Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Vampire Diaries "The Sun Also Rises" Review

In 1926, Ernest Hemingway published his novel "The Sun Also Rises." The 21st episode of the second season of The Vampire Diaries is titled, "The Sun Also Rises." One figures the two stories have very little in common. Hemingway's novel dealt with The Lost Generation in the years after the first World War. The Vampire Diaries deals with love triangles and supernatural insanity. But look close and one sees the two share similar thematic qualities. The characters in The Sun Also Rises were damaged expatriates--some spiritually, others physically, and some were both. Hemingway examined the effects of the war on these individuals, how they responded to their experiences, how they'll live with these experiences. The novel's an exploration of love, death and renewal in nature. Specifically, Hemingway was interested in the notion that his characters, and the Lost Generation, were "irretrievably damaged by the war."

TVD's "The Sun Also Rises" shares those thematic notions with Hemingway's acclaimed novel. Following the intensity of the first four acts of the episode, the fifth act's quiet and reflective. Elena, Stefan, Damon, Jeremy, Alaric, Bonnie and Caroline don't immediately brainstorm their ideas for revenge or how to stop the Original Vampire brothers. Instead, they bury the ones they lost in the episode--Jenna and John. Before the graveyard scene, Elena and Jeremy share a moment with one another, taking comfort in each other because they've lost so many people they loved. The question isn't "how do we kill Klaus and Elijah?" but, rather, "how do we move on and continue?" or, plainly, how can our characters emerge from their experiences unscathed and undamaged? The answer is, they can't, but they'll carry on and they'll endure because these characters are resilient individuals.

The first four acts of "The Sun Also Rises" were as intense as any TVD episode this season. The narrative moves at a break-neck speed. The writers don't bother saving the intense actions for later acts when they'll fit in the first act of the episode. Klaus and Gretta had their sacrifices and the moon stone. Klaus quickly murdered Jules by ripping her heart out. Just as swiftly, he murdered the newly-vamped Jenna but not before she put up a fight. He then drained Elena's blood, completing the sacrifices and beginning his transformation into a true hybrid. Turns out, Klaus' plan involved nothing else other than becoming the hybrid. The were-vamp didn't care about destroying the world. He just wanted more power than any supernatural entity on the planet, and there's something admirable about that in a supernatural Big Bad because the "end the world!" nonsense becomes tiresome after awhile. Bonnie quickly moved in during the transformation and had Klaus on the brink of death. Elijah dug his hand into his brother's chest and told him he was avenging their siblings who Klaus cruelly discarded. Except he hadn't and the siblings were in a safe location. Elijah changed his mind, saved his brother's life and the two darted from the chaotic scene on the quarry.

Elijah and Klaus have been the most problematic parts of the season. The curse went through a retcon or "plot twist" two weeks ago in the interest of making Klaus a more visceral, threatening figure because, really, the curse of the sun and moon's lame and he's not a large threat with that curse at stake. The true hybrid stuff has more potential. The brothers back story is the biggest problem because the show delivered major exposition in the last two episodes about the brothers. Their conflict seemingly occurred because of Katherine; however, Elijah tells Stefan about his siblings who were discarded by his brother. The revelation feels tacked on, something to justify Elijah's actions without assassinating his identity as an honorable vampire. It's a good thing to keep the two characters in the show. I just wish the writers had a cleaner way of keeping the duo in the narrative.

The themes of love and death have been in TVD since the show's pilot episode. There were several instances of both throughout "The Sun Also Rises"--powerful instances like the final scenes between Jenna and Elena when both felt like failures to each other. Jenna felt like a failure because she failed to protect her niece while Elena felt like a failure because she never told her aunt the truth about Mystic Falls. Stefan tried to sacrifice himself to save Jenna's life because of his love for Elena. After Elena's death, Damon carried her home in his arms and apologized for what he did to her, and confessed that he couldn't bear for Elena to hate him for eternity. John, Elena's biological father, sacrificed his life to restore his daughter's life, to give her the chance to grow up, grow old and be a mother. In TVD, love and death aren't separate.

The similarities between Hemingway's novel and this episode isn't simply theme. Hemingway's hero, Jake Barnes, has a wound from the war that makes him impotent. Damon has a wound that doesn't make him impotent but it does make his death very realistic. His werewolf bite won't go away and no cure exists. Damon's wound is representative of the core group of characters in the series. He has a wound that won't heal and his friends have emotional wounds and scars that won't heal. Like Hemingway's characters, Damon's wound is a physical manifestation of the notion that these characters irretrievably damaged by their experiences. I have hope, though. I think Damon will survive and the healed wound will signify the collective healing the characters will experience. They're transformed by their experiences but they aren't irrevocably damaged.

Other Thoughts:

-I haven't compared an episode of television to a novel since my LOST days. That was fun. Thank you, TVD writers!

-Matt and Caroline broke up. Matt decided that he wanted to live separately from the supernatural chaos that Caroline and Tyler live daily. Does this mean Zach Roerig won't be a regular cast member now? A romantic relationship between Caroline and Tyler seems inevitable now. They're made for each other. I'm excited to see it happen. As for her mother, it seems like Sheriff Forbes will be a non-factor in the finale.

-I'm disappointed in how the writers have handled Katherine because she used to be so awesome. Now, she's boring. Her only interest is self-preservation and she's lost her spunk. She has no role on the show. None of the characters even care about her. It's time to let the vamp leave Mystic Falls.

-It got a little dusty during the cemetery scenes in The Foot. I recently lost a parent, so Elena's sadness as she kneeled before her parents' grave, and her father's grave, hit me right in the heart. Very effective acting from Nina Dobrev and directing from Paul Sommers.

-Caroline Dries & Mike Daniels wrote the episode. Paul M. Sommers directed it.

-In case I didn't mention it, "The Sun Also Rises" was awesome.

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

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About The Foot

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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.