For me, an episode is difficult to write about for one of two reasons: either it ain’t my cup of tea (a rarity with this show), or it’s so good and complicated and layered that I worry about adequately covering all the reasons why it was so bloody awesome. Dangerous Liaisons falls into category 2. Centuries of backstory feed into the events at the Mikaelson ball, as well as two-and-a-half seasons of The Vampire Diaries’ carefully orchestrated relationships. So a small gesture — like Elena taking the arm of both her suitors — is for us dedicated viewers an iconic moment. And this was an episode full of these intense, capslock-inducing moments done so well and fraught with so much feeling.
From Elijah just barely touching Elena’s arm to Klaus and Caroline exchanging a look on the dance floor to Matt Donovan’s simple kindness to Rebekah, Dangerous Liaisons was just bang-on. In addition to the handsome cast in their finery, it was a stunner of an episode and helped along with perfect music cues (from the major to the minor, like the moment Elena lands in Stefan’s arms during the waltz partner-switcheroo). It was an event episode, and helped along thanks to the excitement of the tension in it. It looks like the perfect fairytale — but it doesn’t play out like one. The characters don’t do what’s expected from them, and as expectations are thwarting Dangerous Liaisons builds its energy, creating a powder-keg feeling that finally explodes in its clothes-ripping ending as Damon and Rebekah hungrily test each other’s durability.
What I liked most about this episode was that nothing was clearcut, straightforward, or black and white — from romantic intrigue to moral choices. The mother of all complicated decisions is Esther’s — she has resolved to undo the wrong she did 1,000 years ago in creating vampires by killing her five children. Just as Stefan plotted his revenge against Klaus by targeting his one weakness, Esther’s plan also centers on family — bringing the kids together with a false promise of a new peaceful beginning and then linking them together as one with a blood spell. Just as they were tricked into becoming vampires in the first place, her children are just as clueless as they sip champagne and take the first step toward their destruction.
Though Esther speaks candidly with Elena, there is that moment when she says, “Will you do it, or shall I?” implying that with or without Elena’s consent, the doppelganger’s blood will be used in this spell. She’s pleasantly menacing despite her moratorium on violence. Esther didn’t want the townsfolk attacked a thousand years ago, and she doesn’t want it now. A thousand years ago, Esther put her own love for her children above the rules of Nature. But now she will kill the abomination that she believes her children to be in order to right her wrong. It’s an interesting twist: this show often values the protection loved ones over preventing “collateral damage.” And though she goes through with the spell, there’s a moment where Esther considers her collateral damage, the moral Elijah — but she’s willing to lose him for the greater good.
It’s the same choice her accomplice, Elena, makes, and it’s the same Mikaelson that she feels reluctant about betraying. Elena feels forced into being someone she doesn’t want to be: in her plot to get Damon out of her way, and in helping Esther carry out her evil champagne toast. In what was the tensest moment of the episode for me, Elena doesn’t warn Elijah; she deceives him. In Dangerous Liaisons, our heroine keeps on her path of thwarting expectations: she makes sketchy choices and says the wrong thing. She pushes away Damon, and instantly regrets it, and then reaches out to Stefan, who’s hurt her terribly. But as much as fans came down hard on Elena for her actions here, fret not — she knows when she effs up and she’s the hardest on herself when she makes a mistake or making a morally ambiguous choice. To paraphrase Stefan, do you think she likes being this way? She doesn’t accept that there necessarily will be “collateral damage,” in a way that Stefan and Damon (and Klaus and Elijah…) are able (…sometimes).
Esther describes Elijah as “so moral” — and we see him protect Elena from Rebekah, be forthcoming with her about his mother’s return, tell her his suspicions, and ask her point-blank whether he has reason to distrust his mother. What I love about this is that’s how Elena used to be, but she’s making more and more ‘ends justify the means’ decisions. At the grill, Rebekah warns Caroline that Elena is a backstabber (and, fair enough, Elena did use Rebekah’s trust to literally stab her in the back), and at the ball Elena full-on betrays the trust she and Elijah have developed. As much as I was screaming at my television, I am so glad the writers made this choice for Elena. The more complicated, the better!
Which brings us to Ms. Gilbert’s romantic situation. Good lord, a Salvatore on each arm. To start at the end, the scene at the Gilbert house sets Stefan pretending he doesn’t care — an act that keeps falling away bit by bit — is contrasted with Elena’s inability to hide her feelings for him. What’s interesting to me is that while she says she can’t hide her feelings, that’s what she does when she’s with that other Salvatore brother. With Damon, she’s been putting on a charade, just as Stefan has with her. And the brothers once again find themselves switching roles: the one who used to be cavalier and who didn’t care about risking Elena’s life, the Damon who arrived in Mystic Falls, is long gone, and Stefan has picked up that act (somewhat reluctantly). Is Damon’s emotion a liability? Or does he just need to stop being a “controlling dick,” as Stefan so delicately phrased it?
Besides the utter awesomeness that was Klaus’s attempt to woo Caroline, what was wonderful about this storyline was how it paralleled the brothers with Elena. While Damon is shot down for letting his emotions rule him, Klaus is encouraged to be real — being emotionally open isn’t a liability but a way to connect, a way to avoid an eternity of regret and isolation. Or that’s the lesson Caroline has for her immortal prince. Though Klaus imagines himself — and his relationship to his father in particular — complicated, Caroline sees that at his core there’s a simple principle at work: if only he’d stop being such a controlling dick, he could find true companionship.
The whole dynamic between them was done so perfectly in this episode. Caroline refuses to play the part assigned to her by Klaus: she won’t be Cinderella taken in by the charming prince. She goes to the ball to keep an eye on Matt and Elena, and keeps her wits about her with Klaus. She remembers who he is, what he’s done, and who he’s hurt to obtain the power and privilege he holds. Unlike some of our other characters who play at being who they’re not, Caroline isn’t interested in letting people tell her what to do or who to be, which is part of why she’s so refreshing of a character. She says what she thinks — whether to Elena at the Grill over her failure to report the Damon smooch or to the big bad Klaus. And Klaus sees in her what her legions of fans at home do: she’s beautiful, strong, full of light and full of candor. If Caroline put her mind to it, I have no doubt that she could sort that Niklaus out. Too bad his mother’s plan to kill him and his siblings will no doubt derail any inkling of humanity stirring in Klaus.
In Mystic Falls, it’s never that simple.
Compelling Moment: The waltz scene, and its instantly classic moments (e.g., “. . . I happen to be Miss Mystic Falls.” “I know.”).
The Rules: Esther uses spelled sage to create an environment where she and Elena can speak freely, protecting from super vampire hearing. She explains that Ayana, a Bennett ancestor, spelled her corpse to preserve it, and that Esther has spent the last thousand years on the Other Side. She drew from the Bennett line, all the way down to Abby and Bonnie, to power her return to life. (Which explains why the Bennett women were lying on the cave floor at the end of the last episode.) Esther’s spell — step one in a plan to kill all her children — links the Original siblings together: first they consume the essence of the doppelganger’s blood in champagne (akin to them drinking it in wine when they were first turned), and then using Finn’s blood, Esther “completes the link.” His spilt blood creates a tree-like shape on the parchment, traveling from one name to the other, before finally igniting in flames when the spell is complete. (Awesome.)
- I love that everyone knew to wear formal gowns and tuxes despite no indication that it was a ball on the actual invitation — and had no trouble with the centuries-old waltz. That’s classy Mystic Falls for ya.
- We learn that Ayana preserved Esther’s body with magic. But if Klaus killed his mother by tearing out her heart, does that mean that Esther, mother of the year, is literally heartless?
Other thoughts & questions as we wait for All My Children (EP315):
- Was that the Mystic Falls murderer lurking in the hospital after Matt and Elena at the opening, or Rebekah waiting for her moment to pounce on Elena?
- Is there more to that Kol/Damon interaction, when Kol professed not to remember Damon? Is there some history there, or was Kol just being a dink?
- Will one of the vampires please offer up their healing blood to Matt No-Health-Insurance Donovan?
How exactly does the “united as one” spell work? If Esther daggers one of her children, would they all suffer the effects of daggering? Or is there a special kill-an-Original plan that will permanently take out all the kids, Klaus included? (I get the feeling it’s more like that, than, say, the spell Lucy put on Katherine and Elena in Masquerade where Elena felt Katherine’s injuries.)
- When will we see Alaric in a tux?
- Will that hardcore hookup between Damon and Rebekah be a one-night stand or the start of something more…?
What is the deal with Finn? How did Esther know that she could reveal her plan to him among the siblings?
What did you think of Dangerous Liaisons? Sound off below with your likes/dislikes, theories, and predictions.
Crissy Calhoun is the author of Love You to Death: The Unofficial Companion to The Vampire Diaries and Love You to Death — Season 2. When not obsessively re-watching CW shows, she works as managing editor at ECW Press in Toronto. She blogs at crissycalhoun.com and tweets @crissycalhoun.
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