The Vampire Diaries 4.17 “Because The Night” TV REVIEW(opens in new tab)
Writers: Brian Young and Charlie Charbonneau
Director: Garreth Stover
THE ONE WHERE Damon takes Elena to New York and bores her with tales of his ’70s exploits (she retaliates by nicking his car and leaving with Rebekah) while Silas and Bonnie kill 12 witches in stage three of the most convoluted resurrection ceremony in history.
VERDICT “Because The Night” kicks off with a such brilliant teaser, it leaves a lingering sense of goodwill that helps you overlook some of the episode’s less successful moments (for which read: the entire Silas plot with the exception of the cliffhanger).
As feral Damon chows down on a bloke convinced he’s become the latest victim of the serial killer Son Of Sam (“Son of Giuseppe,” corrects Damon, “but close enough.”), David Byrne belts out, “S-s-s-s-psychokiller…” on the soundtrack. Just in case those clues weren’t enough, a caption tells us we’re in “New York, 1977”. And it looks like Damon was having a blast.
The ’70s scenes are great, despite never feeling particularly authentic. Nightclubs are full of politely pogo-ing protopunks on overlit dancefloors. Admittedly, TV rarely manages to produce convincing nightclub scenes – the pounding music, the dark and densely packed dancefloors and drunken conversations aren’t exactly conducive to dialogue lead drama, so directors tend to tone things down – but this episode is worst than most. When Damon, Lexi, Elena and Rebekah start feeding on the clientele, the scenes are lit so brightly (and there are chasms of space between everyone) you can see the extras in the background struggling to make it look like they haven’t noticed.
But the ’70 scenes are fun, with the ever-reliable Lexi (why-oh-why did kill her off in the present?) trying to tame an off-the-leash Damon, who’s actually just leading her on to teach her lesson. A simple lesson: you should never try to defang Damon in off-switch mode. In on-switch mode in the present, Damon tries to use the story to teach Elena a lesson about not doing things you may later regret. He fails. It’s not surprising. He spends ages recounting the revenge part of the story in great detail and with relish, then tosses out, “Oh yeah, later I felt bad about it,” in a couple of lines.
The present-day New York scenes are great too, with some snappy dialogue going on (Stefan: “Where is she now?” Damon: “Out exploring. Maybe she’s eating hotdog… vendor.”) Off-switch-Elena is much less irritating than she was last episode, mainly because we can see there’s more to this new personality than just “new girl vampires just wanna have fun.” She feels like a character with a sense of purpose and her own agenda, even if it mainly seems to be: piss off Damon. Off-switch-Elena and Rebekah make an unexpectedly entertaining pairing, and as they drive off at the end in Damon’s car it looks suspiciously like the set-up for a vampiric Thelma and Louise spin-off series.(opens in new tab)
Talking of the off-switch, it’s a shame they had to include that conversation in which Elena questions whether Damon’s switch really was off when he met Lexi in the ’70s, because what he did to her was revenge, and revenge is an emotion. This just draws attention to the fact that Elena has been showing a whole bunch of emotions too: joy, anger, peevishness, stroppiness. The off-switch clearly doesn’t simply switch off emotions, otherwise Elena would be a blood-fuelled Cyberwoman. What the switch actually seems to do is eliminate the ability to empathise, and thus shut down feelings like guilt or moral judgement.
Weirdly, the show’s makers seem to believe the audience has a similar off-switch, and it’s difficult to ignore that The Vampire Diaries is becoming more and more amoral. These days we’re being asked to empathise with characters who are showing less and less concern about their victims. There’s no reason why lead characters should be paragons of morality, and it’s a well-known fact that characters with grey areas are dramatically more interesting to watch than whiter-than-white heroes. But currently in The Vampire Diaries , all the main characters are merging into the same shade of grey. None of them seems to care about collateral damage. There are just the vampires and the food stock. Caroline kills 12 witches and possibly brings about supernatural apocalypse, and what she mainly seems worried about is having the hots for Klaus. Morally ambiguous protagonists are more interesting when they’re not surrounded by other characters equally as ambiguous.(opens in new tab)
Back in Mystic Falls, the episode pretty much falls apart. Bonnie is now Silas’s lapdog, carrying out his wishes like some kind of zombie. There’s certainly little recognisable of the old Bonnie in there and the transformation to wicked witch remains unconvincing and contrived purely because this is where the plot needs to go now. The coven of witches fall for Silas and Bonnie’s ruse like particularly dim lambs for the slaughter (“Oh hi, do you mind I’ve brought my 11 friends along?”), and the whole ceremony and slaughter scene feels remarkably humdrum for something that has such major implications. It’s typical of this show that we’ve been promised THE RETURN OF EVERY DEAD SUPERNATURAL EVER! once the witches have been killed, but actually… you’ll have to wait a while longer. What now? Oh yeah, Silas needs the cure first. And when he gets it what next? Will he need to kiss a yeti? Bathe in zombie goat urine? It’s all getting a bit tediously long-drawn out now.
At least the final scene, with Silas breaking off a piece of white oak stake inside Klaus, perks things up a bit. But honestly, the sooner we’re cured of Silas, the better.(opens in new tab)
TITLE TATTLE “Because The Night” is song co-written by Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen that they first performed live at the famous CBGB club in New York City on December 30, 1977. The chorus informs us, “Because the night belongs to lovers…” which is apt for the episode. The song itself is sadly not used in the episode, the second time this season (following “A View To A Kill”) that a song alluded to in an episode title hasn’t actually made it into the episode.(opens in new tab)
LOCATIONS The “New York” street scenes were actually short in Atlanta, Georgia.(opens in new tab)
PSYCHOKILLER The episode opens with the mighty “Psychokiller” by The Talking Heads, a song about a serial killer, released in 1977, the year in which the episode is set. The fact that the song came out just after New York had suffered a period of tension and paranoia caused by a serial killer known as Son Of Sam (real name David Berkowitz, arrested in August of that year) was a complete coincidence. The fact that The Vampire Diaries ’ music selector decided to have it use it when someone mistakes Damon for Son Of Sam is, however, no coincidence, just a brilliant decision.(opens in new tab) (opens in new tab) (opens in new tab) (opens in new tab)
BEST SILLY MOMENT You have to love the way Rebekah deals with an unwanted approach.(opens in new tab)
WHERE ARE YOUR MINIONS NOW, KLAUS? Early in the episode Klaus tells Caroline that he has minions to do his dry cleaning. Seems they draw the line at grave digging, though. Is there some kind of minions union?
Damon: “Problem is I’m pretty sure this filing system goes by birthday, but I can’t for the life of me remember Katherine’s.”
Stefan: “June 5 th 1473.”
Damon: “And that, brother, is why you are the better boyfriend.”
New episodes of The Vampires Diaries season four air in the UK on ITV2