The Vampire Diaries "American Gothic" Review: Pennsylvania Double-Dutch

The Vampire Diaries S04E18: "American Gothic"

The hunt for the cure has spanned the northeastern Atlantic corridor this season, traipsing from the magical forests of Canada to the urban jungle of New York City to, this week, the Creamed Corn Capital of the Keystone State. Willoughby, Pennsylvania is Katherine’s bucolic base of operations these days, and the site of one of my favorite narrative devices The Vampire Diaries has employed to date. Far from stalking the town in terror or hiding out in a crypt on the outskirts, Katherine has established an elaborate compulsion network in which everybody merrily supplies her with acquaintanceship and blood, but forgets she exists the second any third party brings her up. It’s a cool concept, and I half wish it had gotten a little more room to breathe.

When Elena and Rebekah stumbled onto Katherine and her ingenious in-plain-sight hideout, the ladies couldn’t resist grabbing brunch at the local diner to chat about their lives, the location of the cure, and how viciously they all despise one another. For as much venom as these three have spat at one another over the life of the series, the new dynamics this time kept the scene fresh and funny. Katherine was put on her heels by Evil Elena, a position we’ve not often seen her in. (Rebekah, true to form, fell back on her tendency to side with the person she hates the least in any given situation.)

The timing of their arrival was impeccable, what with Katherine preparing to meet an old friend and current accomplice at the town gazebo; it was none other than the dapper Elijah, a man custom-built for sun-splashed meetings at quaint wooden structures. Elena took her doppelganger's place in order to learn what part the eldest living Mikaelsen was playing. That left Katherine and Rebekah chilling at the diner to great the Salvatores, who had followed in hot pursuit.

Both meetings set into motion a vintage Vampire Diaries cavalcade of scheming and re-scheming. But like the best TVD episodes, all the evasions, elisions, and double-crosses swirled around a nugget of deeply felt sincerity.

Two nuggets, actually. The first was the startling realization that Katherine, maybe, possibly, does want to give up a life of villainous capers for something simpler. Surrendering her ace in the hole to Elijah was a leap of faith, and if it was a genuine one, it speaks to both her desperation and to the unflappable dignity Elijah commands in order to earn her trust. Like Stefan and Damon, he’s convinced that some part of his one-time paramour is worth believing in.

But unlike them, it’s more than love that motivates Elijah in this way. It’s also a kind of nobility, and a true reckoning with the tragic isolation that eternity as a monster carries. The gravity that Daniel Gillies has always brought to the character is an effective counterpoint to the unabashed supernatural craziness that drives TVD’s primary impulses. The empathy with which Elijah treated Katherine, and later Rebekah, also extended to Elena once he appraised her current status. Their rueful conversation evoked the true tragedy of her transformation more powerfully than any other single moment since her switch-flip.

Hence the episode’s other cards-on-the-table moment, which represented an equally dramatic character shift, but in the opposite direction. Elena was good and fed up with the brothers’ incessant efforts to re-flip her humanity switch, and laid a violent ultimatum on them: If they don’t give it a rest, she's going to start dropping bodies every which way—starting with an amiable night shift waitress in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even Damon wouldn’t want that, if only to avoid Stefan’s subsequent hectoring. They’re going to need a new plan if they want to restore Elena’s humanity without resorting to slipping the cure into her beer at the next big bash at Salvatore Central.

That’s assuming they can get their hands on the cure in the first place, seeing as it’s now in the possession of the about-to-be-reunited Mikaelsen clan. Elijah and Rebekah are en route to Mystic Falls, where Klaus has a new reason for needing the magical vial. Thanks to Silas, he spent an entire B-story in agony caused not by the white oak shards left in his torso but by the psychological shrapnel left in his brain.

Ostensibly this was meant to reinforce how creepy and powerful Silas is (though, again, he’s not powerful enough to carve out a chunk of the show’s budget to hire his own actor). It also provided a convenient excuse for Joseph Morgan to writhe around shirtless for an episode, which, hey, no complaints. But primarily it facilitated a shouty, funny burst of catharsis with Caroline. On most shows, it might be odd for a character to proffer friendship in the same breath as the reminder, “We’ve all tried to kill you. And you’ve tried to kill most of us.” On this show, with this social circle, those are practically prerequisites.


– Meanwhile in Mystic Falls, Part I: Let’s assume amnesiac Bonnie was scouring the internet to catch up on all the gruesome events that last week’s near-death experience wiped from her brain. Let’s also assume she got as far as the weirdly accented dude on the island before getting distracted by that Game of Thrones House generator game.

– Meanwhile in Mystic Falls, Part II: And what do we think Matt was up to this week? I’ll say he’s found most of the cool rooms in Lockwood Manor, but he’s still searching for the secret passageway from the lounge to the conservatory.

– Will Silas be sticking with the Caroline guise now? While I appreciate that it would give Candice Accola a welcome chance to stretch, it still feels like a cheat. After Klaus-as-Alaric, Klaus-as-Tyler, and Deranged Alaric, the returns of stuffing our heroes into villain suits are seriously diminishing. 

– Katherine’s trained an entire bedroom community to do her bidding and preserve her secrets. She’s the Ben Linus of Pennsylvania.

– Wonderful visual rhyme when Katherine snapped Elena’s neck and directly took her place in the frame. It befit how well Nina Dobrev plays the two as separate characters even now that they’re more alike than ever.

– Weird association of the week: Encyclopedia Damon deducing the location of the cure reminded me, of all things, of Kramer puzzling out George’s ATM code on Seinfeld

– It’s always a treat to see the Salvatores do some old-fashioned brotherly bonding, but doubly so when they’re bonding over the fact that they’re consistently pretty lousy at bringing a plan together.

– “Remind me to send her some mini-muffins.”

– “I don’t know if this is some new way of flirting, but it sucks.”

– “That guy got his neck snapped in New York, and this guy is royally pissed off.”

– Rebekah’s oh-so-helpful Katherine impersonation tips: “Not quite slutty enough. I think you need more eyeliner” and “Throatier. More mannish.”

– Thumbs up to everyone’s skeeved-out groans when Katherine referred to Elijah as her friend in full-on italics.

– “No sudden moves. No tricks, either. No Katherine-ing.”

– “DId it ever occur to you that you’re not that deep?”

– “Sorry, it’s Rebekah—I didn’t have a pony to distract her, Stefan.”

– “You don’t have a smart brother. Turns out I’m just as stupid as the rest of you.”

– “I had a moment of weakness, Stefan. It’s my thing.”

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