Originally aired 2 Dec 2010
Written by Caroline Dries
Directed by Ralph Hemecker
Starring Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, and Ian Somerhalder
My rating: ★★ stars
Logic problems exacerbate shallow treatment of self-sacrifice.
Episodes with huge problems of logic and continuity can still work if those problems don’t involve the main dramatic elements of the story. For example, in the classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Innocence,” the major dramatic crisis is the loss of Angel’s soul; viewers are wrapped up enough in this conflict that it’s not immediately apparent that there’s an extra day inserted into the middle of the episode.
The logic problems of this episode of The Vampire Diaries, however, involve its major dramatic conflict—that of Elena’s wish to sacrifice herself. These problems, and the shallow treatment of this conflict, damage the episode at its core.
The very first sequence of the episode demonstrates minor logical conundrums, which are not fatal to the episode of as a whole, but reflect the poor attention to logic that infects the whole episode. Elena is awakened by a noise in the night. She goes to the hallway to investigate and finds Alaric at the top of the stairs in his underwear holding a bowl of ice cream over his manly bits. Jenna, wearing only Alaric’s shirt, comes up behind him and apologizes for the noise. Meanwhile, Jonas, the warlock working for Elijah sneaks into Elena’s room to steal some of her possessions.
Jonas’s actions here don’t make much sense. It’s unclear how he knew Elena would be distracted by a noise to know to come in at that moment, unless he was waiting outside Elena’s window for any moment when she would leave the room—to tinkle or whatnot. If that were the case, however, I would think it would be easier just to wait for Elena to go out for the day before sneaking into her room to pilfer her stuff. Furthermore, we learn later that the reason he wants her stuff is so that he can perform a locator spell to find her for Elijah. Yet, Elena’s location is not a mystery—she’s in the hall having an awkward encounter with her aunt and her history teacher. Yes, Jonas does need to use the locator spell later in the episode, but there’s no way he or Elijah would have known at the beginning of the episode that Elena would leave Mystic Falls. Maybe Elijah and Jonas were once Boy Scouts and take the motto “Be Prepared,” very, very seriously. Even so, it would be a lot safer to wait to break into the house until it is empty.
These logical problems are relatively minor. The big problem is Elena’s strategy to save her family and friends from being murdered by Klaus by turning herself over to him voluntarily, the action that drives the plot of the episode. Here’s the logical problem—Elena knows already that Klaus’s plan to sacrifice her involves doing away with Caroline and Tyler as well, and using Bonnie to perform the spell. Yet, she acts as if her own sacrifice will save everyone and solve the Klaus problem. It’s not that Elena is being stupid. It’s that the episode’s writer, Caroline Dries, is. If the problem were merely an oversight (a pretty big one) of Elena’s, one of the other characters who learn of her strategy would point this oversight out to her. But no character thinks of it, which indicates that Dries is the one who overlooked Klaus’s need to dispose of two of Elena’s friends and use a third in that plan.
Issues of logic aside, the episode doesn’t convey the magnitude of Elena’s decision to turn herself over to Klaus. She doesn’t seem conflicted about or even remotely emotionally invested in the choice of self-sacrifice. When one compares the depiction of self-sacrifice here to J.K. Rowling’s masterful depiction of the same issue in “The Forest Again” chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the writing of this episode seems incredibly shallow.
Shallow though its depiction might be, the concept of self-sacrifice does provide a nice unifying element for the A and B stories of the episode. Elena is not the only character willing to put herself in harm’s way. The B story, about Stefan, Bonnie, and Jeremy’s attempt to get the Moonstone from Katherine in order to destroy and save Elena shows multiple characters prepared to make sacrifices, if not as final as Elena’s, in order to protect other characters. Bonnie, who is suffering health issues with difficult magic, is willing to attempt the spell to bring down the seal of the tomb, the one that killed her grandmother in the first season, so that Stefan (and Damon before he’s called away to thwart Elena’s attempt to turn herself over to Klaus) can enter it to take the Moonstone from Katherine. Jeremy is willing to be the one to face Katherine in the tomb so that Bonnie doesn’t have to risk her health with the spell. (As a human, Jeremy doesn’t have to worry about being trapped by the seal of the tomb.) While Jeremy is counting on his Gilbert ring to protect him, he knows that fighting Katherine is not without risk (all he has to do is ask Uncle John, as Katherine cleverly points out). Finally, when Jeremy’s scheme goes awry, as even the best laid plans do, Stefan enters the tomb to save him, knowing that Bonnie has failed to bring down the seal, leaving Stefan trapped in there for eternity (or, as it turns out, an episode).
Elena does point out at least part of the logical flaw with the destroy-the-Moonstone plan. She says that, if the Scooby Gang 2.0 were to put a stop to Klaus’s efforts to break the Curse of the Sun and the Moon by disposing of the Moonstone, he will take his revenge on them. Although she fails to consider that he would kill her too if the Moonstone is destroyed, she makes a good point. What isn’t clear to me is why anyone would think doing away with the Moonstone would save Elena. When Katherine foiled Klaus’s plan, he killed her entire family and hunted her for 500 hundred years. Knowing this, I don’t think Klaus would simply say, “Oh, I’ve been thwarted to save Elena. I’ll leave her alone now.”
The logic problems here impede the dramatic impact of the various attempts at self-sacrifice, an impact that is further lessened by the casual way all the characters approach sacrificing themselves.
Also casually presented is the violence in this episode. Elijah performs a move that’s become disturbingly commonplace on the show—punching into someone’s chest and ripping the heart out. In fact, he does it to two people simultaneously. The ease and impunity with which he does it could be depicted as shocking, but the director and the writer choose to make this action seem banal.
The episode is not completely without merit. The C story, which shows Caroline and Tyler preparing for the upcoming full moon and Tyler’s first transformation into a wolf, is solid. This storyline describes the budding relationship between Caroline and Tyler and successfully builds anticipation for the next episode, “By the Light of the Moon.” Accola and Trevino work well together. Bringing back guest star Taylor Kinney for Mason’s video diary of his transformation makes Caroline and Tyler’s research into the transformation visual. The short scene where Matt interrupts their research is also well done. Roerig does a good job at presenting Matt’s frustrated jealousy—he’s angry that his best friend is hanging out with his ex-girlfriend, but he can’t express his anger because they’re not together in any romantic way. The scene shows Matt effectively isolated from the supernatural world of the other characters on the show without him understanding why, as he’s ignorant of the existence of the supernatural.
Finally, the two scenes of Elena and Damon arguing about her intention to sacrifice herself are particularly strong, as most of the intensely emotional scenes between Dobrev and Somerhalder are due to the combustible chemistry the actors have with each other. The subtle reactions of the other characters, including Rose, Stefan, and Katherine to the heretofore awkwardly ignored sexual tension between the two are nicely done.
Overall, viewers who expect the stories they watch to make sense will find this episode disappointing. Viewers who don’t care about the logic of the story may also be disappointed by the failure of the episode to give the idea of self-sacrifice appropriate dramatic resonance.
STUFF THAT BOTHERS ONLY ME
In order to make taking the Moonstone away from Katherine easier, Bonnie performs a spell to create Katherine-weakening ash. To do so, she burns a tintype of Katherine. I feel bad just imagining a piece of history such as an 1864 tintype being destroyed.