Not to have an over-the-top love fest or anything, but do you guys ever feel extremely lucky that this show exists? No seriously, this show effortlessly moves from delightfully gruesome decapitations to heartfelt friendship moments to tortured impossible romances and it looks so good doing it all. The Vampire Diaries rewards its loyal viewers with resonant moments that reach back to the first season or to the book series (or both! hello Wickery Bridge), but it never fails to surprise us. And its daring choices are not cheap, shock-value twists but bold storytelling that, in my opinion, dovetails with who we know these characters to be, their past choices and circumstances, and the established mythology of the series. And this episode was just the perfect illustration of the awesomeness of this show, instantly jumping into my favorites this season. Okay. Love fest over (for now); onto Our Town’s birthday edition of Be a Better Villain…
To Beat the Villain: Back in season 1, when Damon was Stefan’s (and Mystic Falls’) biggest problem, Stefan wondered how he could beat the monster without becoming one himself. How far we’ve come since then. In Our Town, Stefan is determined to best Klaus at his own game, to be the better villain, in order to ultimately destroy him. How much Stefan will risk in his quest for his revenge, whether there is any moral boundary left he won’t cross, is the question that no one — particularly Damon, Klaus, and Elena — knows the answer to. Was Stefan ready to drive his car off Wickery Bridge and end Elena’s human life or would he have backed down if Klaus hadn’t? Stefan avoids answering this question, and before he abandons his ex-girlfriend and drives off, Stefan tells her he no longer cares what she thinks of him. It was an exceptionally cruel way for Stefan to make Klaus “blink” — unnecessarily cruel one could say, since there are a multitude of places to crash one’s car, where Klaus would still hear real fear in Elena’s cries. As Elena says to Stefan, he knew this was where her parents died, where she nearly died, and he also knows how desperately she doesn’t want to become a vampire (The Last Day). Did he do this to make her hate him? Just what exactly is the setting on Stefan’s humanity switch?
While it was terrifying to watch Elena relive the first worst moment of her life (since she has so many worst moments) in that car with Stefan and heartbreaking to see her reaction afterward (Nina Dobrev deserves a lifetime of Peoples Choice Awards for the variations of crying she can pull off — new heights of torment reached in this ep), it was an absolute delight to watch Bad Stefan unleashed. There was a lot of excitement in this episode’s villainy — and I’m not just talking about surprise decapitations. Klaus’s smirks and cutting remarks, Stefan being energized by the idea of pushing back against Klaus to see where his limit lies, and Damon proud of his baby bro for outsmarting Klaus. There are three of a kind, really: both Klaus’s strategy of making allies of the town’s leaders and Stefan’s wild plans are things that Damon has done or would do. Think season 1 Damon’s impulsive/inappropriate kills (e.g., Uncle John at a founders’ party) or his fake-Bonnie’s-death plan last season that hinged on Klaus believing Elena’s grief, just as Stefan’s plan hinged on Klaus believing Elena’s fear. Klaus, Stefan, and Damon are talented at scheming and terrorizing, but that humanity dimmer switch is all about how much they care about the “collateral damage.” Though Klaus apologizes to Caroline, telling her it’s not personal — it always is, at least for the person that’s damaged. Elena, Caroline, and Tyler directly suffer because of the pissing contest the boys are engaged in. (Not to mention the pile of dead hybrids — they too presumably have loved ones somewhere or other.) As Elena says to Stefan, is this what matters — things getting messy, again, in the name of revenge?
A question just as beguiling as how far gone Stefan is — and what it will take to bring him back — is Klaus’s endgame. He’s in a new position: his 1,000 year run from his father over, it’s time to settle down, and he’s chosen Mystic Falls. Would he honor his bargain with Mayor Lockwood to protect the citizens of Mystic Falls in exchange for being left alone? That’s basically the arrangement the Salvatore brothers had with them; what’s so wrong about Klaus giving peace a chance?
And, of course, the question of what Klaus wants leads us to that totally unexpected and awesomely awesome scene between Klaus and Caroline. Now we know that Klaus quite deliberately had Tyler bite Caroline, an action that resulted in distancing Caroline and Tyler (Tyler’s pledge that he can choose her over Klaus demonstrated to be empty), in Klaus gaining the cooperation of the town sheriff, and in a budding of a friendship — or courtship — between Klaus and Caroline. Just what is this British guy up to? His beautiful speech to her was earnest — judging by those shining tears in his eyes — but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an ulterior motive. Why does he want to connect with Caroline? (I mean, besides the fact that Caroline is the best.) His gift to her quite specifically and deliberately attempts to one up Tyler’s charm bracelet by giving her a taste of the “genuine beauty” he promises is out there in the world waiting for her if only she’ll take it. What will Caroline make of this strange turn of events?
What I particularly adored about this scene — beyond the pitch-perfect performances from Candice Accola and Joseph Morgan — was how emotionally thoughtful it was, a quality that characterized this whole episode from the major moments like this scene and Elena’s two bridge scenes down to the smallest moments, like Alaric’s “put a kid on a plane” line. I just pity the poor saps who don’t watch this show; they are missing out on some deep thoughts about the meaning of life as delivered by ruby-lipped millennium-old hybrids.
Free Will and All That: Friends don’t strip friends of their free will. And yet, on this show, that’s what happens with great frequency. Bonnie lets Elena know exactly how she feels about Elena’s choice to compel Jeremy — and Elena knows Bonnie is right, but she feels it’s a crime worth committing in order to protect her little bro. While I personally almost always agree or at least sympathize with Elena’s choices, she is a bossypants, wanting to control people’s actions as Bonnie blurts out at Caroline’s birthday-funeral. Just mere moments after Bonnie calls Elena on her manipulation of Jeremy, Elena proves her right by trying to track down Caroline to make sure she doesn’t get back together with Tyler, and she’s always, in one way or another, trying to get Damon, and now Stefan, to behave as she thinks they ought to.
In another free-will related story line, Tyler breaks all of our hearts as he deals with the ramifications of his sire bond to Klaus. From his initial heartbreaking acceptance of his inability to act independently of Klaus’s wishes to his false hope that he can stand up to his sire where Caroline is concerned to his devastating realization that despite his will he’ll remain under Klaus’s power, Tyler battles with what it means to be a hybrid in a way that’s already miles away from his cocky, don’t-overthink-it attitude of the previous episode. Against his will, Tyler has traded one curse for another.
And now that Stefan has his free will back, what he’s chosen to do is a disappointment to all (save maybe Damon, who seems to be enjoying this dimmer-switch Stefan, most of the time). Klaus is “hurt” that Stefan didn’t reignite the friendship they shared, while Elena is stunned that he is so far gone and willing to hurt her in such precisely targeted ways. Does Stefan truly believe that all he has left is destroying Klaus? What will be left for him if he ever succeeds?
Letting Go: “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” That’s the quote that popped into my head watching Caroline, and then Elena, go through the journey of letting go of their old selves and expectations, mourning the girls they no longer are or could ever recapture. From the friendship moments of seeing the girls and Matt together (and remembering that they’ve been friends celebrating Caroline’s birthday since they were little) to the bitter sweetness of Caroline’s impromptu funeral rites, Our Town’s reflection on the necessary changes that come with as adolescents move into adulthood, letting go of who they once were or thought they might be, was touchingly rendered. And, since this is a supernatural drama, it’s rendered in a heightened way where the loss of life and rebirth into a new phase is literal. Both Caroline and Elena decide to let go of the past and bravely embrace their future, despite it being wrapped up in supernatural intrigue and danger.
While the romance between Elena and her vampires was not at the center of the episode, it was intrinsically linked to the various elements and themes in play. As Bonnie accepts she must say goodbye to Jeremy, and Caroline is prepared to let go of her hoped-for happy ending with Tyler, Elena is confronted by Stefan who believes she just hasn’t admitted to herself what has already been broken between them. Is Stefan right: did he lose her the moment he left Mystic Falls as Klaus’s lackey? Is there a way for these two to find their way back to each other? Klaus says that kind of love never dies. But on the other side of the Salvatore coin, Damon believes his romance with Elena is “right but not right now.” My two cents? This girl needs a break from being in love with vampires, but I wager we’ll see more kickass frustration-fueled workouts from our dear Ms. Gilbert. She’s already stronger and only getting stronger.
Compelling Moment: For the sheer unexpectedness coupled with beautiful performances and a perfectly written scene, the Klaus and Caroline scene takes the (birthday) cake. But honorable mention to, like, every other moment in this episode.
The Rules: Klaus reminds us that his blood is the cure for a vampire with a hybrid (or old-fashioned werewolf) bite. The hybrids seem to be killed rather effortlessly, but they are the equivalent of baby vamps — not yet as skilled or strong as an older supernatural creature (such as a Salvatore bro).
- If both Dr. Fell and the medical examiner (R.I.P.) are council members, why hasn’t Alaric seen them before — because he’s newish to the council? Does Damon know Dr. Fell?
- While we didn’t get an onscreen explanation, I think there are a multitude of reasonable ways for Damon to have found Elena post–Wickery Bridge trauma, so that’s not a foggy moment for me. It’s efficient storytelling!
Other thoughts & questions before The Ties That Bind (ep312):
- Remember when Stefan decapitated that hybrid? Ah-mazing.
- Thank you, show, for explicitly acknowledging that the humanity switch has more settings than simply “on” and “off.”
- Anyone else get the feeling that Alaric’s lost perspective a little bit when he threatened to kick in the teeth
- What were Dr. Fell and Brian “That Guy” Walters fighting about when Alaric interceded? What is Meredith going to do that will ruin her career, that she’s “messing with”? Who murdered Brian and why did they use a stake?
- Will Caroline drink the Klaus Kool-Aid?
What did you think of Our Town? Are you as in love with it as I am? 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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