Return to Mystic Falls: Review of Vampire Diaries 3.1 “The Birthday”

September 22, 2011 Reviews, TV, Watching 1

Spoiler Alert!

I’ve said all along that evil!Stefan was much more interesting than good!Stefan. The season premiere opens with such a bang that all the crying and commiserating Stefan has been doing for two seasons interdispersed with tiny moments packing real punches is all worth it.

Paul Wesley really lends himself to the idea that bad guys are just more fun to play – I enjoyed the tidbits of evil!Stefan we got last season and almost I enjoyed him more in this episode than I have for two seasons full-stop. We’ve been shown all along that while Damon glories in his vampirism (thus making him the bad brother), Stefan is an addict who often falls off the wagon, and has some pretty serious guilt about it. After the things we see him do in the pilot (ie: tear bodies apart, torture with poison), it’s clear this behavior isn’t new to Stefan and maybe has more to atone for than we’ve given him credit for. Stefan’s past, when he was nicknamed “The Ripper”, has been pretty ambiguous up until now – obviously the word “ripper” brings to mind all sorts of less-than-fun things, but without some specific citings of his crimes, it’s hard to empathize with his burgeoning guilt and manly tears. This time, when Alaric and Damon follow up on a lead and enter a home which has blood splattered all over the walls like a Wes Craven set after they call “cut” and two dead girls propped on the couch, Damon helps us put the pieces together (eeew) by nudging one of the bodies, making the decapitation a bit more obvious. Alaric is, of course, horrified, and Damon points out that Stefan has always had a mean streak followed by crippling guilt: he tears the bodies apart while feeding and in fit of remorse when he recovers, he puts them back together. At this point Damon, who has become the reliable Salvatore (which isn’t a surprise since we’ve been shown since the pilot that he’s not all that he appears), calmly torches the place so that no one gets in trouble for what Stefan has done. Predictably, he does this for his own good, but we all know that Damon does a lot more for other people’s good than he ever admits to himself or anyone else.

So while Elena has been trying to suss out leads to find Stefan, Damon has been pissing in her Cheerios and telling her that it’s useless looking for him – classic Damon jackholery. Of course, he’s taking her leads and paling up with Alaric to find Stefan, which is also classic Damon protectiveness. This doesn’t turn out well for him by the end of the episode by any means – Elena yells at him (nothing new) and Stefan kills Andie, his compelled girlfriend, whom, shock upon shocks, Damon actually appears to care for. Andie has been a serious point of contention for Damon fans – if Damon is turning a new leaf, it’s completely undermined by his compelled girlfriend who seems to serve no purpose but food, sex, and information, since she is a television news reporter. She sasses Damon enough that it’s clear she doesn’t spend their entire relationship compelled, but still, a Damon trying to change his stripes keeping a food-sex girl around doesn’t reflect well on him at all. Therefore Andie’s death at Stefan’s hands makes her more important than she was when she had lines: she proves that Stefan has moved his boundaries of acceptable behavior way beyond the lines, she proves that perhaps Damon can actually care for PEOPLE and not just Elena (which, as a recovering “bad guy”, it’s hard to buy as real when he only changes his behavior for her instead of because of her), and she is removed as this blight on Damon’s shiny developing good guy armor.

Klaus’s true plan is revealed and I have to say I wasn’t surprised: Klaus wants a bunch of werewolf-vamp hybrids to help him take over the world. I admit I’m still occasionally flabberghasted because the last time I saw Joseph Morgan, he was crying over Christina Cole in Hex and was far from the collected genocidal maniac he plays on my screen these days – but he does a darned good job, because I entirely believe Klaus will kill everyone to get what he wants. It’s just so time consuming, you see, to kill everyone, so if people could just be scared and listen to him, that would be much better. Yikes.

I have to say though, the real highlight of the episode for me was Caroline Forbes and Tyler Lockwood. I’ve been burning a candle for these two since last season in a serious way. The few laughs in this episode of blood and betrayal come from their interactions – and if there’s something I love about this show, it’s the ability to break up the ominous supernatural every once in awhile with some real humanity. It appears that Tyler is back in Mystic Falls to stay – no longer chasing the acceptance of a werewolf pack – and he and Caroline are getting along again. In fact, they’re getting along so well that Matt (inducted into the We Know Club at the end of the last season) isn’t speaking to either his now-ex girlfriend or his now-ex best friend. He sashays in and out of the episode dropping bitter one-liners about how he’s been so marginalized and betrayed and I’d rag on him more for this, but he’s kind of right. However, Tyler and Caroline are not together-together in the way one might’ve desired after their cuddles and Serious Moments last season. Instead they’re just two kids with supernatural stuff in their lives, trying to work through it. It’s clear, however, that Caroline wants more and Tyler isn’t into guessing games. (At one point Tyler asks her to either want him or not but to say it out loud. Go Tyler. Surprising move in emotional maturity there!) They talk enough that Caroline has dished to Tyler that when Elena thought Damon was dying of werewolf-poison last season, she kissed him. Tyler informs Elena, from the guy’s POV, that maybe she shouldn’t be so hard on Damon because she’s clearly messing with his head. Tyler casually, cavalierly even, points out that everyone knows Damon has a thing for her and maybe kissing him wasn’t her best idea. After giving Caroline an Evil Death Glare of Doom, Elena points out she thought he was dying and that it was a goodbye kiss. Tyler just shrugs in his masculine way as though to say “well, that’s your problem”; having given his two cents, he no longer has any interest in Elena’s love life. When Elena exits, Caroline informs Tyler that just because she tells him things doesn’t mean he’s supposed to know them. Another classic Tyler shrug-off coming right up.

I do perhaps have to point out that I am a huge Tyler fan, and a huge Caroline fan. These two characters have come SO FAR from where they were when we first met them, really fleshed out into people instead of stereotypes, and I have a huge girl-boner for good character development. Coincidentally I am a Damon fan and am eyeing Stefan appraisingly.

The episode wraps up with Caroline and Tyler sharing the discovery that they are both incredibly horny all the time and these are side-effects of their supernatural conditions. Who better to work out the kinks with than each other? What is introduced as a friends-with-benefits scenario that had me fuming (“after all this, if they make this all about sex I am breaking up with this show!”), quickly becomes something scarier as Caroline tries to sneak out of the house in the dark of night, only to be confronted with vampire hunter Mrs. Lockwood (who supposedly doesn’t know she’s a creature of the night who just happens to have another of those fancy rings that lets her hang out in the day) who darts her full of vervain, knocking her out with nary a word while Tyler slumbers upstairs.

The next episode is purportedly a flashback to Stefan’s original Ripper days – I’m looking forward to finding out about his on-again-off-again blood habit that he can’t reconcile with himself the way Damon does, and seeing why, exactly, Stefan is so infamous in the vampire world. I also want to know why Mrs. Lockwood is cockblocking my ‘ship. Not on, Madame Mayor. NOT ON.