18 September 2009

The Vampire Diaries S1 E2 "Night of the Comet"

Spoilers Ahead

So the second episode of The Vampire Diaries left me less than impressed. There were a couple of enjoyable moments (more on those later), but mostly this episode was just lacking.

"Night of the Comet" opens almost exactly as the pilot episode did--with a couple of college students out at night in a remote location. Kids get separated. Boy meets a nasty fate. Girl has terrified moment of realization followed by a frantic escape attempt. Nasty fate gets her too. Standard horror movie scenario. Not sure why the show wanted to go this route twice, let alone twice in a row (hope this isn't going to be their regular opening scene). Of course, the big difference this week is that the kids were in a tent in the woods (as opposed to driving on a desolate country road). Apparently comet watching is somehow enhanced by a heavy tree canopy, but that's another issue altogether.

The comet in question is not only the week's main entertainment in Mystic Falls (it must be a small town--everyone is talking about it, it's the focus of a lesson in history class, the town gathers to watch in the main square...) but the story is that the comet brings mayhem and carnage with it. It's weak as far as plot devices go, but this episode doesn't have a lot of strengths going for it anyway.

By the way, the person who tells Elayna about the comet's nasty reputation is her psychic friend, Bonnie, who also happens to mention that she's not really psychic so much as a witch (according to her wacky grandmother--but she knows it's not really true; those clairvoyant visions she keeps having are just coincidental). This one got a big eye-roll from me. As if the show isn't already painfully similar enough to Buffy, they had to make the best friend a witch too? I guess they figure it's okay because Bonnie's nothing like Willow--she's African-American. Sigh.

Vicki is glamoured (to borrow True Blood's term for a vampire's ability to hypnotize) to within an inch of her sanity. First by Stefan, after he hears from her brother Matt that Vicki claimed she was attacked by a vampire. Even though Matt doesn't believe her (he rightly assumes she was drunk), Stefan goes to the hospital to alter her memory. Of course Matt sees him there, which only fuels his suspicions about Stefan (although what those suspicions are exactly is not clear. He just doesn't like the guy). The problem is that Stefan's powers are weak so Vicki still dreams about being attacked by Damon and then recognizes him once she's out of the hospital. So Damon takes it upon himself to do a more thorough job, this time implanting the memory that it was Stefan who attacked her. Now this could have been interesting. What would happen if this traumatized girl suddenly started claiming that the new boy in school is a vampire? Damon's plan seems to be to get Stefan to feed from Vicki, if not to kill her, then at least to gain enough strength to glamour her properly (but really he just wants Stefan to kill her, and thus remember what it means to be a real--powerful--vampire). Alas, Stefan merely tells Damon he doesn't care if Vicki outs him, that he'd rather be chained up and staked than have to put up with Damon any longer. So Damon glamours Vicki back into thinking she was attacked by an animal and the whole thing ends up being on the pointless side.

Speaking of pointless, things start off well between Stefan and Elayna. After their night of (just) talking, he gives her an original copy of Wuthering Heights (Angel waited until season 3 to give Buffy a first edition) and then they make eyes at each other in history class (which is, apparently, the only class anyone takes. Makes sense since there only seems to be one teacher in the entire school). But when Elayna drops by Stefan's house, she finds Damon there instead. Damon tells Elayna all about Stefan's "ex," Katherine and how badly it ended and how hurt Stefan was, and comments not-so innocently that everyone knows how rebound relationships turn out. That's enough to scare her off, although Stefan showing up and staring down his brother rather than acknowledging her probably didn't help.

When Stefan and Elayna meet up again at the comet fest she tells him that what they had was nice, "But then the sun came up and reality set in." This works out for Stefan, though, because it gives him a chance to hone his brooding skills (anyone else really want to see a Stefan-Angel brood-off?) But not to worry--by the end of the episode Elayna goes to Stefan and tells him the truth about how she feels: that she's scared to be happy. Stefan then offers a little inspirational speech about how "This is reality right here." Cue sappy music. Cue kiss. Cue yawn.

Luckily the show doesn't end on that cheesy note. It cuts to Damon hooking up with Caroline. As she writhes and moans underneath him, he vamps out and lunges for her neck. Nice.

I did promise a couple of good things about the episode. There was a great moment when Aunt Jenna (in the oh-so original role of flaky young aunt forced by circumstances to become the responsible authority figure) tries to give Jeremy the "drug talk" by starting out with how she used to get stoned and how it never solved anything, blah blah. Just when I thought we would have to sit through a classic "just say no" lecture, Jeremy walks out. TV sure has come a long way since I was a teen (although I have no doubt Jeremy's naughty behaviour will ultimately catch up with him).

Another (really) good thing: Stefan's house. I want. That is all.

But the part of the show that makes it worth watching is Damon. He gets the best lines, his character is by far the most interesting (I believe I mentioned the Spike vibe he's got going), and he's not too hard on the eyes, either (although occasionally I wish he'd run a brush through his hair). I liked Ian Somerhalder as Boone on Lost, and it seems his talents have transferred nicely to this role. He's got great onscreen presence as well, dominating any scene he's in. More of Damon, please.

Unfortunately, the things I mentioned I was worried about last time seem to already be happening. I was concerned about poor production values. Well, it seems they blew the budget on episode one because the special effects this time around consisted of a bucket of paint and a light bulb for the comet (not good) and a lot of red eyeliner for Damon when he vamped out.

I also wondered whether the diary narration/framework of the show would get dropped over time. Well, this episode already cut it to the bare minimum, consisting of a few seconds at the beginning of the show. At the end when Elayna goes to see Stefan, she claims that she would normally be writing her feelings down in her diary but she realized that what she really should do is just tell him how she feels. So it looks like the diary portion of events is on the way out. This is unfortunate, not only because it worked well in the first episode, but also because it undermines the entire premise of the show. Honestly, the diaries were the one thing that made this show unique among vampire shows. And as far as plot devices go, it's infinitely better than a mayhem-causing comet.

Lastly, I expressed my fears about "excess teen melodrama." I won't say it's excessive yet, but it's getting there. The parts with the vampires (okay, mostly with Damon) are great, however, so the outlook is good if the producers focus more on the paranormal instead of the just plain normal. Unfortunately, I just found out the Executive Producer (and writer of the first two episodes) is Kevin Williamson of Dawson's Creek fame. The outlook is not so good (although he is also responsible for Scream, so there's still some hope. Very little, but some). Much like Bonnie, I've had a sudden vision of the future of this show, and it's not pretty.

Will I keep watching The Vampire Diaries? Yes--it's too soon to give up. And truthfully, I have seen worse. But I'm afraid it's going to be another show I only watch for one fantastic character. Even worse--I'm afraid it's going to end up being 90210 (or rather, Dawson's Creek) with fangs. The things a vampire addict has to put up with to get her fix...

Fang Files

Physical Appearance: Dark facial veins; dark red-rimmed eyes when the vampire is unleashed. Otherwise human.

Strengths: Ability to summon/control animals (crow). Super hearing. Power of hypnotism. Ability to fly. Extreme brooding.

Weakenesses: If they don't feed "properly" (i.e. on human blood) their abilities don't always work. Stakes.

Sound Bites

Elayna: He didn't tell me he had a brother.
Damon: Well, Stefan's not one to brag.

Damon: (to Stefan) We both know the closest you'll get to humanity is when you rip it open and feed on it.

Stefan: What are you up to, Damon?
Damon: That's for me to know and you to dot dot dot [...] Give my best to Elayna.

The Vampire Diaries, Season 1 Episode 2 "Night of the Comet." Written by Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson. Directed by Marcos Siega. From The CW.

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