Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Vampire Diaries - "We All Go A Little Mad Sometimes" Review

"I Can't Do This Anymore."

Excuse me for a moment, as I dislodge by eyeballs from the back of my head.

We all go a little mad sometimes.  Even TV writers.

I was not a fan of this weeks episode.  In fact, I'm finding it really difficult to collect my thoughts in order to properly organize just how many things went wrong during the course of it.  By its end, not much of value was gained or lost, and every step we took felt like a backward one, and some even undid a lot of the masterful moves made in "Memorial" that played so well in "The Killer".

We begin with zomg shakycam to help set the mood as Elena has a hallucinatory episode featuring the vampire hunter she's recently killed and feels an inexplicable amount of guilt over.  Like I said in my review of "The Killer", Connor was the bad guy, regardless of his humanity.  Hell, that's even in question since he is compelled by supernatural means.  He was two steps away from a cardboard cutout, and you feel bad for offing this guy?  Elena completely losing her shit is meant to be the setup for the evenings proceedings, and this would be the part where I offer a brief synopsis, but I'd rather just point you over to Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Season Three classic, "Amends", and say, that, but considerably worse.  Remember in my "Memorial" review where I said they'd stumbled into Buffy territory.  In "We All Go A Little Mad Sometimes", they sprinted through with a meat cleaver and stole entire chunks of it's narrative.

Sure, TVD has always been influenced by Joss Whedon's magnum opus.  You can't be in the business of contemporary vampire fiction without feeling the Slayers indelible fingerprints, but this was the first time that things just felt like a lazy, outright copy of a much better story.

The problems with Elena's character that were exhibited in "The Killer" amplified exponentially in "We Go A Little Mad Sometimes".  She felt forced and out of character throughout, and this is the first time I think she became wholly unlikeable.  She seemed way to quick to give in to a process that she herself knew was happening.  She even stated outright that she would never take her own life, and less than twenty-four hours later and a couple of hocus pocus tricks with her mother and she's ready to jump off a bridge?  Klaus (whose monologue was one of the brief glimmers of salvation in this episode) took that shit for half a century.  It betrays the strength that Elena not only possesses but Stefan also states outright, so it's not like the show just forgot.

And now that I'm on the subject, I've never been on board with the whole, "Elena can't handle vampirism" thing.  Sure, she needs to adjust, as all new bloods do, but saying she's not cut out for it, like it's a history class or something, is just a copout and highlights the inconsistencies of the character as of late.  Elena possesses a pure will and mental capability superior to most, so telling us otherwise is just more of the forced drama that littered this episode.  The fact that she is so influenced by a kill that she shouldn't be all that upset about just makes it worse.  Connor is not a sympathetic character.  He was never designed to be, so every attempt for the series to suddenly shoehorn him into that role to force a development in Elena's character that never needed to occur is just bad storytelling.  Hell, much of the instances these ghosts use as fuel for her torture are things that weren't even her fault.  Like, not even close.

All of a sudden, it became the easiest thing in the world for Elena to just abandon all trust for Stefan despite the fact that Damon admitted he was wrong.  I was waiting for the rational, cool-headed conversation that these two always have to nip any possible issues in the bud, but it never happened.  Instead it was replaced by the same hollow whining and over-exaggerated fluff that you'd see in a soap opera and not primetime television.  This is not the relationship I've been watching for three seasons. For a series that just got done telling us it's above whiny teen bullshit, they sure reveled in it with this one.

Elena never once came across as tortured in this episode.  She came across as weak, whiny, impressionable, and pathetic.  That is not the central character of this show.  The reason the hauntings in "Amends" worked so well was because you had a legendary character, hundreds of years old, who had a litany of legitimate acts of horrid depravity to sort through.  He was already tortured by his restored soul, and the evil that haunted him just gave him a push.  Never once did Angel and Buffy's relationship feel forcibly strained, and in fact the entire episode was designed to strengthen their bond as a couple.  Not only is TVD stealing this idea, they're stealing it badly, because we have a character not only without a truly guilty conscience, but someone who has the love and adoration of almost everyone around her.

Not only that, but the show seems to be stealing the rules of vampirism from Buffy, seemingly out of nowhere.  This episode is littered with talk about how different Elena was when she was human.  About how she's not herself anymore.  About how this Elena is different.  When I spoke of that in my review of "The Killer", I was referring to an abandonment of lifestyle, not of self.  It is pretty well established in Vampiries lore that a vampire retains the same personality and qualities as that of its former human counterpart, albeit with superpowers and heightened emotions.  We've seen this at work with Vicki, Caroline, etc. yet all of a sudden the writers seem intent to throw a wrench in all of this and tell us that Vamp Elena is markedly different than Human Elena.  I call bullshit.

And the bad character decisions aren't limited to just Elena.  Stefan's cold decision to just up and slay Chris was completely un-Stefan.  No remorse.  No ambiguity.  Nothing.  I get that everyone needs to save Elena (again), but Stefan is the patron saint of "there has to be another way".  Not to be found here, and it just felt like an excuse to drive a wedge between Stefan and Tyler, just one of the examples where this episode is undoing the good done in "Memorial" by finding ways to split everyone up.

Speaking of wedges, I was all happy last week that it looked like Tyler and Caroline were giving a collective middle finger to that type of convention by creating a fake falling out in order to maintain a subterfuge with Klaus.  Unfortunately, given the developments between Klaus and Caroline this season, I can already see the seeds being planted for the real thing.  Their plan will go along as planned, though the increased time apart will allow their doubts and emotions to get the best of them all while Klaus maneuvers himself into the picture and it'll be yet another needless and hollow love triangle I have to contend with which only diminishes the strength of the characters involved.

The rest of the episode consisted of Damon, Bonnie, and Jeremy playing the stalling game so we could eventually get Jeremy to hunter status, which played exactly as it sounds.  Like filler.

So what went wrong?  How did a writing team which has demonstrated itself time and again to be one of the most subversive and compelling on television miss the mark so egregiously?

I'll tell you how.  Fan Service.

You see, conventional wisdom seems to state that the love triangle between Elena and the brothers is ingrained inextricably to the DNA of the series, and where the long-term subtextual source of drama lies.  I have said before that I do not hold to that belief, and for a while, it seemed as if the writers didn't either.  That particular storyline was allowed to run its natural course, and now that it had ended, the show seemed to be progressing naturally and enhancing the remaining themes while creating new ones and evolving naturally, as a show in it's fourth season should begin doing.

"We All Go A Little Mad Sometimes" flew directly in the face of all that progression.  Nothing happened naturally anymore.  The plot went nowhere, sacrificed as the show instead suddenly started cutting narrative corners (Damon just found you atop the snowy hill at the bridge because "third times a charm"? Quite a leap there, casanova), betraying character arcs, rewriting its lore, and a host of other regrettable decisions all designed to resurrect a tired, still-born romance so Delena fans round the world could shriek with delight in message boards across the country.

The final conversation between Stefan and Elena was the only real portion of the hour I liked, and only worked because of how well executed it was.  Ironically, it was the most genuine moment the entire episode had on tap.  I'm sure plenty of us with a couple of break-ups under our belt felt the invisible dagger stir out hearts around as we heard a conversation that felt all too familiar.  If only what came before justified its existence.

Now let me be clear.  I don't give a flying shit who Elena ends up with.  What I do care is that the events therein follow logically from the storytelling, and that the series stays true to itself instead of holding itself back just to appease those who'd rather play romantic musical chairs than see real characters develop.  This isnt about the Stelena or Delena immature bullshit, or whether you're happy or sad about what happened at the end.  This is about what makes sense for this show, and TVD took a heaving misstep this week.  It's things like that that turn promising series into throwaway guilty pleasures, and The Vampire Diaries deserves more than that.  This is not Revenge.  This episode took a direction that I believe if continued, could be fatal for the series.

No one listened to reason anymore.  Nothing was allowed to develop organically.  No one said the thing you wish they'd say like this show so often does well, and strong relationships cracked like a toothpick at barely a scoff.  Nothing went anywhere, nothing had resonance, and nothing except for the final minutes were even written all that well.  Everything played like a shallow soap opera.  Just like Elena is apparently not feeling like herself, the show wasn't either.  It was either trying to be something else, or it forgot what made it so remarkable in the first place.

I can only hope The Vampire Diaries pulls a Vampire Diaries and mops this up right quick.

49% = ** = "Bad"


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