The Vampire Diaries, Ep. 4.18, “American Gothic”: Elijah reenters the fray in underwhelming episode

Paul Wesley in The Vampire Diaries, American Gothic

The Vampire Diaries, Season 4, Episode 18: “American Gothic”
Written by Evan Bleiweiss and Jose Molina
Directed by Kellie Cyrus
Airs Thursdays at 8pm (ET) on the CW

This week, on The Vampire Diaries: Sheriff Forbes is very good at her job, Katherine and Elena have a chat, and Silas flexes some psychological muscle

Since the return of Katherine in “Down the Rabbit Hole”, and particularly since Elena turned off her emotions in “Stand by Me”, fans have been waiting to see Katherine and this new Elena share the screen. Nina Dobrev has proven herself time and again to be a talented and versatile actor- seeing her play against herself should be fun. Unfortunately, while her humanity-less Elena remains consistent and entertaining, Katherine feels less so, making their scenes together somewhat of a disappointment. It’s a tricky thing- it’s completely reasonable that Katherine has grown or developed since we last spent significant time with her, but as we’ve missed out on any of that progress, rather than an evolved or more carefully shaded Katherine, this week she feels off.

Another awaited return is that of Elijah, who’s back in a big way, one assumes to build up fan interest before transitioning him to the intended Originals spinoff. Elijah has been a fan favorite for years now. Daniel Gillies makes him charming, thoughtful, and honorable, traits sorely lacking among the rest of the Mikaelson clan. Aside from his accent, which wanders far more considerably than normal this week, Elijah is his usual entertaining self. His and Elena’s relationship has been surprisingly compelling since he first offered to save her from Klaus’ machinations in season 2.

Claire Holt in The Vampire Diaries, American Gothic

Connecting him romantically again with Katherine could be interesting, but while it seems this is intended to deepen Katherine and show growth in her, it seems poised to diminish Elijah, a character who has benefitted, as entertaining and likeable as he is, from his sporadic presence in the series. While everyone else is ping ponging between plots and schemes and drama, both meaningful and adolescent, Elijah only really comes into things when the situation is significant- he’s refreshingly uninterested in the lower stakes squabbling. Hopefully this will be maintained as he becomes more entangled in the drama over the next several episodes, as it seems he will be.

Rebekah’s conversation with Elijah is particularly affecting. He brings up some great points that it’s surprising no one else has mentioned- if she’s unhappy as a vampire, is this something being human will change, or will she have thrown away immortality over what is actually a more deeply rooted, psychological unhappiness? Rebekah is also a lot of fun with Katherine, and of course the Salvatores. It’s great to have another powerful woman on this show. With Bonnie and Elena off the deep end, and Caroline stuck in her increasingly labored Klaus will-they-won’t-they, it’s nice to see another character picking up the slack.

Candice Accola and Joseph Morgan in The Vampire Diaries, American Gothic

Speaking of Caroline, while her resolution with Klaus does not work, “Well, you won’t promise to not kill by true love horribly, but you mean you’re not going out of your way to do so? *swoon*”, her realization with him of the potential power of Silas works well. Silas’ ability to appear as others is less effective- it brings up unfortunate parallels to The First (Evil) from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, another Big Bad that could appear as anyone who had died. It also means that, as viewers, we aren’t building any connection to the actor who will eventually play Silas, once our protagonists triumph over his mental trickeries. Assumedly the writers are aware of this and planning for it, but it still seems like an odd choice.

Also less than thrilling is the turn Elena takes at the end of the episode. It works very well, thematically, to have her main conflict with the Salvatores once again be an issue of free will and choice, but whereas her decision to go on a murdering streak should be abhorrent, instead it feels contrived. Unlike Elena’s killing of Connor, these murders have little to no stakes emotionally for the viewer, because we know that this isn’t really Elena. The writers have made that abundantly clear time and again. So having Turned Off Elena start slaughtering people only means more angst for us to watch Regular Elena slog through once she turns her switch back on. It also transitions the focus of the series even further from being Elena’s story to being the Salvatores’. Our heroine is gone. Our emotional attachment to her is greatly reduced, to the point of nonexistence, for this viewer at least. The center of the series has always been Elena- more and more, this entire season has abandoned that, from the siring to the switch, and the series is worse off for it. Hopefully the final stretch of episodes this season will bring the character and the series back to the focused, entertaining show it has been in the past.

What did you think of this episode? Were you excited to see Elijah? What do you think he’ll do with the Cure? Anyone else frustrated with the Caroline and Klaus drama? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick

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By Kate Kulzick

Kate is a violinist by day, TV-aholic by night, and film geek by somewhere around dawn. While attending UIUC, she earned a Masters Degree in Violin Performance and a Schrute Buck in a Pop Culture Trivia Contest; of the two, so far only the latter has hung on her wall. Her favorite movies are The Princess Bride, Casablanca, and The Third Man and her favorite TV shows are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Wire, and Arrested Development.

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