So, all it took to get Elena’s humanity back on track was a hearty dose of horror. Could the same be said of the series as a whole?
If the remainder of the season follows in the footsteps of “She’s Come Undone,” the answer to that question will be yes. This was the best installment in many weeks—throughout the Dark Elena arc, I’d say it’s only matched by the unbridled moxie of “Because the Night”—in no small part because it deployed horror elements more effectively than the show has all season.
Right from the start, this was bound to be a macabre hour, given Stefan and Damon’s latest strategy for tapping into Elena’s boarded-up human core. If their attempts to elicit positive emotions simply bounced off her armor, they’d be forced to resort to the Costanza Method and do the opposite.
Hence, Plan Z: Hit Elena with every torment they could think of short of tickle torture. Solitary confinement, starvation, sunlight-scalding, even inviting Katherine over for some mild vivisecting.
Elena, no slouch in the agony-inflicting department herself these days, parried with a smattering of psychological warfare. Playing head games about her former affections (or lack thereof) for each of the brothers was routine—if obligatory—stuff. A massively greater mindfuck was hurling herself headlong into the sunbeams to prove that they would never let her be truly harmed. Going full-blown flammable was a ballsy bit of gamesmanship, the sort of “holy shit!” moment The Vampire Diaries has always made its bones on.
But Elena’s vitamin D overdose wasn’t the grandest such moment this week. That honor belongs to Damon snapping Matt’s neck, a fake-out just plausible enough to pack a genuine wallop. Those “holy shit!” escapades land deepest when they’re backed up by solid characterization. Damon wouldn’t hesitate to swap Matt’s life for Elena’s. And Matt, after lamenting his go-nowhere existence, would absolutely sacrifice himself to save Elena (as she had done for him, inciting this entire ordeal). Coupled with the unsettling mood the episode had already established—case in creepy point, Elena’s feral posture and blood-red eyes a few minutes earlier—it made me forget about the protection-ring loophole just long enough to deliver a gut punch.
The same heightened pulse propelled Caroline’s runner (literally) as Silas bombarded her from all angles. While I haven’t been a fan of the trend of regularly turning Caroline into the damsel in distress, as a pure piece of thriller storytelling, all her sequences were aces—from her flight out of the woods, all jarring shifts in pacing and shot composition, to the semi-standoff with Liz, easily the most expendable remaining character who it would still hurt to lose. And lose her we almost did; the episode did a nice job of leveraging one death-twist-reversal to make me believe it wouldn’t bust out a second one moments later.
This whole nightmare dogged Caroline because Silas meant to send a message to Bonnie, who was off scheming against him and setting up clandestine diner rendezvous. I’m still not totally sure what Bonnie’s goal is, nor am I sure how sure of it I’m supposed to be. She’s not letting anyone in because of the old “the less you know the safer you’ll be” trope, which is TV-speak for “we’re saving a huge reveal for the finale!” It mainly feels like one more way to keep Bonnie at arm’s length from the rest of the group, a perennial weakness of the show.
And yet, at least her latest step moved toward making whatever she has planned for Silas and the veil more interesting, using the technique that usually makes things more interesting: involving Katherine. Their bargain may (read: will) turn out to be at least one kind of ruse, but for the moment, she’s promised to make Katherine invulnerable. The same Katherine who Elena has vowed to make dead. That could set up a conflict rich enough to make all the kooky magical tombstone talk worth it.
NOTES & QUOTES
– It was good of Rebekah to acknowledge her role in toppling these dominoes, what with her attempted murder of her new best study-buddy once upon a time. I buy that Matt could motivate her to seek a more moral existence, but I do find it hard to square with her continued ringing endorsement of Elena’s remaining a remorseless monster.
– Obviously it was doomed to fail, but nevertheless I’m glad we got to see Caroline making one last-ditch effort to reach Elena through kindness before handing the keys to Team Torture. Refusing to give up on her friends, or let her friends give up on themselves, is at the heart of Caroline’s character.
– NB: The above is especially true if she can work flashcards and energy bars into the mix. “She likes projects.”
– “I tried to kill you, Caroline. I’m not exactly BFF material anymore.”
– “You know the rules. Bad girls don’t get nice jewelry.”
– Damon on rage: “I tend to pull that out of people.”
– “All hands on deck! That’s the motto around here, right?” “We don’t have a motto.”
– “Please check surroundings for safety.” Hah, not bad, show. (Even if Jurassic Park did that gag better.)
– “You’re the definition of damaged goods.”
– “My emotions are fine. I love Elena. I despise you.”
What'd you think of "She's Come Undone"?