Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Vampire Diaries: “My Brother’s Keeper”

Illustration for article titled The Vampire Diaries: “My Brother’s Keeper”

The best television provokes an emotional response. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. It excites you. It depresses you. It even angers you.

And I’m not going to lie. That ending made me angry.

Throughout the entire fourth season thus far, the love triangle between Elena and the brothers Salvatore feels like it has been walking a tightrope. Although the triangle has been around since the first season, it’s always been more of a character runner than the main story. This season, though, Elena’s transformation into a vampire and subsequent changes have thrust this story to the forefront of all of the action, turning the show into more of a love triangle with a cool supernatural background than the cool supernatural show with the love triangle in the background it used to be.

For the most part, the show was handling this transition with grace. The key reason—so wonderfully conveyed just last week in Elena and Stefan’s breakup scene—was that the transition was always framed as coming from a character place. Elena’s transition into a vampire brought about personality transitions she couldn’t deny, transitions that led her right into Damon’s arms, and she decided to explore those feelings.

But with one little revelation from Caroline, one little sliver of an idea that all of Elena’s changes since becoming a vampire might be due to her having a sire bond with Damon, all of those decisions she made went away. If that’s the case, yes, this episode provoked an emotional response from me: anger, pure and simple.

Elena is often a troublesome character. As the human center of a whole mess of supernatural insanity, she’s often forced into the damsel in distress mode, shoved into the role of the woman saved by a virtual army of different men. Despite this, the show has consistently allowed Elena to be strong, to make her own decisions about the trajectory of her life, and even to sacrifice herself. Elena Gilbert is mature, she’s fierce, and she’s a fighter. So why is the show trying so hard to frame her most mature decision yet as something beyond her control?

When Elena walked away from Stefan, it wasn’t because she didn’t love him. It was because she recognized that her love for him wasn’t what she needed right now. But by saying Stefan wasn’t what she needed right now because fancy supernatural fairy magic dust is forcing her to feel that way, well, that’s insulting. It’s insulting to Elena as a character, it’s insulting to fans of both couples, and it’s insulting to the show itself, because it’s smarter than this.


Look, this show loves twists. It’s great at twists. It’s especially great at pulling the rug out from under the audience, so this could all be a ruse, and Elena’s choice could very well be her own, and we could all be laughing about this like we did the Sun and Moon curse by next week. There’s one big difference between the two situations, though: That was about plot, and this is about character. Undermining your lead character’s agency to serve a temporary plot twist seems like a terrible choice, whether in the short or long term. In order for Elena the vampire to work, Elena the vampire needs to grow. Framing growth as part of a magical connection and not allowing it to come from her as a character is simply maddening, even if it doesn’t end up being the permanent solution.

The thing is, although the content of the last-minute twist was enraging to me personally, this was a pretty good episode of The Vampire Diaries; too good of an episode to be swallowed up by one frustrating choice. It was centered on a social event, which always brings out the best in the show. The dialogue was snappy. Caroline and Klaus’ interactions were wonderful. Stefan and Jeremy started down a really morally complicated road. Matt moved in with Jeremy. Stefan moved in with Caroline. Elena and Damon danced. It was beautifully paced and edited. And, most of all, there was some major development on the main story arc of the season.


If the show is doing one thing right this season so far, it’s the story of Pastor Young, Connor, Professor Shane, and Jeremy Gilbert. The story truly feels like an onion, with each episode peeling back another layer and revealing more about where this is all headed. Starting with Pastor Young, evolving that into super-hunter Connor, connecting him to Professor Shane, and then bringing in one of the gang in Jeremy has been a study in how to evolve a mystery plot effectively and still leave enough questions hanging each week to keep the story compelling. This week, the added knowledge that Hayley and her newly sired bond-free hybrids tie into Shane’s plan ratchets up the mystery even more. This is obviously leading to a big confrontation revolving around the grave of Silas, which Shane wants for his own purposes and Klaus and Stefan want for cure purposes, and Bonnie is the only witch who can open it. It’s a mystery that touches every single character on the show—even poor, ever-useless April—and that’s just smart writing.

As for Jeremy the hunter, he’s suffering a similar problem to Elena: His choices are superimposed on him from a supernatural source. The difference is, it works here, because Jeremy’s situation doesn’t creepily tie him to another person potentially against his will. Jeremy’s situation forces him to fight his lifelong nature and want to kill his own sister, which is an internal conflict rife with interesting character and plot potential. Brother and sister pitted against each other in a supernatural war of wills is great television. Woman subliminally forced into a sexual relationship with a man because of supernatural forces?


Yeah. Not so good.

Stray observations:

  • Snarky, angry Stefan is the best Stefan, and Caroline is great as his anti-Ripper “sober sponsor.” But how does everyone fall on him using his powers of compulsion to figure out if criminals are bad enough to deserve being turned and staked? Stefan is like the judge, jury, and executioner all in one, and it sits funny with me.
  • Caroline not liking Damon is understandable, but can’t the show allow her to say it’s because he totally mind raped, manipulated, and almost killed her? The audience remembers, so let the characters.
  • Matt Donovan is the best. I will accept no assertions to the contrary.
  • Stefan: “Let’s not pretend like this isn’t the best day of your life.”
  • Klaus: “Let’s get you a drink, I’ll tell you all about being the bad guy.”
  • “My brother wants to kill me.” “Welcome to the club.”