The Vampire Diaries, Ep. 4.16, “Bring it On”: Flipping the Switch proves problematic

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Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, TVD

The Vampire Diaries, Season 4, Episode 16: “Bring it On”
Written by Elisabeth R. Finch and Michael Narducci
Directed by Jesse Warn
Airs Thursdays at 8pm (ET) on the CW

This week, on The Vampire Diaries: Elena has fun, Hayley plays art critic, and Damon finds a friend

The big question left after the intense, dramatic conclusion of “Stand by Me” was what a Turned Off Elena would be like. Would she still feel like Elena at all? Would she be a Katherine clone? And perhaps most importantly, would the audience still relate to a main character who has no humanity? “Bring it On” addresses these questions and handles some of them well, but it still remains to be seen whether the writers and performers can make us care about this new, devious Elena.

Elena flipping the switch last episode was incredibly powerful and effective, but as with many television gamechangers, the fallout is far trickier than the initiating Big Moment. Nina Dobrev does a good job differentiating this Elena from her usual self as well as Katherine, who a lesser actor would have channeled. Katherine has a wicked joix de vivre that’s missing here, a sadistic enjoyment of manipulation that’s mostly absent. Neither does she feel like her normal self, just tweaked. This is someone completely new.

The Vampire Diaries S04E16 promo pic3

However, not every decision works. Elena is usually so defined by her emotions, particularly by the Salvatores, that removing them proves problematic. Dobrev’s performance, and the show’s approach, feels conflicted- they want to sell the development that the sire bond is broken because Elena no longer feels anything, but if that’s so, how can she feel joy or exhilaration? If her conscience or empathy is the only part that’s turned off, why is the risk-averse side of her personality suddenly gone? Elena’s never been a particularly manipulative character, but twice in this episode alone she concocts and executes elaborate plans to hoodwink Stefan and Caroline.

In small ways like this, we see shades of Katherine, rather than Elena, and her most Elena-like moments this week are revealed as ruses along her plan. It’s interesting to see the show play with the character in this way, but it’s also confusing. It’s one thing to say this Elena doesn’t care about people, it’s another to say she doesn’t care about anything. Much of Turned Off Stefan’s time was spent off-screen, so these problems and contradictions didn’t come to the fore during his season three bender. With Elena front-and-center, the PtB will need to decide where they stand on them, and what flipping the switch really does, and quick.

Elsewhere this episode, Hayley plays house with Klaus, with mostly uninteresting results. Anyone want to bet that birthmark means Hayley’s a descendent of the Original Werewolves and sets her up to head over to the spinoff (The Originals) next season? As likeable as Phoebe Tonkin is, Hayley has felt like an afterthought all season, with very little genuine character development or motivation. Caroline, in the meanwhile, continues to call Tyler to the point where even he gets tired of it and writes her a Dear John. Obviously that’s not fair to either character, but desperate and clingy, no matter how genuinely, doesn’t look good on Caroline and her misguided hopes that he’ll return feel increasingly self-deluding. Their initial goodbye scene in “Into the Wild” was lovely. Stretching out the reality of their separation until now has only weakened it in retrospect.

Bring it On

A final noteworthy element is the lack of any appearance from Bonnie. It seems obvious that she’s the one stealing all the blood to help Silas, but the other characters are distracted enough at this point to not notice. For many, including Damon, Stefan, and of course Elena, this makes sense. Even Caroline is understandably focused elsewhere, with Tyler’s letter hitting her like a ton of bricks. But it seems odd that Matt at least isn’t concerned. When they left Bonnie, she was spewing crazy talk about helping Silas. Shouldn’t her complete absence be a red flag? Shouldn’t her lack of concern about Elena be an even bigger one? Particularly considering the characters go back to school this week, however briefly, the fact that she’s missing must be intentional. Bonnie’s not headed in a good direction- it’s too bad we don’t get a sense that anyone’s worried about her.

This episode is somewhat of a letdown after the gut-wrenching “Stand by Me”, but in following that episode, it also serves the important purpose of resetting the stage and allowing viewers a moment to readjust after what was such an emotionally draining episode. Hopefully better is on the horizon.

What did you think of this episode? Are you looking forward to New York and a trip down Damon’s Memory Lane? Do you think Rebekah will change her mind about the Cure? Did you miss Bonnie? Post your thoughts below.

Kate Kulzick

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