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The Vampire Diaries, Ep. 4.17, “Because the Night”: Convenient, inconsistent writing betrays characters

The Vampire Diaries, Ep. 4.17, “Because the Night”: Convenient, inconsistent writing betrays characters

Ian Sommerhalder and Arielle Kebbel, Damon and Lexi, from The Vampire Diaries, Because the Night

The Vampire Diaries, Season 4, Episode 17: “Because the Night”
Written by Brian Young and Charlie Charbonneau
Directed by Garreth Stover
Airs Thursdays at 8pm (ET) on the CW

This week, on The Vampire Diaries: Damon takes Elena out on the town, Caroline protesteth too much, and Silas finally has a body, if not a face

Several elements of “Because the Night” work well and provide interesting character beats and entertaining moments. However, on the whole, the writing lets down the characters and puts them in awkward, unearned, and unbelievable situations, prompting one of the trickier questions when part of a character’s journey fails- who’s at fault? Is it the actors, for failing to sell the moment? Is it the writer of the episode, for giving them out of character things to say? Is it the writers of previous episodes, for not properly building the character to where they know they’ll later need to be? Or is it the showrunner, for crafting an overall arc that requires the character to go from point A to point B in an inappropriate amount of time or not keeping the bigger picture in mind when giving notes?

One big example of this in “Because the Night” is Bonnie. When we last saw her, in the fantastic “Stand By Me”, she was cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. She’d either bought in completely to Silas’ plan or been overwhelmed psychically by him and lost her identity and self. Here, she’s back in Conflicted Bonnie mode, rehashing the concerns laid out, addressed, and settled in “Stand By Me”. Why the renewed doubts? When did she regain enough of her own identity to argue with Silas? Kat Graham was great playing Bonnie’s struggle against and eventual acceptance of Silas in “Stand By Me” and she does the best she can here, but the discrepancy in character is frustrating. It’s poor writing designed to make Bonnie more likeable, redeemable, and in keeping with her pre-“Stand By Me” personality. But where is the problem? Is it this week’s backpedal or “Stand By Me”’s decision to make her a Believer? Had she not drunk the Kool-Aid then, this would be in character. And even if the writers of the individual episodes weren’t aware of Bonnie’s larger overall arc, shouldn’t showrunner Julie Plec have picked up on this discrepancy and changed Bonnie’s characterization in one episode or the other?

Nina Dobrev, Elena, in The Vampire Diaries, Because the Night

Another problem character this week is Caroline. Last week she was devastated over Tyler’s Dear John letter. Here she seems upset and perhaps depressed, but, out of nowhere, her attraction to Klaus is renewed. Candice Accola and Joseph Morgan have great chemistry and work well together, but here their scenes fall flat, mostly because Caroline’s dialogue and actions feel so glaringly out of character. Perhaps Caroline’s childish behavior and dialogue would work better if she were supposed to be drunk**, but if this is supposed to be the case, it isn’t conveyed by usually excellent Accola.

**We do see her drinking at the beginning of the episode and Caroline clearly has a childish side, far more present earlier in the series, that could conceivably come out after (more than) a few drinks. Impaired judgment would also explain her instinctual killing of the main witch, rather than just pushing her over and/or grabbing Bonnie.

Caroline’s assessment that people who do terrible things are just terrible people fits very much with her worldview, except that she’s now besties with Stefan, who’s committed any number of atrocities throughout his long life. When in shock and great remorse over her actions, wouldn’t it make sense for her to run to him for consolation, rather than start making dewy eyes at Klaus? And if she’s stuck with Klaus in that moment, wouldn’t seeing in him a reflection of her own violent actions fill her with loathing and hate? Instead, this usually mature, independent, and self-assured woman, whose former underlying attraction to Klaus has been downplayed for much of the season, spends the episode following him around like a posturing puppy dog.

Then there’s Lexi and Damon. Damon’s staking of Lexi in season 1 was a shock, one of the early big moves that transitioned The Vampire Diaries from standard angsty high school drama fare to must see, anything-can-happen thrill ride. Arielle Kebbel is great in the role and she brings much-needed levity to Stefan, so it’s usually a pleasant surprise to see her pop up in flashbacks. The trouble is, building her ties to Stefan and, particularly, Damon makes his unconcerned staking of her more and more unbelievable. It’s one thing if she’s just a nuisance Damon’s not fond of. It’s quite another if they have a rich backstory of intersecting lives. Even revealing Damon’s switch as being off when he staked her could have worked, with this explained as one of those mistakes Damon was trying to avoid for Elena. Instead, we get a labored ramble about her connection in his mind to Katherine and his murderous mistakes that doesn’t hold up, given Damon’s obsession with Katherine, and lack of remorse towards killing, at the time.

Vampire Diaries, "Because the Night", Ian Sommerhalder

The flashback scenes work well, not only giving us perspective on Damon, but also Lexi. Seeing another side of her is certainly interesting and a brief fling with Damon, to one extent or another, makes sense. Taken out of the larger context, the scenes apply well to this episode’s situation and, simply put, are a lot of fun. However, put back in context, they feel like an attempt to retcon. It’s a nice idea, but making big moves and taking chances, as the series did in season one, means that you accept the possibility that you’re cutting yourself off from future storylines like this one (if you don’t sacrifice believability to try to have your cake and eat it too).

The blatant inaccuracy of a flipped switch equating to “emotionlessness” continues to frustrate (joy and exhilaration are emotions. You can’t have “fun” without emotions. Grr… Arg…), but at least Nina Dobrev continues to have a good time in her role. Elena’s new haircut is indeed adorable and her team up with Rebekah, along with the reemergence of Katherine, should make for an entertaining next episode. It’s nice to see Silas have some heft in his scene with Klaus, however ridiculous the continued lack of care towards the White Oak Stake by any and all Mystic Fall-ers remains, and hopefully the completion of the triangle means the plot will speed up a bit. Season four has been a mess, to say the least, and at this point, the best this critic can hope for is a speedy end to the Cure storyline and the season as a whole, and plenty of time during the offseason for the writers to come up with something better for next season.

What did you think of this episode? Looking forward to seeing Katherine and Elena share a scene again? Anyone else love Lexi’s ‘70s hair? Where are you on Klaus and Caroline? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick