New vampire baddie, chemistry between Damon and Kelly, and no ridiculous product placements? No wonder I wasn't checking the clock every ten minutes during this episode.
"There Goes the Neighborhood" starts at the escaped vampires' new HQ--the isolated house belonging to "Miss Gibbons," a compelled human (is she a teacher or something? I don't remember this character at all...) We see the vamps being updated on modern life, everything from fashion to texting. We're also introduced to the new bad guy: Frederick (Stephen Martines, The Closer). We know he's bad from the scowl on his face and the way he treats their mortal hostess. This is promising (after all, we need a new evil vampire now that Damon is becoming increasingly--though inexplicably--sympathetic. At least there's still some enjoyable ambiguity left in Damon). There's also some nice tension going on between Frederick and fellow escapee Harper (probably not helped by Freddy calling Harper "boy"). Oh, and the vampires managing to escape from the supposedly sealed tomb is explained as 'something must have gone wrong with the witches' mojo.' Okay, then.
The escaped vampires are up to something, led by Anna's mother, Pearl. She and Anna pay a visit to Damon (who's going to have to find a human to move in with him and Stefan, unless they want more hostile vampires letting themselves in). Damon's response is to try to choke Pearl, but he's not much of a match for the older vampire and, thus, quickly becomes more amenable to her presence in his home. Pearl lets Damon know that she and her cohorts are out to take Mystic Falls--and everything that was stolen from them--back. Might I just say that Damon gives an excellent look of skepticism here. I'm a fan of expressive actors. Anyway, she tells him she wants the names of everyone who's part of the town's anti-vampire cabal, as well as the names of everyone Damon gave vervain to. When Damon responds that he's not interested in being part of Pearl's plan, she tells him she can give him Katherine. Surprisingly, Damon's still not interested. Just as I was remarking on the lovely sepia-toned lighting in this scene, Pearl decided to persuade Damon with a pair of thumbs digging into his eye sockets. To say that was a shock is an understatement. Ouch. But not to worry--Damon's looking pretty again by that night (although his eyes are still sensitive and he needs to wear sunglasses). And now he's Pearl's unwilling accomplice.
Pearl also rents an office in town, apparently to set up an apothecary. Not sure how that's going to help with her nefarious plans, but I'm
Elayna, meanwhile, is finally upset with Damon, thanks to his history with her birth mother, Isobel (more on that here). Once again I have to wonder how the writers justify her not being overly bothered by Damon killing people (including people she knew), threatening her and the people she cares about, using and/or betraying pretty much everyone around him, or kidnapping her and taking her to another state. But turning Isobel--that's what really irritates Elayna. Way to get your priorities straight!
Anyway, sick of all things vampire (except her boyfriend, of course), Elayna insists that she and Stefan have one normal day together. So they decide to go on a double-date with Matt (Elayna's ex) and Caroline (Damon's ex), where they proceed to spend the night watching Damon, Kelly (Matt's mom) and Jenna (Elayna's aunt) get plastered; ignore the implicit threat of the man (Frederick) who mistakes Elayna for Katherine; repair Stefan's vintage (and gorgeous) red sports car before taking it for a spin; then walking in on Damon and Kelly getting to know each other more intimately. Sure--perfectly normal.
By the way, the scene between Damon and Kelly is described in another review as "comparable" to anything in True Blood. Don't get me wrong--it's a nice scene, with enviable chemistry between Ian and Melinda, but True Blood it ain't. That being said, I hope we get to see the continuation.
After the date's over and everyone's gone home, Damon and Stefan are paid another visit when Fred and fellow vamp Beth-Ann come crashing through the window (see why I said they need to get a mortal roommate?) Beth-Ann ends up staked, but Frederick takes off when he realizes the odds are against him (another stock bad-guy move). Stefan recognizes the vampires as ones from the tomb, prompting Damon to let Stefan in on his chat with Pearl. While Stefan calls Elayna to assure her they had a totally normal evening, Damon's in the background dragging Beth-Ann over to the fireplace for imminent disposal--one of the most enjoyable moments of the show so far (more of those, please!)
While all this is going on, Jeremy is busy researching vampires, getting in touch online with a fellow believer who calls herself "BloodyBecky." Anna, meanwhile, has apparently been feeling nostalgic and shows up unannounced at his door. Jeremy pretends everything's fine but quickly starts bringing the conversation back to the topic of vampires. Anna hedges, so Jeremy decides to push. He "accidentally" cuts himself in the kitchen then confronts Anna with his bloody hand. Unable to resist, she vamps out. He tells her to go for it and she starts drinking from the cut. Too bad the moment is ruined by Jenna's arrival home. Anna disappears while Jeremy's back is turned. Much later, Anna returns, surprising Jeremy in his bedroom. She asks why he risked it and he asks why she didn't kill him (apparently she's a sucker for lost boys like him. Get it?) When she keeps pressing why he risked it, Jeremy finally admits that he wants her to turn him. That was something of a surprise, although I'm wondering if Jeremy has some kind of ulterior motive. You don't go researching how to kill a vampire if you want to be one. Then again, maybe he's just being thorough.
Oh, and if anyone cares, Matt endures drama with Caroline, as well as with Kelly. Caroline spends the episode pouting and whinging that Elayna is everyone's first choice while she herself is only a backup. And then it's all okay because Matt tells Caroline she's the one he wants to be with. If anyone cares.
So overall not a bad episode. Well-shot, well-paced, decently plotted and written. Unfortunately for every one of these we have four "Family Ties." If only that ratio could be inverted, we might have a show. I say get rid of everyone but Damon and build a vampire show around him. But since that won't happen, we'll take what we can get.
Appearance: Pale humans, until they vamp out: then prominent canines; dark facial veins; and dark, red-rimmed eyes. Dead vampires look like extra-veiny human corpses. Vampire bites resemble vicious animal bites.
Strengths: Power of compulsion. Super strength (the older the vampire, the stronger they are), Fast healing. Super speed.
Weaknesses: Vervain, stakes.
Mythology: A vampire can't enter the home of a mortal unless invited, but they don't need an invitation to enter a vampire's residence if no human also lives there.
Pearl: Is it just you and your brother?
Anna: Yeah, how do you keep out unwelcome vampires?
Damon: Kill them. [He then attacks Pearl]
Frederick: Vervain. Making it hard to eat in this town.
Stefan: (referring to Frederick and Beth-Ann) I remember them. From 1864--they were in the tomb.
Damon: Yeah, about that--
The Vampire Diaries, Season 1 Episode 16 "There Goes the Neighborhood." Written by Bryan Oh and Andrew Chambliss. Directed by Kevin Bray. From The CW.