The Vampire Diaries, S2E17: Know thy Enemy [TV review by Robin Franson Pruter]

The Vampire DiariesOriginally broadcast April 7, 2011
Written by Mike Daniels
Directed by Wendey Stanzler
My rating: ★★

Note to writers: Stop confusing the audience and focus on the characters instead.

* * *

I’m really sick of movies and TV shows referencing Sun Tzu, especially as movie and TV writers know only one quotation from The Art of War. That having been said, the title of this episode is thematically appropriate. The episode contains a season’s worth of scheming and double-crossing (and one triple-cross, I think). We have several factions appearing in this episode, forming plans, forging alliances, splintering, and acting in ways that are inscrutable to their enemies. In fact, in this episode, it’s nearly impossible to tell who is allied with whom, who is feigning alliance, and who is changing alliances. Far from understanding their enemies, characters in this episode can’t even determine who their enemies are.

Ultimately, all this scheming and deceit is just frustrating viewing.

For example, Isobel originally seemed to be allied with Katherine and John to stop Klaus and to eliminate the Salvatore brothers from Elena’s life. This episode reveals her to be working secretly with Katherine to make a deal with Klaus to turn over Elena and the Moonstone to him. And, then, that revelation is twisted when Isobel is shown to have been compelled by Klaus to turn over Elena, the Moonstone, and Katherine as well. She gives Katherine and the Moonstone to Klaus but immolates herself rather than turn over Elena—either that, or the plot twists caused her so much consternation that suicide seemed like the only relief.

Isobel’s suicide leads to a rapprochement between Elena and Uncle John. Their honest discussion, however, is marred by the fact that they don’t understand Isobel’s true allegiance. For once, Uncle John seems to be forthright with Elena, admitting that his goal is to protect her (which we’ve never doubted) but is at a loss as to how to do it. David Anders’s performance here is touching—showing the utter weariness that’s left after John’s arrogance and certainty have been stripped away.  Anders, for once in his career, comes off as sincere, but we viewers have been so inundated with deceit that it’s hard to trust it. (In fact, Uncle John is being honest. His deceit tank is on empty. But we don’t get confirmation of his honesty for several episodes.)

Another emotional pas de deux at the end of the episode occurs between Matt and Sheriff Forbes. After learning that Caroline is vampire, Matt feigns willingness to accept her in order to get her to tell him the whole truth. The audience is not in on his scheme until he meets Sheriff Forbes to report what he’s learned. For the first time, Matt shows the maturity and fortitude that will define his character in later seasons. His disgust and sense of betrayal seem natural, and Zach Roerig and the writers wisely keep these emotions from boiling over into melodramatic anger. As Sheriff Forbers, Marguerite MacIntyre demonstrates why I like her appearances so much. She shows the sheriff gripped by grief for her daughter, determined to do her job, subtly acknowledging the relationship dynamics between the town sheriff and her daughter’s teenage boyfriend (leading her to minimize her emotional response), and frustrated at her inability to do so successfully—all in the space of short scene.

The early Jeremy and Bonnie scenes show their promise as a couple. I wish more screen time had been given to their developing relationship before they got mired in the plot to save Elena from Klaus. Bonnie’s intention to sacrifice herself to kill Klaus and save Elena seems no more authentic than Elena’s willingness to sacrifice herself to save her loved ones. Kat Graham doesn’t have the acting ability Nina Dobrev does to sell this idea to the audience, and, as Dobrev wasn’t successful, Graham seems completely at a loss. As Jeremy, Steven McQueen does what he can to portray Jeremy legitimately in fear for Bonnie, but I wanted him to break character and say, “You’re kidding me, right? You can’t think of a better plan than killing yourself? Why can’t the writers think of a better response to crisis than to have someone say, ‘I’m going to kill myself to stop this’? Give me a break.”

The end of the episode has Klaus’s minions transferring his essence into Alaric’s body. I would really like to know what behind-the-scenes shenanigans led to this cockamamie idea. My guess is that Klaus needed to appear but the role hadn’t been cast yet, which would explain why Klaus-as-Alaric (Klaric?) speaks in a Hungarian accent (a la Bela Lugosi) instead of the British accent he has when Joseph Morgan takes over the role.

I would have really appreciated the writers cluing the audience in on the characters’ real agendas here instead of leaving us as mystified as the denizens of Mystic Falls regarding the behavior of their fellow characters. Contrary to the belief of a lot of weak screenwriters in the last 20 years, twisting plots and uncertain loyalties don’t necessarily make for compelling viewing. But pieces of this episode work when the show takes a breather from unnecessary plot twists and character revelations.

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About Robin Franson Pruter

Robin Franson Pruter is a recovering academic. She is now in the process of making amends for egregious use of esoteric neologisms and for passing around scholarly journal articles at social gatherings. She studied screenwriting in film school and really plans to finish that degree someday. Luckily, she has three other Master’s degrees collecting dust on her wall. A permanent resident of the state of adolescence, she obsesses over teen media—having, in the past, argued for the social and cultural relevance of girl group music, taught college courses in teen films and Harry Potter, and delivered conference presentations on the latter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (An article of hers can be found in Terminus: Collected Papers on Harry Potter, 7-11 August 2008 available through Amazon.) The only film that has ever scared her was The Green Man—yes, it is a comedy, but she was four and there was a body in the piano.
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