I Told You To Be Balanced, And I Told You To Be Fine (a TVD 4x15 meta)

Feb 24, 2013 12:15

This is a longish meta-shaped review. Of a chaotic emo variety. I just need to get all those thoughts out because I haven't really been up to any fandom discussions lately. Somehow fandom discussions aren't as much fun as they used to be. Possibly because I'm a headcase.

This post shamelessly uses bits and pieces of things I said in various private discussions. So, Maggie, Emmie, Antonia: if something here sounds very familiar, that's because it is.

Usual disclaimer: I am not here for talking about how smart the writers / the show really are. This is an “author is dead” blog.

Dear Lord, I'm so getting flamed for this post, no pun intended...

I Told You To Be Balanced, And I Told You To Be Fine - a TVD 4x15 meta
Everyone is a terrible person and everything hurts

First, let's get Elena's agency out of the way.

Maybe I'm in some cosmic denial, but I don't see Elena's agency as being compromised in any way. Everything around the damned sire bond was played so carefully I'm actually kinda impressed. We see Damon only stepping in at the very last moment (not, as Stefan intended him to, immediately after he got to MF), stepping in only after Elena breaks down and asks for help. We hear Elena say: “It hurts, make it stop” before Damon makes any move at all. To beat it into our heads even harder, Damon actually asks for her permission before he uses the sire bond (“Let me help you”). I know she's in a very vulnerable position when it happens, I know that “make it stop” and “let me help you” are just some of those things people say, but those aren't people, those are characters, and they use words for a reason. The episode is trying to do the impossible and frame Elena as having agency despite the sire bond.

(If you want to dig even deeper, there is a parallel s2 scene in which Elena tells Jenna to turn it off. Also at the very last minute, also in a desperate situation, using almost exactly the same words Damon uses in 4x15. Which shows that even as a human, Elena thought that in some situations turning off your emotions is justified.)

On top of that, Elena with her switch off still burns down the house, and I'm very tempted to read it as a statement about the sire bond in general. Structurally, the "turn it off" scene is the climax of the episode, the most dramatic and emotionally loaded moment. Elena has a full-blown hysteria attack and tries to burn down the house, Stefan and Caroline panic, Damon is absolutely helpless. After such a climax, something should change. A new decision should be made. There should be a shift. And yet the first thing Elena does after she turns it off is burning the house to the ground. The sire bond took effect. Her emotions are turned off. How did it affect her actions? It didn't. Which can be read as a sign that throughout the entire season, Elena had agency at every moment. Bond or not bond, vampirism or not vampirism, this is Elena through and through, she owns everything. The episode didn't tell us whether or not the sire bond is real, but it told us that it's completely redundant. It's been long established that it doesn't affect Elena's emotions, now we're shown that it doesn't affect her actions either.

I'm wondering if it's even productive to evaluate their s4 narratives in terms of the message sent to the audience. Right now, it seems to me that it's more interesting to look at it the other way round: how do the audiences shape narratives? What does it say about the audiences? I'm more and more convinced that all the questionable agency this season is a fishy compromise motivated by business decisions. The writers wanted to take Elena (and Bonnie, for that matter: hypnosis is clearly the “sire bond” of Bonnie's arc) to interesting places, wanted to do darker stuff with her narrative, but censorship (inner censorship? network censorship? I'd pay good money to know that tbh) put a halt on that. Let's be real, many of the things Elena did this season wouldn't be palatable for certain (big!) groups of viewers if the blow wasn't softened by the sire bond. Same goes for Bonnie and hypnosis. I think the writers were right to fear that casual viewers would stop watching the show if the heroines went dark out of their own volition. I wish the writers had had more courage about it, I wish they had had taken the risk. I think it's valid to criticize them for it, but I think it's also important to talk about why the fuck this kind of storytelling is still a risk.

I'm very conflicted about this, because I see all the problems with those narratives, but at the same time I also see that both sire bond and hypnosis are pitifully weak as plot devices. If you threw them out, none of the major points in narratives would change. They make absolutely nothing happen, they don't penetrate narratives in any way. They're window-dressing. The most infuriating window-dressing ever, but still, nothing more. So I have no idea how to act now. Can I just act like they don't exist? Because I'm very tempted to do just that. I certainly can't treat them seriously. I can either rage about them or dismiss them. They're so easy to ignore it's hilarious.

Also, let's take a moment to talk about an excellent point Emmie made: the main theme of this season are delusions, things we tell ourselves to get through the night. The world is a terrible place for the characters, so they come up with illusions, happy lies that make them feel better. Sire bond is a prime example of such wishful thinking, but in 4x15 each and every character has a lie to tell. Elena thinks her brother can't be dead. Stefan thinks Damon will come back, invoke the sire bond and make things better. Damon thinks everything will be okay if he can just find Bonnie. Bonnie thinks she can fix everything. Caroline thinks Tyler will pick up the phone. Matt thinks that finding Jeremy's graffiti actually means something (It's a keepsake. In the end, Elena burns all the keepsakes.). Everyone is in denial, everyone is lost. They all love one another so hopelessly, and it means nothing, doesn't change a thing. Everything everyone does in this episode is motivated by love, and it's not enough. Not this time.

One of my favorite things about this episode is that both Salvatores miserably fail at life. They can't be Elena's support system, not through this, not this time. Stefan doesn't have the guts to tell her the harsh truth, Damon panics and stays on the island to find Bonnie. Facing reality paralyzes Stefan, witnessing grief paralyzes Damon. They don't abandon Elena, they try to help, they do the best they can, only their “best” doesn't even come close to “good enough”. This episode is such a painful, magnificent exercise in helplessness. Meredith tries to act like a doctor, but what is her science now? Caroline tries to be rational and supportive, possibly makes the fucking casserole, but when Elena loses it, all Caroline has left to say is completely useless: “You're scaring me”. Bonnie detaches herself so much in her grief that Elena doesn't even try to interact with her. Matt leaves right before the crucial moment and cries alone in the car. EVERYONE IS SO FUCKING HELPLESS.

Everything was already said about Nina's performance, and it deserves all the possible awards, but let's also talk about Ian's, because I can't possibly have anything to add about Nina's. I reveled in how tense Damon was. At some point, I fully expected him to kill Vaughn out of sheer anxiety, typical Damon self-destructive behavior. Rebekah pointed out how Damon was scared out of his wits to be close to Elena when she falls apart, but, frankly, she didn't even have to say it, because Ian's performance made everything crystal clear. I loved how Damon didn't get any big emotional scene (not even any big emotional line), but just simmered in the background. The writing prioritized Elena's angst over Salvatore angst, but both Ian and Paul did a wonderful job making sure we know exactly what their respective characters were going through. Perfect balance.

Kat also slayed me, though her empty, expressionless face probably hit me a lot harder than her tears. As Maggie rightly says, hypnosis/Silas/Shane/whatever don't take Bonnie's arc in any places it wasn't going anyway. Bonnie is a fixer, she is powerful, she gets things done. She's so used to people treating her like deus ex machina that she doesn't even stop to think that she might not be in control. She is powerful, she has responsibilities. There is no “I can't do this” for her, there's only “I have to do this”. Murdering twelve people? Fine. Maybe it's not that much worse than things she's done before. Bonnie gets things done.

I'm mesmerized by how the concepts of “right” and “wrong” completely abandoned this show. We have the grieving heroine who is wondering if not agreeing to killing twelve people makes her a bad person (in what kind of place do you have to be to even ask this question?), and she can't find an answer. This is all I ever wanted. In the end, Damon tells her to turn it off, and maybe it's the worst idea ever, maybe he's hurting her even worse, maybe he's violating her. He doesn't know, and he won't know. He doesn't have any compass left. He's kneeling beside a broken girl, all he can think about is “What if this was my brother on that couch instead of hers?” and he's making a call. He can't not make it. This episode is too ugly and too real because there literally isn't a good answer. What they have isn't good enough, how very real life of them.

Since around 3x22 I couldn't stop thinking about all the ambiguities surrounding the show. Every character has a point, but none of the characters is right. It was wrong of Stefan to not save Elena in 3x22, but it would also be wrong of Damon to save her. It's wrong to want to “fix” Elena, but you'd have to be crazy to not acknowledge that vampire life is quite miserable. Looking for the cure is a terrible idea, but how could they not look for it? The show plays with us, sets up dichotomies and makes us fight over which brother is better for Elena, or whether or not Elena is just like Katherine, or who is superior, the Originals or the Salvatores. We fall for it, we choose a character we identify with and get it into our heads that their POV is somehow more significant. We expect that, in the end, it will turn out that one side was right, that, all said and done, there was a correct reading. Bullshit. It won't. No one is right. No one can be right. No one will be validated. In the end, we'll be left knowing that those people love one another madly, and that it's not enough. We'll be left with burned sketches, journals and converse sneakers because we're idiots like that, and even after everything we still find room in our heads to be sad because we just saw shoelaces burn.

note to self: less talk, meta, fictional vampires ruin my life, tvd fandom is the worst, yes i'm always like that, elena gilbert is amazing, i fail at fandom, shame is redundant, fandom: the vampire diaries, how unfortunate, maggie understands me, emmie is wise, brb dying, too many emotions, fuck you i like it, antonia overanalyzes teen vampire shows

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