Here Is The Repeated Image Of The Lover Destroyed (A Doppelganger Meta)

Feb 22, 2012 04:24

This post was prompted by Things that have been going on around the internet ever since TVD 3x14 aired, and also by random things.

TVD fandom seems to be pretty attached to the idea that Elena and Katherine are polar opposites; the Good Doppelganger vs Bad Doppelganger dichotomy might even be stronger than Good Brother vs Bad Brother. So now that Elena starts changing, and things are getting not so nice, it's very tempting to say that Elena is turning into Katherine. Hey, normally I would go for it; it seems like such an neat metaphor. But this is TVD, and TVD doesn't set up binary oppositions to turn them around. It sets them up to rip them to shreds, and that's what, in my opinion, is happening with Elena vs Katherine. Let's have a look, shall we?

Here Is The Repeated Image Of The Lover Destroyed (A Doppelganger Meta)

This post is full of nerdiness, and, frankly, it's a little bit pretentious, so I decided to add a random velociraptor picture to make it more palatable. Also, one day I'll stop taking titles from this Siken poem. Today, however, is not that day.

1. Narratively speaking, the binary opposition was introduced by Stefan.

Stefan: I have no desire to tie Elena to Katherine. The resemblance is what drew me in but that's it. Katherine and Elena may look the same on the outside, but on the inside, they are completely different.
Lexi: So Elena's not a raging bitch then, huh?
Stefan: No, Elena is... Elena's warm, and she's... She's kind and she's caring and she's selfless, and it's real. And... honestly, when I'm around her... I completely forget what I am.
TVD 1x08, 162 Candles

Elena: Who am I to you?
Stefan: You are not Katherine. You are the opposite everything that she was.
TVD 1x11, Bloodlines

From the beginning, Stefan makes the distinction very, very clear. Elena is nothing like Katherine. The exact opposite. Black and white, ying and yang, Madonna and the Whore. Very simple, very symbolic. What kind of grounds does Stefan have to make such a distinction? Well, in fact... None. He's spent a few weeks with Katherine, then had 145 years to deal with his trauma, then he met Elena and fell in love with her. How objective can he be?

As softly-me pointed out, Katherine is the only person Stefan allows himself to be angry with. Katherine ruined him, and he had 145 years to blame her for everything that happened to him and to Damon. Elena, on the other hand, is a possibility of redemption, an angel to Katherine's devil. Unexpectedly, Stefan gets a second chance to set things right, with the right girl, and to do everything the right way.

The thing is, Stefan likes his world structured. He likes patterns, and he likes clear pictures. He is all or nothing. With Elena and Katherine, everything fits so beautifully: they both wear the same face, one brought his downfall, so the other can bring his salvation. Very pretty. Very symbolic. Very subjective.

We buy into this subjective interpretation easily, because at this point (mid-s1) Stefan seems to be the narrator of the show (or at least one of the two narrators). The pilot begings with Stefan saying that this is HIS story. True, Stefan is a very unreliable narrator (not that I blame him; this show should be called We All Are Fucking Terrible Narrators), but it's not like everything he says is a lie. Anyway, at the beginning of s1 we don't suspect anything yet, and we tend to believe Stefan. We can see Elena, and she seems a nice person, so it's easy to start thinking that her and this Katherine demon are the most different people on this planet. But then Founder's Day happens, and Katherine easily manages to convince Damon that she is Elena. Why?

Damon isn't stupid. Quite the contrary, he's often the first one to notice that someone's behavior is odd (he figured out that John was Elena's biological father; he spotted that there was something supernatural about Mason Lockwood; even though he was totally drunk, he had a hunch that there was more to Alaric than meets the eye). The guy might be a psychotic murderer, but he puts the pieces together immidiately, and he's very perceptive. So why didn't he recognize Katherine? Either he had a really bad day, or the distinction isn't that striking for people who aren't Stefan.

2. Elena isn't the opposite of Katherine

So we can see that Damon doesn't really buy into the binary opposition Stefan created. Of course Damon also is a terribly unreliable narrator, but historians have this theory that when you have two sources that say different things, you should just put them together and see what happens ;). So, shall we?

Damon: You used me today.
Elena: You had information about Katherine that I needed to know.
Damon: I thought friends don't manipulate friends. You and Katherine have a lot more in common than just your looks.
TVD 2x03, Bad Moon Rising

Damon: In the back. Harsh.
Elena: It had to be done. Rebekah was never going to be completely on our side.
Damon: Hey, I'm not judging you. It's very Katherine of you.
Elena: Not the way to make me feel better about myself, Damon.
Damon: It was a compliment... Sort of.
TVD 3x09, Homecoming

Now, Damon doesn't think like Stefan. For him, everything happens on five levels of it depends, perhaps, and also I'm far too drunk to draw a straight line between those things. He's a professional relativist, and he has no problem with worshipping Elena, rejecting Katherine, loving them both, seeing similarities between them, confusing them from time to time, and having a unique relationship with each of them -- all at the same time. Damon doesn't trust binary oppositions; after all, he is a part of one himself, and he knows how hard he has to work to keep it up ;).

Another thing is, Damon doesn't seem to have this strong Elena = Good, Katherine = Bad association Stefan definitely has. In fact, he hardly ever describes any of them (I think we can agree that calling Katherine names when he's furious doesn't really count as a description?). This is the longest description I could think of (if you can remember any other Katherine-related quote that isn't a one-liner, I owe you a cookie!):

Elena: What was she like?
Damon: She was beautiful. A lot like you in that department. She was just very complicated, and selfish and at times not very kind, but very sexy and seductive.
TVD 1x03, Friday Night Bites

That doesn't really sound like a value judgement to me. Damon basically refuses to give a simple answer; instead, he chooses to say that Katherine was complicated. He didn't spend 145 years demonizing her, and now, he doesn't idealize Elena. Even when he tells her that he doesn't deserve her, he neglects to say what makes her so special. Damon is egocentric, and when he talks about love, he mostly talks about himself.

3. Elena isn't becoming Katherine.

Now that we've talked about two totally unreliable narrators and their points of view, let's take a look at some facts. Let's assume that Elena and Katherine really are perfect doppengangers, and share the exact same genetic code. They have the same “nature” -- but how about “nurture”?

Katherine grew up in 15th century Bulgaria, and, apparently, her father was very strict. When she was in a teenager, she experienced a trauma of unwanted pregnancy, so, most probably, she was terribly shamed and alienated. After she gave birth, she was forced to give up her daughter, and move to England. She didn't know anybody. She never expected to see her family again. When it seemed that maybe she finally got lucky, it turned out that this nice Niklaus guy actually wants to sacrifice her on an altar of blood. So she run like hell.

Elena, on the other hand, never was rejected by her loved ones. True, she lost her parents. But she still had her brother, and aunt, and friends -- a strong group of people willing to help her deal with her trauma. Elena was never judged for being sexually active, she wasn't pregnant, she wasn't exiled. People never abandoned Elena. When Klaus came to get her, her friends were willing to die for her.

Katherine only got to know “romantic love” as we know it now when she was a few hundred years old. Elena was born in a culture in which the myth of “romantic love” is so powerful that it seems that people never understood love differently. For Katherine, being kicked out of her local community could mean that she would never be accepted anywhere else. In Elena's world, being a stranger can actually be a positive experience. Katherine has probably seen public executions. Elena was taught that “Thou shalt not kill” should be understood literally, and no, there are no exceptions. Katherine was about 300 years old when the French Revolution started talking about liberty, egality and fraternity. For Elena, it's obvious that “all men are created equal”.

Do you see my point? Those two women, even if they're genetically identical, had very different lives, even if we just compare Elena to human Katherine. There is no way for Elena to become Katherine, because there is no way for her to recreate the circumstances that made Katherine into the person she is now. It's not the issue that Elena is “morally superior”; she just operates on different definitions of some basic terms, like “love”, or “friendship”. Katherine can understand Elena's world, and she can function in it, but the world that shaped her was very different.

I guess we could say that Elena is a bit like Katherine. She has similar tendencies, and perhaps similar talents (though probably developed in different ways; I doubt Katherine could read when she was human), but that's it. They don't develop in relation to each other; they're two completely independent human beings. If it wasn't for the Salvatores, they might've never met.

Oh, by the way. Now that we came back to the Salvatores...

4. How come the question of a Good Doppelganger vs Bad Doppelganger juxtaposition mostly comes up when the Salvatores are involved?

Have you ever had the impression that Damon and Stefan are the only people who ever compare Elena and Katherine? (Ok, Elijah and Klaus also do it, but they only talk about how Katherine escaped while Elena doesn't.)

If we look at Elena's and Katherine's friendships or family relationships, it doesn't even occur to anybody to compare them. I don't see Jeremy, or Caroline, or Pearl talking about how Elena is like Katherine / is the polar opposite of Katherine. The subject doesn't come up. Elena doesn't discuss her level of Katherine-ness with Alaric or Bonnie. It only comes up when the Salvatores are concerned.

True, in some situations the resemblance between D/E/S and D/K/S dynamics is just striking. In 3x14, Stefan and Damon literally become “the brother who didn't love [Elena] enough, and the brother who loved her too much”; what's more, Elena ends up rejecting Damon in a pretty cruel (= “Katherine-like”) way, and being rejected by Stefan. But it doesn't mean that Elena is becoming Katherine. The Salvatores have a history of struggling with a 145-yo trauma they never fully processed (especially not Damon), and when they set up a stage, they often end up re-enacting situations from the past (perhaps unconsciously). It's them who inserts Elena in the place of Katherine, and sometimes she ends up making the same choices. Hell, so would I, and so would twenty other women. The circumstances are pretty specific, and that leaves Elena with a limited number of options to choose from. In 3x14, she could either hurt Damon's feelings by rejecting his love declaration (= “be Katherine”), or shut up and do as he says in order to be kind (= “be Elena”). She decided to snap at him, and defend her own agency. What does this particular choice say about her identity? Nothing. In fact, it says much more about Damon than about Elena.

5. Elena vs Impossible Expectations. Thank you, Stefan, for your Madonna/Whore complex.

The whole discussion about who Elena really is, a Katherine or an anti-Katherine, has one very problematic aspect, namely: gender expectations. Let me quote ever-neutral on that:

It's interesting to me that Elena is expected to apologise for hurting Damon's feelings (more so than having his neck snapped? lol), but Damon's controlling behaviour is treated as a given. Because it's expected that men will be controlling and possessive in relationships, but it's A SHOCKING SHOCK when women don't nurture the feelings of men. (The irony is - the narrative has never supported Damon's hypermasculine gender performance. He is explicitly called out on it in 3.14. The narrative EXPLICITLY parallels Damon's "caring too much" with Elena's "feeling everything"; it emphasises the innate feminine emotionality of both characters. We are beyond traditional gender roles.)

Elena is expected to be the saint, because if she isn't, then the only alternative seems to be the demon. It isn't quite so. We don't live in the world where a woman can be either a Madonna or a Whore (at least I hope we don't). There is a long way between a saint and a demon, and some parts of this way are actually moderately healthy. Elena is most likely to end up somewhere in the middle; in the grey area, like most adults. If we look carefully, we may even see that she's been there since Day One.

The truth is that Elena isn't compassion personified (only Stefan and Elijah seem to think so). Elena isn't the moral compass of this show. In fact, she's been morally questionable from the very beginning (she asked Damon to compel Jeremy in 1x07!). Elena, just like Katherine, and Damon, and Sheila Bennett, has a short list. She protects her own, and she doesn't really care about collateral damage. Elena, like Damon, has trouble respecting other people's free will. Elena, like Katherine, and like Damon, can use her sexuality as an element of power play (remember how in 2x03 she kissed Stefan in front of Damon just to punish Damon?). Elena, like Katherine, can manipulate people to do her bidding (especially if, by “people”, you understand “Damon Salvatore”). That's all old news. Elena has always been like that. It's not her fault that Stefan keeps describing her as a Madonna. She's never described herself like that. In fact, Elena hardly ever describes herself. She's work in progress. Sometimes she tries to say “This is who I am”, but mostly, she ends up asking: “What does it say about me?”.

meta, fandom: the vampire diaries, elena gilbert is amazing

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