Review: The Vampire Diaries, “Bringing Out The Dead”

Boy, did I pick a great episode to check in with The Vampire Diaries. After what I thought was a fairly weak midseason finale by typical TVD standards, the series bounced around a little bit in its first three episodes of 2012. That’s not to say I didn’t like them or that they didn’t include a slew of effective moments, especially for Stefan, but they also suggested that the series wasn’t entirely sure what to do.

Initially, Stefan’s plan to take revenge on Klaus sounded like a tremendous idea and there were instances, especially in “Our Town” when Stefan viciously tormented Elena, that temporarily confirmed the story’s upside. But Stefan’s proactive maneuvering left Klaus in this odd spot where he kept talking about doing threating things, but not actually doing a whole lot of anything. I know some fans don’t like Klaus at all, and while I’m not one of those people, I did grow a bit weary of his lack of action. Mix in the mysterious all-powerful unopened casket or its relationship to Bonnie’s boring mother and for the first time in, well, ever, it felt like the series was aimless.

Thankfully though, “Bringing Out The Dead” washed away many of my concerns with recent events and pushed the story forward in typically-wild fashion. In one fell swoop, this episode opened that damn casket, solved its Klaus problem and re-formatted the season’s landscape yet again. And somehow, it also found time to work in some intriguing mystery and a number of powerful emotional moments not really associated with Klaus, the Salvatores or a casket.

Of course, the stuff with Klaus, the Salvatores and that damn casket was pretty awesome. The return of Elijah couldn’t come any sooner for many of us and despite my general appreciation of Klaus, there’s just no question that Elijah is a cooler, arguably more engaging presence (I think partially because the series didn’t try so hard to make him unbelievably damaged). His return throws a wrench into the seemingly-endless circling Klaus and Stefan have been doing and the episode did a really nice job of keeping Elijah’s true allegiances up in the air until the last second.

Bringing the four men together at the dinner table provided a whole lot of great material for everyone, but I especially liked how Turi Meyer and Al Septien’s script worked to draw allusions between the pairs. Klaus and Stefan are both frustrated, emotional wrecks really, while Damon and Elijah buoy their brothers with a somewhat calming influence (relatively speaking). The story about Klaus and Elijah falling for a former Petrova doppelganger was a nice touch. That kind of storytelling can get cumbersome when done too much (see: Supernatural’s fifth season where they REPEATEDLY told us that Lucifer and Michael were just like Sam and Dean), but it works in small doses.

Moreover, bringing the men together caused Klaus to actually be proactive in a substantial way for the first time in about three episodes. Grabbing Stefan and threatening to kill him unless Damon does what he says is a smart move, and honestly one that logically, Klaus should have known to do first. He knows just about as well as anyone that brotherly bonds are the most important things in the world.

Speaking of brotherly bonds, the Originals are back together! I think it was pretty clear very quickly that Klaus’ mother was what was in the casket, but “Dead” built to the reveal quite well, particularly by allowing Elijah to turn on Klaus, revive all his brothers and sisters and then quickly become shell-shocked once their mother returned with hopes for future togetherness. Based on this series’ track record I have to think that the mother isn’t 100 percent honest in her assertions, but even if she is, bringing the whole family together opens up the story to all sorts of new avenues. What, other than a family reunion, would she want? And how does this impact Elena? These are better questions than “What’s in the casket?” and “Why is Klaus focused more on interior decorating than evil villainy?” so it feels like the series is back on the absolute best track again.

I’ve said this before, but one of the strengths of the series that I think gets overlooked amid all the WTFs and exclamation points (oh don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty there), is how well The Vampire Diaries knows how to drop in fairly powerful emotional moments right between said WTFs. “Bringing Out The Dead” gives us two of those in the Elena and Caroline stories.

In recent episodes, the series has been really interested in exploring the lack of normalcy for the characters who used to be pretty normal, starting with the faux-funerals/birthdays a few weeks ago. Tonight, those issues arise again when Caroline’s father is stabbed soon after digesting vampire blood and is thus of course on the path to transition. Unsurprisingly, he refuses to consume blood and ultimately, Caroline is forced to deal with the reality that her father is going to die, and soon. Although I wish the series would have done more with Jack Coleman and his character (who I thought was quite interesting), I loved how this episode handled his death. His ideological differences with his daughter didn’t stop him from loving her or hoping she lives a full life.

Lesser series would have certainly made Bill a villain from the get-go, but TVD smartly used him to force Caroline to grow up, if even a little bit. Her stubbornness has gotten her into some trouble since being turned and I think it was important for her to feel a bit powerless, as it helped her recognized that there is still value in humanity and that even though she isn’t normal, she should still be able to connect to her father in his time of dying without any sort of outrageous supernatural movement. The final scene between the two of them was very well performed by Coleman and Candice Accola, which again sort of makes me wish he had more to do on the series before he died, but it makes sense for Caroline’s journey.

As for Elena, well, things just keep getting worse. This episode helped crystallize some of the things I have been thinking about in regard to her journey this season. Last season, I think, was very much about Elena grabbing hold of her own destiny, having real agency in a seriously admirable way and eventually, being willing to sacrifice herself time and time again. She gained a lot of strength because of it. But this season, it seems like the story is about breaking Elena down, particularly on an emotional level. She has consistently lost people she trusts and loves, whether through death (Jenna, the tail end of last season, but the reverberations are still being felt), brother-saving deals (Stefan) or her own protective nature (Jeremy).

Last year, partially because she was so in love and partially because she knew people were in danger, Elena embraced the world around her. But now, she has lost so many people and continues to be in these awful circumstances that it sure feels like the breaking point is coming. Sure, she has Damon, but he alone cannot replace* Jenna, Stefan, Jeremy or even her parents (remember, it’s still only been like a two years since their death). Characters on series like this often go through hell and it all bounces off of them, but I think TVD is legitimately interested in watching Elena react to being put the ringer. Her toughness can only go so far, I think.

*I’m guessing most of you Damon-Elena shippers out there would suggest otherwise. That’s fine. I wrote that just for you.

And I say all of this because tonight’s story pushed her further into uncomfortable territory. She comes home to discover that Alaric’s been fatally wounded by the mysterious stabber who took down Bill (more on that momentarily) and really, the house is just a horror movie set. No power. Weird noises. Blood. It’s bad. And to top it all off, she’s forced to subsequently stab Alaric in the heart since her supernatural-ness as the doppleganger will stop any possible death from a non-supernatural entity. Oh, and her best friend’s dad just died. IT IS NOT A GOOD DAY, PART 982.

What makes this particularly interesting is that Matt is there with her and she asks him to stay. We see that she calls Damon and he doesn’t answer, but this isn’t the first big moment that Elena and Matt have shared lately. While I’m not necessarily saying that I’m looking for a Matt-Elena romantic reconciliation or that the series even going to go that route, I do find it curious that their interactions are becoming more prevalent. Perhaps, by the end of the season, Elena realizes she needs a break from all this, Stefan and Damon included? Something to think about.

Finally, I am very intrigued by this mystery person with the stabby tendencies. Dr. Fell was obviously a misdirect from the beginning and although the fingerprint nonsense immediately makes me think Katherine is involved (because you know, shits and giggles), I am more interested in this story because it is somewhat different than the series’ modus operandi. Sure, people get stabbed all the time on this series. Yet, we often, if not always, get to see who does the stabbing. While The Vampire Diaries uses mystery when it introduces various McGuffins such as the casket, we are typically keyed in the various assaults, batteries and attempted murders. Therefore, I am basically solely excited for this story because it is something different, and that’s a good thing. It also has me thinking that our mystery assailant could be a ghost. That has to come back, right?

Anyway, really great stuff from TVD this week. After a slight lull (and again, we’re talking like two B-level episodes), the series has been reenergized with a new, promising direction and the character work continues to be very strong.

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