 19 of April of 2014

Archives from author » karen

The Vampire Diaries — “Ordinary People”

Yeah, still don't like her. Though I guess I feel bad that she has been so wrong for OVER A 1000 YEARS!

All I kept thinking throughout this episode was, “oh, no, are they trying to make me like Rebekah? Do they want me to feel sorry for Rebekah?” Cause it just isn’t going to happen. We’ve basically seen nothing redeeming about her except that she is loyal to her brother (note: only to Klaus) to a pathological degree. The main good news that I can see from all this Original drama is that maybe a pissed off Rebekah will bring back Elijah. I mean, let’s make this fight against Klaus a bit more fair.

In other news, Bonnie is boring, Jeremy is nowhere to be seen, and also missing are Awesome Vampire Caroline (boooo) and Not-So-Awesome Hybrid Tyler. I figure they’ll come back strong next week as Tyler continues to slip from Caroline’s grasp (booo).

This wasn’t a great episode as far as entertainment. This was a “we have a LOT of backstory to get through, so sit down as we tell a bunch of stories about the past” kind of episode. The super long distant past, btw, as in a 1000 years ago with Vikings and shit. While I wish the show had found a more active manner to give us all this backstory (i.e. what if Rebekah found out the truth about Klaus at the beginning of the episode and then that prompted her memories as she tries to work through a new version of her own history?), but it still ended with a pretty terrific reveal by Elena. The kind of reveal that makes me think these writers do know what they are doing—character is the heart of this show, and when they keep to that—it works.

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The Vampire Diaries Catchup

Uncle Mason is back? The silly ghost storyline is finally all worth it.

So, I’ve had a rough few weeks. Life has been very busy and at times quite stressful. Most stressful, though, is the fact that I haven’t had a chance to write up TVD, despite the fact that it is firing on ALL cylinders. I mean, they even made that ghost storyline work—and within the context of Halloween—how awesome. Now, am I happy that Tyler is slowly being regressed into his formerly assaholicky state? Not so much. Am I pleased that Awesome Vampire Caroline is seeming less smart because of her failure to comprehend how important Tyler is to Klaus? Nope. What about the fact that Jeremy and Bonnie are done? Well, yeah, that I am happy about.

I don’t want to write up this week without at least pausing to take stock of the last two weeks, so I’m still waiting to watch the most recent episode (which is kind of killing me), so I can give a sense of where I’m at with the show.  There is much that I’ve liked in the last few weeks.  For instance, the show finally gave us an explanation for all this ghost nonsense (remember, muddy mythology is my top crime for a fantasy show).  Plus, the great perk of the ghost storyline was definitely not Vicki but rather seeing other, way more interesting characters.  Like Uncle Mason.  Can we have a “hell yeah” for Mason being back in town?  Love, love love.  Boasting extreme integrity, Mason is a genuine, honest, admirable character, even in death.  How sad that he never stopped by to say “hi” to Tyler to show him how awesomeness is done.  I’m kind of sorry the ghost stuff seems to have been shut down, if only cause I’ll miss Mason.

So let’s take a moment to consider where all the characters are in life, with some advice for what’s missing.  Again, don’t get me wrong–I’ve found the last few episodes to be surprising, action-packed, and entertaining.  But I’m a TVD glutton–there is always more awesome to be had.

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The Vampire Diaries — “The Reckoning”

Klaus gets serious this week--and actually becomes sort of scary!

I feel like I should say a big “thank you “ to the writers of The Vampire Diaries. Now THAT is what I’ve been looking for. Is there a single character that doesn’t have raised stakes? Well, Bonnie, maybe. But even Matt—yes, Matt!—does something awesome this episode. He becomes a real character, who wants something, who isn’t afraid to make tough choices, and who refuses to let others lead him by the nose. Without going into too many details (to avoid spoilers on the front page), let’s review.

Stefan? He’s f’d, basically, and this is a good thing from a narrative perspective. The best thing about the change that Stefan experiences is that it directly impacts other characters, driving the plot in a really upsetting way (you know, “upsetting” in a good way).

Damon? He makes a series of choices this episode that have serious ramifications. And he’s totally adorable while doing it. Damon basically solidifies his loyalties, and they are exactly where they should be.

Jeremy? Takes responsibility for his new abilities. And he partners with Katherine! How cool is that?

Tyler—oh, my baby Tyler. Let us not speak of it because it is so upsetting (“upsetting” in a bad way). But obviously, Awesome Vampire Caroline’s concerned look at the end of the episode suggests this storyline is far from done, meaning Caroline and I both expect it to get worse.

Bonnie mostly reacts this episode. She is given little to do but to follow everyone else’s lead. The fact that she follows Matt—and that he knows what he is doing—is pretty remarkable. Rebekah also sits around following orders, but I suppose she could still become a useful character. Or she may be another Bonnie. Or worse, Rose.  But TVD specializes in redeeming awful characters, so jury is still out on Rebekah.

Elena witnesses something awful. And she refuses to let Damon help her forget. I’m really excited to see how the psychological torture of the next few weeks affects her.

Most shocking? Klaus finally DID something! I know, I can’t believe it either. He finally grew up to become a real bad guy. And then he gets one-upped by Damon, returning some balance to this battle. A bad guy that is too powerful leaves the viewer with little of interest—bad guys, too, need a weaknesses, or the tension drops out.

The only downside to this episode was the absence of Ric.  But I imagine he will have a stronger role to play in the weeks to come.

It took TVD a few weeks, but they have finally brought all our characters back together, and it was epic.  Look below as I use strange modifiers to describe this episodes–words like “subtle” and “elegant”.  Despite its many other virtues, these are not words that one usually associates with TVD, meaning this episode delivers in new and unexpected ways.

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The Vampire Diaries – “Disturbing Behavior”

This week's "Most Valued Player." You go, bad girl.

This week’s The Vampire Diaries was a vast improvement over last week’s episode. First of all, there was more Damon. More importantly, Damon was being less the whipped puppy dog and more the snarky, somewhat dangerous Damon we all know and love. Keeping it real for Damon is sort of crucial for this show, something they acknowledged rather openly when Damon told Elena to stop trying to make him into Stefan. We already have one Stefan, and his goodness is so annoying that only his rare sparks of confident power keep him bearable.

Vampires are sexy because they can break all the rules (Ric seems to think this is a problem, but I disagree). Vampires need to be bad to be awesome.  This fact has never been proven more true than when Eric on True Blood became an emasculated, lobotomized loser attached to Sookie’s “fairy vagina.”
Here’s the lesson: childlike and naïve Eric = boring.
Sorta evil, kinda a dick Eric = sexy.
I know this is somewhat problematic as we like to believe the good guy wins and that evil is merely a cover for an inner goodness. And certainly Damon’s affection for Elena could be viewed as an indication of his own inner goodness. But it also could be read as pretty rude, considering that Elena is his brother’s girl [serious party foul].

I’m a Damon fan, but I gotta be honest that the spark in this character derives from the fact that he will do the unexpected, that he’s untamed, that he’ll always make a bad joke in a bad situation. If Damon gets too cuddly, his menace (and therefore his appeal) evaporates.

So—hooray!  Damon is being a jerk again.

In other news, Klaus is still boring, Rebekah is as annoying as one might expect, and Katherine adds some much needed spice to the mix.  In fact, almost every scene that advances the plot this week involves Katherine. She makes things happen.  Thank God for her.  Let’s see if she can get Damon out of his rut further.

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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?

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The Vampire Diaries – “The Hybrid”

Oooh, scary small talk, Klaus. Where's your cool coin trick? I miss Elijah.

At the end of this week’s The Vampire Diaries, I turned excitedly to my partner and said, “This season is going really well, don’t you think?”  It was, of course, a rhetorical question.  There is much to like about this season, including a newly empowered and ennobled Tyler, a slightly less dumb Matt, a completely missing Bonnie, and an emphasis upon Damon and Elena (I suppose there could be fans less pleased with this, but if there are, I don’t know them).

Of course, there are aspects of season 3 that I admire less, like the tendency to get super foggy with the details of the Big Bad’s master plan.  I had to suspend my disbelief repeatedly during this episode’s scenes involving Klaus.  How do I question, thee, Big Bad–let me count the ways.  First, you are supposed to super powerful, so why have Stefan do all your killing? Have you even transitioned into a werewolf since you and Stefan set off on your dastardly buddy comedy?  Second, why can Stefan run into Elena and Damon repeatedly while wandering on a Tennessee mountain but Klaus–older and more powerful–remains oblivious?  Third, am I supposed to just accept that Klaus became a hybrid during the few minutes Elena was dead, but now that she’s back alive, no more hybrids can be made?  To go deeper into this mythological disclaimer might lead to madness, so I won’t harp on this point, but let’s just say, I have to remind myself not to ask too many questions.

Instead, I’d like to marvel at how The Vampire Diaries always manages to lessen or remove my annoyance at Elena.  She was driving me bat shit crazy this entire episode, but then, in a clever reveal at the end, I suddenly found her storyline this week way more insightful and effective.  More about that, though, after the jump…

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Audition Review: The Secret Circle – “Pilot”

Two lead roles in the CW in two years? Um, I don't get it.

I only have ten minutes, so I am going to write what I can and then maybe add more later. Here’s the summary judgement–I kinda liked The Secret Circle.  The reviews I’ve read haven’t been the most positive, but if you like cheesy TV with a side of angsty star-crossed lovers, then maybe this is for you.

Here’s the thing with the CW this year–I tried LUX but quickly figured out that the show was doomed, and then the show got so whacky trying to wrap things up.  But I just wasn’t that into the actors.  The irony is that only 2 of the 3 main actors are back on the CW this season, and they are the 2 I was less into.  Ah, well.  There is nothing wrong with cute little blondie, Cassie (Britt Robertson).  She is earnest and wears those sweet outfits with military boots well.  But am I going to root for her?  Unclear at this moment.  I’m way more into her grandmother–let’s make the show about her.

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The Vampire Diaries – “The Birthday”

The Ripper

The Vampire Diaries’ gang is all here, and the complications are multiplying quickly. Off like a horse at the races, we are immediately back in a big ol’ pile of supernatural craziness.  There’s also some tender human-type craziness, too, which is nice.  With Stefan sort of out of the picture for a bit, I imagine Damon will get an even larger piece of the action–not complaining at all.  How the show balances Elena’s love and loyalty to Stefan with the hint of her attraction to Damon will be interesting.  Will they retread old ground?  Will they let the characters develop a deeper, if less sexually charged, relationship, unique in its own rights?  Will Damon spend this year being a better man as he tried to spend last year becoming a weaker man?  [You may recall how critical I was of the dropped ball with Damon's character last year--see my review of the finale for more.]  There are other questions (will the Jeremy storyline be as lame as I fear? Will Awesome Vampire Caroline take over the show, as she should?), but I am guessing we’ll have a strong focus on Elena and Damon’s story, and for that reason, I’ll keep my attention there for now.

Coming in to this new season, I was most hesitant about Stefan’s story, but the final scene did much to alleviate those concerns. As noted above, I’m not quite sure what is the plan with Damon [and not sure that I’m a fan of the longer hair, but maybe it is just in that awkward stage? Guess Somerhalder was too busy flying from Africa to New York to Paris this summer to get his hair done (for reals, did you follow him on Twitter? Guy went all over the world a few times, lucky guy).] Now that I’m also aware that Somerhalder is “not yet officially” dating Nina Dobrev, I’m curious how that is influencing my viewing. I see them touch or look at each other, and I think, “gosh, they must be having fun,” when poor Elena is supposed to be in the middle of an angry/emotional/depressed (pick one) scene.

Since we jump in pretty much where we left off, let’s do a quick rundown of where everyone is at right now:

“Poor Elena,” btw, is an understatement. It is her birthday, but all she can think about is the missing Stefan. Elena is sad but more or less holding it together.

Stefan is working for Klaus, doing whatever he says, even if that means ripping the heads off poor, innocent girls. [His outfits are now all black, btw, to indicate the darkness of his soul.] Basically, the entire episodes asks the audience to look for Stefan’s humanity, as Damon and Elena have been doing for months. That is actually a pretty sharp setup because it makes me care way more about Klaus’ DIABOLICAL plan [bad guys always have plans that deserve all caps].

Damon is still hanging with Andie, taking small breaks to chase down his brother and catalogue Stefan’s list of horrific crimes. He is keeping Elena in the dark. The best part of Damon’s life (at least, in my opinion), is when he hangs with Ric. [The buddy show that will eventually spin off from TVD better star Damon and Ric (sorry, Stefan).]

Ric is not holding it together as well as Elena. He is drinking a lot, sleeping on Elena’s couch, and otherwise acting like a sad sack. But hey, his girlfriend died twice, so that is a bitter pill.

Jeremy? Also losing it. He keeps seeing ghosts, but apparently these ghosts are completely incapable of conveying a message of any sense because all Jeremy has gotten out of them in two months is, “help me.” He hasn’t told Bonnie, the one person who could maybe help him because, um, why? Unclear. Better come up with a good reason that Jeremy would keep all this to himself, TVD, otherwise you have drama for drama’s sake rather than actions motivated by realistic character psychology (for all its excesses, TVD does usually ground its action in likeable, self-aware people).

Bonnie? Watching paint peel at her dad’s place out of town [don’t worry, she keeps up with Jeremy through his “facetime” feature on whatever phone the CW is hawking this week.]

And of course, my favorites, Awesome Vampire Caroline and her hunky friend Tyler. I write “friends” because that is what they are pretending they are, to everyone (but Matt’s) amusement.

So, that’s the landscape. We have a lot of characters that have done very little all summer but keep their feelings to themselves while they go through the motions. [So much for trips to the beach and hanging at the local drive-in, I guess.]

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True Blood and the Rape of Jason Stackhouse

Oh dear, we've been here before...yet this time, I'm grossed out.

It has been a few days, and I still cannot get that image of Jason Stackhouse out of my mind.

I’m going to go on the record and say that Crystal’s rape of Jason was not only super icky but also downright disturbing. This man has been captured, stored in a freezer, tied to a disgusting bed, tortured (repeated panther bites sure qualifies), drugged (with Viagra, to facilitate the forced sex, ‘natch), and then raped while a crowd of female onlookers watch.

The worst part of that line of female onlookers is that I wondered if the show wants me to see all of them as in a queue to hop on board.  Gross.

Jason Stackhouse is a rather clueless character. But he has heart, so even when he becomes super annoying, he always find a way to bring you back in. Often, his storylines are frustrating because you just wish he would open his eyes and stop talking to that super dangerous woman (with each season, just insert a different dangerous woman, and you have Jason’s storylines pretty much summed up). Yes, I have sometimes wanted to fast forward his scenes. Yes, his ripped bare chest has often been his primary redeeming feature.

But the character, even a horndog character likes this, does not deserve this story line.

Let’s think about all the ways this storyline can go really, really wrong. It will be something along these lines…

1)   Someone assumes a man can’t be raped, particularly by a woman

2)   Someone laughs at the notion that Jason would be upset to be raped by a hot woman

3)   Someone notes that Jason has already slept with Crystal, so it can’t be rape

4)   Someone suggests that within a love relationship, only assault (not rape) is possible

5)   Someone comments that Jason is a slut, so he got what was coming to him (there are many variations on this theme—he should have known better than to hang out with a bunch of panthers, etc.)

6)   Jason falls back in love with Crystal through this experience

I could probably go on, but let me tell you what all the above statements have in common. They are all vicious, vicious lies. And we tell them all the freakin’ time.

Perhaps part of the reason I am troubled is that we’ve been here before with True Blood. Tara, who is still the reigning champion of annoying characters (but don’t worry, Tara, there is such a long line of characters behind you vying for the title, I’m sure you can hand over the crown soon enough), but she, too, did not deserve to be raped, tortured, and manipulated by a psychotic supernatural.

Tara’s storyline was almost made too easy. Franklin Mott had zero redeeming value. He was a monster, and acted accordingly. The role of the rape in Tara’s storyline was to encourage her finally to stand up for herself. This is not an unknown trope with young female characters. In its more banal form, Marianne of Sense and Sensibility has to be brutalized (emotionally) in order to mature.  Yet even there, the sense that a part of her character (the part that shines brightly) has to be forced out of her by pain and anguish disturbs me.  You see, Marianne has to be broken to be ready for real love with a more appropriate partner.

Is rape a narrative trope? One that makes annoying characters more sympathetic/strong? Is it how we tame characters that reach too far beyond likeability or believability?

One other important point for the True Blood writers: rape is not sexy. If I ever see even the tiniest hint that Jason’s victimization by Crystal should arouse me, I’m going to be very angry. True Blood has a lot of investment in sexiness—just look at that poster with Sookie and the three men that vie for her heart. True Blood achieves sexiness in the most unexpected places—most often when characters stare longingly or the sexual tension becomes palpable. But quite frequently the sexiness is not achieved in the bedroom (or bathroom stall, whatev’)—that is just mechanics. Real sexiness happens in the moments that lead to the bedroom.

I may be exposing my gender here. I am not aroused (often) by explicit sexuality. But I am quite aroused by sexiness. As once discussed in a podcast available on this site, the gross use of nudity on Game of Thrones disappointed me less because I’m a prude and more because I like genuine sexiness.

But when rape is the center of the storyling, I want responsible writing. Rape is not a topic television has to avoid, per se (this was a question posed after the rape storyline on Private Practice played out during the last season of that show). However, how rape should be displayed, for what purpose, and to what extent is a very tricky issue, and the line between honest depiction of a human experience of violence and downright exploitation is very, very thin.

I’m not sure how True Blood plans ot handle this story with Jason. My fear derives in part from the fact that he’s male, making the depiction of male rape one that can educate or one that can resort to all the worst stereotypes about aggressive male sexuality. But I’m also afraid because Jason is the comedy relief. If he has become a victim of a violent crime, will the show be willing to portray his trauma without a snicker? Without Jason being unintentionally funny? Because again, there is nothing (may I repeat, NOTHING) funny about rape. Ever. I hope you know what you are doing with this storyline, True Blood.


The Killing – “Missing”

Rosie who? I no longer care. But I still love "The Killing."

Man, I loved this episode.

With her son missing, Sarah and her partner Holder scour the town in search for him.  I loved the tense interplay between Sarah and Holder, the palpable fear on Sarah’s face as she faces the same horror as the Larsens, the sense that both these detectives are so damaged but trying so hard to return to “normal” relations with their respective families. During her 10 hour search for her missing son, Sarah must face not only fear of loss but also her inadequacies as a parent. Best moment? When Holder compares Sarah to an orphaned cat who has never been taught to hide her own feces.

Heres the rub.  Do you know what was the primary trouble with this episode? It wasn’t an episode of The Killing.

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