Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Vampire Diaries "The Ties That Bind" Review

The Vampire Diaries consistently produce solid-to good-to great episodes. Sometimes, the episodes are slower and more prone to fan criticism, as the last two episodes have been. TVD fans are selfish though. We expect jaw-dropping plot twists and action every week. An episode like "Our Town" is great because it's a character study, but an episode like "The Ties That Bind" is great because it's a reminder of why the show earned such a fervent fan following. "The Ties That Bind" is an awesome episode. Once again, the plot moved faster than I thought it would. There were terrific character moments. The stakes were high. The action was fun. The episode concluded with a terrific surprise. I just loved the episode, friends and well-wishers.

A Bonnie dream opened the episode for the second time in three weeks. Bonnie's dreams have taken on the quality of the Slayer dreams in Buffy; the dreams are possibly prophetic. Bonnie dreamt of the locked coffin before any of the gang knew about the locked coffin. Tonight, she dreamt that she was inside the locked coffin, a captive of Klaus, and rescued by a mysterious woman who she soon recalled as her mother, the mother who abandoned her fifteen years ago. The dreams, though, aren't as prophetic (questionably prophetic to be exact) as Bonnie thinks. If Vegas took bets for fictional plot points, though, I'd wager on the prophetic-ness of the dreams. Abby, Bonnie's mother, used to possess a tremendous amount of power. 15 years ago, she lost her power the day she defeated Mikael and left Mystic Falls forever. Abby explains these things during the course of their eventful, dramatic and emotional reunion.

Klaus is first seen lounging in the Salvatore mansion, drinking and listening to a song by The Black Keys. Stefan wondered what Klaus planned. Klaus innocently stated he had no plan, not without his hybrids or the knowledge of the coffins locale. But he felt ancy, which alarmed Stefan, who immediately called Bonnie to find out the deal with her and her mother. Elena answered the phone and lied so that Stefan wouldn't interrupt a moment between Bonnie and her mom. Stefan called from within the Gilbert house and saw the information for Abby Bennett-Wilson on the kitchen table. Klaus did not, in fact, plan on spending the day listening to good music. He used his hybrid to compel Abby and Jamie, her ex-boyfriend's son, into learning the location of the coffins. The compulsion is what causes Abby to betray the daughter who just entered her life. It's after the dust settles and the danger's disappeared that Abby asks her daughter to help her find her power again.

Klaus IS a fun villain. I honestly thought the episode would be light on Klaus. "The Ties That Bind" established the A, B, and C, stories quickly. Elena and Bonnie were on a road trip to see Abby; Caroline, Tyler and Mr. Caroline were prepared to spend the day in the dank Lockwood cells (or whatever they're called) as Tyler attempted to break the sire bond; Damon and Alaric were curious about Dr. Fell. But then Klaus' hybrid approached Abby's front door, knocked, and smiled wide for Abby as the first act concluded. I quickly realized the coffin business wouldn't be resolved at the end of February sweeps, that the business would be resolved by the end of the episode.

I'm consistently impressed by TVD for the reasons stated in the introductory paragraph, but also because the series uses its structure differently than the majority of network television dramas. I'm as impressed by TVD's ability to successfully break genre conventions as I was when Joss Whedon ran Buffy, ANGEL, Firefly and Dollhouse. The structure's no different from other contemporary network shows. There's a teaser and five or six acts. TVD feels fresh in ways many other network shows doesn't. For instance, an episode about Tyler wanting his free-will and Bonnie re-connecting with her mother could've been broken differently and more dully. The writers could've milked those stories, saved the drama and action for the first episode of February, and still would've produced a solid episode of television. They didn't. The episode engaged my imagination. That's important.

The coffin business wasn't completely resolved. Bonnie warned Damon about Klaus' plan and met him in the basement. Klaus threatened the witches by threatening the Bennet line. The witches revealed the coffins, but Damon removed the locked coffin, which happened to the one Klaus wanted most. Klaus wanted to rip him apart, but Damon had leverage. Damon also removed a dagger from one of the family members for good measure. As Klaus delivered orders to the Nick Carter doppelganger, Elijah ripped the hybrid's heart out to announce his triumphant return to the land of the living. It was a truly awesome moment. Yes, friends and well-wishers, I once insulted Elijah week after week. I didn't like how he demonstrated strength and power by throwing loose change at things, nor the ridiculous his ridiculous hair style. When he returned last May, though, he was awesome. I'm now a fan.

Meanwhile, amidst the chaos, Elena and Stefan had a heart-to-heart talk as she removed wooden bullets from his chest. Elena told Stefan she kissed Damon. Stefan didn't respond, stood up and walked away in silence. Paul Wesley is a great actor who made that scene his. The scene was wonderfully written to, specifically Elena's lines. Her language changed. With everyone else, she'd say Damon kissed. However, she used the first person singular nominative personal pronoun 'I.' She said as much through that pronoun choice as she did in the actual line. Elena accepted responsibility and signified choice through free will. The choice was quite adult and mature; I wish more women were as honest as Elena in their interactions with men. Stefan apologized for his actions last week. Additionally, Stefan told Elena how important honesty is when Klaus is loose and insane. Stefan let his real feelings show when he punched Damon in the face. Some folk don't care about the triangle, yet I, a 25 year old male, feel invested in the Stefan-Elena courtship. I liked the stability of their relationship in the first two seasons. I like the lack of melodrama between them. Their scene was well-acted, well written and well directed.

"The Ties That Bind" isn't an allusion to a play or a Hemingway novel or Gone With The Wind or Faulker's As I lay Dying. Our characters are bound by ties whether it's paternal or fraternal or lover. It's a simple theme: these characters love one another and will save one another, or die in the attempt. And we saw the good and the bad of these ties tonight. Awesome episode.

Other thoughts:

-The scenes between Caroline's dad and Tyler were great. Aside from the supernatural torture aspect, it resembled how a pissed off dad would confront a dumb teenager who hurt and violated his daughter. Caroline's dad was terse to the point: either Tyler breaks the sire bond and controls his transformation or he DIES. Tyler chose the former.

-Dr. Fell isn't a deranged psychopath. That is good. Alaric and Dr. Fell were open about their lives. Dr. Fell uses vampire blood to save patients with no chance of recovery because she hates death. Alaric told her about his ring and his vampire hunting past. I'd expect some drama between these characters in the future.

-Brian Young wrote the episode. I missed the director's name.

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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.