19 May 2011

The Vampire Diaries S2 E21 "The Sun Also Rises"

Spoilers Ahead

"The Sun Also Rises" should have been the season 2 finale. Not only did it end on a better cliffhanger than the actual finale but the episode wasn't riddled with plot holes through which you could drive a semi. But I'll save my criticisms of that episode for the next review. For now we have death, despair, and Damon (that should be my new motto).

The episode starts us off back in the old Lockwood cellar, with werewolf Ty attacking a trapped Caroline and Matt. Panicking as he sees the door weakening, Matt decides to shoot Ty. Luckily this only wounds the were, but it also puts him out of commission long enough for Caroline to grab Matt and run.

Damon, meanwhile, is frustrated. He's frustrated that Katherine didn't use the vervain he gave her to resist Klaus and save Jenna from being caught and turned into a vampire. Frustrated that he can't offer himself as the vampire sacrifice in Jenna's place because of his werewolf-bite-tainted blood. And frustrated that everything's falling apart--some of it due to his actions--and there's nothing he can do about it. Damon is not having a good day.

Actually, the only person not having a bad day is Klaus (and I guess Greta) who has already started the ritual. Greta feeds Jenna blood to complete the transition to vamphood, drags in Jules (whose transformation to wolf has been slowed), and traps all three women inside rings of fire. All they need now is a psychotic were-vamp to come along and sacrifice them...oh wait, that's why Klaus is there.

Not that the gang has given up hope. Jeremy and Bonnie search for a spell that will bring Elena back from the dead but not as a vampire. Stefan and Elijah recap the plan (Bonnie will bring Klaus to the brink of death when he's at his weakest during the ritual and then Elijah will finish him off so Bonnie doesn't overdose on power and die). And somehow things manage to get even more complicated when Damon calls Stefan and tells him about Jenna. So Stefan decides to go to Klaus and offer himself as the vampire sacrifice instead of Jenna. I've never seen so many people willing to sacrifice themselves--and I'm not even sure for what.

After a whole lot of chanting and potiony type stuff, Klaus gets to the heart of the ritual--by ripping out Jules's with his bare hands (see what I did there?) This leaves Elena and Jenna, who spend their time showcasing Jenna's uselessness, bonding, and concocting futile escape plans.

At his place again Damon is starting to suffer the effects of the werewolf bite. To make matters worse, John Gilbert shows up. But hearing that Elena's about to die and come back as a vampire John volunteers for the resuscitation spell Jeremy and Bonnie have conveniently discovered. When Elena dies, John's life force will be channelled into her thus returning her to the land of the living. They're still not sure whether she'll be human or vamp but it's worth a try (Damon is angry when he hears about this, snapping that they're putting their faith in mystical mumbo jumbo. Which is somewhat ironic coming from a vampire who is intimately acquainted with the power of magic). He's even angrier when he finds out that Stefan has gone to trade himself for Jenna.

Before Stefan leaves to find Klaus, he and Elijah discuss Elijah's commitment to killing his brother. Elijah claims that Klaus hunted down their entire family one by one and scattered them "across the seas" where their bodies can't be found. He wants revenge. Satisfied Stefan leaves. Luckily he shows up at the ritual just before Klaus gets to Jenna. Klaus has a bit of fun, asking Elena to choose between Stefan and Jenna, which she refuses to do. But that's okay because she never really had a choice. Klaus breaks a stake off in Stefan's back to put him out of commission (he claims to have plans for Stefan) and turns back to Jenna. She at least makes an effort to do something useful by going after Greta. But Klaus gets to Jenna before she can do any real damage. A moment later Klaus stakes Jenna and we're done with one of the most pointless characters ever to crowd a TV screen. Sorry, Jenna fans.

After securing the non-supernatural people (John, Jeremy, Alaric) inside the house, Bonnie and Damon head out to save the day. Meanwhile, it's Elena's turn to die. She walks over to Klaus like she's going to have a chat with him about the weather; if this girl isn't suicidal I don't know who is. You'd think she'd at least put up some kind of fight after he just screwed her over by killing her aunt. (And by the way, if Damon's blood is tainted because of the werewolf bite, is the doppelganger's blood not tainted with vampire blood?) Anyway, a moment later Elena's dead and Klaus is beginning to transform.

And the cavalry arrives! Bonnie comes in working her magics while Damon breaks Greta's neck (backlit by lightning as he does it--very nice). I have to take a second to point out that the whole convoluted Luka/Martin/Greta subplot seems to have really gone nowhere; I think everything they brought to the show could have been dealt with more simply and with better results. But I digress. As Klaus writhes and screams in pain, Damon picks up Elena and takes her to Stefan, where he proceeds to remove the stake from Stefan's back. Strangely, Stefan then tells Damon to get Elena out of there because he's not leaving until he knows Klaus is dead. You'd think he'd want to be there when his girlfriend returns from the dead (couldn't Damon stay to supervise?) Looks like Elena and Stefan's big love is on the wane.

As Damon leaves with Elena, Elijah shows up. He plunges his hand into Klaus's chest, ready to pull out his heart but, of course, Klaus stops him by saying their family is still alive--he never threw them into the sea. He gives his word that he'll take Elijah to them if he spares him. With an apology to Bonnie and Stefan, Elijah grabs Klaus and takes off. Well, that's just great.

Back at the house, John is writing what turns out to be a letter to Elena. Jeremy is reading more about the resuscitation spell and discovers that when his life force channels into Elena, John will die. John knew that already, though (more with the martyrdom, although this at least seems like a sincere sacrifice). John gives Jeremy the letter for Elena, as well as his immortality ring. Just then Damon returns, laying Elena down and watching over her anxiously. Damon's love for Elena is really apparent in this scene; makes you wonder why she ever chose Stefan. While Damon gives his condolences to Alaric and Jeremy about Jenna, John walks outside. A second later Elena comes back to life (human) and John collapses. Unlike Jenna's death, I actually found John's moving. Maybe because he acted like an adult and a parent, while Jenna was just whiny and wouldn't have chosen to be there. John finally redeems himself, which is a good way to bow out, I think.

Back to Caroline and Matt--they decide to take refuge at the Lockwood mansion. I'm not sure why as Caroline can easily outrun a werewolf (even carrying Matt) and if were-Ty would go anywhere it would be to his own house, but no one said onscreen teenagers are logical. Once inside Matt admits to Caroline that he's on vervain and that her mom knows everything. Surprise, honey! Before we know it, it's morning (while it's still the middle of the night in the scenes with the other characters--the timeline is really off this episode) and Ty has returned in naked human form. Caroline immediately tends to him while Matt looks perpetually confused. Matt finally tells Caroline that he can't and doesn't want to deal with her new supernatural reality. Nice of him to leave her just when she needs him most (after ratting her out to her mom, no less). But, hey, she's still got Ty and he's definitely seeming like the better option.

The episode ends with Jenna and John's funeral, held at the Gilbert family plot (with the help of a couple of compelled gravediggers). I have to ask: did no one think to use Elijah's elixir or maybe find some spell to bring either Jenna or John back? You'd think it would have been at least worth a shot. Anyway, after the improvised service Damon walks away from the crowd. Stefan follows to give a lecture about how Elena needs them right now, at which point Damon finally tells Stefan about the werewolf bite. Stefan swears he'll find a cure but Damon just asks him not to tell Elena. Then he walks away.

See why this would have been a perfect finale? Unfortunately with the high character mortality rate this episode and what's coming in the next one, I have a bad feeling the show has decided to go in a new (and weak) direction. Unfortunately a lot of bad things can happen to a show over the summer. But for now we can worry about simpler things, like that werewolf bite, and how they're going to kill the unkillable Klaus, and whether Alaric is going to be stuck with a permanent roommate (Katherine can't leave until Klaus is dead or he releases her).

Fang Files

Appearance: Pale human until the vampire emerges, then dark/red eyes, dark facial veins and prominent sharp fangs.

Strengths: Super speed, strength. Ability to compel humans (Originals can also compel other vampires). Enhanced hearing. Can shut off their emotions.

Weaknesses: Werewolf bites. Human emotion. Vervain (although some vampires have built up an immunity to the pain caused by vervain and use it to, among other things, prevent being compelled by Originals). Stakes. Fire. Magic.

Mythology: Klaus and Elijah are half brothers, part of the family that comprises the Original vampires. Klaus's father was a werewolf, however, and if he breaks the curse placed on him, he'll then release his werewolf side so that he can be a true (unstoppable) hybrid.

Sound Bites

Damon: Somehow you're the only one that wins. How'd that happen?
Katherine: I didn't let love get in the way.
Damon: Enjoy an eternity alone, Katherine.

Elijah: You're very honourable.
Stefan: Are you? Because this whole plan is contingent on your honour, Elijah.
Elijah: I won't fail you.

Klaus: Thank you, Elena.
Elena: Go to hell.

Damon: [to the still-dead Elena] Come back as a vampire I'll stake you myself. So don't. Because I can't stand the thought of you hating me forever.

Stefan: I'm not going to let Elena lose anybody else.
Damon: I wouldn't make any promises, Brother.

The Vampire Diaries, Season 2 Episode 21 "The Sun Also Rises." Written by Caroline Dries and Mike Daniels. Directed by Paul M. Sommers. From The CW.

15 May 2011

Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth

Spoilers Ahead

I think most people would agree that it's not uncommon in genre fiction to find more than a few books that would pair well with a variety of wines (i.e., they're cheesy). So when I got my review copy of Blood Oath and saw it was about a secret service agent who also happened to be a vampire (the "president's vampire" no less) I was prepared to roll my eyes through all 190 pages. But that never happened. This book is good. As in 'I didn't want to put it down' good. Just when you think that nothing more can be done with vampires, along comes a book like Blood Oath that changes the entire paradigm.

Before I tell you what Blood Oath is about I think I should spare a few words about what it isn't. It is not about a vampire hero. Cade might save the day but only because he's forced to; if he had his way he'd be spending his nights preying on humans instead of helping them. It is not a romance. Cade will not be falling in love with a vulnerable yet strong human heroine; not only does Cade not feel human emotions but he's repulsed at the thought of sex with his prey. (And as for Cade and fellow vampire Tania, they might hook up but a loving relationship doesn't seem to be in the cards.) The book is also not about the troubled protagonist's redemption. There is no redemption for Cade (at least not in his own mind). Lastly, Blood Oath is nothing like what I was expecting.

It's about Nathaniel Cade, a young man turned vampire, discovered on a Civil War ship and bound by magic to forever follow the president's orders and protect the USA from attack, particularly from the various dark forces that would love nothing more than to bring the country down (as one president puts it, they're fighting a War on Horror). It's also about Zach Barrows, human White House staffer unwillingly thrust into the role of Cade's latest liaison to the president. Throw in a group of extremists working with an ex-Nazi sociopath (Cade's nemesis, Dr. Johann Konrad) to turn corpses into uber soldiers and a shadowy agency with its own agenda and you've got a hell of a compelling story.

After having been immersed in the Buffyverse, Forever Knight, Being Human, Moonlight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, and a metric tonne of paranormal romance-type books, Farnsworth's vampire is a refreshing change. Cade is intense, he's scary, he is not interested in anything human beyond what he's forced to get involved in. He doesn't want a relationship with a teenage girl (or an adult woman who could still be his great-great granddaughter). I particularly like that he believes in god just as strongly as he believes that god doesn't want him, and that he refuses to drink human blood even though he knows it makes him weaker and will ultimately destroy him. He's an interesting, complex character (and it suddenly occurs to me that he reminds me of Kai from Lexx, which as far as I'm concerned is a good thing).

I also really enjoyed the writing, other than the overly obvious wolf references at the beginning (it was already clear the writer was talking about werewolves--he didn't need to keep hitting us over the head with language like "alpha," "pawed it open," and "practically howling." Yeah, we get it). What I found especially interesting was the way the author made reference to past events in Cade's life as though this weren't the first book in the series. As long as Farnsworth doesn't get sick of the character, there's potential for an endless series of prequels and sequels. I'd better clear some shelf space. In addition the writing is clear, evocative, and not weighed down by sappiness or exposition (Farnsworth successfully utilizes a clever plot device to get around the latter issue). Occasionally the author's style verges a little too close to Maxim territory, as for example, when he describes sex between characters as "writhing like the sacrifice on an altar from some long-dead religion." Uh, yeah. But given some of the sexual descriptions you find in the average example of "women's fiction" I guess we really can't fault him.

With all the politics, espionage, testosterone-fuelled behaviour, and occasional stomach-churning violence it's pretty clear the book's intended audience is men (specifically the kind who read John le Carré and Tom Clancy). I have no patience for politics or testosterone overload and I don't read spy novels (oh yeah, and I'm female) but I still loved this book, which goes to show that target audiences are, at best, rough guidelines. I say if you're into vampires, like good writing, and aren't too sensitive about gore or violence you need to read Blood Oath. Like me, you'll wonder why you waited so long.

Fang Files

Appearance: Very pale human with long, needlelike fangs that are visible when mouth is open or smiling. Vampires don't breathe or sweat.

Strengths: Super speed, strength. Ability to climb walls and jump great heights. Enhanced sense of smell, hearing, and sight. Perfect memory. Quick healing as long as the vampire has fresh blood. Some vampires can change physical form.

Weaknesses: Direct sunlight. Fire. Not consuming human blood. Decapitation. Massive damage to the heart. Not getting a 12-hour coma-like period of rest every 7 days.

Mythology: For unknown reasons vampires have an aversion to Christian religious objects and feel pain when touching items such as crosses. Cade must follow all lawful orders of the president or his or her representatives and cannot hurt them. Animal blood is not as effective as human blood, leaving the vampire weaker and over time rendering them a decrepit living husk. There are a few hundred vampires worldwide with only two or three qualifying as "Vampire Kings"--the strongest of the strong. Vampire blood dripping into an open wound will turn a human into a vampire but the process doesn't always work--humans end up dead as often as they're turned.

Text Bites

Zach tried not to laugh. "A presidential vampire, huh? Is he a Democrat or a Republican?"

There is a reason humans are genetically programmed to fear the dark. Zach was looking at it.

Need more? Watch the trailer:

Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth. From Putnam.

09 May 2011

The Vampire Diaries S2 E20 "The Last Day"

Spoilers Ahead

Damon is nothing but trouble this episode. The kind of trouble that results from trying to make things better and instead only making them worse. The kind of trouble that makes devoted fans twitchy wondering what's going to happen now. The kind of trouble that leaves us wishing they'd just kill off Elena already so Damon could stop making things worse for himself trying to save her every five minutes. This episode is giving me a headache.

"The Last Day" starts with Damon brooding in bed. No complaints here. But after his anger at Elena, Stefan, and Elijah last episode you'd think he wouldn't be so quick to forgive. And yet a few moments later as the others discuss the full moon that night, Damon suddenly bounds in enthused to kill Klaus immediately--before the ritual that night that will kill Elena. What happened to our grudge-holding anti-hero? Sometimes love is just stupid.

Speaking of stupid, Elena is opposed to Damon's idea because secret weapon Bonnie will likely end up just as dead as Klaus. Instead she'd rather be the one to play martyr. Of course, there's a chance the immortality ring could work on Elena and bring her back after the sacrifice (or maybe not since, as a doppelganger, she's supernatural) and Elijah does have a 1000-year-old resuscitation elixir she could try. Surprisingly, Damon is the only one who doesn't want to put their trust into these iffy solutions. But Elena would rather be dead than sensible. And once again I have to wonder: what's her appeal?

Suddenly--and seemingly out of nowhere--Jenna is pointing a crossbow at Alaric, who's standing in the doorway. After proving he really is Alaric he tells them Klaus let him go to deliver a message: the sacrifice happens tonight. Is anyone else not buying that Klaus let Alaric just walk away so he could deliver a message everyone had already figured out? What, is Klaus suddenly out of minions he could send? And why do none of the characters suspect that Alaric might be compelled to do something harmful to them? This just seems like lazy, lazy writing to me.

Anyway, as Alaric tells them about what it was like to be possessed by Klaus, Elena notices Damon is missing. So what do you do when an upset, slightly drunk vampire has separated himself from the group? You follow him, of course. And tell him more of what he doesn't want to hear. And oh yeah, use his feelings for you to manipulate him (holding his hands, Elena? Really?) No surprise when it backfires on her. In a desperate move, Damon forces Elena to drink his blood so she'll definitely come back after Klaus sacrifices her (seems like the best plan so far).

Stefan interrupts the process, although not quickly enough and he and Damon finally get into the fight that's been simmering below the surface for far too long. Just when it looks like Stefan is winning, Damon stabs him in the stomach. Ouch. Elena angrily orders Damon out of the room and he, equally angry, stalks away. But it takes Elijah to calm Damon, which he does by pointing out that Elena will never forgive him for what he did. And as Elijah says, never for a vampire is a very long time.

Meanwhile Maddox magics Carol Lockwood into calling Ty and begging him to come home because she's had an accident and is in the hospital. Then Maddox rather viciously knocks her down the stairs. It's amazing she actually survives. But it does get Ty back in town.

Elsewhere Matt has had enough of pretending to be compelled. Talking to Liz he tells her that either Caroline is the world's greatest actor or even as a vampire she's still really Caroline. Liz says it's all an act, that her daughter is truly gone, and that she needs more time to gather information. But Matt thinks Damon is the real problem, not Caroline. So Liz dismisses him, telling him she'll take it from here. Why are adults on these shows always so closed-minded? Yeah, Liz was raised to hate vampires. So what? We're all raised to believe all kinds of things--does that make us slaves to those beliefs? Or maybe it just goes back to the ridiculous idea of not trusting anyone over 30 (unless they're hundreds of years old and still look like teenagers, I guess). But watching shows like TVD, you'd think all adults are irresponsible, narrow-minded, and/or incompetent. Yeah, thanks.

Anyway, once Stefan heals he decides to take Elena for a hike, not only as a way of enjoying her last day as a human but to get her to talk about the thing she refuses to say. I'll save you some time because this is a less than interesting subplot. Elena eventually admits she doesn't want to be a vampire, breaking down and crying about how she'll never have the chance to grow old. Yes, it would be a real tragedy to have to trade old age and decrepitude for eternal youth and strength. What a burden. Please. On top of that her emotional admission just emphasizes Elena's pathological martyrdom: she was fine at the thought of dying and not coming back but she''s flipping out at the idea of becoming a vampire. I'm getting tired of seeing this same storyline throughout the world of vampires, and especially in this particular mythology where you don't have to kill anyone and going out into the sun is no problem. Is there anyone out there who actually wants the chance to get old, who would be disappointed in having to give it up? Writers need to stop trying to convince us how much better it is to age and die.

Back to the story. As Ty leaves the hospital with Jules, ready to lock themselves up for the night before leaving town again, they run into Caroline. Jules walks away to give them a minute. Caroline is upset with the way Ty left in the first place and even more upset to hear he'll be leaving again. Before they can really get into it she collapses in agony, followed by Ty. Maddox and Greta collect them. Klaus has his vampire and werewolf. Although you'd think he would have come to town with his own instead of hoping there would be spare ones around (particularly a spare were, who--as we know--are supposed to be super rare). Seems like a big oversight for someone so detail oriented.

Meanwhile, burdened by guilt and the idea that Elena will never forgive him Damon heads to the bar to drown his sorrows, where he's soon joined by Alaric and then Klaus (who just wants to remind Damon not to do anything he'll regret). After Klaus leaves Damon gets the bright idea that if he takes away the werewolf needed for the ritual, Klaus will have to postpone for another month--long enough for his blood to leave Elena's system. He doesn't even care that Klaus will kill him for interfering. Now do you melt at the depth of his love or bitch slap him for being such a dumbass?

After getting the needed invite from Alaric, Damon pays a visit to Katherine in Alaric's apartment/Klaus's lair. When she refuses to tell him where Klaus is keeping his werewolf Damon tells Katherine about the vamp blood in Elena's system and offhandedly comments about how she'll have to compete for Stefan's love for the rest of eternity. That gets her talking. Klaus is storing his sacrificial victims in the tomb, which makes me laugh because the tomb in TVD is like the factory in Buffy (thinking particularly of "Lovers Walk"). Anyway, three guesses where Damon is heading next.

As they wait in the tomb (Ty in useless human form and Caroline full of vervain) Ty and Caroline have a bit of a heart to heart about the way he left. Ty tries to explain that she deserves better than him but her position is that they're still friends. Personally I think she's way too forgiving of what he did to her with the other wolves, but whatever; they're friends again and that's all that really matters. Good thing too because the cavalry has arrived! Unfortunately Maddox is waiting for Damon and he's no match for the witch. But it seems Matt has followed Damon and came armed with a rifle loaded with wooden bullets. But instead of shooting Damon, which had to have been his plan all along, he shoots Maddox. Damon finishes the witch off and knocks Matt out before continuing with the rescue, although he's less than impressed with Caroline since her boyfriend obviously knows about them.

By the time Damon grabs Caroline and unlocks Ty (who swears he can lock himself in the family cellar before he wolfs out) it's somehow gone from light out to darkness. How long were they down in that tomb? There's even light streaming in while Damon's unlocking Ty--how did it get so dark all of a sudden? Hello, continuity editors? You might want to look to that. And of course because it's so dark Ty begins changing almost right away. He goes straight for Caroline but Damon steps in and fights him off, slowing Ty down long enough so that he can take off in one direction while Caroline and Matt head for the cellar.

Back from their cathartic hike, Elena and Stefan return to his place and find Klaus waiting for Elena. Stefan is ready to put up a fight but Elena calms him down. Ever willing to sacrifice herself, she kisses Stefan and tells him she loves him before telling him to close his eyes (this also reminded me of Buffy, "Becoming: Part 2"; maybe I have Buffy on the brain...) When he opens them again Elena and Klaus are gone. Ooh, dramatic.

After being filled in by Stefan, Damon pays a visit to Klaus. He tells Klaus that he has to postpone the ritual, that he took Klaus's werewolf and killed his witch and he doesn't care if Klaus kills him for it. But Klaus was prepared for this, expecting one of the Salvatores to do something stupid. Guess what--he has a backup witch (Greta), a backup werewolf (Jules) and, oh yeah, a backup vampire.

The episode ends with Matt and Caroline locked in the cellar as Ty in wolf form attacks them; with Elena being taken to the sacrificial area by Greta (who definitely doesn't need saving from Klaus) and discovering Jenna there as the sacrificial vampire (she's currently transitioning); and Damon waking up in Alaric's apartment only to find out that Klaus couldn't use him as the sacrifice because he's got a nasty werewolf bite tainting his blood. Fan-tastic.

When I watched this episode I didn't really have a problem with it but the more I think about it the more issues I'm finding (it's definitely not the strongest episode). The end of "The Last Day" is by far the best part, especially the new Damon storyline. And as confident as I am that they will find a way to save him, a small part of me is also anxious that a show this full of surprises might actually just go ahead and kill him off. Of course if they did they wouldn't have much of a show left. But still, you can never be too confident when it comes to TVD. Silly vampire, is she really worth all this?

Fang Files

Appearance: Pale human until the vampire emerges, then dark/red eyes, dark facial veins, and prominent fangs.

Strengths: Super speed, strength, fast healing. Ability to compel humans (Originals can also compel other vampires).

Weaknesses: Vervain, wooden bullets, magic, werewolf bites. Sunlight unless in possession of a "daywalker" ring. Vampires have heightened emotions, which can be overwhelming for them.

Mythology: A vampire needs an invitation to enter a private residence. If a human dies with vampire blood in their system they'll return as a vampire.

Sound Bites

Elena: Bonnie can't use that much power without dying.
Damon: I'll write her a great eulogy.

Stefan: She [Elena] chose to trust you too.
Damon: Then maybe you shouldn't be so sure about her instincts.

Damon: I can't lose you.
Elena: You won't.

Klaus: [to Damon] The ritual will happen tonight. So if you want to live to see tomorrow don't screw it up.

Caroline: Why did you leave me?
Ty: I knew you hated me. I thought you deserved better than having someone like me in your life.

The Vampire Diaries, Season 2 Episode 20 "The Last Day." Written by Andrew Chambliss and Brian Young. Directed by J. Miller Tobin. From The CW.