Let me start with an apology for taking so long to get this post written. But really, it’s not my fault. This episode left me in tears, and stunned at the show’s continual mastery at delivering a highly emotional but action-packed and sexy and funny and supernaturally interesting story. The bar is so high for TVD, and yet again I am blown away. How can I write about Memorial? I have too many feelings to think! Elena isn’t the only one with heightened emotions — we, the audience, are right there with her and the rest of the Mystic Falls team.
That there was nary an Original in sight wasn’t the only thing about Memorial that gave it a season 1 vibe. It was the unrelenting concern with grief. Mystic Falls is once again mourning its dead — 12 council members blown up in the “accident” — and we meet April, a charmingly awkward girl made an orphan just like Elena and Jer. In the wake of Bonnie’s dark magic spell, she is grieving for her Grams, isolating herself and feeling as broken as when Grams died in Fool Me Once. On the flip side, Tyler and Caroline indulge in a little grief sex — totally natural! — while new vamp Elena feels the weight of grief even more acutely than when she was human. The series began with an exploration of grief: Elena trying to get back to “normal,” to be more than a gloomy graveyard girl, but in that perfect moment near the end of the episode, she realizes she’s never stopped crying, never stopped feeling the incredible losses that have befallen her, her family, friends, and community.
For me, the combination of the deeply relatable — loss, grief, denial — and the tension of the supernatural high stakes — Elena needs blood from the vein, there’s a badass vampire hunter in town — was perfectly balanced in Memorial. The vampire-hunter plot drove our characters together, to act as a united force in new ways. Tyler stands up and literally takes one for the team. Matt takes the chance that Elena will suck the life from him in order to save her. Caroline prevents her friend from making the mistake of a lifetime when she helps Elena control her bloodlust and teaches her compulsion. And Stefan and Damon? They do all that they do best. I loved both Salvatore brothers intensely in this episode: from Damon’s devil-may-care posturing to Stefan punching his brother for blood-sharing with Elena, the boys were in top form. It was like each character was in a heightened (but absolutely bang-on) state.
As in the season premiere, Elena’s transition story continues to diverge from those we’ve seen before with an emphasis on a different aspect of the mythology: a newbie vamp, who hasn’t properly fed, hungers for human blood from the vein. That this show doesn’t trot out and rehash the same plot points over and over is another reason why I love it so. In Memorial we get a story driven by character and complemented by established mythology — and punctuated by insane scenes of blood vomit. Terrifying for Elena, and amazing to watch.
Elena’s an “everything’s going to be okay” girl, and in this episode that manifests in her trying to give Stefan what he wants for her — a seamless transition to a bunny diet. Faced with a smiley Stefan and a bottle of celebratory champagne, who would mention a blood-barfing session in the forest? Her keeping the truth from Stefan reminded me how recently those two got back together, and of Stefan’s similar choices in the past — when he wanted to keep his monstrousness away from Elena and her impression of what kind of vampire he was. What can be a natural instinct in a relationship — to protect the one you love from ugliness — often backfires, as it does here. As Elena wanted from Stefan in their early days, so Stefan wants from her — the truth, to share in her darkest and fearful moments, to be open with each other. But in Memorial that’s what Elena feels she can easily do with Damon: believing he’d understand, she turns to him for alternative food sources and for comfort. What I found especially evident in this episode was how integral both these relationships are to Elena — as are those of her friends. She is part of a true community that cares for and protects each other. (A bond that is wonderfully represented as they stand separately in pews but are able to communicate, thanks to their superhuman hearing.) Damon is there for her as she struggles with her hunger. Stefan, in his singularly Stefan way, finds a way to give the whole gang what they need — a time to grieve. Tyler steps up to redirect the hunter’s attention away from Elena. Caroline helps Elena with April. And dear darling Matt gives her what she needs the most — guilt-free blood straight from the vein — to keep her from falling into the trap of the new environmental clean-up man in town.
What a great introduction to Connor the vampire hunter. This guy does not eff around; he shoots to kill. He’s clearly not operating by the same set of rules that town council members have in the past. He recklessly endangers April’s life and leaves her to die — on the day of her father’s funeral. Whether Connor’s human or not, there’s a lack of humanity in that choice. He’s able to tussle with Damon and hold his own — does he have superhuman strength? Is he powered by that mystery tattoo? Who or what brought him to Mystic Falls, and what’s his endgame? So many questions! Besides being a fresh and scary baddie for our heroes to deal with, Connor’s tactics brought the core of vampirism back to the forefront of the show. Memorial embraced traditional vampire tropes, and all the messy, messy blood that comes with the territory. Connor lays a trap for them in the church with blood dripping from the ceiling into the holy water. And is there anything more delightfully vampiric than Damon smirking as he saunters into the church crossing himself?
Of course, a core preoccupation of vampire stories is death. And Memorial didn’t shy away from exploring the ways we all grieve. Though this wasn’t a Bonnie heavy episode, the scene between her and Stefan was one of my favorites: there was a honest subtlety to it, and to Kat Graham’s performance; you could just feel how quietly destroyed Bonnie was in the wake of her hurting her Grams. Contrasted with that was Elena’s heightened response to grief, which culminates in her angry and frustrated feeling that she’s been crying since the day her parents died. Stefan feared that Elena’s compassion would be her Achilles’ heel, that she would turn off her humanity if overwhelmed by feeling for a victim. But it’s her grief that threatens to swallow her whole, as it has since we first met her. Though everyone lost in Mystic Falls has been to supernatural causes, the paper lantern memorial (and Damon’s rejection of it) was powerfully relatable. Like for our Mystic Falls gang, there’s always something to preoccupy us from acknowledging our own grief, whether for loved ones lost, relationships gone, or imagined futures no longer ours to dream of. And in that moment with the lanterns, Stefan gives his friends a way to manage that grief, which just builds up beneath the surface, and in doing so they embrace what makes them human. In a heartbreaking but oh-so-Damon response, Damon rejects the memorial and instead strikes out alone to mourn in his own way. Still holding a seat for Alaric at the Mystic Grill, still talking to his absent friend to mock the corny Japanese lanterns, Damon refuses to “consider the alternative” — that Alaric is really and truly gone. Though Damon can’t see or hear him, his buddy is right there with him — always and forever — missing him back.
If Memorial is an indication of the caliber of TVD that awaits us in the rest of Season 4, I am almost frightened by the prospect of having so many feelings. One of my favorite episodes of the series.
Compelling Moment: Seeing Alaric again, graveside with Damon. That seat was taken.
Compelling Moments, the Runners-up: The tension of the church scene. Tyler standing up at that pulpit. Elena feeding on Matt. Elena feeding on Damon. Stefan, in that suit, punching his brother in the face.
The Rules: We’ve long known that a new vampire has incredible bloodlust, but Elena’s initial refusal to drink human blood shows us that her system violently rejects any substitute. Hopefully, blood-sharing will be explored more in future episodes, but Damon calls it “personal” for the vampire whose blood is consumed and he certainly looks rather euphoric as Elena drinks from him. Caroline tells Elena that the key to successfully compelling a human is to believe in what you’re saying.
Foggy moments: May I plead jet lag on this? Didn’t notice much out of order except for one little thing (which could be explained by Elena’s newbie status). Elena compels April to believe that people said lovely things at the funeral, but if April talks to anyone about the service, they might just mention that it was awkwardly cut short by Tyler being shot. Won’t April seem like a crazy person not to remember that?
Thoughts & questions before The Rager (EP403):
- Why was April sent away from Mystic Falls? How did April’s mom die?
- What is the deal with Connor’s tattoo? Jeremy could see it, Matt couldn’t (despite Matt being able to see Vicki post-drowning in The Reckoning). Does Jeremy have a stronger connection to the Other Side? Is the tattoo an Other Side thing at all? Is it connected to black magic, which Bonnie used on Jeremy in Before Sunset?
- What do the marks mean on Connor’s bullets? Could it be magical writing that Bonnie is just not familiar with? Like…dark, deathly magic?
- Will Elena be able to keep blood-bag blood or animal blood down now that she’s had a from-the-vein feeding? Does her doppelganger blood factor into her vampirism? (Katherine gives us no clues on this front, as she’s a dedicated from-the-vein girl.)
- What was Pastor Young warning April about in his letter? What great evil is headed to Mystic Falls?
- More blood-sharing please!
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