'The Vampire Diaries' Review: 'The Cell'
The Augustine experimentation storyline is just getting started. The Vampire Diaries produces exposition heavy episodes before massive arcs that span more than one season. “The Cell” had the exposition and a healthy dose of ret-conning. Damon reveals more about his inhumane side that does and doesn’t run counter to the character’s progression. Elena learns about this secret from Damon’s with horror and astonishment. Caroline reminded her recently about Damon’s past as a sadistic serial killer, but true love forgives all sins in this show for a character in need of rationalization. “The Cell” has two cells that trap the two Salvatore brothers. Stefan’s cell is psychological rather than physical whereas Damon’s is the opposite. Stefan’s emotional arc has hung on the repeated drownings and his heartbreak over the two persons he loves most not rescuing him. Damon’s been dealing with the affects of his cell for over fifty years and has inflicted monstrous revenge ever since his release.
Retcons are a part of serialized episodic television. Retcons require a significant amount of plotting to make sense of it for the viewer. Damon tells Elena about his imprisonment, about the Augustines, the experiments, his friend, Enzo, who helped him and whom he abandoned as the house burned around them. Damon abandoned his friend who sacrificed himself for his sake. There’s significant emotional baggage for Damon. The character would suppress his feelings of guilt. Indeed, Damon turned off his humanity after his escape and before he began to take his revenge. Layering a backstory with significant emotion is sound, solid storytelling. The flashbacks dehumanize the Augustine society a little. The flashbacks seem inspired by Victorian literature or even 18th century records of torture and experiments. Enzo’s a good friend, honest and loyal, even had a ‘one and only’ like every character on this show. Damon’s abandonment of Enzo lands with the audience as does the reveal that Enzo survived the fire, crazier now and probably plotting his revenge on Damon since that night Damon left.
Damon’s actions can be understood from the character’s perspective. He’s warped, he’s interested in self-preservation, in self-interest—what’s best for Damon is best for the world. Dr. Whitmore put Damon through hell for five years. Whitmore removed body parts, barely fed the vampires enough blood, and showed them off to their worst enemies, the other members of the secret society. Damon sparing the lives of the families responsible for torturing him for five years wouldn’t be true to the character. He’s still spiteful. His feelings for Elena softened him, though he wasn’t a prince. For example, he wanted to kill Bonnie many times for Elena, whenever she was in a dangerous situation. Damon leaves one family member alive, lets the surviving family member start a family, and then begins the savage process again. Elena learns Damon murdered the last one as they began their summer of romantic fun.
No one gets saved from his or her cells by the end. Stefan overcomes his issues thanks to lust, but Elena and Damon are stuck. Aaron, the guy with the sad eyes, learns about Wes’ work , about Elena’s vampirism, and the brutal history of Damon’s warpath against his family. No, Aaron doesn’t let them go. Caroline’s reminders of Damon’s past were reminders for the audience who’ve grown to love him, to defend or even forget his past actions to Damon detractors because he’s changed. The writers wanted to cover themselves for when monstrous Damon returns and all the fangirls revolt and write mean tweets at Julie Plec and Caroline Dries. Caroline’s role was, “See, he’s always been this way!” Damon’s actions are part of his character, a fundamental part, but this specific revelation tastes sour. Characters have arcs in stories. Damon had an arc, but that’s done now. The writers are in season five. They need to generate conflict within the show. The easy choice is to throw Damon back into his season one role. Maybe this came about organically in the room, but it feels forced. He’s been murdering for how long and during all the insanity of the last few seasons?
Stefan’s scenes with Katherine feel natural and organic--a natural progression of both characters, rather than a forced retread to the past. Katherine hopes to help Stefan fight his demons in hopes he’ll save her. Stefan wants Katherine to live. Paul Wesley and Nina Dobrev delivered the best scene of the season so far in the coffin. I felt Stefan’s despair, Katherine’s desperate need, and their insane chemistry. Not just the actors, but also the characters. Katherine and Stefan have a different way together than Stefan and Elena.
I really liked the parts of “The Cell” involving Stefan and Katherine. I disliked Damon’s story. The expositional flashbacks wear on me. The experimentation/secret society seems as unpromising a story as the Silas story did last season. The Silas story never worked out. I’m indifferent about the involvement of Elena’s father. The question is how will what she learns affect her memories of her father? She’s defensive of her dad; however, he’s probably bad, but that matters on this show. Her father’s actions have to be forgivable because those she currently loves have committed worse than her father. The Vampire Diaries is a love story—not just a romantic love story for the trio, but a story of love. The most evil villain, Klaus, just wanted a little love. Caroline’s love for her father helped her get past what he did to her and how he felt towards her after her transformation. Eternal love heals more powerfully than the strongest vampire blood. Love does save the world. Love is their gift.
-TVD borrows from the Buffyverse. I wanted to borrow from its fifth season. That’s cool, right?
-Jeremy and Bonnie are off-screen this week. Matt, of course, is absent. He’ll probably be back to react to a question from Stefan and Caroline and then won’t be seen until February.
-Megan’s killer’s identity remains mysterious. It’s gotta involve the Augustines. The writing emphasized Aaron’s similarities with Elena more so than in their short scene at the party. Aaron’s the victim of a different circular pattern. I’ve long written that TVD ends with these characters severing their ties to ancient history. History is the nightmare they’re trying to awake from, to borrow from James Joyce.
-Melina Hsu Taylor wrote the episode. Chris Grismer directed it. Who edits the show? The edit of Damon in the cell as he heard Enzo’s screams was spectacular.