The Vampire Diaries 3.01 "The Birthday" ReviewA tv review article by: Shawn Hill
Elena's celebrating her 18th birthday, but she and Damon are focused on looking for clues to help discover where Stefan went. Klaus and Stefan follow the trail of a werewolf, and Jeremy can't understand why he keeps seeing the ghosts of Vicki and Anna. Caroline and Tyler face an unexpected challenge.
But First, A Look Back... Season One
In season one of The Vampire Diaries, we met Elena (Nina Dobrev) and Jeremy Gilbert (Steven R. McQueen), siblings in high school whose parents had just died. Over the course of the season, we learn that Elena's parents were actually Isobel and John Gilbert, a vampire and a vampire hunter who gave up Elena to protect her as a child.
Elena meets Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley), a vampire who has returned to his place of origin, Mystic Falls, and passes as a high school student. His black sheep brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder) returns as well and thus begins a triangle with Elena as the central gothic heroine of a supernatural world involving not only vampires, but werewolves, witches and ghosts.
In fact, a group of vampires have been imprisoned in a crypt under the town since the Civil War, and when they escape, they threaten the Signature Series of Town Celebrations that in this first season includes: a comet-watching party; the Founder's dance; 1950's high school dance; Miss Mystic Falls; and Founder's Day itself.
And Then Things Got Weird... Season Two
In season two, Elena's ancestor and doppelganger Katherine (also Nina Dobrev) has returned to town, on a mission of self-protection and intimidation. She throws the Salvatore brothers (whom she made vampires in 1864) into turmoil, and proves herself to be as selfish and manipulative as Elena is brave and generous.
BFF Bonnie's (Kat Graham) witch powers continue to grow, Elana's high school rival, Caroline (Candice Accola) becomes a vampire, and a wealthy jock from a troubled Founding Family, Tyler (Michael Trevino) becomes a werewolf. We learn that werewolves can kill vampires, and that there is an ancient Curse of the Sun and the Moon that kept both in check by confining werewolves to their monthly cycle and keeping vampires out of daylight.
Attempts to break the curse with various talismans keep the season frenetic, until we learn that Elijah (Daniel Gillies) and Klaus (Joseph Morgan), two of the oldest vampires, have Katherine, as well as several other vampires and wolves acting as their agents out of mortal fear. The Curse is ultimately revealed as a ruse designed to further Klaus's true goal, which was to become a hybrid of werewolf and vampire, possessing all the powers of both.
The key to ensuring this transformation: Elena must die. Interrupted events this season include the 1960s themed high school dance; the Historical Society Tea Party; and the Masquerade Ball. We also get many flashbacks to earlier periods, which continue to expand on the histories of the growing vampiric cast.
And Now... Season Three Begins
God, I hate Klaus. That guy is such a complete tool. He also wields a ridiculous amount of plot and story-moving potential, given that he has so little charisma and just doesn't stack up to the rest of the male cast. I mean, this is a show with two soap stars in Stefan and Matt, the grandson of Steve motherfucking McQueen as Jeremy, and Ian Somerhalder as Damon, who I'm pretty sure can be found in the dictionary under "pretty boy." Then there's also Alaric (Matthew Davis), who's Elena's handsome badass academic (Indiana Jones-lite) uncle. And Tyler, latest scion of the jock werewolf side of town.
There's no way Klaus, who is basically the missing love child of David Bowie and Mick Jagger (and I don't mean he can sing), stacks up to any of the other dudes who give this show it's Fabio-ness. And yet he's turned Stefan evil, thinks he killed Elena, murdered her aunt, scared her evil doppelganger/ancestor Katherine into hiding, and has placed his far more charismatic brother Elijah in an underwater coffin with a stake in his chest.
That's apparently Klaus' go-to solution for all of the family members who get in his hair, which is yet another annoying mark against him. This guy is supposed to be a badass, but all he does is smirk and get other people to do his bidding (usually with no visible motivation).
So now he and Stefan are on a killing spree hunting down werewolves (vampires' natural enemy), while Elena is left longing for her missing lover, and Damon (his formerly more evil little brother) is left trying to protect her while also not killing his own girlfriend/sex buddy Andie (Dawn Olivieri). Oh, and he's secretly trying to get his Stefan back, too, before Elena finds out how bad he's become. Again.
Unfortunately, there are no flashbacks this week, which serves as a detriment as those really opened up the show in season one when they began appearing.
Luckily, Somerhalder has the charisma to pull off all these conflicts that Damon experiences, making him seem like an animal straining at a too-short leash in every scene he stalks through (whether clothed – in Johnny Cash black – or not). The rest of the heavy lifting of the acting is left to the ladies, which seems especially unfair this episode, as the body count of downed ladies is at least four, and some of them are permanently finished.
Caroline, the reluctant vampire that still just wants to go to prom, is attacked late in the episode. Andie has a very scary, and unexpected, encounter with Stefan. And two down South honeys get on Klaus' bad side fairly quickly, as does their werewolf hookup (but he's still breathing at the end, because Klaus has plans for him). Klaus always has plans. Klaus should always shut the hell up.
I was worried that this episode would slow down the pace from last season, where you never knew who was going to bite it, who might be saved, whether certain doom was all that certain, and which Season One character might pop up for no reason, not just from episode to episode, but from commercial break to commercial break.
And I was right to worry, because Elena's birthday party (the latest in huge events that provide ripe killing grounds for as much of Mystic Falls as possible), despite a general air of drunken revelry, was a slow-burning way of showing Elena mooning around not getting what she wanted or doing anything about it.
Everyone gets plot advancement this week except her. Though she is TV-land's reigning Buffy, she's not so much kick-ass generally (Nina Dobrev gets to flex those muscles playing her evil double, who was out-of-sight and out-of-mind this week) as kind of tricky and a bit too Bella-esque in her pungent influence on the supernatural realms. Elena just is, in a gothic heroine sort of way. And when Bonnie (her resident witch, and instigator of lots of cool FX usually) is MIA as well, it makes for a kind of sludgy start to the season.
Seeing Caroline and Tyler advance in their forbidden love was kind of cool, and Jeremy's odd visions since being dead were contrasted humorously with a smoking up bro-bonding scene with Matt (especially since one of the haunters is Matt's dead sister), which was a welcome whiff of testosterone. Ghosts are the under-developed frontier of this show rife with other creatures, so I hope they keep that thread going. Little Mr. McQueen is more than up to being his own gothic hero for awhile. But we need Bonnie back ASAP, and somebody's got to deal with Klaus in a really, truly brutally painful way; please make it soon.
This is that rare supernatural romance where the two leads are actually much better together than artificially separated.
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at http://cornekopia.net.