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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Vampire Diaries: “The Rager”

Illustration for article titled The Vampire Diaries: “The Rager”

After all the mayhem and emotional catharsis of last week’s stellar episode, things are starting to get back to normal on The Vampire Diaries. Of course, normal for this show still means eating your ex-boyfriend and being chased by mythical vampire hunters, so normal is on a bit of a sliding supernatural scale. Tonight, normal meant every character in absolute tip-top form, a few new and intriguing potential relationships, and a large dose of genuine what the fuck. It was your basic cocktail of everything the show does best, and a heck of a lot of fun.

The central story this season so far is obviously Elena’s transition into a vampire, and it’s taking up the majority of the storytelling space accordingly. Most impressive so far is how that story is evolving and becoming something so emotionally complex in the process. It would be easy to tell this story in black and white: The good girl tries hard to stay good with her good boyfriend, has a few stumbles, but quickly returns to the same good girl she always was and lives happily ever after. So far, however, the show seems to have no interest in being black and white. The part of Elena who remembers herself as a human wants to be good, but there’s another part of Elena, a more reckless, free part that the vampire transition brought out, and it finally seems like she is willing to explore.

That these two sides of Elena are represented by the two Salvatore brothers is no accident. This forced elevation of the love triangle was something I was honestly dreading before the season began, but it’s been very thoughtfully dealt with in these first three episodes. At almost every point, from Elena’s perspective, her participation in the triangle has been less about choosing a partner and more about deciding whom she wants to be now. She already “chose” Stefan last season; to her, this is where things stand. So when she does things like feed off of Damon and turn to him for help when she’s afraid of disappointing Stefan, it’s less about who she wants in her heart and more about whom she wants to be as a person now. Truly, the romantic portion of the triangle is almost completely being maintained by Stefan and Damon. Elena is far too preoccupied to keep up.

And this is why I love where this story is going. Yes, the romantic portion of this is going to kick back in for Elena, but the fact that it seems like it might not happen before she actually has any clue what her new life is going to be like is a pretty fascinating way to play it. As she explores both Stefan’s and Damon’s ways of being a vampire, Elena will likely figure out whom she’s more suited to right now. As long as this choice continues the storyline’s record of coming from a character place, there’s no way the choice could be wrong. That’s good love triangle writing.

The other main story this season is Connor the mysterious vampire hunter, and this is another one that’s developing nicely. This is a show that knows how to plot out a story arc, and this one appears to be no exception. Connor has been a great villain so far because he’s highly competent, ruthless, and absolutely steadfast in his mission. What’s smart is how the show appears to be slowly weaving him and his story into the mythology by introducing the idea he is “one of the five,” a hunter of such import that only Klaus knows how important he is. This, combined with his connection to Jeremy, makes for something more than a simple vampire-killing robot. It also raises so many questions to answer in future episodes, like why doesn’t Connor know of his own importance? How are vampire hunters chosen? And what will Jeremy’s destiny mean for his relationship with everyone else in Mystic Falls, considering he basically knows two humans? All are intriguing places for the show to go.

This episode was full of wonderful character choices and great forward plot momentum, but the best part of it was how every second was almost infused with joy. The first two episodes were serious by necessity, and this lighter tone was the perfect note to strike to lift some of the emotional weight off everyone’s shoulders, especially after last week’s weep fest. It was the return of the party, of clever villains, and of maximum dialogue snark. It was also great to see the show trying out new character pairing with fabulous results; whether it was Damon and Meredith, Klaus and Damon, or Tyler and his new/old friend Haley (played by the fabulous Phoebe Tonkin), every interaction felt fresh and exciting in a way a show in its fourth season rarely manages to be.


And that might be the most impressive thing of all.

Stray observations:

  • Perhaps my favorite part of the episode was the show remembering Stefan and Caroline are friends. Those two are fantastic together, and I hope their friendship continues.
  • Rebekah is certainly vying for mean girl of the year. Even though she was horrible, every moment of it was awesome. Claire Holt plays a pretty great bitch.
  • Killing Matt in a hallucination should be illegal. See also: killing Matt for real. No killing Matt!
  • Klaus is back, and he was in fine form. A directionless Klaus can be tiresome, but giving him a purpose in his connection to Connor is very intriguing.
  • Fine kegstand form, Gilbert.
  • Damon:  “Good day for a midlife crisis. 164 years, I’d say you’re due.”
  • Damon: “It’s a kitten. It’s an adorable, exploding kitten.”