The Vampire Diaries is a show about many things: family, loyalty, obligation, murder, mayhem, and sacrifice, to name just a few. But one of the most prominent themes, established all the way back in the pilot through Elena and Stefan’s burgeoning relationship, is love. One of the great things about the show is that although it was always a show about a woman in love with two vampire brothers at its heart, there were always so many other narratively and thematically rich things happening that the love triangle never took over the proceedings in a negative way. Now it’s the end of season three and everything the show has been building between the characters since the very beginning is coming to its natural head, bringing the love triangle to the forefront. And— for the most part—it’s honestly pretty great.
This season has had trouble establishing a consistent narrative but one thing has been clear from the start: this would be the season Elena and Damon’s relationship truly gets explored from her perspective. Damon’s feelings for Elena have been clear for quite a long time and the show wisely recognized this in season three, giving her all the tools she needs to truly figure out what (and who) she wants. Most of this happened in the shadows of other episodes, in between stabbings and magic spells and Originals, but “Heart of Darkness” finally just comes out and says “listen, Elena, figure out your shit.” She does this by going on a road trip with Damon to retrieve Jeremy, because all clandestine sexual acts always happen on road trips. (I learned this from Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill.)
The smart thing about this setup is that the road trip is completely plot-based: Jeremy needs retrieving so he can summon Rose and find out who sired her and Jeremy’s shadow Kol must be dealt with. Having Damon be Elena’s companion instead of Stefan could feel eye-rolling (and honestly Stefan’s little “I basically forced Elena to go so she could deal with her feelings towards my brother” speech was more than a little patriarchal and gross) but the writers do a great job of making the motivations of the trip seem genuine, even if the actual scenario is a bit contrived.
Despite anything that happens in the setup, though, the beauty is in the execution. The scene where Elena watches an unknowing Damon just be was such an inspired choice, so illustrative of both his character and her changing feelings towards him without either of them saying a word. It’s the epitome of visual storytelling, showing not telling the audience what is happening between two characters. If the scene was just that it would have been beautiful, but the way it escalated into talking, then more than talking was simply fantastically well done. Last season I had major problems with the love triangle and more specifically with Damon’s viability as a love interest for Elena, but if they are going to do it as well as that sequence any doubts I once had will definitely stay in the past.
I was even fully on board with Elena’s inevitable doubts post-kiss and Damon’s response to those doubts. Although Stefan and Elena always seem to be drowning in a river of words when they’re together, Damon and Elena often swap barbs instead of actual feelings, meaning this conversation was practically essential. What was far less pleasing was Ghost Rose’s absurd soliloquy about the difference between Elena’s relationship with Damon and her relationship with Stefan. Everything I praised above about Damon and Elena’s elegant scene together was almost undone by this obvious statement of purpose to the audience about What Each Brother Means To Elena. What was most maddening is the entire thing wasn’t necessary at all, because if the show’s done one thing right it’s illustrated the differences between all legs of the love triangle throughout the series. To have it all summed up in such a pat manner by a supposed all-knowing and semi-magical character like Rose isn’t just groan-inducing, it’s downright insulting. To put it simply, I just don’t understand what the writers were trying to accomplish.
It’s too bad that scene was so mind-numbingly awful, because the rest of the episode was a heck of a lot of fun, setting things up for a nice little race towards the season finale. Tyler is back and momentarily back with Caroline, until he realizes Klaus spent the time while he was away trying to woo Caroline with drawings of pretty horses. Oh, and he knows everyone wants to kill Klaus even though that means he’s a goner, too. Matt is hanging around still being generally awesome. Stefan is tasked with beating the truth out of Alaric’s evil alter ego as to where the last remaining stake resides, because Damon loves Alaric too much to hurt him. Esther returns and presents herself to Rebekah before dying, which turns out to be a total misdirect because instead of dying she possessed Rebekah and now is teamed up with Alaric’s alter ego with the mission to kill all the Originals.
It was tightly plotted, well acted stuff, and highly enjoyable, probably the best episode of this second half of the season. Still, though, I can’t stop thinking about Rose’s speech and about how, without it, this episode could have been so much more. If there is a better recent example of a show shooting itself in the foot, I just can’t think of one.
- I feel like I should be wise to the trickery on this show by now, but Esther possessing Rebekah definitely got me yet again. I feel especially dumb because the entire time Rebekah was taking Alaric to the cave I was screaming, “This is so dumb! Have Matt retrieve the stake!” Silly me.
- Jeremy interrupting Damon and Elena’s make out session was classic, mostly because of the stern Disapproving Brother face he got once he realized what was going on.
- Damon was absolutely on fire tonight with his one liners. My particular favorite Damon moment, however, was him giving Alaric Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to read. Hee.
- Damon and Alaric are a male friendship for the ages, but Stefan and Alaric aren’t too shabby, either. I wonder if Damon is going to be jealous of the time they spent together.
- Damon: “Next time we compel him, remind me to make him better at baseball.”
- Jeremy: “What, so you guys can make out some more?”
- Tyler: “Klaus drew this for you? That’s…pretty creepy.”