Originally aired 21 January 2010
Written by Kevin Williamson, Julie Plec and Sean Reycraft
Directed by David Barrett
Starring Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, and Ian Somerhalder
My rating: ★★ 1/2 stars
Shaky premise and some bad writing choices redeemed by good performances d a few knockout revelations.
The number of diaries and journals is multiplying quickly. In addition to Elena’s and Stefan’s journals, which we’ve heard little of since the early episodes (thank goodness), we have Alaric’s journal and the journal of Jonathan Gilbert, Jeremy and Elena’s ancestor. We learn in this episode that all the founding members of the town kept journals. I just wish each journal didn’t come with a voice over. Alaric’s opening voice over in this episode told us nothing that couldn’t have been conveyed either non-verbally or through a conflict-driven scene. Plus, Matt Davis’s voice doesn’t really work in voice over.
The rating on this one was a tough decision. The episode is enjoyable and well executed. The problem is that the premise is unsound. After saving Elena from a car accident and an anonymous vampire, Damon decides to take her on a non-consensual road trip to Georgia. Damon has no reason to bring Elena along. He just does–because Damon is wacky that way. I would buy that explanation except that Damon has every reason to believe that Elena would be uncooperative, that she would hinder him in his quest to discover a new way to free Katherine from the tomb.
Ultimately, the writers needed Damon and Elena to bond, so they created this road trip to Georgia (where, conveniently, TVD is filmed) even though it lacks narrative motivation.
Also lacking motivation is Elena’s passionate defense of Damon’s life at the end of the episode. Elena defends him even though, so far, she has no reason to like the elder Salvatore. Yes, I believe that Elena would not want to see anyone set on fire in front of her, but her defense of Damon goes beyond an instinctive aversion to violence, and nothing in the series has led the viewers to think that Elena would want Damon to live.
Damon’s being doused with gasoline and nearly set on fire is not the most violent scene in the episode. This episode is the first time we see Damon (or anyone else) use a maneuver that will occur semi-regularly in the series—punching through someone’s chest to remove the heart while it’s still beating. Overall, the series has what I would consider an extreme level of violence. While such violence is appropriate to the narrative, I can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable that such violence passes muster on a broadcast network without anyone commenting on it. I also feel a bit disturbed by how comfortable the series gets with that heart-removal maneuver. It’s shocking in this episode. It’s shocking the second time it’s used. But the series stops trying to derive shock value from it, and it’s presented as commonplace before too long.
On the up side, the viewers get a significant dose of the vibrant chemistry between Dobrev and Somerhalder in this episode. They’re fun to watch together even if they’re just eating burgers in a scene with question-and-answer dialogue. The writers dropped the ball by creating a clunky exposition lunch scene, but the actors make it work because they interact so well.
Guest star Gina Torres (Suits, Angel, Firefly) also elevates the road trip scenes. She radiates class and intelligence. She, too, interacts well with Somerhalder, particularly physically, using her greater height to wrap herself around him. Her character Bree is the first one we’ve seen who can take on Damon’s wit and match him barb for barb. Too bad this was her only episode.
Malese Jow joins the cast in a recurring role as Anna, a girl Jeremy meets in the library. I was going to criticize Jow because Anna’s verbal effluence seems rehearsed more than spontaneous. But, then, I thought better of it. It’s actually quite nicely done. Anna isn’t all that she seems, and her act as a dithery home-schooled teenager is a put on. So kudos.
The writers achieve the hat-trick of writing fuck-ups in this episode: bad, unnecessary voice-over; obvious question-and-answer exposition; and awkward out-of-character dialogue. I don’t believe for one second that Jeremy Gilbert, the ex-delinquent high school freshman who’s flunking all of his classes, knows what allegory is or would have the word “allegorical” in his usage vocabulary. This poor word choice is followed by Jeremy being overly candid in the perfectly grammatical statement, “Yeah, I’ve had a rough go of it lately, but I’m just now getting back to myself.” Apparently, Jeremy has been possessed by a 40-year-old English teacher in group therapy.
What saved the episode and pushed it over from a negative 2-star to a positive 3-star review are the interactions between Somerhalder, Dobrev, and Torres and the four big revelations at the end of the episode:
- There’s another way into the tomb where Katherine is trapped. Okay, that one we could have seen coming, but the episode doesn’t end there.
- Stefan is the one who saved Elena from the car accident that killed her parents. (He saved her first because her father asked him to, but he didn’t have enough time to save all three.)
- Elena is adopted and may be a descendent of Katherine.
Even though any one of those revelations would be enough to end the episode on a dramatic note, TVD throws in one final whopper—4) Alaric came to Mystic Falls as a vampire hunter because he walked in on a vampire draining the life out of his wife (Mia Kirshner). That vampire—Damon Salvatore.
Cue dramatic fade-out music.
Stuff That Bothers Only Me:
When Stefan recalls his earlier meeting with Bonnie’s grandmother Sheila, in 1969, she mentions that she was barely a teenager. Jasmine Guy, actually, was born in 1962 and would have been 7. And it really makes me feel old that Whitley (from A Different World) is playing someone’s grandmother. (In season 3, we learn that witches age more slowly than regular humans, but the relative youth of Guy bothered me for two years.)