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The Vampire Diaries, S01E08: 162 Candles; Review by Robin Franson Pruter

vampire-diaries-s1

Originally aired 5 November 2009
Written by Barbie Kligman and Gabrielle G. Stanton
Directed by Rick Bota

Starring Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, and Ian Somerhalder

My rating:  ★ star

A few good moments can’t buoy an episode sunk by the failure of its main story.

The episode begins with the standard horror movie opening of a character alone in a spooky house, complete with ominous music and subjective camera. While I loved the great interior shots of the Salvatore mansion, which gave me renewed appreciation for the series’ set decorator, I never once thought Stefan was in any danger. I saw the cliché for what it was, a fake-out, which wasn’t redeemed by any ironic reflexive acknowledgement of the tiredness of the set-up and the fake-out.

The “it’s only a cat” revelation turns out to be Stefan’s BFF Lexi (Arielle Kebbel), who has come to Mystic Falls to celebrate Stefan’s 162nd birthday. That we’ve never heard of Lexi before is a wee bit perplexing as the episode keeps telling us that she and Stefan are totally best friends. That we have no hint what bonds the two characters in friendship forces the script to reiterate that they are best friends over and over, just to make sure the audience understands that Lexi really is Stefan’s best friend. That, by the end of the second season, we learn the basis of their friendship and what the dynamic is between the two of them doesn’t help us appreciate an episode in the first half of the first season. That Kebbel and Paul Wesley have no chemistry doesn’t help either. And, finally, that Kebbel comes off as awkward and irritating, tottering around like Vampire Barbie, doesn’t help endear the character to the viewers.

Part of the problem is that we simply don’t know enough about Stefan yet to understand the context of his relationship with Lexi. Looking back on this episode, I have to wonder how much the showrunners knew about Stefan and about Stefan and Lexi when they were outlining this episode.

Lexi functions as more of a story device than as any kind of meaningful character. For example, Elena needs encouragement to continue her relationship with Stefan after her discovery of his vampiric condition followed by Vicki’s death. Cue Lexi to assure her that Stefan is a great guy and that vampires and humans can date after all. Then, Damon needs some way to ingratiate himself with the Founders’ Council. Cue Lexi as a convenient scapegoat for him to sacrifice in front of Sheriff Forbes.

Yes, Lexi dies at the end of the episode. I can only surmise that the showrunners placed her death in the episode right after the one in which a regular character dies so that the audience wouldn’t care and, thus, wouldn’t hold too much of a grudge against Damon for killing his brother’s “bestie.” Otherwise, putting Lexi’s death right after Vicki’s is the height of anticlimactic stupidity.

Also, I would like to place a moratorium on the hackneyed narrative situation in which a character walks in on his/her love interest’s previously unknown cousin/sibling/platonic friend in a context that the character will mistakenly interpret as sexual. It’s a situation that never occurs in the real world and only exists to create false drama. Here, Elena finds Lexi walking around the Salvatore mansion in a towel, but her misunderstanding is easily resolved after talking to Stefan. I would think Elena, a character who, in the previous episode, criticized a murderous vampire to his face for being “arrogant and glib,” would not get all self-conscious and tongue-tied when face to face with a blonde in a towel.

This is the only episode directed by Rick Bota. Bota’s uneven directorial style does nothing to mitigate the problems with the character of Lexi and the episode’s script as a whole. I can understand why he never directed another episode, as he shows little affinity for the material.

The episode isn’t all bad. The interlocking dialogue between scenes in the sequence where the sheriff questions Stefan, Elena, Matt, and Jeremy about Vicki’s disappearance is well done. (I do have to wonder why the sheriff didn’t contact social services when a teenager, whose parent skipped town leaving her and her younger brother without supervision, went missing.) I also like the fact that, after the vampire menace has been dispatched, Sheriff Forbes still goes back to The Grill, the town’s watering hole, to arrest the bartender for serving alcohol to minors.

In this episode, we see the beginnings of a connection between Matt and Caroline. After Damon calls Caroline “stupid, useless, and shallow,” she finds a shoulder to cry on in the always accommodating Matt. Zach Roerig does a good job showing Matt’s consternation as he’s torn between wanting to comfort Caroline and being unable to deny that she is, in fact, shallow. The two show promise as a couple. Caroline needs a nice guy, and Matt is laid-back enough to deal with Caroline’s hyper-neurotic insecurities and need for control.

While these bits keep the episode from being a complete failure, “162 Candles” remains the weakest of the series’ early episodes.

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