Oftentimes, a show tips its hand when portraying two characters falling in love, attempting to almost seduce the audience into falling in love with the couple at the same rate the couple is falling in love with each other. It’s a delicate dance, but when done well, it is beneficial to all parties involved, guaranteeing a successful storyline and one the audience can revel in rooting for at every turn.
This is not one of those times. If there is one easily identifiable characteristic of the growing Elena/Damon romance, it’s that the show has steadfastly refused to seduce the audience into feeling a certain way about their relationship. Every moment of their coupling has been fraught with worry—from both them and outside sources—with that worry even intercut with their physical and emotionally intimate scenes, like some sort of Greek chorus shouting in the audience’s ear that what they’re seeing is wrong, wrong, wrong.
It’s strange, but as a viewer, I almost want to be seduced. I want to be swept up in the magic of it all, to be transported in that manufactured yet satisfying way a good romance can offer. If a show is so determined not to seduce me, why should I be invested in this couple? By constantly undercutting every tender moment of Elena and Damon’s relationship with the worry of it not being real, why should I invest my time in caring if it is or not?
The funny thing is I don’t even think the show is doing this on purpose; I think it thinks their love is epic and star-crossed. From a plot standpoint, Elena’s sire bond with Damon is pretty great stuff. It gives Elena and Damon interesting internal conflict. It gives Stefan and Damon moral dilemmas to parse. It touches every single person in their orbit in some way, as they react to the news. And yet it still feels undone to me, unfinished in a way that’s vaguely unsatisfying. Yes, the sire bond only even exists because Elena’s feelings for Damon existed when she was still human, but until the show steadfastly allows their bond to exist without having a giant asterisk hanging above their heads, the entire thing is always going to seem like they’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop and for the whole thing to be forgotten. For a story the series has spent four seasons leading up to, it feels like it deserves more than an asterisk.
Although the love triangle continues to be the main focus of the episodes this season, the really interesting stuff is happening on the sidelines. The plot mechanics of the show have changed significantly in this fourth season; instead of breakneck plot twists and carefully controlled mayhem each week, the story of Professor Shane and his true intentions has built slowly and methodically. The most impressive thing is how each week, the show manages to weave a new revelation about what he’s really up to into the love triangle business, giving that story some weight and making sure the whole show seems cohesive, instead of separating the threesome from the main plot completely.
This week, it’s revealed that dear, evil Professor Shane is out to tap into a very dark level of magic called “expression,” which is controlled by human sacrifice and appears to allow you to bring people back from the dead. Hayley—who has been helping Shane in exchange for information about her biological parents—has to deliver 12 unsired hybrids to him, hybrids Shane plans on using for this sacrifice. As for the witch, Bonnie’s magic sessions with him obviously turn out to be practice runs for when he will force her to do the real dirty deeds. At the end of last season, it seemed fairly obvious Bonnie would dabble in the darker side of magic; unfortunately, it appears she is going to be doing this not of her own volition but unwillingly, in service of Shane’s nefarious mission. For a character who only seems to exist most of the time to service other people’s needs, this is troubling. Can’t a girl go dark side with magic because she wants to?
As for Tyler, he’s quickly making a case as MVP of the season so far. Tyler has often struggled for a purpose since becoming a hybrid, and making him the champion of sired hybrids who want to break their destructive connection with Klaus has done wonders for the character. Watching him rise up and claim his place as Alpha of the new hybrid pack was pretty thrilling to watch, and Michael Trevino played it perfectly. I am very much looking forward to the confrontation between his pack and Klaus, as well as his reaction when he learns exactly what Professor Shane has in store for them.
For a season that felt like it had very little plot momentum in the early episodes, things are now shaping up nicely for a grand confrontation between all involved parties. I just wish I felt as strongly about what the show is doing with the love triangle.
- Checking in on the opening: Yep, still hate it.
- The flashbacks weren’t especially illuminating for the characters—Damon has done plenty of selfless things for Stefan over the years— but they were absolutely gorgeously filmed and plenty enjoyable nonetheless. Also, they advanced the (awesome) main season-long plot, which was very clever.
- How can Elena make a dig about Caroline sleeping with Damon without Caroline pointing out that she was raped by him due to his mind control? This is far past the point of being unacceptable and veering into the irresponsible. I guarantee the audience remembers this, even if the writers are desperately trying to make us forget. We know Damon is a bad guy, so please don’t whitewash his behavior to service the love story you’re trying to tell.
- Were Matt and Jeremy off having pillow fights during this episode? Or maybe spotting each other at the gym?
- Damon’s flashback hair wins. Sorry, Stefan, but at least you still have your Civil War-era flashback hair victory.
- The one thing that remains great about the love triangle is how, no matter how much it kills them, the brothers still manage to (mostly) love and respect each other.