The Vampire Diaries, Ep. 4.03, “The Rager”: Strong season continues focus on character

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The Vampire Diaries, Season 4, Episode 3: “The Rager”
Written by Brian Young
Directed by Lance Anderson
Airs Thursdays at 8pm (ET) on the CW

After last week’s intense and character-driven episode, it was nearly inevitable that this week’s installment would feel like a downtick. While this turns out to be the case, “The Rager” is nonetheless a strong installment, continuing most of this season’s more intriguing arcs, particularly Elena’s transition. Turning the show’s lead into a vampire was always going to be a tricky proposition, but the route they’ve taken has proven an interesting and incredibly compelling one.

From the beginning, the series has been consistent in what transitioning means, that vampires retain their human personality, just dialed up to 11. With Elena, that could mean any number of things, but keying in to her empathy and protectiveness shows a clear understanding of the character. This season (and the rest of the series’ run) will undoubtedly see Elena explore her darker sides, but focusing on her compassion and fear, skipping the accidental murder and guilt phase that we saw Caroline have to deal with, is smart. We’ve now seen at least five characters transition (two in flashback), making Elena the sixth. Keeping the experience fresh must be a challenge, but the writers have done a great job personalizing each iteration.

The introduction of a True Blood-style connection having been forged between Damon and Elena due to their blood-sharing makes sense (assuming that’s the cause of Elena’s hallucinations, for lack of a better word), and it’ll be interesting to see how The Vampire Diaries separates this aspect of its mythology from True Blood’s take. They’ve done well to this point in balancing the staples of the horror subgenre with original elements; hopefully this will continue that trend.

Also fun this week is the continued presence of vampire hunter Connor Jordan, whose resourcefulness should pose new and creative threats to the group. Thanks to the incredibly poignant exit of Rose (Lauren Cohan) in season 2, which still remains one of the most affecting deaths in the show’s run, we need no reminder of the threat of werewolf venom. It’d be nice if we found out Connor’d been successful in at least offing a few not-main-character vamps, as he says the school’s overrun with them, but if incapacitating Tyler and spiking the beer is his opening salvo, it’ll be entertaining to see what he cooks up next (literally).

The invisi-tats are still a neat idea, but it’s a good thing Klaus recognizes him as part of a more specific group of vampire hunters, as Alaric’s lack of tattoos (at least as far as anyone, including Jeremy, could see) make Connor’s explanation of them stick out like a sore thumb. While Klaus remains an albatross, weighing down much of the show’s action, despite the charismatic turn from Joseph Morgan, pairing him with Connor should help invigorate what has become a tired, uninteresting character.

Less successful this week is the return to high school. Apparently our leads are seniors now (it was too much to hope they’d graduated off screen). One of the best things the show ever did was veer strongly away from the high school aesthetic and setting. Bringing it back now, with the main cast in their mid-20s to 30s, only serves to underline the show’s less interesting, cookie-cutter storylines, including the love triangle teased with the introduction of Phoebe Tonkin’s Hayley.

The Vampire Diaries is at its best with its darkest, most introspective, most batshit crazy arcs. Nothing has quite matched the success of the Ripper Stefan storyline in this, and it appears we’re headed for more in this vein, given Elena’s situation and the tease of Dire Consequences (for Bonnie’s dark magic). Hopefully the return to high school is merely a nod to the source material, rather than an intentional shift back to the approach of previous seasons. We’re off to a good start- fingers crossed it stays that way.

What did you think of the episode? Are you enjoying Elena’s transition? Anyone else missing Bonnie? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick

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