'The Vampire Diaries' Review: 'She's Come Undone'
I listened to the most recent Sofa Dogs podcast because Tim Minear discussed his "Darla" episode of ANGEL with the podcast's host, John Pavlich. Minear brought up the obvious parallels between Angel getting a soul in the flashbacks, and Darla getting/realizing her soul's existence in the present. Whether a writer refers to a vampire's morality/humanity as a soul or a switch, the point is that a human quality lives in the heart and mind of every vampire. Vampires are cursed with souls on vampire even though having a soul in fact saves them. The humanity switch allows for more choice and a tougher fallout once the switch turns back on after all the terrible acts a vampire committed while feeling nothing. Vampires in genre shows don't come by humanity easily. There's a struggle and then a torrent of guilt. Part of me wants to draw parallels between Elena's return to humanity and Dmitri's three torments in The Brothers Karamazov, but I won't. All you need to know is that Dmitri experiences three torments of the soul and comes upon an epiphany about suffering to achieve redemption. Elena's not quite where Dmitri is.
Angel and Darla despair in the days and weeks following their soul's return. Minear spoke about Darla's existential crisis specifically, how she lost her identity when she became a vamp, and then lost her Darla identity when she was returned to life by Wolfram & Hart. She couldn't remember her name. Angel went through hell for over a hundred years post-soul, resorting to eating rats in a New York alley, until Whistler gave him purpose. Stefan centers Elena's focus on one specific thing so that she avoids the crushing weight of pain, guilt, and remorse, for what she's done. Elena focuses on wanting to kill Katherine. Her return to humanity is the memorable part of the episode.
Honestly, much of the Salvatore's mission to get Elena to turn her switch back on isn't engaging or very good. I rolled my eyes as Elena started using her friend's insecurities against them. The trope of the hero-turned-villain-turned-Iago is old and less interesting each time it is used. Elena digs into Caroline's insecurities, states her desire to kill her again, and eventually drives her out of the cellar. Elena uses the Salvatore brothers love for her against them. She knows Stefan won't hurt her, or Damon. Stefan's accused of hurting her because she broke up with him. Damon's accused of acting out of feeling wounded, too, and, to boot, she says she hated being sired to him.
Elena's right about the brothers’ reluctance to harm her into turning the switch on. Stefan barely opens the blinds to burn her with the sun. Elena lights herself on fire to prove the brothers won't let her burn. The brothers involve Katherine, but she does nothing except let Elena out of her makeshift jail cell. Damon and Stefan have a solid plan for Elena's humanity switch, but they don't realize the torment she must feel should be viscerally emotional. The brothers wanted her to feel pain and then emotion would follow. Elena needed to feel absolute torment and nothing torments her like the death of someone she loves. The plan changes to Damon killing Matt in front of Elena and hope the sight of her first boyfriend turns the switch on.
"She's Come Undone" gets good once Damon snaps Matt's neck. Until the neck-snapping scene, TVD does its best "Soulless" imitation (which is a season four ANGEL episode). "She's Come Undone" nails the scene in which she comes undone. Damon gently guides her to her humanity after he snaps Matt's neck, imaging what she feels, feeding off the panic she shows in her voice, her chest; it's like she's transported to the moment she realizes Jeremy won't come back to her and she then decides to burn her old life to the ground. Damon guides her through what happens as the switch flips. "The joy you feel," Damon says, "is humanity." The dark night turns to dawn. A torrent of raw emotions hit her--the deaths, the murders, the attempted murders; and the brothers swoop in to pull her back, rein her in, stabilize her, and help her remember she's not alone.
Dmitri Karamazov and Elena Gilbert aren't similar characters nor are their arcs. Dmitri accepts punishment for a crime he only committed in his heart (someone else murdered his father). I'm not sure how TVD will portray Elena's post-switch existence. The last two episodes may not dwell on her guilt and remorse because she wants to kill Katherine. Dmitri finds peace in The Brothers Karamazov. If nothing else, Elena should find peace, too. Eventually.
Meanwhile, Silas continues to mess with the minds of characters. Caroline's the victim this time. Silas kills her mother, but Caroline brings her back to life. Silas wants the veil between worlds ripped down, and he wants to ensure Bonnie will do what needs to be done. The scenes in which Caroline's mind is messed with by Silas are interestingly shot. There were criticisms about the prom episode's writing for the Silas-as-x-character. Folk couldn't trust anyone. Should a show be criticized for fooling the audience like Silas fools the characters? It's rare for a show to pull off the beloved character is actually the villain trick. TVD shouldn't get criticized for fooling the audience, too. I was fooled by the reappearance of Klaus initially, but I caught on by the time Sheriff Forbes wound up dead on the floor. The audience's mistrust of characters, as well as the scenes, is an accomplishment a show. Modern TV viewers like to ask, "How should we feel about ____?" or "What are we supposed to feel?" It's a rare pleasure when any series takes you out your comfort zone as a TV viewer and subverts your expectations. For this, and this alone, is why the Silas story continues to be tolerated.
The Silas storyline has been a drag for a long time now. I miss Connor. I still will argue my opinion that a super badass vampire hunter would've worked this season instead of this super supernatural plot with a gosh darn immortal. It's happening, though. The veil's coming down. Katherine pitched a plan for Bonnie to do the spell on her own terms with her own energy source in exchange for freedom. It's just a shame she'll probably be dead by season's ending. Katherine and humanity-free Elena were initially different, but the writing struggle to separate the two, as did Nina Dobrev's acting. Perhaps it is time to bid Katherine farewell. She was an amazing character for awhile.
"She's Come Undone" is really aided by the last two scenes. Otherwise, it'd be unremarkable and even generic. The pathos and poignancy in the last two acts humanize the episode. It seems intentional the episode cold and distant until Elena turns her switch back on, when "She's Come Undone" takes on a feeling of warmth and love. Matt's reason for using his life to save Elena's calls back to Elena using her life to save his is tremendously poignant--the show's most touching scene since Elena's grief upon realizing Jeremy won't come back to life. The Brothers Karamazov ends as Alyosha remarks to his friends, "even if only one good memory remains with us in our hearts, that alone may serve one day for our salvation." So, too, does a memory (or memories) of Matt save Elena.
-Matt's failing classes. At least one character's failing. No character goes to class in this show. Rebekah offers to help him pass and get a scholarship. Matt declines. The C story leads to an unintentionally funny piece of dialogue. Rebekah apologizes for her role in what's happened with Elena and tells Matt she'll understand if he doesn't want to hang out with her anymore. Without missing a beat, she tells him her offer from compelling him good grades is still on the table.
-The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky deals with many issues including faith, family, doubt, anguish,forgiveness, etc. It is worth a read. I can't stress enough how different the novel and TVD is, though.
-Bonnie wants to have a chat with Katsia, eh?
-Let's hope Elena gets rid of her rebellious streak of red hair.
-Michael Narducci & Rebecca Sonnenshine are the credited writers. Darnell Martin directed it.