Review of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES – Isobel (2010)

Mommy dearest is one conniving, back-stabbing bitch that would do anything to protect her little girl, including put a hit out on her boyfriend

Family reunions are not Mystic Falls’ strong suit. If anything, it specializes in fragmented families and tearing families apart.

 This week introduced Isobel (Mia Kirshner), Elena’s (Nina Dobrev) long-lost birth mother who is nothing like what a mother should be. She’s self-obsessed, needlessly cruel, wantonly sexual and a master manipulator. Perhaps because of these qualities, Katherine chose Isobel wisely. With pre-existing relationships with John (David Anders), Alaric (Matt Davis) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder), Isobel knew exactly how to play everyone to suit her ends — and she got to meet her daughter on her own terms.

 But beneath that false-facade of bravado and devil-may-care attitude, Isobel has a lot to lose as she clearly loves her daughter and will do anything to protect her. Perhaps that is the very carrot-and-stick that Katherine (Nina Dobrev) used to make Isobel do her bidding. For surely, Isobel would not willingly do all of Katherine’s dirty work. Thus, there must be a compelling reason for Isobel to act as hardened and uncaring as she does.

 It’s all a show. Like every other vampire, love motivates everything they do. In Isobel’s case, it is her love for Alaric who she gave a protection ring and her love for Elena, the daughter she gave up to keep her safe. So now that Elena is right smack in the middle of a vampire tug-of-war and a brewing vampire-war, Isobel is doing everything she can to protect her — even if it means obtaining a deadly device and handing it over to John so that he can kill every vampire he can hunt down in Mystic Falls.

 What Worked

 Isobel was queen of the night. She was a bad-ass vamp with no scruples about doing whatever it took to get what she wanted. She told everyone exactly what they needed to hear to fear her, hate her, or desire her. She played cool with Alaric to push him away and only dropped her guard when she knew she could compel him to forget that she still cared. She tried to seduce Damon to get what she wanted, like she had before. And she alternated between playing the mommy role to Elena and the cold-hearted bitch that would kill Jeremy (Steven McQueen) to get the device. But perhaps to Isobel’s dismay, she was a lot more transparent than she thought. No matter how many times she knocked John around, he kept coming back. John knew her better than she knew herself. As Elena’s birth parents, they both had vested interests in obtaining the device and eradicating as many vampires infesting Mystic Falls as they could — though it seems ironic since Isobel herself is a vampire. But as we have seen time and time again, there are definitely factions of vampires who were willing to kill other vampires for their own agendas. Damon killed Lexie (Arielle Kebbel) to get the Town Council from sniffing around for more vampires. The tomb vamps tried to kill Damon and Stefan (Paul Wesley) to enact their revenge for 150 years of captivity. And now Isobel wanted to ensure a better life for her daughter and make sure that any temptation to become a vampire was removed from Elena’s life.

 However, Isobel’s motherly advice needs some work as she dispensed such creepy gems like: “You look just like her. It’s eerie. . . . [Katherine] would be fascinated by you”; “Why Stefan? Why didn’t you go for Damon? Or do you enjoy them both? Like Katherine did”; and “It’s inevitable. You’re going to get old. Stefan won’t. Forever doesn’t last very long when you’re human.” It was downright chilling how she would throw out such hurtful barbs. It was enough to make your skin crawl. But her one redeeming moment was in the end when she told John, “I don’t want this life for her… She’s our daughter, John. We owe that to her.” She revealed that by pushing Elena away and trying to make herself as repulsive as possible, how much she cared for Elena – and she was doing everything possible to ensure that Elena did not follow in her footsteps. Life as a vampire is worse than Elena can imagine. There is a reason they call it a curse after all.

 So when Elena asked Isobel, “Why are you doing this?” Isobel insightfully replied, “I’m showing you how easy it is to hurt the people you care about.” After finding out that Isobel wanted her to ask Damon for the device, Elena rebelliously told Isobel, “I told you, Damon, wont give [the device] to you,” Isobel merely smiled and said, “I think you under-estimate how much Damon cares about you.” Later, after Elena handed the device over to Isobel, she curiously asked, “You took a risk with Damon, how did you know he was going to give it to me?” Isobel knowingly responded, “Because he’s in love with you.” Then, as her final bit of motherly advice, Isobel warned her, “Goodbye, Elena. As long as you have a Salvatore on each arm, you’re doomed. Katherine was smart — she got out. But we all know you’re not Katherine.”

 While Elena may not have any plans to have a Salvatore on each arm, the brothers are finally realizing that the age-old battle for one girl’s affections is far from over. For after seeing how easily Damon caved to Elena’s plea to help Jeremy and give up the device, as well as catching the expression on Damon’s face when Isobel revealed that he was in love with Elena, Stefan cornered him and said, “About what Isobel said . . . I know you and Elena bonded and that she cares about you and I know you care about her. . . I’m just concerned about Elena being hurt. She considers you a friend.” To which, Damon slowly replied, “Same here. Elena’s a very good friend. Actually, she might qualify as my only friend. Is that a problem?” Stefan then pointedly said, “So at the risk of sounding like a jealous boyfriend . . . history will not be repeating itself where Elena’s concerned. Do you understand what I’m saying?” However, Damon just flippantly replied, “Sure. . . . oh, and when you do tell Elena [about her father] and she needs a friend to talk to, I’m here for her.” The tiny smile on his face reflected that he clearly thought that the battle has just begun.

 Returning to Isobel and her wicked ways, it was particularly touching how Isobel tried to protect Alaric in her own twisted way by pushing him away. To fuel his hatred of her, she merely said, “I don’t have any reasons that are going to comfort you. I don’t have any explanations that are going to satisfy you. I wanted this. . . .You were supposed to mourn me and move on.” Disbelieving Alaric softly asked, “You were my wife and I loved you. How could I not search for you?” and Isobel snapped back, “Because I was not lost.” But later when Isobel came to say good-bye to him, Alaric challenged her indifference by stating, “You act like you don’t care. But you cared enough to protect me after you left. . . . The woman I married is gone — you expect me to believe that?” and to prove he was right about her not being totally emotion-free, he taunted her by taking off his protection ring saying, “I’m ring free, vervain free. So either kill me or compel me, because I don’t believe it — not for a second.” Seeing his pain and naked love, Isobel finally admitted, “I wanted this. I needed this — and I’m going to regret it forever. This was my mistake. Not yours.” And with those whispered words ringing in his ears, she compelled him to forget everything she had told him. For in her mind, it is easier to be hated and vilified than loved and cherished.

Isobel’s relationships with each person she encountered were diverse and fascinating. For in addition to Alaric who still loved her, John still clearly had residual feelings. As Elena’s father, he also could not help but love her and loath her simultaneously. He loved the woman, but despised the infected beast she had become. So Isobel dangled John on the end of a string as they both needed each other to get what they wanted and she knew exactly which buttons to push to keep him in line and to assert her dominance. When she taunted him, “You failed, John. I’m going to take it from here,” and slapped him so hard that he bounced off the wall, the slap must have echoed through Mystic Falls. But John took it like he was accustomed to such abuse from her. His long-suffering expression said it all. He would take the abuse to aid her in this particular quest to protect those he loved: Elena, Jeremy and Jenna – and perhaps even Isobel too.

John has demonstrated surprising new sides to his multi-faceted character. This week we got to see the more gentle and docile side, contrasted by the revealing of an under-current of real back-bone and strength of character. Such as when John protested about Isobel’s treatment of the young couple that acted as her minions and slaves, “They’re people, Isobel, and you’re treating them like they’re dolls.” No matter how determined John may be to achieve his goals, he clearly does not want to compromise some of his values – and respecting human beings as human beings is something he wants to preserve. He also stepped in to try to get Jeremy released and was willing to take a beating for it – even without his magically recuperative healing ring. He also showed amazing sensitivity in talking to Jeremy without alienating him about the fact that Jeremy is dating a vampire.

After desperately seeking Anna (Malese Jow), it was really quite beautiful when Anna finally came to Jeremy in the end with tears streaming down her face, as she said, “I know I’m not supposed to be here, but I don’t have any place else to go.” Jeremy is now in the same position as Elena: he loves a vampire and it will be up to him to protect Anna from Uncle John. Because, unfortunately, in John’s mind, there is no such thing as a good vampire. When Jeremy defensively asserted, “But there are some good [vampires] out there,” John sadly responded, “There’s no such thing.” It remains to be seen if John is right or not – is it possible for a vampire to still have a soul?

Bonnie (Katerina Graham), Bonnie, Bonnie – what have you done?! Who knew that the phrase “the bitch is back” was actually referring to Bonnie and not Isobel. For in the end, Isobel upheld her end of the bargain and returned Jeremy unharmed. In Bonnie’s case, she caused more damage than good as she pretended to cast the spell to neutralize the device, all the while knowing that it would still kill vampires. Her false attempt to play nice and be a friend to Elena again was simply a subterfuge to get close and find a way to strike back at Stefan and Damon, who she blames for her grandmother’s death. But what Bonnie did not foresee was by not deactivating the device, if John and Katherine’s plan works and Stefan and Damon are killed, Elena will be more vulnerable than ever. For without her two staunch bodyguards, Elena will be easy pickings for the next vamp to stroll into Mystic Falls. Bonnie is absolutely right when she told Caroline (Candice Accola), “When Elena finds out, she’s never going to forgive me.” But she had better hope that Elena’s forgiveness is the only thing lacking, for Elena’s terrestrial days may be numbered without Stefan and Damon around to protect her.

What Didn’t Work

It felt implausible that Alaric would allow himself to be ambushed by Isobel outside the bar. Surely a vampire-hunter would know better than to go out alone at night without a handy wooden stake just in case he was accosted by a hostile vampire. The town is crawling with them after all. And why on earth did he wait until the next day to tell everyone that Isobel was in town?! He should have picked up a phone right away to warn everyone. Imagine the trouble a vamp can cause in a few dark hours when there is an unsuspecting populace to feed upon.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

‘Isobel’ was written by Caroline Dries and Brian Young and directed by J. Miller Tobin. ‘The Vampire Diaries’ stars Paul Wesley, Nina Dobrev, Ian Somerhalder, Steven R. McQueen, Candice Accola, Katerina Graham, Michael Trevino, Zach Roerig, Sara Canning, Matt Davis. ‘The Vampire Diaries’ airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on the CW.

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