This episode felt like it should have come marked with caution tape. Caution: Do not fall for carefree vampire Elena, as it’s only a temporary reprieve in a nonstop festival of emo! Caution: Do not be distracted by the lure of flashbacks, as they offer increasingly diminished returns! Caution: Do not pay attention to the new vampire behind the curtain, because there’s a good chance by the end of the season she’ll be a vampire no more!
Let’s discuss that last point first, because it feels like absolutely nothing good could come of the little revelation that there might be an actual, honest-to-goodness cure for vampirism. After flirting with a cure in the season premiere, season four quickly dispelled that unpleasant notion and became all about the epic transformation of Elena Gilbert. But just as easily as the notion was dispelled, it came rushing back in this episode, brought into play much like the Sun and Moon curse was in season two: an over-arching, all-encompassing goal for the characters to work toward together. The Sun and Moon curse ultimately ended up being a genius narrative sleight of hand. Will the promise of a vampire cure play out the same way?
Here’s why a cure seems like the absolute worst option for the show: If Elena is cured, the show essentially resets. All of the careful work it’s doing to evolve relationships and examine the nature of self and choice and innate nature, both in Elena and in the people around her? Gone. The Vampire Diaries is an example of a show that’s matured emotionally each season as it went along, and to obliterate all this maturation just to return Elena to human form seems like the least interesting narrative choice the show could make.
It’s not just the ultimate end of the story that’s potentially unsatisfying, but the idea that the majority of the story is going to involve Stefan’s desire to “save” Elena yet again. I’ve always been a staunch supporter of Elena Gilbert as a strong female character, but she spends far too much time with the men around her looking for ways to save her from some nefarious fate or another. Especially now that her physical strength matches her inner strength, it would be much more interesting if she could take control of her own fate for once.
Not to mention that the idea of this cure somewhat mars what could be a really fun mythology addition in the brotherhood of the five. Every vampire story needs a good vampire hunter, and the idea of a mythic vampire hunting brotherhood with magic tattoos that somehow connect to both Jeremy and Connor, the most purely badass character this show has seen since Elijah? That’s a heck of a fun idea. Their ultimate mission being tied to the possibility of a vampire cure potentially takes a lot of air out of those story sails.
But for all my complaining all of those concerns are just that: concerns. Nothing concrete has happened yet. It has just been hinted at, and if there’s one thing this show is good at doing, it’s subverting expectations at every turn. This very well could turn out to be the first step in a genius plan, and if this information had come in a more thrilling episode, I might not have had so many issues. The problem is that this episode was kind of a mess, and most of that was due to Elena’s arc tonight.
Last week I praised the show for using Elena’s vampire transformation as a tool to examine her as a character and her relationship to both Stefan and Damon. The writing of the triangle has been very deliberately cautious so far, in a way that’s really worked. But tonight, all of the careful subtext the writers were building sort of exploded into actual text in a very unpleasant way. Elena’s trip to the all-you-can-eat frat party with Damon was frustrating, then exhilarating, and ultimately downright maddening when one judgmental look from Bonnie was enough to snap both her and the audience’s euphoria at the same time. It was clumsy and abrupt and did absolutely no favors to poor Bonnie.
It was especially frustrating because it was obvious how much Elena was enjoying herself in the moment, so all of her protestations about not wanting to be that person to Stefan later just felt like lies. Not lies Elena was telling herself to ease her guilt. Actual lies the writers were forcing the audience to accept that Elena truly believed. Elena’s struggle with her new vampire nature is obviously going to be more than a one-episode issue, so it’s frustrating that this episode treated it almost like one. No matter Elena’s compassionate nature, and no matter what Stefan says about her potential to be devastated by the conflict between that and her vampire one, it feels like Damon is the only person thinking rationally here. When Damon is the one consistent voice of reason, you know everything is turned on its head.
It really is a shame about the parts of this episode that didn’t work, because there was truly a lot of pleasure to be had in the margins. Elena’s aforementioned blood-fueled debauchery with Damon was one, as was the reluctant return of the Klaus and Stefan dynamic. Although I enjoy Stefan and Elena as a couple for the most part, Stefan truly shines when he’s allowed to be snarky and manipulative, which is something he never gets the chance to do when Elena is around. His disdain at being forced into a dinner party at Klaus’ mansion and subsequent manipulation of Rebekah—however reluctant—was pure pleasure to watch, and Paul Wesley obviously had fun with it as well. No matter how good Stefan forces himself to be, it’s always those little reminders of his time as a Ripper that perks up both the character and Wesley’s performance.
Still, those few pleasures weren’t enough to save an episode that mostly felt like a series of red flags. Whether these red flags will materialize into anything or just remain false worries is yet to be seen. What is clear is that as an individual episode of The Vampire Diaries, “The Five” just wasn’t strong enough to keep those red flags from being the only thing I’ll remember.
- ELIJAHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Your flashback wig was weird. Klaus’, however, was resplendent. Pity the actual flashbacks were a snooze.
- Loved the “we’re in a fight” scene between Stefan and Damon. It’s enjoyable that no matter how big their issues are they just keep on trucking in being brothers, since they’re kind of stuck with each other forever.
- Rebekah is destined to be forever controlled by the men in her life, which is increasingly alarming. If she gets that dagger removed, Caroline needs to give her a firm talking to.
- Bonnie’s hot professor friend is also her potentially evil hot professor friend. Beware of hot older men trying to manipulate your magic, dear Bonnie.
- Matt kept the car. Smart boy, that Matt.
- Damon: “What is this guy, Witchipedia?”
- Stefan: “I was going to take him, but I figured you went through so much trouble to truss him up in your red room of pain.”
- Stefan: “Let me just name the million other people I’d rather be having dinner with right now.”