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The Vampire Diaries Ep. 3.19, “Heart of Darkness”: Character returns marred by musical missteps

The Vampire Diaries Ep. 3.19, “Heart of Darkness”: Character returns marred by musical missteps

The Vampire Diaries Review, Season 3, Episode 19: “Heart of Darkness”
Written by Brian Young and Evan Bleiweiss
Directed by Chris Grismer
Airs Thursdays at 8pm (ET) on the CW

This week, on The Vampire Diaries: Jeremy’s back, Rose’s back, Tyler’s back, Esther’s back. It’s a big ol’ Vampire Diaries reunion.

For many, the highlight of this episode will be the big ol’ makeout session between Elena and Damon. It’s significant forward progress in the shipping wars one assumes must be waging in certain corners of the Vampire Diaries fandom. However, despite the lovely scene of Elena and Damon talking that precedes this *ahem* progress, the scenes that result from it are, for the most part, the weakest element of this episode, and they’re far from helped by the soundtrack choices.

Pop music soundtracks are fairly common, particularly on younger-skewing series or shows aimed towards a female audience. They can be incredibly effective- much of early Alias, for example, is defined by its use of such music. However, using a soundtrack, as opposed to scoring, adds text to a scene, be it an establishing shot, a montage, or even a conversation. This heightens the scene, adding in layers of meaning or, at the very least, emphasis. Using highly emotional music with a scene or exchange already fraught with emotional tension is rarely, if ever, a good idea and there are several scenes this week that prove this point.

Nina Dobrev and Ian Sommerhalder are usually great on this show and they have chemistry to spare, but their late episode scene (Damon confronting Elena about her intentions) is pushed over the top into soppy soap-opera land by the music choice. One of Caroline’s late scenes suffers for the same reason. This is a series that, on the whole, subverts and toys with genre clichés and expectations. It’s disappointing when they play right into them, particularly when the rest of the production is executed so well.

This episode starts, for example, with Elena and Ric talking in the holding cell in the basement of the Salvatore’s house. It’s a brick hole with one small window. On another series, this would have no effect on the lighting. Here, you can barely see their faces, let alone anything else in the room. It’s a dark, depressing cell, and it looks like it. Then there are the tombs at the Lockwood estate. Yes, they’re probably a bit more well-lit than they should be, but they’re certainly dark. Yet Dave Perkal, the cinematographer, clearly differentiates the two spaces- one is a safe haven, the other a testing ground for the soul. (And if that sounds melodramatic, remember back to the previous occupants and their actions within.) This attention to detail is what puts The Vampire Diaries above more standard genre fare- if they can get the look of the show so right, there’s no excuse for such flawed musical choices.

There’s plenty to enjoy in this episode, however, and one of its strengths is the return of Steven R. McQueen as Jeremy. Jeremy has rarely been one of the best parts of the series, as the writers have often seemed unsure of how to integrate him into the story, but here he’s a lot of fun. The rapport between Jeremy and Damon is the most entertaining aspect of the episode and his role as medium allows for any number of interesting possibilities in the future. Lauren Cohen’s return as Rose is also welcome and while some may find her late episode Damon/Elena explanation to Jeremy a bit on the nose, Cohen makes it work and gives the speech the warmth and love it needs. Here’s hoping the writers bring her back- it’s nice having a NotEvil friend of Damon’s around.

Also worth mentioning is the return of Esther and the (presumed) death of Rebekah. Claire Holt has done a great job of making Rebekah likeable without stripping the character of her threat or edge and she’ll certainly be missed. Her scene with Matt is a perfect encapsulation of the sadness of the character, made all the more effective by her correct interpretation of Matt’s actions, despite his denial of ulterior motives. Rebekah’s claim that she hasn’t really lived in 1000 years feels like a bit of a retcon, but on the whole, both the writers and Holt have done well making Rebekah a tragic, yet strong character.

A final fun touch is the return of the decade dance and the drama associated with it. In a nice bit of self-parody, we get the fabulous return of Bitchy Caroline, Captain of the Dance Committee and just as we’re about to groan at the ridiculousness of this, the writers turn the scene on its head and we laugh along with them, reminded of how far these characters have come, and how far the show has progressed, from its season one high school roots. With only three episodes left in this season, Esther back in town and allied with EvilRic, and at least one White Oak stake in play, the body count is sure to start climbing and soon. Where will everyone’s loyalties lie when push comes to shove? And how will Bonnie, notably absent this week, play into the eventual showdown? The Vampire Diaries has so far delivered strongly with both the build up to and execution of its finales- if previous seasons are any indication, we’ll be in for a hell of a ride.

What did you think about this episode? Was anyone else disappointed by how quickly Tyler devolved into a moody, untrusting jerk? When do you think Elijah’ll come back into the picture? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick