The Vampire Diaries: "The Descent"
B+

The Vampire Diaries: "The Descent"

B+

The Vampire Diaries

"The Descent"

Season 2, Episode 12

What does it mean to be a monster? For that matter, what does it mean to be human? And if you’ve been both things in your life (and death), how do you reconcile the two halves of your fractured self? These are the questions explored in this compelling installment of The Vampire Diaries, via Damon’s reveal of a long-hidden secret and Caroline and Tyler’s ongoing adjustment from tortured regular teenagers to even more tortured teenage monsters.

Let’s get right to Damon’s secret, as it’s all anyone is probably interested in talking about: Damon, Mr. Vampire Universe, the one always extolling the virtues of his vampire superiority, finally admits that what he misses more than anything in the world is being human. This isn’t an especially interesting secret on its face, as many vampires of the past and present face this exact dilemma. More interesting is what caused him to reach this breaking point and how—and to whom—he made the reveal.

Something had to finally make Damon break to reveal something he so obviously loathed about himself, and here it turned out to be the sickness and eventual death of Damon’s new friend and lover, Rose, a death carried out by Damon’s own hand in order to end her suffering after being poisoned by a werewolf bite. Although it feels like a bit of a stretch to think Damon had deep enough feelings for Rose to have her death shake him to the very core, considering their limited interactions up to this point, her farewell was handled so beautifully, and Ian Somerhalder portrayed Damon’s emotions while driving the stake through her heart so pitch-perfectly that the motivations began to click into place tonight.

Also bolstering the reveal was the knowledge that this feeling wasn’t coming entirely out of left field. Through flashbacks last season, we learned that Stefan was the eager vamp at first, pulling Damon into the lifestyle despite his protests. The level of denial someone must feel to completely ignore their desired humanity for over 100 years could make for one hell of a story if handled correctly, and so far, the writers seem up for the task. Having Damon make the reveal while drunk, to a stranger he compelled and then brutally murdered, was exactly right. It’s unclear where he’s going with this, but it’s obviously wrapped up in sadness and anger over what happened to Rose and frustration about his forbidden feelings for Elena. All I know is I wouldn’t want to be the werewolf who bit Rose right now. Retribution, it is coming.

Meanwhile, in what seemed like another universe for most of the hour, Tyler and Caroline dealt with identity issues of their own as they continue to lightly settle into their new identities of werewolf and vampire, respectively.  Although they were thematically linked, the transitions between the epically dark Damon/Rose story and the more cautiously sunny Tyler/Caroline story were a bit abrupt. At times, it is easy to forget most these characters are teenagers who do teenage things, like play football and attend classes, so switching from a scene where Elena is almost killed by a rabid vamp to one where Caroline is cheerfully walking the halls can be jarring.

After helping Tyler through his first werewolf transition in the previous episode, he and Caroline are closer than they’ve ever been. Lurking in the background, however, is the undercurrent of their kind being mortal enemies. Mortal enemies traditionally make the greatest lovers, so Tyler complicates matters by attempting to up the ante in their relationship by kissing Caroline, but she doesn’t take the bait quite yet. It’s unclear why at this point. Loyalty to Matt? Confusion over how to be a vampire in a romantic relationship, let alone a vampire in a relationship with a werewolf? At this point, it remains murky. This romantic doubt on her part helps fuel Tyler’s doubt in her loyalty, especially when he meets fellow werewolf (and Rose’s attacker) Jules, who manipulates Tyler into becoming her vampire-fighting ally by telling him Caroline killed his uncle. Caroline and Tyler’s growing bond has been one of the highlights of the past few episodes, and this complication feels inevitable yet still earned. It really can only be fully judged in future episodes, but as it stands they are building something successful with the pair. (I can’t out myself as a total Caroline/Tyler girl yet, can I? I just started this gig. Oh…whoops.)

In the least successful story of the episode, Caroline also received a bit of male attention from her ex-boyfriend Matt. The show is facing a bit of a crossroads when it comes to Matt’s character, one all supernatural-themed shows struggle with. Matt is the innocent, the one person in the show’s universe who is blissfully unaware that every one of his friends is some sort of superfreak. This plays for a while, but when you have a character that has a sister who was turned into a vampire and then staked, a best friend who is a werewolf, one ex-girlfriend who is a vampire, and another ex-girlfriend who is constantly surrounded by vampires, including one who is her evil doppelganger? The boy has to realize something is rotten in the town of Mystic Falls, or otherwise he just kind of looks like the village idiot.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a total bash on Matt. Beyond being a bit bland at times, he isn’t a bad character, and the actor is fine, but the longer he goes without catching on to the absolute weirdness around him, the less believable he becomes. Here’s hoping he doesn’t lose any of his innocent charm when he eventually loses his innocence.

Overall, this was a strong episode, emotionally driven by Ian Somerhalder’s heartbreaking performance. Despite my previous insistence that brooding wasn’t allowed here on The Vampire Diaries, I think brooding is coming. And I kind of think the brooding might be fantastic.

Stray observations:

  • I will readily admit I tend to gloss over the obvious Damon and Elena anvils the show keeps throwing at us, as they don’t interest me in the slightest. Yet I am begrudgingly accepting of the pairing's inevitability. Feel free to bash me at will. Or, you know, calmly discuss things amongst yourselves.
  • The look on Ian Somerhalder’s face as he killed Rose was the finest piece of acting he has ever done. Really quite wonderful. (The last five minutes weren’t too shabby, either.)
  • Why, oh why, would Damon leave little tiny Elena to watch over an unpredictable, sick vampire? At times the show subverts cliché, and at other times, it steps right up to cliché and gives it a big sloppy kiss on the mouth. With tongue.
  • So Uncle Father John Sark is back and working with Stefan to defeat Klaus. Seeing as all Uncle Father John Sark wanted to do last time we saw him is kill every vampire in existence (including Stefan), this should be interesting.
  • “Maybe I expected there to be silk sheets.”
  • “You really are determined to die, aren’t you?”
  • “Everyone just needs to stop kissing me.” (I can’t shake the feeling that another character, sometime, somewhere, said this exact same thing or something very similar to it. Am I crazy?)
  • “There are others like us, and they’re on their way.”

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