Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Vampire Diaries "Black Hole Sun" Review

Why save or mourn or care about the very worst, morally deprived characters in The Vampire Diaries? That question likely had space on the writers’ room white board. The writers probably discuss the question, ponder it, dwell upon it, and so forth, for stretches during any and all seasons. “Black Hole Sun” is littered with reminders that these characters maimed and killed, drink themselves into oblivion, and loathe themselves more than anyone else loathes them. Damon’s always been the problem character in the series. We exist in a culture where audiences treat characters like people and thus the character’s morality matters more than anything else in the story. Damon cannot be an unrepentant monster; but rather he must repent and suffer for what he’s done. The writers have a trick or two to maintain the essence of the character without obviously retconning him (though they’ve retconned the retconned that retconned the retcon) or making him overtly remorseful.

“Black Hole Sun” flashes back to May 1994. Damon returned from his worldwide romp to reunite with his brother. Stefan returned to Mystic Falls determined to create a new life, a more normal life, which parallels Stefan’s goal twenty years later, on the outskirts of Mystic Falls. Damon ruins Stefan’s happiness in 1994. He slaughters a family along with a pregnant woman. His Uncle Zack will die fifteen years later because of Damon’s remorse and regret. Stefan explains to Damon why Damon acts out, which also acts as an explanation for the audience: Damon doesn’t want Stefan to find happiness and contentment. The twist to their complicated fraternal relationship is that Stefan, free of Damon in 2014, cannot enjoy a happy, contented life without Damon. He cannot live without his brother, for good or ill. Elena, for the same reasons, can’t live without him. Stefan explains it in a way that’ll relate to the rebel spirit of impressionable teenagers and the ‘dark’ parts that write bad poetry: Damon helped Elena find comfort in the darkness-the only part that felt alive-and when he died, that part died. So, yeah, Damon’s a monster; however, he’s a noble monster. Save him.

Stefan and Elena spent the episode traveling together. Stefan wanted to prove he could live a happy, normal life. He can’t. He fails. The aforementioned happiness and contement of his breaks apart when a bar patron breaks his face. Elena witnesses Stefan’s habit of letting others beat the hell out of him. Stefan’s retort hits a number of significant beats that lingered from past seasons as well as from the first three episodes. Elena uses compulsion to forget, so why can’t he do what he needs to get by without Damon? As always, the brothers’ love story trumps the romantic love story. Stefan’s grief is a more adult kind while Elena’s is more adolescent. Alaric offers to restore her memories, but she declines. Her diary, which Alaric showed her, allows her to continue to exist without devolving into a chaotic murderous vampire. Perhaps there’s a deeper idea there about memory and the written word. Memory deteriorates, fades, mixes, confuses events, people, where and when, who was there; however, the written word, the most faded ink (as an old proverb or fable goes) is stronger than the strongest memory. Elena will not meet Damon’s inevitable return with confusion, hatred, and the like. Also a nice touch: the diary. It is The Vampire Diaries.

Damon essentially cops to feelings of regret and remorse through his admittance for why he killed his uncle Zack. Kai, the latest villain and plot device, asks for a story. Kai functions as an antagonist-to Damon, to Bonnie. He’s a villain for murdering his siblings, and for wanting to murder the rest of his coven/family. He’s a potential mass murderous problem whenever the trio leave his hell. Kai’s a frustrating character. Part of that’s designed and part of that isn’t. TVD follows the same formula season-after-season. Season 6 is no different; however, the flashback episode that reveals various inciting incidents’ for various characters happened in episode four. Kai, like previous villains, belabors everything for the sake of exposition for the sake of characterization. Damon’s story matters more than the specific plots, which is fine. Plots don’t make a story. Kai’s motivations come together laboriously: he murdered his brothers and his sisters, and he’s a powerful witch banished to hell by his coven. He wanted Bonnie and Damon to do the hard work for him. Bonnie won’t. He helps her regain her magic and the concentration necessary for magic and only after all that does he threaten to kill them both. He never will. He’s either a bad guy who the fans will like, which is all of the bad guys except for Markos, and will hang out with the gang come season 7, or he’s a bad guy the fans will like who will die but then occasionally return (like Kol). Kai’s as lively and charismatic as the originals.

The framing of “Black Hole Sun” is Kai’s-he suggests Damon tell of his horrible action the day of May 10, 1994. The 90s pastiche of previous episodes disappeared. Damon holds up a newspaper showing the news of Kurt Cobain’s death. Damon, we learn, makes pancakes everyday because the lady he killed loved pancakes. Okay, then. The brotherly conflict deepens. Damon explains why he killed Stefan’s favorite people. His reasons seem more sociopathic than anything, but Stefan nods and decides not to take a road trip with him. His decision not to take a road trip with Damon happens before Damon slaughters an entire family and goes all Dawson on Stefan in the Salvatore living room.

I think part of Kai’s deal involves unearthing truths. Any non-supernatural character digs and digs for truth. Human memories for Mystic Falls civilians are foggy and confused. Entering Mystic Falls removes magical compulsion, reveals truth, and reveals that those who people though monstrous were not monstrous but only manipulated by monsters. It’s like they open a book and there it is: the world within a word, or, rather, words within created worlds. Tripp found the vampire that killed his wife, Enzo. Sarah remembered Elena. Jeremy helped clear up, for her, the identity of her father. Tripp and Sarah will together, with Jeremy and Matt mixed in as foils and spies, as conflicted humans who’ll eventually succumb to the orders of their supernatural bully friends. Maybe that’s what season 6 will dwell upon: the idea of unearthing, of seeing what’s there when something’s not, of trying and failing to fill a hollow.

Other Thoughts:

-Jodi Lyn O’Keefe returns and sasses Alaric for looking at bloodied patient instead of her. Alaric, when not screwing up his chances with the cute doctor, helps Jeremy deal with sadness.

-No Caroline or Tyler. Damon and Sheriff Forbes met in 1994, but he compelled her to forget him. I assume she remembers their meeting now


-Kellie Cyrus directed it. Melinda Hsu Taylor  & Neil Reynolds wrote the episode.

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.