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The Vampire Diaries, S02E09: Katerina; Review by Robin Franson Pruter

vampire diaries 2

Originally aired 11 Nov 2010
Written by Andrew Chambliss
Directed by J. Miller Tobin

Starring Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, and Ian Somerhalder

My rating:  ★★★ stars

Exposition-heavy episode explores the history of Katherine, Klaus, and The Originals.

“Katerina,” as the title suggests, explores the history of Katherine and how she came to run afoul of the dangerous vampire Klaus and the other original vampires. The episode opens in Bulgaria in 1490, and we see how the family line that leads eventually to Elena begins. Katherine, we assume (Elena will not be born for over 500 years), gives birth to a baby girl. Before the afterbirth comes out, it seems, her father rips the baby away telling Katherine she has disgraced the family. Katherine pleads with him to no avail and clutches her mother in support. The scene, which lets Bulgarian-born Nina Dobrev act in her native language, would be more effective if the audience had even a modicum of sympathy for Katherine.

The episode tries to build sympathy for Katherine with limited success. Later in the episode, when we see that Klaus has killed Katherine’s entire family in order to punish her for running from his attempt to sacrifice her, I didn’t even feel sympathetic enough to be moved by the sight of her weeping over her mother’s corpse. However, near the end of the episode in a montage of scenes that plays under the song “Amen Omen,” by Ben Harper, I was affected by the scene of Katherine leafing through her family history, finding a sketch of her family, and longingly running her fingers over the image of her mother, a woman she hasn’t seen in half a millennium—even “manipulative, psychotic bitch” vampires (as Stefan describes her in this episode) can miss their mothers. The song is well chosen for the moment. The lyrics are vague enough to cover the variety of scenes in the montage, but the line “Amen omen, will I see your face again?” perfectly underscores that moment.

During this episode, we learn part of the reason Klaus wanted to sacrifice Katherine and will now be coming after Elena—to break the Sun and the Moon Curse. In fact, the whole point of this episode is to convey exposition about the complex new mythology being introduced into the series. Some of the handling of this exposition is clunky. There are at least three major sequences of people just sitting around talking about stuff. However, as boring as the foundations of these scenes are, the scenes are elevated by the fact that the information being disseminated is unreliable. The audience becomes more involved in the scenes trying to distill fact from myth.

The opening exposition scene suffers from the same poor staging as the one in “Bad Moon Rising.” The characters all sit around the Salvatore home library and discuss Klaus and The Originals (which would be a great name for a West German rock ‘n’ roll band circa 1962). At least Rose is allowed to stand and pace while she narrates instead of just sitting there like the others. This exposition scene, however, is marginally better than the one in “Bad Moon Rising” because it’s complicated by the fact that Rose is an unreliable narrator. She admits at the beginning that she doesn’t know how much of what she is relating is true. The resulting confusion lends some interest to the ordinarily lazy question-and-answer dialogue of a sloppy exposition scene. For example, Elena asks about Klaus, “So you’re saying that the oldest vampire in the history of time is coming after me?” and Stefan and Rose answer simultaneously “No” and “Yes,” respectively. Damon clarifies with “We’re looking at a solid maybe.” Most notably, the scene serves to highlight how menacing Klaus is purported to be with Rose saying, “Elijah was the Easter Bunny compared to Klaus” and, later, “If you’re not afraid of Klaus, then you’re an idiot.” The show is starting a big build-up for a character who won’t appear for another ten episodes. This build-up would have backfired horribly if Klaus, when he finally does appear later in the season, didn’t live up to the hype.

The next major exposition scene occurs between Katherine and Elena, who has come to visit the vampire, still trapped in the tomb, for information. In exchange, she gives Katherine shots of blood we assume Elena has stolen from the Salvatores. One nice moment at the beginning of the scene has Caroline opening the tomb for Elena by casually lifting the giant monolith blocking the entrance out of the way. The ease with which Caroline deals with her newfound status as a vampire is a refreshing change from the angst that such a transition usually entails in similar narratives.

Once Caroline leaves to distract Stefan from noticing that Elena is missing (Caroline’s main job in the next three seasons seems to be to provide similar distractions), Elena faces off with her doppelganger. Elena is intelligent enough to have pieced together part of Katherine’s plan—to turn over Elena to Klaus in order to earn his forgiveness. Katherine explains that she has been running from him since 1492. The flashbacks that accompany Katherine’s tale feel claustrophobic (not just Klaustrophobic, heh-heh) because they mostly comprise night and interior shots so that recreating 1492 would be possible on a CW show budget. Elijah’s and Rose’s period wigs also look particularly bad.

We learn that Trevor, who lost his head to Elijah last week, lost his heart to Katherine and helped her escape from Klaus’s attempt to sacrifice her. Katherine lives up to the “manipulative, psychotic bitch” moniker here with her plan to save herself. She deliberately injures herself, knowing that either Trevor or his friend Rose would try to heal her with their blood. Rose feeds Katherine her blood, wanting to return a healthy Katherine back to Klaus in hopes that he will spare Rose and Trevor. Knowing that Klaus needs to sacrifice Katherine as a human, Katherine hangs herself so that she dies with the vampire Rose’s blood in her system in order to become a vampire. Rose’s being Katherine’s sire is a significant change from the books, in which Klaus is the one who turns Katherine into a vampire. Katherine’s strategy to extract herself from Klaus’s plan to sacrifice her would have worked had she not underestimated Klaus’s need for revenge.

Elena doubts Katherine’s truthfulness, and we see the writers again questioning the reliability of the narrative when Elena asks, “So how much of your little story is true?” In my review of “Memory Lane,” I said that flashbacks lend a patina of veracity to a potentially unreliable narrative, and we’ve just seen Katherine’s story acted out. In fact, despite Katherine’s casual relationship with the truth, her part of the episode proves the most reliable in the long run. She avers, “I have no reason to lie, Elena. I have no reason to do anything but sit here and read and rot.” However, during this episode, the audience doesn’t know which part of the narrative to trust.

The writers are cleverly ironic by casting this truthful part of the narrative in the most uncertainty. The scene, which, aside from the flashbacks, has comprised just Elena and Katherine talking back and forth, becomes more dramatic when Stefan, having realized Caroline’s ploy to distract him, finds them in the tomb. When Stefan arrives, he immediately throws doubt upon what Katherine has said, telling Elena, “Listen to me, whatever she said to you is a lie. Do not listen to her. She’s a liar, Elena.”

Elena, however, fears Katherine may be telling the truth, particularly as Elena had worked out part of the story for herself. Elena realizes that turning her [Elena] over to Klaus hasn’t been Katherine’s only agenda because it doesn’t explain all of the vampire’s actions since she came to town. If all Katherine needed was Elena, she wouldn’t have had to activate Tyler’s werewolf curse. Katherine confirms Elena’s suspicions that, in order to break the curse, Klaus needs to sacrifice the doppelganger (Elena), a vampire (Caroline), and a werewolf (Tyler), and he needs a witch (Bonnie) to do the spell. Elena comes to understand that she was wrong to blame Stefan for putting her in danger (in the episode “Masquerade”), that Elena herself is the reason that she and everyone she knows is in danger. Stefan’s attempt at reassurance does little to assuage Elena’s fears. He says, “You don’t have to worry. I’m not going to let anything happen to you,” to which Elena replies, “That’s the problem. You won’t. But you’ll die trying. How’s that any better?”

Katherine chooses this moment to reveal that Klaus killed her entire family in revenge for her taking away his chance to break the curse, saying “He killed them, my entire family, just to get back at me for running. Whatever you do to escape Klaus, he will get his vengeance on your friends, your family, and anyone that you’ve ever loved.” This line sounds like an appropriate one on which to end the scene. However, the writers choose not to take this ending and include a wonderfully written and acted exchange between Stefan and Katherine. The bit works successfully, even though it extends the scene beyond its natural closing point, because it draws so well on the relationship history between the characters.

Stefan desperately tries to convince Elena to ignore Katherine’s ominous forewarnings, but Katherine cynically cuts in with, “Always the protector but even you must realize that she’s doomed. There’s nothing you can do to stop it unless of course you have this” and offers Stefan and Elena the Moonstone. Paul Wesley shows Stefan rising a bit in stature, as Stefan thinks he’s figured out Katherine’s gambit, saying “Oh no, there it is. It’s the ultimate lie, isn’t it? You spun this whole thing so that we would have to get the stone from you, didn’t you?…You want to trade that stone for your freedom, you manipulative, psychotic bitch.”

Nina Dobrev has Katherine flinch ever so slightly at Stefan’s harsh words, suggesting how much Katherine is hurt by Stefan’s condemnation—Stefan, after all, was the one Katherine loved, while Damon was the one she played with. Dobrev’s double duty in this scene, as Katherine and Elena, is so well done, their demeanors are so different, that it’s easy to forget that we’re watching the same actress play two roles.

Katherine doesn’t let her hurt get the better of her and delivers a scene-ending line that matches the earlier one (the one that didn’t end up ending the scene) in dramatic impact. She says, “My freedom? That’s where you’re wrong, Stefan. I don’t want my freedom because when Klaus shows up to kill us all—and he will—I’ll be in the tomb where no vampire will enter because they can’t get out. I’ll be the safest psychotic bitch in town.”

The third major exposition sequence involves Damon and Rose visiting a vampire named Slater, who is, apparently, a walking vampire Wikipedia. I bet, before the writers came up with a name for Slater, they just called him “Exposition Guy” because that’s the whole point of his character. The sequence ends with the biggest action scene of the episode. When it happens, it is a welcome change, because Rose, Damon, and Slater sitting in a coffee shop (with sunlight-resistant windows to protect the vampires inside) discussing the Moonstone and the Curse of the Sun and the Moon isn’t compelling at all. There is a bright moment at the beginning of the sequence when Slater reveals The Originals can be contacted through a personal ad on Craigslist. Slater’s other information isn’t nearly as interesting. However, the sequence is constructed in such a way as to minimize the boredom created by question-and-answer dialogue about esoteric plot concepts.

For example, when Slater reveals that Klaus’s goal is to break the Curse of the Sun and the Moon, Damon asks, “Elijah moved around during the day, which means The Originals knew the secret of the day ring. Now why would Klaus want to lift the Curse of the Sun and the Moon?” After Slater responds, “To keep the werewolves from lifting it. If a vampire breaks the sun curse then the werewolves are stuck with the curse of the moon forever and vice versa,” the scene cuts to outside the coffee shop where Elijah walks onto the sidewalk in the middle of bright daylight to watch the group inside. Here, we see Elijah, whom Rose and Damon believe is dead, act out the very situation that Damon posited.

As Slater, Damon, and Rose discuss the possibility of destroying the Moonstone to prevent the curse from ever being broken, Elijah continues to spy on them, menacingly playing with a handful of change. The point of the change is unclear until the sequence’s end, when Elijah throws the coins with such force they act like grapeshot, shattering the sunlight-resistant window and burning the vampires inside. I’m not sure that, with her face burning off, Rose would be so quick to describe Elijah as the “Easter Bunny.” Damon, who’s safe because of his daylight ring, manages to throw his jacket over Rose and extract her from the coffee shop before she turns completely crispy.

Later, back at the Salvatore mansion, Rose, now fully healed but feeling a little vulnerable, decides to take a cruise on the S.S. Damon, which has been in dry dock ever since the elder Salvatore brother fell in love with Elena. Rose is the only female in the series, besides Elena, to challenge Damon and to see through all his emotional baggage. She knows he’s in love with Elena, but she’s not after love. She wants comfort and a safe harbor in the storm, so to speak, if I can mix my maritime metaphors, and she doesn’t mind examining him on the (metaphorical) couch after “examining” him in front of a literal one. (Watching this episode, I had to wonder if Damon had a bedroom in the mansion because it hadn’t been shown. Whenever he had entertained a lady friend (or lady friends) at the Salvatore mansion, it had been in either the library or the hallway. However, an episode shortly thereafter introduces the set for Damon’s bedroom.)

This episode presents two new recurring characters, father and son warlocks Jonas (Randy J. Goodwin) and Luka Martin (Bryton James). At this point in the series, all six witch characters (Bonnie, Grams, Emily Bennett, Lucy from “Masquerade,” Jonas, and Luka) who have been introduced so far have been African-American. With the exception of one character who first appears in season 3, all subsequent witch characters will be African-American (at least, through the end of season 4). As the show avoids discussion of race entirely, we never learn if witchery is connected to race for a reason.

Luka, as apparently the first black guy to attend Mystic Falls High, attracts the attention of Bonnie, who is reluctant to embrace her inner cougar and act on her developing feelings for the younger Jeremy. (Bonnie is only two years older than Jeremy, so maybe “cougar” isn’t the right word. Maybe I should say that she’s reluctant to embrace her inner ocelot or bobcat.) Jeremy certainly doesn’t appreciate Luka’s horning in on Jeremy’s “hanging out” time with Bonnie, who is pleased enough to discover that Luka is a warlock that she doesn’t seem care how creepy he’s being.

Also, in this episode, we get a nice scene of the developing friendship between Caroline and Stefan, even if she is trying to manipulate him at the time. He understands that she is manipulating him, so they connect on an honest level. With Damon’s murder of Lexi in the first season, Stefan is short one blonde, vampire BFF; Caroline fills the bill. Stefan even states that Caroline reminds him of Lexi, and, thus, the audience is reminded of Lexi, whom we’ll see again in episode 15.

The final scene in the episode features one strong piece of exposition and one less-than-potent revelation. Instead of having a character tell us that The Originals have the power to compel other vampires, the writers show us, by having Elijah compel Slater to call Rose and tell her he needs the Moonstone to destroy, which will eliminate the possibility of breaking the curse. When Slater has completed that task, Elijah compels Slater to stake himself. Exposition guy has served his purpose. Jonas then enters the scene, asking if forcing Slater to kill himself was really necessary, and revealing that Jonas (and possibly Luka) are working with Elijah. This surprise revelation would be more effective if Jonas and Luka had been on the canvas for more than one episode and hadn’t come off as so creepy in the scenes they did have. I suppose the Curse/Moonstone/Originals business was convoluted enough without throwing in Jonas and Luka as completely unknown quantities. But the music and staging of the final scene suggest that the revelation was supposed to have a bigger impact than it does.

Despite the fact that this is my longest review so far, not much happens plot-wise in this episode. Characters talk. We learn about The Originals. Klaus’s impending arrival is portentously discussed. Mostly, this episode is about unfolding information, and the writers make a solid effort to undercut the tedium of that process.

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