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Wednesday, 22 of September of 2021

Category » Episode Recap

Mad Men – “Far Away Places”

“Well, Dr Leary, I find your product boring.”

Megan left behind as Don drives off angry.

What a grown man hissy fit looks like in the 60s.

Knowing Don will turn your life into hot garbage.

Last week, we explored how knowing Don has ruined Pete’s life as he tries to chase an ideal that ultimately will lead to emotional ruin despite the outward appearance of success. Even Don tells him that his track is not a joyful or smart journey. But Pete isn’t the only one sucked into the Don Draper Mystique.

The same personality that gives us deeply-capitalist GIFs and helps us hit on girls is what dominates and affects the lives of everyone on the show. They’re all just orbiting Don’s cult of personality and, while he is a good example of someone chasing that Draper ideal, Pete’s not even the most obviously affected.

As the show turns to more classic format gimmicks this season (a fever dream episode?), “Far Away Places” is told in parts that chronologically overlap as we follow three different characters and how Don ruins their lives: Peggy, Roger, and Dick Whitman. I know, I know. Don’s purpose is to ruin Dick Whitman. But stick with me.

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The Vampire Diaries – “Bringing Out the Dead”

Someone better tell her the life expectancy of long-absent parents who return to Mystic Falls. Oh wait, isn't she already dead?

After the high of last week, an episode that climaxed with the return of the only interesting Original, Elijah, this week’s rather convoluted episode brings us a whole bunch more Originals. Thing is, what are these Originals going to add? They haven’t done enough to develop the personalities of those we already know, so how the heck are they going to find time to make us care about the new ones?

As usual, Klaus is all bark, no bite. In one of his fits of temper, he threatened to stick his hand down Damon’s throat and rip out his innerds, yet have we ever seen Klaus actualy act on his hyperbole? Damon rips out a heart every three episodes. Heck, Elijah pulled one out last week, and he was only on screen for thirty seconds. But Klaus? Mr. Bluster keeps insisting that he’s so evil, yet I think the vampire doth protest too much. Your nudity is showing, Mr. Emperor.

There was one bit with Elijah that upped the stakes in a way that will give the rest of the season genuine tension and drive—Klaus refuses to give up Elena…ever. In fact, his plan extends to his exploitation of her children. This line in the sand—there will be no deal with Klaus that will free Elena—assures that Klaus has to die. Not that there was much fear the Salvatores would want to keep Klaus alive, but to hear him state so baldly that Elena is his must have riled the hell out of our beloved Salvatores. There were other treats in the dinner scene, as when Damon had to remind Stefan that he, like Klaus, is guilty of killing a parent, but I imagine next week’s dinner party will put this one to shame.

I also really, really, really loved the scenes with Awesome Daddy. His reminder to Caroline of what it means to be human—to experience death—underscored Elena’s own terror over Ric’s life. While Elena was crying that she couldn’t handle losing another family member, Awesome Vampire Caroline was learning that only by losing a family member can you really understand the significance of life.

And once again, Elena shows us that she’s a pretty great fantasy heroine, willing to do extraordinary things and refusing to let others dictate her limitations. Somehow Elena remains fully human without becoming a pathetic victim. And she saves the life of one of my favorite characters this week, so there’s that.

In general, this episode felt rather exposition-y.  The Salvatores were basically wasting time at the dinner party so they could buy time for the Bennett witches.  But that means the audience got stuck wasting time, too.  Interestingly, that made the human parts of the story–Elena and Awesome Vampire Caroline contemplating loss–the most interesting moments of the night.  Honestly, that’s a nice  change.  I mean, Damon–with his wit, charm, and all-around sexy appeal–can’t be allowed to steal our attention in every single episode, right?

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The Vampire Diaries – “The Ties That Bind”

Couldn't agree more.

So, if you read these reviewcaps regularly and  you’ve already watched this week’s episode of The Vampire Diaries, you will not be surprised to hear that I am a super happy viewer right now.  Finally!  I’ve been very, very patient, enduring countless inferior Originals, and now, at long last, a genuinely awesome character has returned.  Oh, TVD, sometimes I just love you SO much!

As far as theme this week, I guess I’d say that this episode was about characters in search of their humanity and their power [note: those two things may likely be related.]  The title is actually quite evocative—we have family ties, love ties, gratitude ties, debt ties, revenge ties—all sorts.  And many characters are desperately trying to break these ties.

The show’s handling of Tyler’s storyline has always walked a fine line between his arrogance and his vulnerability.  Tyler can be a dick, and he sometimes does terrible things, but his curse is just SO AWFUL (every bone in his body breaks every single time he turns?  No thank you) that you forgive him no matter what.  They’ve given this character depth through pain, and I am not sure I want him ever to lose the pain since it makes him more human.  Then again, Tyler is out of control, and he knows it.  Watching him try to regain his power could make him an ever better man.

Bonnie’s search this week is pretty simple—she is looking not only for her mother but also for an answer to why her mother not only left her but also NEVER CONTACTED HER. Not even a Christmas card, Abby?  I hope they let these characters work through their enormous issues [redoubled by this week’s events, I imagine.] Anyone who watches Secret Circle may admire one thing about Abby—she’s (seemingly) not a psycho  bent on getting back her magic no matter what the cost. She sure was willing to sacrifice her daughter for someone else, though, so jury is still out.  Instead of the cartoons over on Secret Circle, this show seems to want to explore a character who had a choice, and whose choice was to live her life without all this supernatural craziness.  Echoes of Jeremy here, though choice wasn’t part of his story. But the show is dancing around inevitable and painful questions–how long can one sustain a life with supernatural partners and friends?  Are the costs too much?

This could connect to Elena and Stefan, since TVD seems to be building a case that Stefan wants Elena to live her life away from all supernaturals, including himself [this isn’t a spoiler–it is my assessment of the situation based on current, albeit vague, evidence.  There aren’t a whole lot of options for the ending of the show—Elena becomes supernatural or she walks away/dies.  She can’t live like this forever (for many, many reasons).] But of more immediate interest, the show is having  a lot of fun with Stefan’s ambiguity this season.  Has he tapped back into his humanity since Klaus released him?  Is this all an elaborate ruse?  And as Damon keeps asking, how far is Stefan willing to take it?  His conversation with Elena at the end of this episode was a model of controlled, careful acting.  What did he reveal?  How should we read it?  I imagine this scene will play differently when we find out the truth of Stefan’s situation, but even without greater context, evil Stefan continues to be WAY more interesting that noble, lover-boy Stefan.

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The Vampire Diaries – “Our Town”

Finally--a Big Bad with real menace. Take a lesson, Klaus.

I know I’ve been a bit of a curmudgeon this season.  There have been a number of aspects of the season that have disappointed me–chief among them the sorry state of evil in Mystic Falls with super lame Klaus as our Big Bad.  Klaus is still lame, but we have a new baddie, and he’s kind of awesome.  So awesome I never want him to be good again–is that sacrilege?

I sometimes rate #TVD episodes based on how they redeem sorry characters, and certainly this ep can score well for that–namely through Bonnie being a really reasonable, honest, and moral person.  Other times, I rate the episodes based on thrills and surprises–we get those here, too.  Surprises abound, including Klaus’ secret crush, Stefan’s dastardly plan, and Tyler’s ugly allegiance to his sire. We even get some great conversations between Damon and a whole host of characters [great conversations on this show tend to be centered around Damon–what can I say?  The guy can talk].  So all things considered, this episode sort of rocked.

Now, I suppose another question I can ask is whether this episodes advanced the central plot in any significant manner, and on that score, the episode is weaker.  The casket is still closed, Klaus is still ineffectual, and Damon/Elena are in a holding pattern.  Nevertheless,  if the show’s writers keep going where they are, the storyline with Tyler is looming as one of the major ones of the season.  How much can Tyler control his own actions?  I’m envisioning a moment like in Return of the Jedi, when you see Vader pondering–loyalty to my master or save my son’s life?  Bit worried Tyler isn’t going to come out of this season alive (and that would be super sad since I love him with Caroline), but if he goes down in glory, maybe we’ll see his full redemption.

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The Vampire Diaries – “The New Deal”

Man, just as Jeremy became the show's most awesome character... (no really, he did)

Trying to remember the last episode, “Homecoming,” I had to re-read my review.  Boy, it has been a while, right?  I discovered that I kinda hated that episode. You can see my review here. Among the things I didn’t like was the way the episode promised big things but largely left our characters in exactly the same spot where they started the episode—at least emotionally. Let’s recap: Elena and Damon struggle with their sexual tension and with their disappointment that Stefan is kind of a dick now. Awesome Vampire Caroline breaks up with Not-So-Awesome-Hybrid Tyler—a scene I really liked though I hate that the breakup had to happen. More about Tyler below. Bonnie mourned her breakup with Jeremy. Katherine re-appeared and violated everything we know about her by revealing that her sort of human love for Damon and Stefan occasionally rears its ugly head (I cry foul!). Mikael was killed (a seriously premature move). And Stefan, who won his freedom from Klaus’ compulsion by thwarting Damon’s plan to kill Klaus, has stolen Klaus’ casket-housed family. Well, I guess some stuff happened—a lot of breakups. But for a number of reasons, the episode disappointed me.  Maybe it was less that nothing happened and more that a number of the things that happened forced me to think entirely differently about characters I thought I knew.  And Mikael’s premature death was just completely unacceptable.

This new episode—the midseason premiere, as the CW ridiculously called it—was less disappointing. It tried to come to terms with some deeper issues facing our fearless heroes, and Ric was back in grand form [Awesome Vampire Caroline was nowhere to be seen, though—is there some contract clause that means she and Ric can’t appear in the same episode? Maybe they could be the next super couple?]. As per usual, the central preoccupation of this episode is the love story between Stefan and Damon. Though I continue to object to the odd suggestion that Stefan thwarted Damon’s Klaus-killing plan in order to save Damon—a suggestion the show has not yet explained to my satisfaction—the idea that soulless Stefan cares not a whit about Elena but can’t help but care about his brother intrigues me.

The most exciting part of this episode, in terms of ideas and theme, is Jeremy’s story.  [I know, who would have thunk it?]  What has he lost as a bystander to his sister’s tragic love story?  How is Elena processing her responsibility for the shattered remnants of Jeremy’s life?  And what does it take to survive in a world that is constantly forcing one to confront immanent life and death situations.  You know, I don’t expect TVD to be super deep–this isn’t Lost or even Buffy.  But it has the potential in its characters and in its plotting to pause every once in a while to remind of the human costs of a supernatural life.  In those moments, this show becomes more than an adrenaline rush and romantic pleasure–it becomes compelling drama.

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The Vampire Diaries — “Homecoming”

Oh no, she seems to be thinking--did the show just totally ruin my character?

Hmmmm.  That’s about where I’m at with this episode.  One thing I can certainly say is that this week was not at all like last week’s super talky episode.  Some stuff happened here.  A plan was hatched. A person was killed.  Things kinda got reset but then, not reset at all.  It was the perfect midseason finale in some ways—they have shifted the players on the board just enough to surprise viewers but not enough to dramatically alter the central thrust of the season.

So here’s my real issue—the central thrust of the season is Klaus.  Yes, it is also bad Stefan (and that I like).  But Klaus…um, how do I put this?  He sucks.  You know, as a bad guy.  He isn’t scary, he’s terribly whiny (runs in the family), and he tends to talk much bigger than he acts.  Why oh why are we continuing with Klaus when other possible bad guys—ahem, Mikael—seem to have so much more potential for genuine menace and mayhem?

Elena and Damon may be coming to terms with losing Stefan.  Maybe.  But that was super tentative because there was no  kiss between them, there was no goodbye between Elena and Stefan, there was nothing that would prevent Elena from ever loving Stefan again.  So really, Elena’s decision to try to move on was not really a decision—it was a statement of fact that he’s sort of out of the picture for a while. Disappointing.

Did anyone really suffer a loss here?  Okay, I did.  My favorite couple is no more, and it seemed an appropriate break.  But I am sad, nevertheless.

Ugh–sad!  I’ve had it up to here with “Sad Rebekah”. I made a joke in last week’s post that we need a “Sad Rebekah” meme like we had with “Sad Dawson.”  With Dawson, the funny part was Van Der Beek’s difficulty playing sad.  With Rebekah, it is her inability to feel anything else.  Bor-ing.  And not moving.  A sad sack of a woman, who is betrayed for 1000 years, worries more about a dance than, oh, I don’t know, asking her brother how he could do that to her? Disappointing.

I suppose I should take a moment to acknowledge that I have always complained that TVD has one big problem—being a vampire is always awesome, so why doesn’t everyone just sign up to become one? But then again, “Sad Rebekah” seems to think being a vampire is all lonely (whine, whine, whine), so maybe I’m supposed to read her predicament as a condemnation of vampirism.  That said, just because Rebekah is herself  a pretty crummy character (with no personal drive beyond joining the cheerleading squad?), I’m not sure that is quite what I was asking for with the whole, “there needs to be something about being a vampire that sucks to make Elena’s decision to avoid being one make more sense.”  [side note: Twilight is a pretty terrible set of books (fun, but terrible), but they were on to something with the monster baby.  Is having a baby the one human experience you lose as a vampire?  If The Vampire Diaries was set roughly twenty years later, that would be the issue—Elena is approaching 40 and neither of her two vampire boyfriends can give her what she needs.  Ha!] Suffice to say, Rebekah’s loneliness is not a terribly compelling plot line.

But let me say a few nice things.  I liked the Elena-Bonnie girl talk scene.  I loved the breakup scene (subtle, simple, effective).  But more importantly, there’s a trait in #TVD that I have long admired–the show’s writers respect Elena.  They don’t make her stupid or weak or whiny.  She tends to be pretty self-aware, confident, and determined.  Even though she doesn’t have Buffy’s advantages, she does have some of Buffy’s strength of self.  And that’s awesome. Elena is the one character that doesn’t need to be “fixed” by becoming supernatural.  Maybe that’s why she doesn’t need to turn.

So this episode is kind of a mess.  Stuff happens, yet nothing much changes.  How can we move forward at 120 miles per hour yet end up in exactly the same spot?  This is the danger of a mid-season finale, folks.  Disappointing.

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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 — “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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