TVD 4×04: or, the fail of watching through a gender-lens

I was going to write another post today, but somehow I cannot get a word written. And the failure of the last episode of The Vampire Diaries keeps popping up in my head. I know a lot of the readers of this blog don’t watch this show. And I apologize for veering off-topic on my blog [then again, it is my blog]. I’ll have bookish posts again soon. I feel I just need to get this off my chest. Because.. you see, TVD is my guilty pleasure. And guilty pleasures are supposed to be fun. If they have you rolling your eyes, it should be a pleasant eye-roll. Instead, this week had me very very angry. So yeah.. After the cut you’ll find my TVD 4×04 thoughts. Obviously, the post contains spoilers for all seasons including this last episode.

There are a ton of reasons why “The Five” as an episode did not work for me. As you might know, I was severely disappointed by 3×22. I even, for a while, considered to stop watching. Until Amy and I got each other excited about the series again. And, really, because my expectations were at the lowest after that season finale, I thought the past three episodes were surprisingly okay-ish. No, nothing like season one or two, but surely better than the horror of the last episodes of season 3. Some of the problems I had with that season seemed to actually, possibly, be acknowledged, a little bit. Yay. Bring on episode 4, with the “big mythology reveal” and the learning Elena to feed, and the possible Delena development.

Unfortunately, the whole episode was a complete failure, which made me reconsider watching the rest of the season. It wasn’t because as a closet Delena shipper I was disappointed by their development (because I’m not sure it was a bad episode for DE). It wasn’t even because of the ridiculousness of the cure. Although, let’s be honest, that plot is kind of ridiculous. It was mostly because 1) I really do not know what we were supposed to feel about anything that happened in this episode. Were any of the characters supposed to be right? Were any of them wrong? The whole plot and characterisation just seemed all over the place. Point 2) is related to that: if the show won’t tell me who’s side I’m supposed to be on, I don’t like what I’m getting in terms of gender relations in this episode. Truly. The whole thing seemed set up as girls exploring feelings, and then boys correcting them and “setting them right” or handing them over to other guys. There were moments where the narratives might have subverted that, but if it was intended that way it was too implicit. I truly hope things will improve on that front, because this is not cool.

First instance? Elena. Oh my, Elena. I was so happy for you to get the chance to turn (even if I also sort of hated that as I would’ve loved to have seen a stronger human Elena, but I digress). Turning into a vampire might get you out of that position of in the middle of every plot needing to be saved by whoever is close-by. You might even get to stand up to the Salvatore brothers. And that would be lovely! What do we get instead?

In the first scene, Elena has to explain herself to Stefan for joining Bonnie and Damon in an effort to learn how to feed. Last week we’ve established that Stefan cannot help her, because he would turn ripper. It’s true, anyone else might have helped her, but yeah.. I guess it was triangle time and so Damon is presented as the only suitable option. What does Stefan do? He throws an arrow at her, “vampire hunter training”, and Elena has to convince him that he’s the one getting her through this (while for the past weeks we’ve seen that it is rather Matt, Damon, and Caroline getting her through this, while Stefan pouts – I am sorry, I do not like Stefan much). Yay, boys teaching girls. We need more of this in this show.

When Damon teaches Elena she’s proud of being able to feed, she “wants more”, she gets carried away, she’s having fun, she’s perhaps losing control a little, but at least she just kind-of is without constantly questioning how she’s a vampire and bad and blablabla (Hello, TVD, you’re a vampire show, how are you ever going to resolve this question without taking away from true characterisation?) Bonnie comes in and she frowns and Elena feels guilty [que Bonnie-hate on twitter and tumblr. I do so wish Bonnie would get a proper storyline and isn’t used as the one to turn to for magic, or the one to turn to for anti-vampire as in human morality, that is lauded as heroic in case of Stefan but somehow always comes across as awkward/questionable in case of Bonnie. Ugh, I feel for her]. Elena runs of and starts becoming emotional “I should be here with Stefan!” & “who am I?” Really Elena? You know you can’t be here with Stefan, he’d snap. Can you just be for a while? At the same time, who wouldn’t be emotional in this scenario? Her boyfriend cannot help her with this thing she’s finding very difficult. She is, as we’ve been told endlessly, something she doesn’t want to be, and moreover, lest we forget, she has HEIGHTENED EMOTIONS. Anyway, Damon gives Bonnie and Elena a speech about being able to feed without killing because he’s able to enjoy it. This makes you feel that Damon is the only one who gets vampirism right. I wanted to nod along with him. And I think I agree. I just don’t like how he’s putting two girls in their place, and then tells them they’re leaving because he’s obviously the one who decides that the trip is at an end while it was Bonnie’s trip to begin with.

Then, in another instance of great gender dynamics, Damon and Elena have a porch talk where Elena is portrayed as having doubts (what else is new?) and Damon is disappointed (again, what else is new?). Then, Stefan interrupts them and Damon HANDS ELENA OVER: “She’s all yours”. Ugh, really? Because Elena has to be watched 24/7 and when one brother fails the other is on duty. I get it, Damon was rejected and blabla, and yes, my Delena feels were all over the place, but still.. WHAT? In an even better twist, Elena then turns from being proud of herself for feeding without killing/hurting anyone into someone who is all woe-is-me, and guilt, and “it was horrible, Stefan!” And Stefan comforts her and tells her it will be better. But we all know he’s probably all: “I told you! I knew it! Elena can’t be a vampire because she is compassionate, and loves, and has feelings, and we need to protect her from this!”

Which brings us to the Stefan, Rebekah, Klaus storyline. Or, better, the story line that was horrible x 3 (but again, I hate Klaus, I hate Stefan, so that leaves little else to be expected). Basically, the story is this: there are 5 vampire hunters. They are dangerous. Klaus encountered them before, 900 years ago. Klaus comments to Elijah that they are dangerous. The next screen? Rebekah courts one of them, falls in love, is seduced. They sort-of sleep together, he tells her they’re hunters and that they have a swords that allows encryption of their tattoos. He stakes her. Klaus’ commentary: Rebekah is WEAK! She always LOVES! And she is FOOLED! And she betrays her FAMILY! And she is WEAK! WEAK I tell you. Because she LOVES. And who’s foolish enough to do that. Blablabla. Klaus then makes Rebekah tell that the thing that tempted her was the fact that the hunter promised her a cure for vampirism. He could make Rebekah human again. [this is where twitter collectively groaned over the obvious and horrible plot twist]. So Klaus offers Stefan a cure for Elena. Stefan has to make Rebekah tell him the rest of the solution to how the cure is found (which she does, because SHE LOVED! She is jealous of Stefan’s and Elena’s LOVE, she has EMOTIONS). As soon as she tells Stefan, he helps Klaus in staking Rebekah. That’s what you get for loving and feeling and weakness, you are staked by your brother and ex-boyfriend. *rolls eyes* Meanwhile, Klaus makes Stefan promise to keep this a secret, nobody can know, not even Elena, etc.

So, what am I supposed to think? While I felt sympathetic to Rebekah and Elena (and Bonnie), the overriding plot seems to suggest that they are somehow “wrong” for feeling/trusting. They are all corrected/supervised by a male (Klaus or one of the Salvatore brothers). And what’s up with Stefan promising to help Klaus over Elena’s future without her knowing? Again, are we to take that as romantic, or foolish? I hope rather than trust that he will be proven wrong. I need answers to these questions, because rather a lot depends on the interpretations given in retrospect. If Stefan is eventually shown as being mistaken, if Rebekah will be proven right, then okay, perhaps the episode might be interpreted slightly subversive. But the ease with which female characters are handed over from brother to brother, the ways girls are so often emotional and confused and not allowed to be strong (We really do need the return of Katherine), the ways in which boys always have plans while girls are divided in their allegiance. I don’t know. I’m starting to find it pretty uncomfortable. And I think that when an episode is as weak as 4×04 was, it stands out a little bit too much.

Basically, I just really hope the rest of season four will allow for Elena’s character growth, for her to stand up on her own without either Salvatore. At least to have her have the choice (which does not seem to be there right now). I’d like Bonnie to have a plot that doesn’t mean she’s a tool to be used or a girl to be attracted to whoever is deemed her new love interest. I do not like the originals, but I want Rebekah to have a satisfactory ending and not to be shamed for feeling and loving by Klaus (and to some extent, Stefan and Damon). And Caroline, informed by fears of what’s coming, I want her to have a plotline that is not about a love triangle between Tyler and Klaus. She used to be so strong, now she’s just caught between boys. She would be perfect to help Elena. That would be so interesting. Do not make the girls all about emotions = weakness = girly = in need of supervision. Thank you.

16 thoughts on “TVD 4×04: or, the fail of watching through a gender-lens

  1. Word Lily

    Everything I’m hearing about this show lately makes me really glad I’m not watching it. But it’s awesome you’ve all had such a great community watching it and discussing it.

  2. Amy @ My Friend Amy

    the gender fail on this show is just so embarrassing now. And I can’t get over that Rebekah “feeling too much” is portrayed as a weakness in light of her girliness. But it’s a strength for Elena? Ughhhh

  3. Jenny

    So done with Rebekah being kicked around BUT on the other hand, Damon gets similarly kicked around and screwed over by his loved ones so…maybe it’s a wash?

    I really, really, really want Elena to get over fretting about being a vampire and just deal with it already. She can deal with it and I want her to so that she can spend half her time out doing body shots or whatever with Damon so that somebody somewhere in the universe of this show will be having fun ever. The show is funnest when characters are allowed to enjoy themselves NOT in dire love triangles. I miss Season 2 how awesome it was.

    1. Iris Post author

      Hahahaha. Body shots. Love the word play there😉
      It’s true, some boys get kicked around a lot too. I wonder why it bothers me more about the female characters? Probably because in this episoe it seems to have been systematic? I don’t know.
      They need to stop setting up plots as love triangles. And yes, Elena needs to be a vampire and learn to accept it, and it would be lovely to see the teenagers have some fun every once in a while without it being 30 seconds before tuntuntun another big bad shown up.

  4. kristi

    Yes to all of this. I’m frustrated with Caroline’s plot-line too. She’s such a great, strong character, but they won’t let her be part of what’s going on. It shouldn’t have to always be about boys. Girls don’t have to be in a relationship. Elena drove me crazy in this episode. Overall, it was just kind of boring and disappointing. I’m rethinking continuing. I may give it another episode or two, but if they don’t change things, I’m out.

  5. Brooke

    I pretty much wholeheartedly agree with everything you said here. TVD is a show with so much potential and so many fantastic characters that the recent ridiculousness had me perturbed.

    Bonnie is always just a magical doormat to be used and abused as needed which frustrates me and EVERYONE else. Why don’t the writers understand this?

    The gender issues you’ve outlined perfectly, so don’t have much to add on that front except to say that Elena’s vampire transformation has been an absolute waste of character growth and I miss the old Caroline who should absolutely be the one helping Elena out right now. And yes, we need Katherine back like nobody’s business. After last night’s episode, looks like we might be getting that wish fulfilled…maybe.

    I will say that for all the ‘weak’ and poorly written female characters as of lately, some of the boys aren’t getting their due either. Matt and Jeremy always get the short end of the stick and even Tyler doesn’t serve much of a purpose these days other than inciting female catfights…or dogfights.

    I’ve loved TVD since it began airing and hope this show gets back on track. There is very little television that I watch live and TVD has always passed muster, but I’m finding myself indifferent to viewing the show these days and sometimes just refer to recaps. I want my show back!!!

    1. Iris Post author

      I just watched the most recent episode, and it’s basically more of the same although they attempted to have Elena do her own thing. *sigh*
      You are right that some male characters also receive the short end of the stick. I think they’re not doing very well on the characterisation front (and they haven’t been for a while now). It’s mostly the plots that get in the way of doing that well. I’m starting to really resent their overall plots. Mostly because at every episode it kills of so much potential. I wonder if it bothers me more about the female characters because it seems to reincribe so many power discourses in real life?

  6. Jenny

    Having just watched the most recent episode, and the promo for next week in which it just looks like more boys calling the shots, I’ve decided that what I want to have happen is this: Damon and Stefan and Klaus proceed with their arrogant choosing-for-other-people plan, and Elena turns into her smartest capablest badassest most ruthless self and counterplots against them in some way (I can think of a dozen ways this could happen, but I’ll let the writers decide this) and wins. At everything. With her wits. And her counterplot could make use of Caroline (cause, Caroline!) and could also employ Tyler and Hayley’s plan to free all the hybrids. That would be swell.

    1. Iris Post author

      I just watched the most recent episode after seeing in interviews after the episode aired that this was the episode where they were like “let’s not make Elena dependent on anyone, let’s make her take up her own plan!” Of course, the episode didn’t work like that at all. Ugh, Stefan. Need I say more? And then Elena does go in on her own, but in the end we get the overtones of boy’s discussing how her emotional kill just “screwed up her chance to become human”. Have I mentioned that I hate how when Elena finally decides to do her own thing it secretly, because, you know, Stefan tells Damon but they do not tell her????, ends up messing up her chance to be human. Not that I want Elena to become human again, I just don’t want all this secrecy “but she’s so weak we need to protect her from vampirism” stuff. I loved Damon for calling Stefan out on that a little in the end, but he still keeps it a secret, and it bothers me.

      1. Jenny

        I did love seeing Elena do violence and be tough though. I liked it when she beat Damon at fighting, and I liked it when she killed the hunter. I just would have preferred it if she had been more ruthless about it afterwards — what would have been perfect for me, and thematically really smart for the show!, would have been if Stefan had come to her after she killed him, doing all sensitive eyes, and have Elena be like, “What? He tried to murder everyone I care about in this time. He terrorized April, who has nothing to do with any of this; he tried to kill Tyler; and he shot my brother. So I killed him. DONE.” (Cue reaction shot of Damon being crazy turned on by this, as he would be.) I think that would have been a solid character beat for Elena (because she can be ruthless when it comes to people she loves!), and it would have also made a really nice set-up for that conversation between Stefan and Damon at the end. But whatever.

        1. Iris Post author

          That would have been wonderful. I just wish the show wouldn’t back down in situations that have so much potential. Often it just chooses to reinscriobe the status quo. But anyway.. like you, I did love seeing Elena go a little violent. (finally, vampire acknowledgement) And you’re right, she would be like that when family/friends are in danger.

  7. Jenny

    Okay! I’ve fleshed out my plan a bit more! It goes as follows: Caroline (who Klaus thinks is mad at Tyler about Hayley) gets put on Klaus duty and distracts the hell out of Klaus by getting him to take her to museums full of art or whatever (I don’t know what he likes). Tyler and Hayley go out tracking down hybrids and inviting them to be free (perilous plan because any one of them could call Klaus and tell him; but I envision, like, Klaus’s cell phone ringing and Caroline grabbing it and going, I’m sorry, Klaus can’t come to the phone right now because he’s taking a break from his regular life, and Klaus being crazy charmed because, duh, it’s Caroline). But still there develops conflict between the hybrids who are trying to be free and the ones who aren’t (or just fail at it).

    Elena, who is the only person Jeremy ends up telling about his new ink, employs Bonnie (see how generous I am to characters I loathe? Making them integral parts of my plan?) to go through her creepy professor’s things and figure out that it’s a map to something & more of it gets revealed when Jeremy kills vampires. Armed with his survival ring & over Elena’s strenuous objections but then she ends up going with him (to protect him, I guess — I don’t care why! I just want to see her doing some violence!), Jeremy goes on a big vampire-killing road trip and kills all sorts of unpleasant vampires. If this adventure ends up bringing him to Katherine’s attention and she shows back up on the show THEN SO BE IT. And then Elena gets the map and scoops Klaus and them by finding the cure before them, but the cure can only ever work on one vampire. And, like, dunh dunh DUNH because what will happen next?

    And then Damon and Stefan discover the cure is gone and their plans are foiled (sad trombone for Stefan), but they don’t have any time to worry about this because there’s a big HYBRID WAR suddenly happening between the free hybrids and the still-sire-bonded hybrids, so they have to go rushing back to see what is up with that. And the sire-bonded hybrids are winning and all hope seems lost and Klaus is going to do something extra nefarious, and Stefan and Damon are all like, Oh Elena, we failed you, and she smiles a Katheriney smile and right at that moment Klaus is all aaaaaaaaaaaa I’m turning human hellllllllp, and Elena comes out and is all, Yeah, thanks but I’m not going to be your bloodbag again so I CURED YOU OF VAMPIRISM HA HA HA HA.

    And Damon and Stefan feel like dopes. And Klaus is not a vampire anymore. And Elena handled her own life. THE END.

    1. Iris Post author

      So now that I got the ramble out of the way, I LOVE YOUR PLAN. Please let this happen, or a variety of this, because it would solve everything. And it would resolve so much of the issues I have with this show. Yay.


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