Originally aired 21 Oct 2010
Written by Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain
Directed by John Behring
Starring Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, and Ian Somerhalder
My rating: ★★1/2 stars
Episode has a few good scenes but is hampered by excessive violence.
A lot happens in this episode. Alaric reveals the Moonstone can break the Curse of the Sun and the Moon, whatever the heck that means. Jeremy volunteers and Bonnie is conscripted into the Scooby Gang 2.0. The SG 2.0 successfully retrieves the Moonstone from Mason Lockwood, who is summarily dispatched.
The scenes between Caroline and her mother in the episode are some of the best in the series. Sheriff Forbes comes to acknowledge that Caroline’s travails have caused her to mature into an independent and strong young woman/vampire. However, reminiscent of the scene in Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows, Part 1 where Hermione has to erase her existence from her parents’ memory, Caroline must compel Sheriff Forbes to forget her appreciation of Caroline’s newfound maturity and, instead, to remember Caroline as the insensitive, self-absorbed bubblehead that her mother always thought she was. Candice Accola continues to raise the performance bar, making Caroline, who is one of the least interesting and likeable characters in the books, one of the top characters of the series.
Damon’s recruitment of Bonnie to the brewing supernatural battle is well executed. Kat Graham, who is consistently the weakest performer on the show, manages to make it through a scene without appearing like she’s “Acting.” The dialogue meshes well with the established conversational rhythms of the characters. In order to capture Mason, Damon asks Bonnie to incapacitate the werewolf, saying, “Let’s talk about that little witchy juju thing you do with me. You know, the fun one where my brain bursts into flames? What is that?” I found Bonnie’s response, delivered matter-of-factly by Kat Graham in one of her more effective moments, to be chilling: “That’s me giving you an aneurysm. Your blood vessels go pop. But you heal quickly, so I do it over and over again.” Bonnie claims it will work on any creature with a supernatural healing ability, but she is still reluctant to help. Damon brushes off her reservations, “Mason Lockwood’s a werewolf. Katherine’s evil. They’re the bad guys. Really? You’re going to play morality police with me right now? Let me put it to you in another way: they’re a threat to Elena. So you, witch, are going to get over yourself and help us.” Stefan takes that moment to pipe in with “Yeah, he meant that as a question with a ‘please’ on the end.” It’s a nice moment of interaction between Bonnie and the brothers, a grouping we don’t get to see together very often.
The violence in this episode is unrelenting and largely unmotivated. I felt bad for Mason. First, he’s subjected to Bonnie’s headache from hell—for which there’s simply not enough Excedrin in the world. So far, the violence is not too bad. But Damon, apparently, wants revenge for Mason’s turning the brothers Salvatore over to Sheriff Forbes in the previous episode. The torture scenes that follow are out of character for Damon and extreme enough to make even Dick Cheney uncomfortable. First, Mason is repeatedly skewered with a red hot poker. Then, there’s the wolfsbane, which is toxic to werewolves, dragged along to sear his face, which doesn’t seem so bad when Damon stuffs the wolfsbane in Mason’s mouth. The close up of Mason spitting it out along with little bits of corroded flesh from inside his mouth is over the line of decency and narrative effectiveness.
The violence wouldn’t bother me so much if it was 1) in character; 2) in service of good-storytelling; or 3) socially responsible. Damon is erratic but not a sadist, and he doesn’t hate Mason. He dislikes him and even pities him, but he doesn’t have the kind of loathing that would inspire him to cause this level of pain. Secondly, the scenes are not particularly compelling because we don’t know what Mason knows and we don’t know what’s at stake in revealing or not revealing the information. Finally, in a world where the effectiveness of torture is hotly debated, casually showing it to be an effective method of extracting information is irresponsible on the part of writers Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain. It would have been more of a writing challenge but a more effective means of moving the story to have the Salvatore brothers trick Mason into revealing the information.
When Mason reveals as much of what he and Katherine (mostly Katherine) are plotting as he knows, Damon finally punches through his chest and rips out his heart, a move that is still shocking this early in the series. (By the end of season two, it’s old hat.) At this point in the episode, however, as a viewer, I felt so pummeled by the violence that I checked out of the episode. Therefore, the scene at the end where Katherine compels Aunt Jenna to stab herself with a butcher knife had little effect on me.
One thing that Mason reveals under torture and Bonnie’s witchy mind-reading is the location of the Moonstone. He’s hidden it down a well. Stefan sees retrieving it as easy-peasy and jumps in only to discover that the well is filled with vervain, leading his skin to burn and bubble as if he had jumped into a vat of acid—because the viewers really want and need to see that. Although we get a nice scene of Stefan’s rescue by Elena, who goes into the well to retrieve him, and Caroline, who raises them both up on a chain, with this scene in addition to all the violence, I felt the episode must have been written by Torquemada working in concert with the Khmer Rouge.
Ultimately, I don’t object to violence out of hand. Violence in service to character and narrative can be a riveting storytelling tool. But in this episode, it’s used without thought, without effect, and without respite.