Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Vampire Diaries "Growing Pains" Review

A new season. A new vampire. A new villain. "Growing Pains" is ironically titled. Elena's sad that she'll never grow up now, never grow old, nor have children and watch her children grow and then have her grandchildren. The heroine of the series perceived death and vampirism the same way: both were an end. Elena tried to sacrifice herself in the finale with the hope she'd pass away; she thought her life was worth losing if it meant saving the life of someone she loved. Vampires don't grow older physically, but they continue to grow. Stefan's been a monster and a man and a monster again, and he fell in love and reconciled with his brother, and he became a monster again. Stefan emerged from the experience with Klaus more stoic and self-reflective but better for the struggle between man and monster. Stefan confronted the worst parts of himself and reconciled it with the better parts of himself; man and monster reside together within his soul. Elena's going to experience the struggle of self; between the human she was, and the vampire she's going to be. This kind of growing will be painful.

The episode is equal parts intense, mournful, suspenseful, reflective, and season premiere. The first half cleaned up after the season finale. Evil Alaric's warning to the council before he died set in motion the central action of the episode. The council burst into homes of supernatural folk like they were NAVY Seals. Elena, Stefan and Rebekah were put into vampire-proof jail cells. Damon stomped around town in the worst mood in the history of vampires. Matt felt the burden of blame from the schizophrenic vampire. Initially, the focus of the episode seemed to be the prevention of Elena's full transition. The Salvatores and Elena sat in the kitchen and brainstormed. The best laid plans never work out in Mystic Falls, though. Plan after plan after plan failed in their attempt to kill Klaus. The plan to save Elena fails when Other Side Grams intervenes to bar her granddaughter, Bonnie, from completing the spell. The spirits are angry, and they demand Bonnie, "Go to bed!" Elena's struggle becomes a struggle for survival. No blood means no transition, as well as permanent death. The End.

It's a credit to the writing of The Vampire Diaries that Elena's struggle for survival feels urgent and dire. Her scenes are loaded with suspense. I knew Elena would live. She's the heroine of the show, the most important character; yet, the struggle is incredibly written. Bonnie fails to bring her spirit back to her body, which would rid the vampire in her. Damon uses Matt to draw out the insane priest to save the lives of his brother and the woman he loves, but he fails before he succeeds. Time is running out. Elena is fading in the barn. Her color changes, her breath is labored and she's barely holding onto whatever life she has in her. The blood's keeping her alive, but it can't sustain her and keep her alive; she needs more of it. Stefan and Elena share a beautiful scene that touches on their history. Stefan listens as her breath labors and tells her the love he'll always feel for her. Elena tells him she crossed the bridge to tell him he was her choice; that she loves him, too, and always will. The moment's so tender, genuine and honest, an instance of three seasons of terrific character writing; so, it's no surprise their moment coalesces so tenderly. Stefan eventually kills a man. The man's blood pools on the floor. Elena reaches out to dab her fingers in the blood and put it into her body. The pool seems so far away, like a star in the sky that looks close enough to touch on a summer night in a wide-open field where you feel your smallness within the vastness of the universe. Elena reaches but can't touch the pool. The audience just wants her to extend her arm more, to use the strength left in her to live. It may not be the life she dreamt of as a girl, but it's a continuation of life. Finally, she gets the blood in her mouth, in time to save Matt from the cold, deathly hand of Damon Salvatore. At dawn, her and Stefan sit and she tells him she learned her unlife will allow her to be a sister, friend, and give her as long a time with him as she wants.

The council are the new threats to our supernatural friends. The Original family nonsense is in the past, thankfully. The Council enlisted a priest to remove the mayor and town sheriff from their posts and bring about the extermination of vampires. The Council's muscle were army-types--big-bodied men who forgot how to smile. The prospect of the priest-as-villain wasn't engaging. Priests decrying spawns of Satan and the like is a tired trope in fiction. Surprisingly, the priest blows up his house with members of the council inside with him. The 'sacrifice' is part of a bigger plan yet to be revealed. The muscles are dispatched easily, and the priest dispatches himself before he makes a mark as a character. It's too early to write a worthwhile idea about the arc of season four. I hope Julie Plec and her writers know what they're doing. I hope Plec hired a writer's assistant to write down her ideas instead of storing it in her head.

The season premiere establishes Bonnie's arc for the season. Klaus and Rebekah bicker and argue until Klaus snaps her neck. Klaus threatened to kill Tyler if Bonnie wouldn't perform a spell to return him to his own body. Bonnie defied the spirits by helping Klaus. Grams suffered torments and scorching of the skin on the other side. Bonnie opened the portal to Black Magic or whatever. I hate the use of magic in television, except in rare cases in Joss Whedon shows. Whedon alum Jose Molina's a co-executive produer on season four, so he might bring some coherence to an aspect of supernatural fiction that usually lacks coherency.

"Growing Pains" has one substantial story, which is Elena's transition. The rest of the episode is window dressing. It teases future arcs, plot points, and what-have-you. Damon transformed from selfish vampire who wanted Elena to be a vampire to selfless vampire who genuinely wanted Elena to grow old and pass away peacefully, because she wanted that. Klaus and Caroline's arc continues. Klaus turned on family for her. Tyler's laying somewhere. Jeremy stood around and said words. Elena remembered the memories Damon compelled her to forget, specifically the night he told her he loved her and returned her necklace. There are 21 or 22 episodes left in season four. The season premiere was slow, but I prefer TVD to start slow and end fast and strong, rather than season three's incredible start and weak finish (excluding the very good season finale). I'll be writing about the show throughout the season. Here we go again.

Other Thoughts:

-The CW's new thinking about premiere dates made for a long TVD hiatus. In between May and October, I feel less excited about the show. Season 3's downward trend might last into season 4. Sadly, the show's reached the point where the insane twists are predictable. The romantic stories of the characters is going to be emphasized more strongly now. I'm hopeful season 4 is consistently good.

-Nina Dobrev is prettier every season.

-I spent the summer re-watching and writing about Everwood season two. Paul Wesley's forgettable tenure as Tommy in no way suggests he'll stand out as a vampire on a show called TVD. Wesley is consistently terrific with any material he's given. He's never better than in one-on-one scenes with Dobrev.

-Caroline Dries wrote the episode. Chris Grismer directed it.


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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.