Elena and Bonnie help Alaric in his effort to decipher the meaning behind his recent discovery. Elena and Rebekah find themselves in a mean-girl power struggle until Rebekah finally reveals some of her family’s ancient secrets and her violent past with Klaus and Elijah. Still trying to make a breakthrough with Stefan, Damon tries a reckless new approach, and they’re both surprised by an unlikely ally.
The Vampire Diaries airs Thursdays at 8:00 on the CW.
I know people get annoyed with this show. It’s the TV version of Twilight, they say. That’s what I thought, too, before I started watching it in season two. If you still think that, then you simply haven’t seen it. The similarity ends with the makeup artists and the costumers. The characters are more than inchoate drives and needs, exaggerated victims of their biology. Others, due to the CW connection, think it’s trying to be the new Buffy. They’re also wrong, it will never be that, Elena leads far too charmed a life to be a Joss Whedon heroine. She’s a Kevin Williamson heroine, which is a different sort of tough girl altogether.
If Twilight were to do flashbacks to the Middle Ages, as “Ordinary People” does this week, it would as ridiculous as all their cheesy Italian set-pieces. If this week’s show were an episode of Buffy, it would have been played for laughs (only the 19th century got respect on Buffy as far as the flashbacks went). But Claire Holt pulls out all the stops as the Original focal character, nailing her familial conflict as she tells her story to Elena. It must be the true story, finally, of two witches, her father Mikael (yep!), several brothers, curses, betrayals and the proximity of Native American werewolves.
It feels at first like the tale almost gives away too much, and Alaric figures it out almost too easily (from the crude runes carved into the cave walls), only that’s the way with this show: each “reveal” only reveals new layers, each resolved complication just clears the floor for the next wave of complications. Holt’s performance is intriguing this week, maybe because they aren’t really defining Rebekah’s character that clearly in the script. Holt stitches together the disparate parts of her behavior into a believable whole.
Despite enslaving a troupe of models to pick out her prom dress, she’s not really a danger to the cheerleaders she’s trying so hard to impress, because she wants so badly to be one of them. She meant it when she told Caroline she needed to know how she remained popular and beloved and happy after being vamped, because she’s clearly been trying to achieve the same for a thousand years and still can’t keep it together.
She’s an intriguing counterpoint to the dour (but iron-willed) Elena, and in her scenes with Rebekah (who’s been so reticent to give away her secrets before) you sense that she’s willing to share it all not just because Elena has found so many clues, but rather because Nina Dobrev plays her as someone who really cares and is really listening, without judgment. And in fact she sees beyond Rebekah’s dysfunctional family lore to some underlying truths that shatter the immortal’s vampire world, in the same way that Elena shatters expectations just by existing for the Brothers Salvatore. She’s the anchor of this show, apparently for literally everyone else in addition to her circle of friends.
Those flashbacks also aren’t ridiculous (besides the plethora of TV-land wigs to make Quiet Riot jealous) because they’re played with an air of dreamy myth. The costuming is just Viking enough to be elegant and simple without being too kitschy, and the archetypal nature of the brothers and sister caught up in the machinations of their god-like parents is fairly timeless. It’s a bit of a bore that Mikael is such a raving patriarch, intent on toughening up his sons and protecting his women, but I suppose you can write that cliché off to ancient times.
And of course his particular ire for Klaus could be that he senses that Klaus isn’t actually his, but a werewolf bastard representing his wife’s betrayal. Which isn’t something we see, leaving us kind of confused about the ancient wolves who are repeatedly referred to. The Original matriarch seems unlike a woman to dally with other creatures, though perhaps Mikael’s rants drove her to her wit’s end as well at some point.
The pact Stefan makes to save Damon’s life (despite what he may play off otherwise) is a testament to their continuing brotherly love, and the family values that are repeatedly referenced in the episode. A funny range of references, since Elena’s rebuilding her family on her own terms, Rebekah’s family is based on a giant lie, and the Salvatores are as cursed by their filial tie as anyone. And yet, Elena falls asleep with Damon in her bed at episode’s end, because she still needs and gives love despite it all.
Rebekah never really stood a chance.
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at http://cornekopia.net.