Originally aired October 15, 2009
Written by Kevin Williamson & Julie Plec
Directed by Marcos Siega
Starring Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, and Ian Somerhalder
My rating: ★★★★ stars
The show flashes back to 1864 in an exciting and thematically rich episode.
“Lost Girls” is the episode that convinced me that the series was going to work. It is the first unequivocally good episode of the series (“Friday Night Bites” was marginal). It’s not perfect. However, there’s so much good stuff in the episode that it far outweighs the flaws.
Like most of the first two seasons’ strongest episodes, “Lost Girls” is directed by Marcos Siega. As one of the show’s key producers for the first two years, he helms those episodes most intimately connected to the overarching story of the series. Therefore, he directs the episodes most likely to be great; they’re not great as a result of his direction.
This episode picks up where the last one ended, with Elena asking Stefan, “What are you?” When he confirms he is a vampire, she does the smart thing—she runs like hell. Stefan superspeeds to her house and convinces her to give him one day to explain himself before she goes to the authorities. Although this episode doesn’t feature a special occasion, it’s structured around the events of this single day, when Stefan tries to assuage Elena’s fears about him.
He tells her his history, taking us back to 1864 when the Salvatore brothers met Katherine. This is the first episode where Nina Dobrev plays Katherine, in addition to Elena. Dobrev makes Katherine very different from Elena. While Elena has always been reserved and slightly melancholy (her parents have just died, after all), Katherine is confident and coquettish, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
While the budget doesn’t allow for elaborate period sets or decent wigs for the men, the period scenes provide key story background and add texture to the characters and their relationships. This is particularly true of the complex love-hate relationship between the brothers that is at the heart of the show. The scenes are well written enough to convey that we’re seeing Stefan’s understanding of the past and to give us a sense that maybe Damon and Katherine have different versions of the events, as the Salvatore brothers go from best friends to rivals in a love triangle with Katherine.
Paul Wesley, even this early on, may be hopelessly entrenched as “the other guy from The Vampire Diaries.” To be fair to Wesley, the writers haven’t revealed much about Stefan’s character other than the fact that he’s self-denying and haven’t given the younger Salvatore the memorable dialogue or actions they’ve bestowed upon Damon. However, this episode does provide him some meaty scenes. For example, Stefan relates to Elena that both he and his brother wanted to take Katherine to a ball. Wesley does a good job of subtly switching from pride when Stefan relates that Katherine chose him to escort her to the ball, to regret when he admits, “I didn’t care that I had gotten something that my brother wanted. I didn’t even care if it hurt him,” and finally to chagrin when he reveals that, after he brought Katherine home from the ball, she went to bed with Damon. It’s such a good moment that I found it almost physically painful when, right afterward, while discussing his recent attempt to imprison Damon in the basement dungeon, Stefan spews out an 11 on the cliché meter, “That’s the thing about Damon. He doesn’t get mad; he just gets even.”
Damon’s actions in the episode don’t seem motivated by revenge, however, but by boredom. After his escape from the basement dungeon in the previous episode, Damon starts this episode by feeding on a smorgasbord of drug users but is forced to return to the house because Stefan has taken his daylight ring. He explains to Stefan on the phone, “I’m getting really bored and really impatient, and I don’t do bored and impatient.” Poor Vicki may have survived Damon’s feeding frenzy the previous night, but she falls victim to his boredom. After she and Damon dance around the house half-naked (this is the episode that features the famous “Damon Dance,” seven seconds of screen time so popular it has its own Facebook fan page), trash Stefan’s bedroom, and exchange blood, he snaps her neck. The scene is excellently penned and played with Damon going from shoulder-to-cry-on to killer in an instant, highlighting the mercurial nature of the elder Salvatore brother.
We the viewers, then, learn how a vampire is created in the Vampire Diaries universe. Because she died with vampire blood in her system, Vicki is now on her way to becoming a vampire. Transitioning to vampire, however, requires another step, as Stefan explains to Vicki and Elena later. The nascent vampire must feed on human blood to complete the transition or die. This requirement, which comes from the books, is an interesting addition to traditional vampire mythology because no one can be entirely forced to become a vampire. There is always a moment of choice involved. Elena realizes this immediately. When Stefan tells her that Vicki needs to make the choice to feed, Elena replies, “A choice you made,” a statement almost brutal in its honesty, and it’s not something that Stefan can deny.
This element of choice acts in counterpoint to a flashback earlier in the episode. Katherine, apparently, had no compunction about enjoying both Salvatore brothers because we see her rolling around in bed with Stefan. Mid-coitus, she vamps out and bites. Stefan awakes with a bloody pillowcase and gaping neck wound. He’s horrified, but Katherine compels him to accept her being a vampire without fear and to accept the fact that she is planning a nice little eternal ménage for the three of them—Katherine, Stefan, and Damon. Stefan also mentions to Elena his belief that Damon was compelled as well. Ultimately, however, as the situation with Vicki demonstrates, Stefan, despite Katherine’s compulsion, had a choice in becoming a vampire.
Once Vicki makes her choice and completes her transition, Elena has a choice of her own to make. She tells Stefan that she won’t out him to the authorities but that she can’t continue to be his girlfriend. Sounds reasonable. After all, he’s dead, approaching 162 years old, a blood-sucking monster, and saddled with “raging family issues,” as she described his relationship with Damon in an earlier episode. Not exactly great boyfriend material.
Damon’s choices in this episode reflect a contradiction—when he thinks out his actions beforehand, he makes a destructive (both to himself and others) choice, but when he acts on instinct he does the right thing. When he decides to turn Vicki into a vampire, he mumbles, “I’m so going to regret this.” He can acknowledge that he’s making the wrong choice, but he does it anyway. Later, when he saves Stefan’s life, he seems to be acting without any conscious thought at all. When a Founders’ Council member incapacitates and is about to stake Stefan, Damon jumps in and rips out the attacker’s throat, declaring “No one kills my brother but me.” It’s a moment that could be ridiculous, but Somerhalder plays it with such gusto and relish that it comes off as epically cool. The incongruity inherent in his line also reflects his deeply conflicted feelings about Stefan. By this point in the series, the viewers comprehend that neither brother wants the other dead. But they certainly aren’t the “best friends” that Stefan, earlier in the episode, claimed they once were.
As much as Damon is responsible for Vicki’s tragedy in this episode (not to mention the deaths of the Council member and the nameless drug addicts), it’s hard for the audience to dislike him or even wish him ill. Damon’s appeal, despite his heinous actions, stems partly from Somerhalder’s charisma but, more importantly, from good work by the writers, as they drop in hints of a more sympathetic character beneath the monstrous surface. For example, during the dancing scene, Vicki rambles on about her confused love life, then asks Damon why he doesn’t have a girlfriend. “Don’t you want to be in love?” she asks. Damon replies, “I’ve been in love. It’s painful, pointless, and overrated.” His tone is hardly serious, but, less than a minute of screen time later, we see him looking longingly at the tintype of Katherine in Stefan’s room. Although the viewers don’t see Damon’s perspective on the past in this episode, we understand that his feelings for Katherine run very deep, much deeper, in fact, than Stefan’s seem to, as Stefan narrates the flashbacks with a dispassionate distance.
The episode illustrates the delicious complexity of the characters and the relationships between them, a richness that will be the series’ primary strength. It also becomes the first episode to tackle the series’ primary concept—that of choice—in a direct way. Overall, “Lost Girls” is visual, exciting, and multi-layered, an episode that makes the audience want to know more about the characters and to tune in to discover what happens next.