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The Vampire Diaries, S01E05: You’re Undead to Me; Review by Robin Franson Pruter

vampire-diaries-s1

Originally aired October 8, 2009
Written by Sean Reycraft and Gabrielle Stanton
Directed by Kevin Bray

Starring Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, and Ian Somerhalder

My rating: ★★ stars

Bland episode mechanically advances the story, and Elena emerges as an intelligent heroine.

The fifth episode of the series is a necessary but not particularly interesting one. The main story involves Elena learning what the audience already knows—that Stefan is a vampire. Elena’s piecing together information we’ve been privy to since the beginning doesn’t exactly make for gripping television.

There’s nothing glaringly wrong with the episode. There’s just nothing special, nothing outstanding, nothing to excite the viewer. The episode is strangely flat. It features both big and small story developments, but nothing comes off as momentous or engaging. Elena realizes Stefan is a vampire, a realization she has to make early on in the series or the audience might think she’s a complete idiot. Bonnie sets the school parking lot on fire during a charity car wash—this episode’s special event—as her witchy powers continue to grow. Damon proves that nothing Stefan can do short of killing him will stop him. Oh, and “Uncle” Zach is killed, in a blink-and-you-missed-it moment. Surely, the death of a recurring character should seem monumental, but it doesn’t.

The episode opens with Stefan putting Damon in time-out for 50 years to think about what he’s done. Zach visits Damon’s cell in the basement of the Salvatore house (every mansion should come equipped with its own handy-dandy dungeon next to the wine cellar) to lecture him about what being related to vampires has cost him. It’s a nice speech, which would move us if we cared about Zach at all. Later, Damon manages to summon Caroline to him—the power of summoning someone whom a vampire has fed on or has a connection with is not seen again in the series. Caroline frees him, and he kills Zach. Perhaps, the folks behind the scenes wanted to show how mortal and inconsequential humans are in the world of vampires and how easily human life can be dispatched, by making Zach’s death happen in such a quick, negligible manner. The camera doesn’t linger. The death doesn’t even end the sequence. Damon snaps Zach’s neck and then chases a fleeing Caroline upstairs until the sunlight stops him (Stefan had taken his daylight ring).

I wanted to care about something that happens in this episode. Zach’s death would seem to be the most likely thing care about, but the way it’s presented fails to convey its import. More importantly, Zach is not an appealing or compelling character. Maybe the problem is Chris William Martin’s relentlessly surly performance. Maybe the problem is that Zach never has a scene where he establishes a bond with any other character or the audience. Even Stefan’s dismay at finding his body at the end of the episode seems to stem from the loss of a human life in general rather than Zach specifically and from his realization that the only way to stop his brother is to kill him.

Other than killing Zach, Damon doesn’t have much to do in this episode besides sit in the dungeon and look sickly (from vervain and lack of blood) and listen to Stefan and Zach talk at him. His lack of action and interaction may be necessary from a story perspective, but the writers are not maximizing their best character in this episode.

Elena’s discovery of Stefan’s undead status is not accomplished in a single dramatic moment. She slowly pieces together odd things she’s noticed about Stefan. Eventually, seeing Stefan looking exactly the same in a television news report from 1953 cements her surmise that Stefan is not just an ordinary guy. While this method of Elena’s learning the truth about Stefan lacks dramatic excitement (unlike if she, say, had walked in on him sucking the blood from some defenseless woodland creature), having Elena determine that something is wrong with Stefan on her own shows that Elena is a young woman of acumen and resourcefulness.

Also in this episode, Aunt Jenna shows her remarkable abilities as Elena and Jeremy’s legal guardian. When Elena asks Aunt Jenna if she’s aware that Vicki spent the night as Jeremy’s overnight guest, Aunt Jenna replies, “He could be craftier about it. At least make an effort to sneak her in and out.” Because that’s exactly how a responsible authority figure should react to her drug-dealing, 14-year-old nephew’s drug-addicted hook-up spending the night. Maybe the couple’s nocturnal activities shouldn’t be the foremost of Jenna’s concerns (as Jeremy so eloquently puts it, “I’m a drug-using delinquent. Girl-in-bed doesn’t really rank”), but she should probably be less nonchalant in handling her young charge, who is clearly in a downward spiral.

Mopey Matt returns after being absent last episode. (One regular character will usually be missing from each episode, probably for budgetary reasons—this episode it’s Tyler.) Matt spends the episode offering Elena and Stefan helpful relationship advice. In addition to being the world’s most accommodating friend to Tyler, he’s also the world’s most obliging ex-boyfriend. I think I shall call him DoorMatt. I have never bought that Elena and Matt ever made a workable couple. In the books, Matt has a little more gumption, and his relationship with Elena was never serious, so their being a couple was more believable. In the series, Matt and Elena supposedly had a long-term, serious relationship, but he’s such a wet rag I can’t imagine Elena being with him for very long.

Finally, Stefan and Elena have a get-to-know-you dinner where Stefan gives a rundown of his likes. I know he wanted to prove to Elena that he’s an everyday kind of fellow, but his favorites are prosaic. The Great Gatsby, John Grisham, Seinfeld, I Love Lucy, and Taxi Driver seem like standard choices for a reasonably cultured young man, not like on True Blood where Bill reveals his fondness for Tuvan throat singing. This scene was a missed opportunity for the writers to have fun with the character.

Also, Wesley’s over pronunciation of “mozzarella” in this scene and “lazuli” later in the episode bugs the tar out of me.

Stuff that Bothers Only Me:

In 1953, a local television newscast, assuming the local station offered such a thing (unlikely), would not have had location reporting or footage, only a man behind a desk reading the news. Thus, the 1953 clip of Stefan that Elena finds would not have existed.

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