Friday, October 30, 2009

Unlikeable characters, part two, plus some other stuff...

First off, I think I should offer a disclaimer. When I mention bad reviews in a post, it's not in an attempt to have readers tell me, "Oh, they're so wrong! You're such a good writer." I appreciate the sentiment, but I don't want anyone thinking I'm fishing for compliments. Bad reviews do serve a purpose. As I said before, I'm not an advocate of writing something different out of fan service, but sometimes, a negative review can help you look at things with different eyes. For example, in Blood Ties Book Three: Ashes to Ashes (or, in Germany, Blutsbande 3: Asche zu Asche, which has a way cooler cover and also is on sale right now, so run out and buy it, frauleins and whatever you call dudes over there), there was apparently a lot of crying. Like, a lot. But for some reason, I never realized it when I was writing it. Seriously, that book read like every character was watching Sophie's Choice. While on their period. Especially Nathan. If I hadn't read those reviews, I would have never noticed, and I wouldn't have been able to excise all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that I did from book four. And yeah, I did remove crying from that one, despite how much is still in there.

I wonder if I was having some kind of episode when I wrote those.

Anyway, I'm still thinking of unlikeable characters. Comments from y'all indicate that you like characters who aren't "perfect." This, I can get behind. A character with no flaws is not someone I can root for (cue snickering Australians). But now I'm thinking, is it a character who never makes a bad choice that's the problem, or a character who makes the wrong choices and insists that they're right? Which one is worse? That's a "would you rather" for you... would you rather read a sickeningly perfect character, personality wise, who can admit when they're wrong, or a sickeningly perfect character who believes that everything is right, just so long as they're the one doing it?

In other news, I'm going to go ahead and spill about the as-yet-untitled vampire book that I'm doing for Mira. It is not, in any way, connect to Blood Ties. Okay, well, it's like Blood Ties's distant cousin. When I first wrote Blood Ties Book One: The Turning, it wasn't a "book one." It was just Blood Ties and it was a traditional, HEA romance, and my idea was to pull a Sherrilyn Kenyon and introduce new characters in every book who would get their own HEA stories, within a broader series. One of those stories is what is being released next, though not with a character you've met in the Blood Ties series, and not in that universe, at all. I'm going to switch up some of the vampire rules and junk. And put in less crying.

The story itself is about a vampire who likes being a vampire, thinks it's the best decision he's ever made, and has never really run into any hardships or anything because of being a vampire. He ends up trapped in a town that is being held captive by supernatural powers, and suddenly finds himself in a whole heap of trouble, trying to hide from them what he is and convincing them that he's not responsible for their misery just by virtue of being a nonhuman.

I'm excited about this project, because, like with the book that eventually became The Turning, I get to take an idea that was, for the most part, already written and completely rewrite it, from the ground up. I get to take the skeleton of the idea and put new skin on it, which is going to be a lot of fun, because I didn't necessarily like the way it was written the first time. I think it's going to be great, and I'll be happy to get it out of my head after six years of it being firmly lodged in there.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I think I must be going about this the wrong way.

Safely home after the Authors After Dark conference (details later), I found some less-than-favorable reviews for the Lightworld/Darkworld books. Which got me thinking, as all negative reviews do. I've said this in the past, and I genuinely mean this, that if I read a negative review that actually has something to say ("This book sucks," etc. doesn't give me much to ruminate over), I think about it for a while and can usually see where they're coming from. In fact, I usually take more away from negative reviews than positive ones with gentle criticisms in them, because I am, if nothing else, an ego snowball rolling downhill at breakneck speeds, crushing little skiing villages in my wake and collecting them up like some nightmare Katamari, and so the valid critiques offered in a good review are usually lost in the highly immature celebration dance of "Yay, someone liked it."

Yes, there is actually a dance.

The negative reviews I've been seeing for Queene of Light and Child of Darkness seem to have a couple of issues in common, the one that concerns me today being that the protagonists are unlikeable somehow. I am not unfamiliar with this criticism. When I was writing Blood Ties, the number one complaint in most negative reviews was that the reader did not like Carrie. And they usually didn't like her for exactly the same reasons that I did like her, but I was able to write that off as a "to each his own" kind of situation. Now that it's cropping up in my new series, I'm thinking a little bit more about the notion of "liking" a character. As in, how much should a reader expect to like a character, and how much effort can an author expend to write a character who is likeable before the book becomes unrealistic?

I started making up a mental brain list of books I've read where I either didn't like the main character. Not hated them, because I don't think I've ever read something I would consider a good book with a protagonist I absolutely hated. But I came up with a list of characters I was definitely "meh" on. I realized that, for the most part, I've never truly thought a Stephen King protagonist was someone I would care to meet in real life, and I find Neil Gaiman's main characters pretty obnoxious. The latter saddened me, because I'm fairly sure that Neil Gaiman's main characters are all some subtle variation on Neil Gaiman. In some of my favorite books, I wouldn't call the main character someone I liked, as in, I do not daydream about one day walking through the mall with them, swinging our shopping bags and sipping on Jamba Juice smoothies. But none of the books on my list, aside from Gaiman, were what I would call fantasy or romance.

In fact, when I started thinking of books where my enjoyment was directly affected by how I viewed the main character, my thoughts on the subject took a sharp left turn into genre town. I can't even begin to think of all the romances I stopped reading because I could not like the heroine or hero. And fantasy, well, I've definitely had some wall-banger episodes directly linked to the preciousness of fantasy protagonists. Readers of romance and fantasy typically want to insert themselves into the story, to have those feelings of falling in love or having an adventure. There's nothing wrong with that, it's basically what the genre is there for. It's hard to lose yourself to those feelings when you're thinking, "I would never do or say that."

Still, at what point does one cross the line from being true to the character they've created and just delivery fan service? I can think of a couple of series where the main character wasn't necessarily doing what I would in various situations, and I was okay with it. I would go online and find out that other readers felt the same way, and then the next book or two would come out and the character had done a complete 180, usually having to do with the love interest or number of love interests. And when I and other readers got what we thought we wanted, we complained that the series was "going downhill." Looking back, the authors weren't doing what was right for the characters, they were doing what the fans wanted. I firmly believe this. And once they did that, the character was no longer the same person, and the series wasn't as enjoyable.

I think there has to be some kind of a difference between a character that a reader doesn't like, or can't connect with, and a character whose actions make no sense within the context of the story. Both characters are unlikeable, but one is unlikeable because he or she has a personality trait that the reader can't get along with, and the other is unlikeable because they're stupid or unaware and make the story less enjoyable overall. I don't know exactly where that line is, and I'm not going to pretend that my characters are firmly on one side or the other. But it is something for writers to think about. Should we try to create characters the readers will like, or should we use the ones that just seem to show up and fit into the story?

Tomorrow, I might have more thoughts on this, and a small update on the vampire book I'm writing for Mira.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

One of the funnest parts about writing is that you get to create whole new people out of thin air, and not have to do that pesky pregnancy/parenting thing. Unfortunately, one of the frustrating parts is that these people will never live in the real world the way they live in your mind. You can give people a close approximation, like how I tell everyone that Nathan looks just like Gerard Butler; he does, but not totally. There are things about him that just look like Nathan. What I should be telling people is that someone might mistake Nathan for Gerard Butler if they ran into him in the street, but upon closer examination they would realize that his nose is a little less straight, and his eyes are a different shape, and when he smiles, he doesn't show as many teeth. Little details.

It was fun to work on Blood Ties because it lasted so long. I was writing those books for five years. That's longer than some people stay at one job, and I got to make my coworkers as mild or as irritating as I wanted to. I'm not one of those writers who believes the characters can get away from you and become their own people, but I do believe they took turns that I had subconsciously planned while consciously planning against them. Like Cyrus refusing to leave the story, or be the villain I had imagined to be. And like Carrie not falling head-over-heels for Nathan as she did in the first draft.

But again, it's frustrating, because you're never able to accurately convey to people what you're thinking or seeing in your head. I will go so far as to say that even the very best writers probably get fan letters from people that make them scratch their heads and say, "Wait, what are they talking about? That isn't what [insert character here] is like at all!" because there is only so much power in the written word. If you tried to write an accurate description of your best friend, you'd still only be painting about 25% of the picture.

Then, there are the details that the reader can't help but add in for you. We all do this when we're reading, I'm sure. I know there have been times that I've read a book and been so sure that a character had dark hair, then been completely stunned to run across a description of sunlight picking out golden highlights in her blonde hair. It doesn't matter if the first line of the very first page is, "Jane Heroine was a blonde girl. Blonde, blonde, blonde." Somehow, I got a different impression in my head.

Today, on VH1, I saw the closest physical approximation of Cyrus as I have ever seen. I'd been telling people that I'd based his appearance on a young Julian Sands. That's partially true. In fact, I had drawn him up in my mind before I came up with the "young Julian Sands" description, and that actor was the only one who fit my mental picture with enough clarity to be added to my "Book of Wonder," the binder where I keep pictures of all of my characters. But let's see how our ideas of how Cyrus looked stack up. This is the young gentleman that made me actually stop what I was doing and think, for a really crazy second, "wait, did Cyrus join a band?"

Does this guy look exactly like Cyrus looked in my head? Not exactly. But damned close. And I bet he doesn't look anything like the way you imagined from my description of him.

Isn't it funny how the mind works?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

"This is what happens when you bring the trash to the party."

Episode four of The Vampire Diaries. Lord, give me strength.

Elena is peacefully dreaming when a loud banging wakes her up. She stumbles blearily into the hallway, assuming that it's Jeremy making all the noise. This is a fair assumption, considering how drunk he was in the last episode. There is the requisite fast-moving shadow, and Elena goes into the living room to see that the television has come on, and the news is reporting live on her death from an animal attack. Except, on the tv, the "live" report is happening during the day time, and it's still night outside. So, she must be dreaming. I guess Damon will show up now and-- OH THERE HE IS. He chases her through the house, every door she opens leads to him, every where she turns, he's waiting, it's all very tense if you don't know that she's going to wake up and be fine. Then, she wakes up and-- oh, wait, no, it's not her dream, it's Stefan's dream. Very tricky, VD, very tricky. Damon is watching Stefan sleep, and he asks if he had a nightmare. Judging from the way he woke up, I'm pretty sure the answer is, "No, I came in my sleep." But he doesn't say that. Damon makes fun of Stefan for being such a hard sleeper, because his reflexes would totally be sharper if he was drinking human blood. Stefan's answer to this is to throw a letter opener at Damon and stab him in the chest. Damon tells Stefan that the mystery of the animal attacks has been solved because the police captured a mountain lion. Everyone buys this, because it's common knowledge that mountain lion bites look exactly like human teeth imprints, and also they drain the blood from their victims and flee into the night. Good work, CSI: Mystic Falls. Damon tells Stefan that he's staying, and just get used to it, you whiny bitch. Then he stabs him with the letter opener. Thanks, Damon! Stefan weakly insists that Damon can't mess with Elena because of the vervain necklace, and Damon points out that it only means he can't mess with her head. But her head isn't what he's after, you dig, Stefan? While recovering from his brutal letter opener wound, Stefan writes in his diary. The one that had its security compromised last week. Because it's always prudent to write your deepest thoughts and feelings down and put them somewhere that your greatest enemy can find them.

At Elena's house, Elena and Aunt Jenna are watching the news about the mountain lion, and Aunt Jenna tells Elena that she apparently used to bang the local anchorman. Oh, and she still looks way younger than Elena. Of course, Elena is polishing silver like a little old lady at this point, so it's not difficult to look like a wild and wacky teenager in comparison. What the hell, Elena? Dinner parties, polishing silver? Turns out, she's polishing antiques, Gilbert family heirlooms that she promised to donate to the town's historical society. Jeremy starts pawing through them and musing aloud about how much drugs he could buy with the net value he's sister has already polished, then gets offended when Elena doesn't trust him with the stuff. Why wouldn't she trust her kid brother who is dealing drugs and starting fights and talking about selling the family jewels on eBay? Gosh, Elena, soften that shell and learn to love.

So, Stefan comes over. Every time he shows up at Elena's door, he's doing this creepy, big-faced lean down thing, like he's impersonating Matthew Perry on Friends or something. I don't get it, but apparently it really rings Elena's bell, because they start making out right there. It's okay, because Jeremy is busy pawning their family silver and Aunt Jenna is bitterly stress eating to the sound of her former conquests doing the weather, so neither of them notice. In fact, the rules in this house are so non-existent that Elena and Stefan can full out dry hump on her bed with the door open. Stefan gets all vamped out, but he manages to get it under control before Elena can see. Elena assumes he was about t-minus two seconds from lift off, if you get my drift, and says they should probably cool off a minute. And just to make sure any lingering wood is thoroughly chopped down, she invites him to a fancy dress event at the mayor's house. Some kind of Founder's Day thing. Stefan is a little cagey, but then Elena plays the dead parent card and he pretty much has to cave.

At Caroline's house, she tries on clothes while Damon criticizes her. Damon wants to go to the party, but Caroline thinks it's a bad idea, until Damon whammys her into inviting him. While this is going on, Damon reads Twilight. No, really. This character absolutely knows, at this point, that he's in a bad television show. He must. It is at this point we learn that Caroline is completely aware that Damon is a vampire. They discuss Damon's magic ring that keeps him from burning alive when the sun hits him, and the fact that he's going to kill Caroline when he's done with her. Clearly, Damon has whammied Caroline's brain into a fine paste, because she's totally okay with this.

At the bar downtown, Tyler and his parents, who are apparently the mayor and first lady of Mystic Falls, enjoy their family dinner out and discuss the fact that football season is pretty much over, since Mr. Tanner is worm food now and there's no one else to coach. Which I guess pretty much wraps up the football plot line. We'll have to see. I'm assuming the school year will have to be over, too, because Mr. Tanner was the only teacher there. Vicki comes by to wait on them, and Tyler doesn't introduce her to his parents, which visibly pisses Vicki off. Looks like it's time to break up with him for the 1,987th time today and go back to Jeremy.

Bonnie wants to go to the fancy party, but she doesn't want to go alone. Caroline won't take her, though, because she's already going with Damon. Bonnie confesses that she's freaked out by the whole witch thing, so everyone should just stop bringing it up. Caroline tells Bonnie that she has a secret, and there is this huge build up about it, but we don't get to hear what it is.

Vicky tells Tyler that he treats her like trash. And if he does it like, five or six more times, she's going to seriously consider thinking about being done with him for possibly a week. So, he asks her to come to the big party at his parents' house. Jeremy, predictably, thinks that this shit is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

At Stefan and Damon's nephew's house-- HOLY SHIT, HE HAS A NAME!-- at Zach's house, Damon is musing aloud about why a vampire would bother going to high school, anyway, further proof that he's aware that nothing going on makes any goddamn sense. Zach makes a polite inquiry as to when Damon is going to get the hell up out of there, and Damon reacts by very reasonably choking him nearly to death. I'll be honest in stating that at this point, I was pretty drunk, because I basically drink my way through this show now. So, either Stefan showed up and saved Zach, or Damon let Zach go, but the next thing I knew, Damon was gone and I needed another bottle of Boone's Farm. Zach tells Stefan that he needs to get Damon under control, or it's his ass. Or not. Zach doesn't really have much power in this situation. His uncles have just kind of moved in and decided to take everything over. He's lucky they didn't just kick him out of the house altogether so they'd have more room to do sexy vampire things. "Sorry, Zach, we're turning your room into a den!" Stefan would like to get rid of Damon, but damnit, he's all out of vervain, and it hasn't grown wild in Mystic Falls in years. Apparently, there are no new age shops in Mystic Falls, but that's okay, because Zach has a tidy little home grow operation going on.

Tyler visits Casa de Gilbert because the writers hadn't yet reached the episode quota for scenes of Tyler and Jeremy threatening each other but not really doing anything. Jeremy calls Tyler a dick and Aunt Jenna breaks up the non-fight. And there was totally a point to it all.

Turns out, the secret Caroline told Bonnie was that Stefan was obsessed with Catherine while she was dating Damon, and he totally stole her away. Bonnie relates this information to Elena, who is not having any of it, because she knows that Damon is a total dick. It's too late, though, because Bonnie is back on the hate train to Stefan town.

Damon and Stefan get ready for the party together, because that's exactly the type of activity you engage in with someone you hate. Theirs is a complicated love, everyone.

Elena gets a call from Tyler's mom saying that a pocket watch was missing from the inventory list that came over with the Gilbert family treasures. Because she's not a moron, Elena confronts Jeremy about it, accusing him of stealing it for drug money. Really, he doesn't need to steal money, because we've seen him basically deal in prescription shit up to this point. He probably just takes Aunt Jenna's anti-psychotics when she's miserably watching the evening news and crying into her ice cream about how nobody loves her. Jeremy did take the watch, but not for nefarious purposes. His father had promised it to him before he died, and Jeremy doesn't really dig the idea of it sitting in his worst enemy's house. Elena, being the only one allowed to be sad about her dead parents, takes it anyway.

While Damon and Stefan continue to braid each other's hair or whatever two guys do when they're getting dressed for a party together, I don't know because I'm not a dude, Stefan complains about being a 150-year-old teenager. Damon taunts him about not fucking Catherine when he had the chance, or something like that, and Stefan is all, "How about having a tasty drink of this here vervain?" Damon almost falls for it, but of course he doesn't, because there are like, fifteen minutes left in this episode.

People are arriving at the mayor's house, including Vicki, and Tyler tells her to go ahead and not use the front door. Because he is a gentleman.

Stefan and Zach conspire some more about how to poison the wily Damon, and Zach warns that this little vial of vervain here? This is all we have left, Chippy, so don't screw it up.

Before leaving for the party, Elena gives the pocket watch to Jeremy. I bet he'll sell it on eBay. Just wait until next week.

Caroline and Damon show up at the party, and Caroline's mother, the sheriff, is th-- wait, what? Her mom is the town sheriff? And she didn't care when she heard screaming coming from her daughter's room? No wonder there have been so many homicides in Mystic Falls lately, if the cops don't notice crimes happening their own houses. Caroline's mom gets snarky about Damon, which is rich, considering she's such a absent parent that her daughter can bring guys back to the house for the night like it's no big thing. Caroline gets catty right back and reminds her mom that Mr. Caroline's Mom left her for a dude, then goes back to the party.

Stefan and Elena show up, and Elena checks out the table where her family history is neatly displayed. They talk about Elena's dead parents some more, while Aunt Jenna runs into her old fling, the news guy. News guy wants to exchange cutting banter to up the sexual tension, but AJ is having none of it. Elena takes interest in a framed guest register from the very first founders celebration, and hey there, Damon and Stefan Salvatore signed it, how about that? While Stefan gropes for an answer that isn't, "Well, you see, we're vampires," Damon slides in and explains that he and his brother were named after the original Salvatore brothers. Elena wants to hear more, but Caroline whines about wanting to dance with Stefan. Stefan tells them all, "I don't dance," and I immediately have a flash back to that episode of Angel where Angel imagines himself dancing. Still, Caroline manages to steal Stefan away, and Damon stays with Elena to apologize for trying to kiss her, and then pulls this whole, "I'm in therapy," thing, which makes Elena immediately sympathetic.

On the dance floor, Stefan asks Caroline if Damon told her to dance with him, and, big surprise, yes is the answer. He goes on to ply the underage girl whose cop mom is on the premises with alcohol.

Damon narrates a scene from The Patriot for Elena, only instead of Heath Ledger's girlfriend being trapped in the church, it's Catherine, and Damon and Stefan are Mel and Heath, and they get shot and that movie would have been a lot better with vampires. Elena is like, "Wow, sad story, but I don't want to be involved in your weird family feud shit."

Tyler, still not having allowed Vicki into the house, refuses to dance with her, and Vicki, sitting in the yard in a nice dress while everyone else parties in the house, finally understands that he's embarrassed of her. They begin to argue when Tyler's mom comes over and it seems, for a moment, that she's going to call her son out on treating his girlfriend poorly. Instead, she acts graciously to Vicki until she storms away, then tells Tyler, "This is what happens when you bring the trash to the party." The Vampire Diaries, 47, feminism, 0.

Bonnie sits alone and sad, like all worthless teenage girls without dates should do. The decorative votive on the table spontaneously extinguishes, then lights again while Bonnie stares at it. Bonnie is the firestarter.

After some awkward small talk, Stefan and Elena dance while Damon creepily watches them and tells Caroline to shut up. Caroline is obviously soooo jealous of Elena. [read that last part again in a teen girl voice]

Jenna and the news guy have a super fun conversation about how news guy gate crashed momma Gilbert's funeral, and then they rehash the part of their past relationship where he cheated on her. He wants back into AJ's life, but Auntie J is having none of it. Good for her.

Back on the dance floor, Stefan and Elena reenact Twilight and talk about Catherine some more. Elena thinks Stefan should open up and tell her things, and Stefan completely misses the point and accuses her of falling for Damon's obvious manipulations. He could really avoid the whole argument by just saying, "Yeah, my brother and I used to fight over Catherine and then she died. IN A FIRE. Like the first girl that the original Salvatore brothers fought over. BECAUSE THAT WAS US AND WE'RE VAMPIRES." But he doesn't, and Elena is also having none of it.

Bonnie finally admits to Elena that she's a life ruiner, and Elena is all, "No, it's not the fact that you repeated a rumor to me that I started doubting my boyfriend," even though it's completely obvious that is what happened. Tyler's mom confronts Elena again about the missing watch, and Elena makes up a lame lie that Mrs. Lockwood is totally not believing.

At this point, this is the single longest, most boring party I have ever been to. Everyone is fighting and no one seems to be having a good time. Damon uses Caroline as a lookout while he steals something he hid in the Lockwood home a century or two ago. It's a big, ugly, brownish-orange crystal, which will be very important later.

Market research apparently suggested there weren't enough scenes of a minor character having a fight with an even more minor character, because now it's back to you, news guy, as you try to woo Aunt Jenna despite being the worst boyfriend in history. AJ suggests they do lunch, and the news guy looks way too pleased. Doesn't he know that she just put him in the friend zone?

Bonnie is wandering through the dining room when Mrs. Lockwood berates a busboy for the lack of flameage on the candles. When they both leave, Bonnie decides to test out this, "Am I a firestarter?" theory she has, and is relieved when her concentration doesn't pay off. But when she looks back, the entirety of the dining room is ablaze, and the fire spreads quickly, killing everyone trapped inside the accursed house. Just kidding. She does manage to light some candles, though.

In the bathroom, Caroline gloats to Elena about how handsy Stefan was while they were dancing, and Elena doesn't bother being annoyed because she knows that's just how Caroline rolls. Finally, Caroline's weird scarf slips, and Elena sees the bite mark there. She asks if Damon did that to her, and Caroline is cagey about it.

Let's review the evidence now, shall we: Two strangers come to town and make cryptic remarks about how they've done things or seen things a long time ago, people start dying from bites the to throat, they have the same names as people who lived a century ago who had a girlfriend who died in a horrific fire, their ex-girlfriend died in a horrific fire, they have super fast healing and, oh yeah, one of them is biting Caroline. HOW DOES NO ONE REALIZE THAT THESE GUYS ARE VAMPIRES?

Elena threatens Damon, telling him that if he hurts Caroline again, he'll be in trouble because Caroline's mom is the sheriff. Because sheriff mom really seems to care what's happening in her daughter's life. Elena then apologizes to Stefan and tells him about his brother's biting habit. STILL DOES NOT REALIZE THEY'RE VAMPIRES. Stefan tells Elena that he's handling his brother's wacky behavior, and Elena thinks it's completely shitty that Stefan didn't bother to go to the police when he found out that his brother was beating up Caroline. BUT SHE DOESN'T FIGURE OUT THAT THEY'RE VAMPIRES.

Since Tyler and her are totally off for right now, Vicki shows up at the Gilbert house. It is implied that there will be underage lovin' happening once that front door closes.

Damon is... not too happy about Elena finding out about the bite marks. Caroline argues that it wasn't her fault, and the whole thing put her on the spot, so she didn't have time to defuse the situation. Damon's answer to that is to try and drain her dry, but fortunately for her, Stefan spiked her champagne with vervain. So, why isn't she passed the fuck out in some corner, sleeping it off? Vervain will knock your ass out, and that's not a lie. But let us remind ourselves that this is The Vampire Diaries and not a realistic look at the dangers of herbal remedies. Damon hits the ground like a sack of potatoes and Stefan carries him off, leaving Caroline to bleed to death. Elena finds her, though, and everything is okay, besides the whole freaking and screaming and vampire attack trauma that Caroline is experiencing.

Stefan locks up Damon, and we the view see the after-party at the mayor's house, in which they discuss the missing crystal and reveal that all of them-- Jenna, the news guy, sheriff mom (who apparently doesn't care that her daughter was almost killed, because she's still at the party), and Tyler's parents are all vampire hunters. Which is going to be important later, I'm guessing.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I do this for you guys, you know that?

Yes, I realize that this is a week late. But other stuff, stuff relating to my books that I need to sell to make money and not die on the side of the road, came up. So, you're getting it now, and you'll be grateful for what I give you, damnit!

Episode three of CW's never ceasing campaign to destroy all that I love The Vampire Diaries aired last Thursday, and I have to admit, it was no where near as embarrassingly bad as episode two. That's not to say that it wasn't just ass-end awful, because it was, but not as bad as the series has proved it can be.

After the "previously on" updates the viewer on what name goes with what face ("I'm Elena." "I'm Stefan." "I'm Damon, Stefan's brother."), we see Caroline waking up in her bedroom. She goes through a silent moment of vaguely remembering having sex with the guy who is arguably the hottest character on the show, and checks her mirror to find out, oh, wow, he really did bite the hell out of me and also he's still in my bed. What surprised the hell out of this viewer, because I had totally pegged Damon for a fuck-and-run kind of guy. But nope, he's still there, sleeping peacefully, and she decides that now would be a great time to sneak out. Damon thwarts that attempt using yet another monster cliche, disappearing from the bed and OH MY GOD CAROLINE LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU! Instead of killing her right off the bat, Damon decides to let her freak out and break shit. You'd think that the screaming and the loud breaking noises would alert Caroline's parents, but nope. They didn't hear her having sex last night, and they don't hear her getting roughed up the next morning. They're "cool" parents. Damon picks up a pillow and tells Caroline that this entire scenario could have gone differently, and it seems like he's going to smother her to death when the title card breaks in. But why would he smother her? He's a vampire. Couldn't he have, I don't know, just eaten her?

As Bonnie and Elena arrive at school, Bonnie tells Elena to take things slow and maybe reconsider the whole Stefan thing, now that she's actually hooked up with him and they're totally boyfriend/girlfriend. Elena is confused, because Bonnie and Caroline were practically ordering Elena to have sex with Stefan in the last episode. Bonnie explains that since she got a bad case of the wiggins from accidentally touching Stefan, and Elena reassures her that nothing bad is going to happen, and she's really happy, and that she finally feels normal since her parents died.

Vicki, still sporting an impressive neck bandage, catches Jeremy brooding away on the bleachers and informs him, totally casual, that she has tickets for some band I've never heard of because I'm super old or possibly they're fictional. Jeremy calls her on her bullshit, and asks if the only reason she slept with him all those times was because he gave her free drugs. And while the correct answer is, "Yes, Jeremy, duh," Vicki can't come up with an answer.

Meanwhile, Stefan greets Elena and Bonnie, the latter of whom runs off with a very definite, "I think you're probably a vampire" vibe to find Caroline, who is probably dead and not at school. Stefan picks up on that vibe, but Elena assures him that Bonnie just needs to get to know him, and so he should totally come over for dinner at her house that night. While this conversation is taking place (and Stefan is probably wondering what kind of boring high school girl invites her boyfriend over for a dinner party), Tyler gives Matt a hard time for not asserting caveman dominance over Elena. He demonstrates his technique to Matt, intending to impress Elena with how well he can hit Stefan in the back of the head with a football, but Stefan's super fast vampire reflexes don't let him down. He catches the ball and fires it back, making Tyler look like a totally a-hole in the process.

Instead of walking over to Tyler and shouting, "OWNED!" into his face, Stefan takes the high road and walks to class with Elena, while we are treated to the most boring conversation about football ever. Stefan explains that he used to play "a long time ago," and instead of finally catching on to all the cryptic mentions of periods of time that high schoolers don't usually have to deal with, Elena tells him that he should totally try out for the football team.

Now, you may be wondering what class Elena and Stefan are going to. Wonder no longer! They're going to Mr. Tanner's class, because he is still the only teacher at Mystical Falls high school. While he lectures, Elena stage whispers to Stefan about the total suck that is the football team, which is pretty insensitive because Matt is totally eavesdropping on their conversation, and he's on the football team. Mr. Tanner, thinking to catch Elena not paying attention, asks her a question and Stefan answers it. Stefan and Mr. Tanner then duke it out in some kind of history nerd dick measuring contest, with the latter spitting out American historical events like a mini gun fires off rounds, and the former totally wasting him with the power of his mental calendar. Of course, we're meant to take this whole, "I'm good with dates" thing as another clue to the other characters that they're dealing with a vampire here. Why are we all supposed to assume that knowing when the Korean war ended means you lived through it? Isn't that kind of the purpose of history class, to make you learn about stuff that happened before you were born?

Now, of course Mr. Tanner is the football coach. For one, he's a history teacher, and everyone knows that if you coach something on a high school level, you're a history teacher. For two, he's the only adult in Mystic Falls, besides Stefan's creepy nephew who is missing from this episode. Elena decides that it's time to get back to normal for real, and shows up to practice with all of the other barely clothed cheerleaders. Bonnie mentions again that Caroline is missing, because the other times she's mentioned it, no one seems to care. Mr. Tanner tells Stefan that there is no way he's getting on the football team, but he can attend practice anyway, because he wants to see him get beat up on by the other players. So, basically, Mr. Tanner is a dick in his non-teaching hours, too. Matt makes a whiny remark about Stefan joining the team. Damon pulls up with Bonnie and makes creepy eyes at Elena, and no one asks Caroline why she's wearing a scarf all Roman Holiday style when she's dressed in underwear work out clothes. Elena can't get it together. Dance wise, she is definitely not a part of the Rhythm Nation, so Caroline asks her to sit out and come back when she gets her citizen ship papers together.

As you might expect, Stefan is THE BOMB at football. So much so that even the White Knight, Matt, engages in a little rough play against him. Stefan gets knocked down by Tyler, and his finger jams, but we see it heal before our eyes. This is probably going to be a good skill to have on a football team where you teammates want to kill you.

When Stefan gets home, he finds Damon reading his diary. OMGWTFBBQ?! Doesn't he know that the number one rule in girl world is to not read someone else's diary? Damon apologizes for acting like such a megadouche for the past century, and tells Stefan that he wants to make amends, bridge the gap between them. Of course, Stefan believes him, because his picture is next to "gullible" in the dictionary. If gullible was even in the dictionary. Which it isn't. Go ask Stefan, and he'll look it up for you. So, when Stefan is like, "Oh, that's great, let's be BFF like we used to be!" Damon goes, "Psyche!" and then says a bunch of sexual stuff about Elena. Which is where everyone needs to remember that, cute thirty-year-olds high school students or not, these guys are over a hundred years old. So, basically, Damon is a dirty old man who spends way too much time watching the cheerleaders practice.

Es la noche a Casa de Los Gilberts, and Elena and Bonnie are making dinner. Putting aside the fact that Bonnie is physically different from her book-self, she's really the only true-to-book character in the show. She also reminds me of my friend Cheryl, because they're both into reoccurring number theories. Bonnie keeps seeing 8, 14, and 22, and she'd obsessed. When Elena doesn't believe Bonnie's boasts about her psychic powers, Bonnie tells her the location of the spoons and birthday candles in the kitchen drawers. Which is kind of a lame way to prove that you're psychic, as we will see later.

After Bonnie's spoon-psychic episode, we get to see the most weirdly tense high school dinner party of all time. Bonnie, Stefan and Elena sit around the table, and everyone seems about two seconds away from the "Please pass the asparagus" scene in American Beauty. To break the ice, Elena outs Bonnie as a witch. A witch descended from... wait for it... the original Salem witches. You know, the Christians who were persecuted by hysterical, land-hungry religious fanatics in the seventeenth century. Stefan tells her that this makes her very powerful, despite the fact that if he were as big a history buff as he claims to be, he'd be screaming, "BULLSHIT!" and smashing the asparagus plate against the wall by now.

Caroline and Damon show up, and boy, does the next minute, minute-and-a-half make Stefan look like an idiot. When Elena tries to invite Damon in, Stefan tries his best to make sure she doesn't say the words. Look, Stefan, nothing screams, "Hey, we're vampires," like trying to prevent someone from inviting another vampire into the house. Of course, Elena thinks he's crazy, and totally invites Damon in. They all get comfy in the living room and Caroline expressed her disbelief at Stefan making it onto the football team and Elena being so bad at cheerleading. She puts the cherry on top of the shit sundae by saying that Elena was much more fun before her parents died. So, why is Elena friends with this person again? Because the conversation isn't awkward enough, Damon brings up Catherine, and insinuates that she died. Because nothing says "successful dinner party" like comparing your dead loved ones stories, am I right?

At the bar in town that mysterious lets minors hang out and work there, Vicki is still the ball in the failure ping-pong that is her love game with Tyler and Jeremy. Matt offers Jeremy some pity, which Jeremy rejects by basically calling Vicki a whore. Tyler isn't content to just, you know, get the girl. He has to pick a fight with Jeremy, too. Actually, fight is kind of a strong word; what they really do is shout at each other about how much they want to fight, until someone breaks it up. Matt approaches his sister. At this point, should he:

  • A: Tell her that Tyler is a d-bag and not worth her time?
  • B: Tell her that Jeremy is a drug dealer and not worth her time?
  • C: Tell her that both guys are lame and don't care about her or respect her enough to stop fighting over her like two hungry dogs on a juicy steak and let her choose who she would be happy with?
  • D: Tell her that her slutty ways are what cause all these fights and she better knock it off?

If you said A, B, or C, then you're not a misogynistic asshole writing a show for teenagers. If you said D, you write The Vampire Diaries for the CW, and may God have mercy on your soul, if she feels like it.

Elena and Damon are in the kitchen, cleaning up from dinner, and they have more chemistry than Elena and Stefan do when they're together. She asks Damon about Catherine and how she died, and he tells her that it was a fire, and, oh, there was just a teensy bit of rivalry between him and his brother where Catherine was concerned. Before Bonnie breaks up the moment, Damon advises Elena to quit cheerleading. At this point, he's either confident in his ability to get Elena to strip down to her panties outside of cheerleading practice, or he's suddenly realized he's allergic to nubile, half-naked teen girls. When he realizes that Stefan is interrogating Caroline about her scarf, which she can't take off, Damon has to put another whammy on Caroline. There are some boring, heated words between Stefan and Damon, the same kind they always have when they're together, and then we're off to a new scene.

Elena has boys up to her room! Shocking! She and Stefan are making out, and he's rounding second when suddenly, Elena realizes that OMG HE'S REALLY DAMON THIS IS JUST LIKE THE SCENE IN THE CRAFT WHERE THE PREPPY GIRL ENDS UP BEING THE GOTH GIRL IN DISGUISE! Then, OMG SHE'S REALLY DREAMING HOLY CRAP I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING! The next morning, she walks around her room in a towel, contemplating cheerleading. Will she put that uniform on? Won't she? We don't know.

Stefan is still writing in his journal, which is kind of stupid, considering the confidentiality aspect has been kind of breached. Elena shows up to school sans cheerleading uniform (but fully clothed, at least) and admires Stefan in his new uniform. He gives her an ugly necklace that stinks like herbs, and she wears it, but she's probably being polite because did I mention the thing is ugly? This was the most baffling part of the show for me. Stefan tells Elena that she has suffered "a great loss," but that's just my guess. I have no idea what he's really saying. But it sounds an awful like "you've suffered a gay loss." I rewound it three times, and finally decided that he was probably saying great. Because it totally sounds like he said, "gay loss." No one in post noticed this?

Now, Mystic Falls apparently takes this football shit for serious. They're having a pep rally with a bonfire and they're burning someone in effigy. I'm not actually sure this is a football related thing, or a satanic ritual, but at this point in the episode, I'm up for both. Actually, I started praying to Satan right around the five minute mark. I asked him to give me strength to do yet another write up of this shit. Mr. Tanner apparently loves Stefan now, and practically reads a poem about his prowess on the field to the raging, chanting crowd. In fact, he's so confident in Stefan's abilities that he's starting him, despite him only being on the team for a day now. I'm going out on a limb here to say that this kind of coaching is probably why the football team has a reputation for suckage.

During the pep rally of the damned, Jeremy gets tore up from the floor up and Tyler decides that this is the perfect time to fight him. A very Romeo and Juliet scene ensues, in which Jeremy's liquor bottle is broken and Stefan, trying to break up the fight, is stabbed in the hand. The sight of blood calms the combatants, while Elena freaks out about Stefan's practically severed fingers. His wound heals up, and this does not escape her notice, even when Stefan tries to play it off like he didn't get hurt. He tries to tell her that he didn't get cut, the blood is from someone else, but Elena is pretty clearly thinking, "Are you sure you're not a vampire? Because I think you're a vampire."

Somehow, Bonnie and Elena end up alone together, and Bonnie tells Elena that even though Stefan has completely won her over and has permission to date her best friend, she's still kind of wigged out by him. Elena wants details, and Bonnie reluctantly admits that when she touched Stefan, she "felt death." No big deal. He's got great hair, he's good at sports, and, oh, one small thing, he feels like death.

Damon follows Elena to her car and starts bitching about what a drag Caroline is, and how he's probably going to have to ditch her. Elena makes some comment about Caroline being about the same age as him, and the look on his face makes it clear that even Damon knows he's about to clear thirty and he's playing a teenager on the CW. Elena is a smart cookie and knows what Damon is trying to do. She tells him that her loyalty lies with Caroline, and with Stefan, but Damon insists that she secretly has a thing for him. He even knows about her sexy dream. Damon tries to kiss Elena, and she slaps the pretty clean off him.

Matt decides that he likes Stefan, now that he's helped bring down the pain on the two stray dogs sniffing around Vicki, and he apologizes for being a dick. Stefan is about to join him on the field when Damon confronts Stefan. He knows that Elena's herb-smelling necklace is what kept him from putting on the whammy and getting some sweet, sweet barely legal, but it won't stop him from killing her. Stefan isn't afraid of Damon hurting Elena, because he knows that, deep down, Damon longs for humanity. Mr. Tanner shows up in the wrong fucking place at the wrong fucking time, giving Damon the opportunity to call Stefan's bluff. He chows on Mr. Tanner, tells Stefan, "Anyone, any place, any time," and then disappears, leaving Stefan alone with the corpse.

While Mr. Tanner shuffles off his mortal coil in the parking lot, Matt finally stands up to Tyler for treating his sister like property. And wait, why isn't anyone playing football? The crowd is cheering. What are they cheering for? The players are just running around, watching their coach get killed or airing their grievances. Oh, right, the dead coach. Matt finds him, and Stefan is no where to be found. Basically, they're going to have to close the school now, because the only teacher has been vampire murdered. As the police clean bits of Mr. Tanner off the parking lot, Bonnie comes to the terrifying realization that the numbers she'd been haunted by are all present in some form on the scene of the crime. Matt looks like someone killed a puppy, not a dickhead football coach, and Tyler isn't a good enough friend to put aside their differences in the wake of tragedy to comfort him.

Just about the only people in town who aren't contaminating the crime scene at this point are Jeremy, who is still drinking, and Vicki, who comes by to tell him that no, she didn't just sleep with him for the drugs. It seems that for the moment they are back together, at least, until the next episode, when they'll break up fifteen more times.

Stefan walks Elena to her car, while she talks about the absurdity of the same animal that attacked Vicki in the woods attacking Mr. Tanner outside a crowded, rowdy football field. She also brings up Stefan's miraculously healed hand, but has apparently never seen a vampire movie in her life, because she still doesn't put two and two together. When Stefan gets home, he writes in his diary that he's wrong about Damon, there isn't anything human or tender left in him. But oh, snap! we see Damon in Elena's room, watching her sleep, and he doesn't kill her like he threatened. And then the The Vampire Diaries title card comes up again, so that you can tell the show has ended and it doesn't just blend seamlessly into the Gossip Girl and Melrose Place commercials that are going to follow it.