I feel like I need a shower. I feel like I need a shower and then need to take aside my newly 14 year old daughter and explain to her, scene by scene, just how horrifying the messages of "We'll Always Have Bourbon Street" really are. I have a deadline though, and she has to get to bed, so I'm going to practice my introduction on you fine folks.
One of the reasons I'm going to practice my introduction on you fine folks is because what I saw on Twitter after the episode was every bit as disturbing as what I saw in "We'll Always Have Bourbon Street." First there were the fans hellbent on "slut shaming" Elena, because this adult woman has sex with someone for whom she has profound and longstanding feelings. "Slut shaming" is deplorable, but you know that, right?
It's not the only thing that's deplorable, though. Some fans revolted against the "slut shaming." At first, they made me cheer. At first. But then their conversation veered from criticism of "slut shaming" straight into what I'm going to call "virgin shaming." "Virgin shaming" is as reprehensible as "slut shaming," and if you don't know that, you need to.
Listen up, people. That second line of attack is as bad as the first, because both do exactly the same thing. If you're "virgin shaming," you are judging a woman's worth and wisdom based on how she conducts her sex life. In other words, you are doing EXACTLY THE SAME THING AS SLUT SHAMING. Shame on you.
Shame on every single point in this story, in which the men control the women (Damon with Charlotte and Elena; Shane with Hayley and Bonnie; Tyler with Kim, etc.). Oh hell. I'm too angry to write anymore. I'm going to go watch something funny, get up early and finish this up before my morning deadline. Pleasant dreams, my dears. Pleasant dreams, but please remember, when you attempt to measure a woman's worth by counting how often she spreads her legs, you're saying a lot more about yourself than you'll ever know about that woman.
Six hours later...
All right. You probably want to know what happens in "We'll Always Have Bourbon Street," so let me get to that. We open in Mossy Manse on the morning after "My Brother's Keeper." Damon and Elena make love, and again their love scenes are intercut with Caroline bemoaning the sire bond. If you read last week's recap, you know how I feel about that. After, Elena tells Damon they need to let Stefan know they are involved. Damon agrees, but he begs for one secret, perfect day before they have to hurt his brother -- whom they both love so. Elena disagrees at first, but eventually gives in. I want it to be important that she expresses her disagreement. It may end up being so, but it isn't important in this episode.
Stefan arrives home as Elena is leaving for school. Once she's gone, Stefan tells Damon about Caroline's sire bond theory. Damon pooh poohs it, but agrees to conduct Stefan's suggested test: encourage Elena to try bagged blood again. To his credit, Damon heads straight to Mystic Falls High School, asks Elena to give bagged blood another shot for his sake, and dies a little inside when she not only fails to vomit, but decides it tastes just like blood from the vein.
Stefan finds Damon back at Mossy Manse poring over his souvenirs from his time in New Orleans, circa 1942. He met a woman there, Charlotte, and got along so well with her that when she asked him to turn her, he did. It soon became apparent she was sire bound to him because everything he told her to do, she did to a fault. He found a witch, Valerie (and yes, she was African American) and enlisted her to help him break the bond. The problem was, Valerie claimed she needed him to sacrifice 12 human souls to power the spell.
Damon killed the dozen humans, but then the witch flaked out on him, so before he left New Orleans, he told Charlotte to count every single brick in the city and then meet him on their favorite street corner. And yes, these 70 years later (plus or minus, since I have no idea what year it is in Mystic Falls, now), that's exactly where Damon and Stefan find Charlotte. She helps them find the witch's shop. The woman behind the counter claims to be Valerie's great-granddaughter, Nandi. Nandi says she only deals in herbal medicine and fake witchy-woo for the tourists. She claims her great-grandmother's grimoire was lost during Hurricane Katrina, so she can't help them with their sire bond problem.
Damon knows Nandi is lying, so he and Stefan double back to the shop. Damon realizes that Nandi isn't Valerie's great-granddaughter, but rather, she is her daughter, so even though she only looks about 50 years old, she's closer to 80. Nandi schools Damon and Stefan on the darkest of arts practiced by Valerie. It's called Expression, which is not natured-based. Instead, it draws its power from sacrificed humans. Put a pin in that fact and let's move forward, yes? Anyhow, Valerie duped Damon into killing a dozen victims, not so she could break the sire bond's hold over Charlotte, but so that she'd have plenty of juice for her bad mojo.
Stefan plays good cop to Damon's bad. When Nandi inflicts Damon with a mystical migraine, Stefan sweet talks her into helping them. They don't want to hurt her, they just want to free Elena from Damon's thrall. Nandi explains to the boys that the only way to break the sire bond is to set the afflicted party free. The problem is, at least according to Nandi, that means saying goodbye forever. The sire bond develops between a newbie vampire and her sire only if the newbie had real, human feelings for the vampire -- even before she turned. At least Damon gets to know that Elena's feelings for him are not a product of the sire bond. Poor Pixie Monster. He should get some brownie points for not immediately turning to Stefan and letting out a loud, "HA!"
Disturbed by the sad life Charlotte has lived as a vampire, Damon immediately sets her free. He then steels himself for exiting Elena's life in the same fashion. I have things to say about this. I can't help wonder if Charlotte didn't go off the deep end because while she loved Damon, and he was fond of her, he didn't return her love. See, I can't help but think that Damon's love of Elena seems to control his actions nearly as much as the sire bond influences Elena. I hope to expand on that idea in the full recap.
Back in Mystic Falls, Damon finds Elena, who has had just as bad a time as he. She held a girls' night with Bonnie and Caroline, during which Caroline was overcome by her judgmental side. After crapping all over Damon (and calling his past sex partners "skanks"), even though Elena asks her to refrain, Caroline tells Elena about the sire bond. Elena admits she's slept with Damon and is falling in love with him. Bonnie is concerned. Caroline is horrified.
During all this, we learn more about Professor Shane's involvement with Hayley. It seems he promised her information about her biological family, provided she present him with 12 hybrids who were no longer sired to Klaus. Including Tyler, Hayley already has 12 hybrids, but she doesn't want to turn Tyler over to Shane (could these 12 also be meant as a sacrifice).
Hayley and Tyler (who knows nothing of Hayley's deal with Shane) are un-siring their 12th man -- Adrian, who seems to be Kim's someone-special. Because Klaus was the hybrids' de facto alpha, now that they're sire-bond-free, this pack is in need of a new alpha. When Adrian can't deal with all the pain of transitioning enough times to break the bond, Kim takes his side and whisks him away from Hayley and Tyler.
Hayley encourages Tyler to put the girl in her place. Yes, I said those words, and in just that way because really, that's what this entire episode is about -- men putting women in their place. Don't tell me differently. I cut my teeth on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. At the Mystic Grill, Tyler exerts his dominance over Kim, who seems to fall in line, but instead, she and Adrian go to Mossy Manse and snatch Caroline.
Elena gets Tyler to help her rescue Caroline. On their way to the ranch, Elena learns that while the sire bond controls one's actions, it doesn't control one's feelings. In other words, even while obeying Klaus's orders, he actively hated his guts. Elena is relieved to know that whatever else the sire bond may be doing to her, it isn't duping her into falling in love with Damon. Those feelings are real.
In the barn, Tyler and Elena find Kim torturing Caroline. When Adrian points out that Klaus will be really upset if Caroline is hurt, Kim says that's one of the benefits of this exercise. Elena explains that Klaus is obsessed with keeping her alive, so if Kim really wants to get under Klaus's skin, she should free Caroline and torture Elena in her stead. During the switch, Tyler gets the upper hand, thrusts his fist into Kim's chest, grabs hold her of heart, speechifies about how, unlike Klaus, he'll be a benevolent leader, and then orders Kim to submit. She does so. On. Her. Knees. I throw up a little in my mouth.
Thank goodness Lexi appears in this episode's flashbacks. She is the only female character of note who isn't, in one way or another, being controlled by a man. I will save her for the recap, so we both have something to look forward to. Apropos of something else, I feel the need to note that at one point, Bonnie reveals that the form of magic Shane is teaching her is called Expression. Dun dun dun! Raise your hand if you think Bonnie is being unwittingly powered by the victims of the explosion that took place at Pastor Cliche's ranch. Yeah. Me, too.
Anyhow, back in Mystic Falls, Damon and Elena discuss the sire bond. He knows he has to set her free. Elena explains to Damon that her feelings for him aren't controlled by the sire bond, and does her best to remind him of what is real. Damon is still struggling with his conscience and his heart, when the episode closes.
While I don't mind Damon's part of his journey at all, I sort of hate it where it applies to Elena, because either way, her choices are going to be made for her -- by her man. If the sire bond isn't broken, even Damon's casual statements may well cause Elena to go 'round the bend in an effort to please. But Elena doesn't want him to shut himself out of her life, because she loves him (she doesn't say the L word, but I need the shorthand here). So, the only way she can be "free" is if she is not free to give her love to whom she chooses. O Agency, thy name is... well, I don't know exactly what your name is, but apparently it's not Elena.
I will be back with the full recap ASAP. In the meantime, please grade the episode at the top of the page and then come on over to the forum, where nobody puts Baby in a corner!
As I worked to find an angle for my "We'll Always Have Bourbon Street" recap, I realized I didn't even want to write it. Watching it hasn't made me immune to all its troubling issues; instead, it has made them all the more glaring.
After I showed you my recaplet on Friday afternoon, you said that you see my point about all the ways in which the male characters wield power over the female characters, but you don't think that is the point of the episode. I had a similar exchange with a young woman (older than you, way younger than I) on Twitter, who sees WAHBS as being more about power in general, rather than male power in particular. She doesn't think the male/female issues are the point.
You are right. She is right. You're both right. You're right, in that the episode isn't about sexual politics. And just as I'm sure Julie Plec and Co. are not raving racists, I'm equally certain they haven't set out to wreak some sexist agenda. That doesn't mean, however, that there aren't disgusting sexual politics on display in WAHBS. It doesn't mean there aren't feminist problems with WAHBS. It overflows with them. That you don't see it -- and that you don't think it matters -- is practically all I can think about. Because right now, I regret that I ever let you watch this show.
Perhaps it was the vampires that first tipped me off, but what Plec et al. are making here is art, not reality. I get that, I do. I more than get it -- I appreciate it. I don't want more reality; I get enough of that in... reality. I don't want them to turn this emotionally complex story into a feminist morality tale.
Furthermore, to my knowledge, Williamson and Plec never set out to do what Joss Whedon did with Buffy -- i.e. set up a pretty little blonde victim from monster movies of yore to take back the night -- so it's not like they're betraying their mission statement. And frankly, I don't mind a little sexism in my fantasy drama. That is to say, because fantasy characters live under impossible circumstances in fantastical worlds, we need some way with which to connect to them. A compelling fantasy drama -- one that works -- should evoke mundane, real-world emotions. Fantasy characters should still be people (not necessarily humans, but people) whose emotions, reactions and responses share something with our own. That's the only way they're going to resonate with us.