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The Vampire Diaries, S02E05: Kill or Be Killed; Review by Robin Franson Pruter

vampire diaries 2

Originally aired 7 October 2010
Written by Mike Daniels
Directed by Jeff Woolnough

Starring Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, and Ian Somerhalder

My rating:  ★★★★ stars

Satisfying episode successfully blends story action and character interaction.

Sheriff Liz Forbes is one of the rounder recurring characters on television today. She isn’t merely a stock sheriff. Nor is she a stereotypical hard-ass, as we might expect from a character whose goal is to hunt down vampires on a show where the protagonists are vampires. The writers are good at dropping dribs and drabs of information about her life and her motivation for viewers who care enough to pay attention. We know that she was an outcast, bullied by mean girls in high school. We know she had a disastrous marriage to man who left her for another man. We know that she has a distant and strained relationship with her daughter. We know that, while willing to fight, she tries to be cognizant of the larger consequences of her actions. We know that she often fails at that and that she recognizes her own shortcomings and earnestly tries to rectify errors. Marguerite MacIntyre (TV’s Kyle XY) plays her with intelligence and sensitivity.

In this episode, Sheriff Forbes makes a dangerous error in judgment as a result of acting on partial information. She causes destruction because of that error. She’s not motivated by sadism but by betrayal; her actions reflect her anger at herself resulting from guilt about her gullibility when she learns that the Salvatore brothers are vampires. Her discovery leads to the gruesomely violent scene at the center of this episode where Sheriff Forbes holds Damon and Stefan captive, promising to drag their deaths out painfully unless Damon tells her what she wants to know.

This episode and the one that follows it are two of the most violent episodes of the series. I don’t know if there can be a definitive line between violence appropriate to the narrative and too much violence. Rather, I think that the appropriate level of violence for any narrative is contextual. The level of violence in this episode comes close to the line for The Vampire Diaries. What’s particularly disturbing is the amount of pain inflicted by the violence and by the difference in power between the attacker and victim—seeing someone standing over their helpless victims (vampires though they may be) who are writhing in pain and shooting them to inflict more pain is disturbing. However, I don’t think this episode crosses the line. The title of the episode is not “Fun with Rainbows and Cuddly Kittens.” It’s “Kill or Be Killed,” which suggests that violence will be a key part of the story. Limited to a couple of scenes, the violence here is appropriate for the episode.

This central scene is essentially a pas de deux for Sheriff Forbes and Damon, as the sheriff’s deputies are glorified extras and Stefan is unconscious. In one well executed moment, as Sheriff Forbes promises Damon a painful death, Damon looks up at her and says, “But we’re friends.” Somerhalder’s delivery could have been bitterly sarcastic or cloyingly pleading but, instead, is sadly heartfelt, with a touch of bewilderment. The delivery reflects that, in addition to being manipulative and sarcastic, Damon can also be piercingly vulnerable and sincere. In Damon’s understanding of the world, he and Sheriff Forbes are friends.

Caroline certainly comes into her own as a vampire this episode, kicking werewolf ass and swooping in to rescue Stefan and Damon. Her guilty little, “Hi, Mom,” as deputy blood drips down her chin is precious, like her mother just caught her with her hand in the cookie jar. Sheriff’s deputy must be Mystic Falls’ most hazardous job. The deputies clearly need a union to monitor working conditions. It’s hard to believe anyone would take the job given the high mortality rate, but I suppose in this economy people will be happy with any job they get—at least, until their throats are ripped out by a vampire.

The other highlights of this episode include the developing bromance between Tyler and Jeremy, Stefan attempting to make nice with Mason Lockwood by playing the “I’m the nice, reasonable brother” card, Damon attempting to reconcile Sheriff Forbes with Caroline now that she knows Caroline is a vampire, and Damon and Elena’s moment of rapprochement where Elena acknowledges Damon’s kindness in the handling of the Sheriff Forbes situation and where Damon informs Elena that Stefan must drink human blood if he’s going to be strong enough to survive.

I wasn’t thrilled with Stefan and Elena’s plan to inure Stefan to his sensitivity to human blood developed at the end of this episode because that sensitivity is character-defining and has intriguing story potential. Luckily, the series seemed to realize this, and the plan turns out to be something less than a complete success.

The episode’s final revelation—that Mason and Katherine are working/sleeping together—seems like an almost unnecessary twist on a wholly satisfying episode. I would have preferred this revelation to come earlier in the six-episode Mason arc. The audience would have had a better understanding of Mason as a character while he was actually present on the show, and this revelation would have helped the audience become more involved in the Katherine plot, which, in its obscurity, has been less compelling than it should have been.

Although this episode is relatively free of major plot developments—no one dies, for instance—events are still moving quickly through the episodes. The rapid pace of the plot, however, doesn’t create the sense that the story is rushed, because of episodes like this one, which, as a whole, successfully balances action with emotional conflict. It moves the plot while focusing on the characters and their relationships.

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