Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Vampire Diaries "Memorial" Review

Endings are tricky bastards, especially in genre stories. The Vampire Diaries became a non-stop rollercoaster ride that never stopped. The coaster just kept going and going without any let-up, without any time to catch one's breath. A character died and the plot kept going, kept chugging along, like a group of people trying to survive--can't mourn the dead when stopping for mourning means possibly giving up your life. The Vampire Diaries killed characters without abandon. Williamson and Plec's fearlessness about character deaths became its iconic quality. Fans told their friends about the insanity of TVD, how it goes through the amount of story and beats in one episode that another show would drag out throughout a full season. It hard to maintain a high-level of quality in episodic television; I mean the beast of the network TV grind specifically, where seven episodes are in some stage of production. TVD experienced some give in their relentless storytelling in season three, and I feared it would carry over. Story kept moving with barely any stops for characters to sit back and grieve the people they lost. "Memorial" went to a moving place tonight in its ending, and TVD's never been better than when they go for the human heart and what it feels.

Season 3 of course had the most moving story of the entire series--Caroline losing her father. I still think about that episode because it hit my heart in a way many of the television shows fail to do. TVD gets caught up in love triangles, romances, complicated and inconsistent arcing, but they never forget about the human heart. "Memorial" is titled such because of the memorial for the council members, who died in the explosion, but the true memorial is for the characters our beloved characters loved and lost; the characters we, too, loved and lost. Stefan gathers the team to properly mourn the people they lost. He feels the unrelenting engine of their life. Every threat desensitized the team to the point they don't really know how to feel a loss. Stefan wants everyone to remember how to feel, so, then, they can move on and fight the good fight.
Their personal memorial was genuinely moving, topped off by Damon's visit to Alaric's grave. The death of Alaric was one of my least favorite choices the show made in its three seasons. Alaric was the ultimate Good Guy. The bad taste season three left in my mouth is because of Alaric's final arc as Evil Alaric. Julie Plec and her writers began to make up for killing Alaric through Damon's sweet scene with his best friend. Damon ranted about what's going on and scolded Alaric for dying and leaving Damon to fight with his brother and care for the kids. Alaric's spirit sat on the bench, smiled, laughed occasionally, and quietly told Damon he missed him, too, after Damon wandered off into the night. The scene needed to happen for Damon as much as it needed to happen for this viewer who felt a little bit disengaged with the show after a sour end to the season (minus the finale) and a so-so start to the season. TVD still has It; it just doesn't use It very much.

Two major happenings are happening in "Memorial." Elena's trying to survive on animal blood and blood from pouches. Stefan wants to protect her humanity by aiding her in the animal-only diet. Elena's body rejects blood not from the vein. The girl endures struggle for survival like in "Growing Pains." Damon feeds her his blood, an intensely personal act between vampires (which definitely felt sexual), because he wants to save her. Elena lies to Stefan about her response to animal blood for fear of hurting his feelings, not thinking about how Damon feeding her his blood will hit him. Elena's all over the place emotionally, crying one moment and smiling the next, engaging in heavy petting in the woods and then throwing up dark red blood on the forest floor. The girl's a mess, physically and emotionally. The cure is the vein; the cure is honesty.

Unfortunately for Elena, a vampire hunter comes to Mystic Falls to kill the vampire population. The hunter scouts for the first half of the episode, sifting through clues to determine who sucks blood and who doesn't in Mystic Falls. The gang's forced to act, which spurs the ending memorial. Stefan may've realized the absurdity of needing to feign grief during a memorial for the sake of keeping appearances. If they need to keep appearances by feigning grief during a memorial then something's rotten in the state of Denmark; in their case, something's rotten in the state of their souls. Damon rants about Stefan's fear of Elena becoming a murderer and a monster. Damon believes murdering and being a monster is an inevitably for vampires; but Stefan doesn't want Elena's soul to rot. The vampire hunter inspires a catharsis with lanterns, open remembrances of the people they lost, like Jenna, Vicki, Anna, fathers and mothers. Damon scoffs at the symbol of lanterns, which is the Japanese way for letting go of the past. It's not letting go, its dealing and mourning.

The vampire hunter is a badass so-and-so of a scallywag. Julie Plec teased the new vampire hunter during the summer. The question, for me, was how to make the villain stand apart from the many vampire hunters who came before, not in TVD but in any vampire story. My gold standard for vampire hunters is Holtz from ANGEL's third season. Goateed vampire hunter may not reach Holtz status, but he's going to be interesting. He has hidden ink on his arm and does not fear taking a life (Pastor Young's daughter, April Young, is a near-victim; her blood is used to draw out vampires, but everyone keeps their cool. Matt lets Elena feed on him before she loses her mind craving April's blood. April's the anchor for Elena and it doesn't really work but Elena needed her to completely transition; no other character would have sufficed). He's been trained, evident in his ability to match the speed of a vampire. The letter he found from Pastor Young to April explained the Council's intention to sacrifice. What's vampire hunter's role in things? It remains to be seen. The villain is refreshing, especially after a season and a half of Original Vampire story.

The other emotional takeaway, excluding the memorial, is Stefan's response to Elena's little white lie about the blood and her omission of feeding from Damon. While Elena and Stefan are a terrific pairing, Elena the Vampire needs to grow and change and see what's up with Damon. The melodramatic scenes about blood links and trust work but only so much into the fourth season. Writers want fans to want. Coach Taylor and Mrs. Coach is an exemplary marriage because Katims and his writers avoided the pratfalls of cliché TV romance depiction, which is the belief that relations need to be unsettled and unstable. Instability for Elena is consistent with her character because she's transitioning to a new life, so her relationship with Stefan is going to be unsettled and unstable. If TVD continues to write scenes as moving as the memorial and Damon's talk with his best friend, and it consistently makes choices consistent with a character's emotions, season four might consistently deliver the amazing stuff of its first two seasons.

Other Thoughts:

-April's going to stick around because she and Jeremy are bound to date. Steven R. McQueen doesn't do anything except make out with girls on this show. April's back-story reminded me of American Reunion when Jim met up with the girl he used to baby-sit. This girl, who celebrated her 18th birthday, ended up topless in Jim's car. It's a lazy back story (the whole 'your sister babysat me!' thing). Oh well.

-Matt Davis owned his scene with Ian. I'm really looking forward to Cult in mid-season. I wonder if Davis knows Urban Legends: The Final Cut is played many times on premium movie channels.

-Nina Dobrev was excellent in acting out the unstable Elena tonight. Dobrev's Elena Vampire is quite different from Katherine, so props to her. Some other actresses and actors wouldn't be able to pull it off.

-Matt stepped up huge tonight. He was easily the dullest character in season one, but Zach Roerig, and the writers' commitment to the character, saved Matt.

-Bonnie's sad about Grams. That's about all for her. Still 20 episodes left for her to go dark.

-I like to state who wrote and directed the episode, but I missed the credit tonight. My apologies, TVD.


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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.