Originally aired 4 February 2010
Written by Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec
Directed by Marcos Siega
Starring Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, and Ian Somerhalder
My rating: ★★★ 1/2 stars
A flashback-heavy episode examines the concepts of trust and betrayal.
“Children of the Damned” provides another set of flashbacks to 1864. We meet Giuseppe Salvatore (James Remar from Dexter), the father of Stefan and Damon. I had high hopes for the introduction of this character. I’ve always liked Remar, ever since he played Ajax in The Warriors (1979), and the relationship between the Salvatore brothers and their sire is the most interesting relationship in the books. However, Remar seems miscast, and the TV series, in the first three seasons, hasn’t delved as deeply into the relationship between father and sons as the books have done.
For the most part, I think that The Vampire Diaries TV series improves on the books. However, the one area where the TV series suffers in comparison to the books is the revelation of the backstory of the brothers and their father.
In this episode, we see Giuseppe deride Damon and commend Stefan, and, subsequently, we see Damon warn Stefan against trusting their father with Katherine’s secret and Stefan ignore that warning, leading to Katherine’s capture by Giuseppe and the other town founders.
We come to understand that Giuseppe Salvatore is a hard and proud man, who clearly prefers one son over the other. Later in the season, these characteristics will manifest themselves in an extreme way. What the series hasn’t revealed yet (and may never cover, for all I know) is the long history of his cruelty. According to the books, the Salvatore patriarch was abusive. Being the older brother, Damon was the first recipient of his abuse. Later, to protect his younger brother, Damon deliberately drew his father’s ire, so Giuseppe’s abusive tendencies remained concentrated on Damon, leaving Stefan physically and emotionally undamaged. This backstory would not only explain the different behaviors of the brothers and the attitudes they display toward their father in this episode but would go a long way to explaining Stefan’s relative equanimity in comparison with his mercurial, highly emotional older brother throughout the series.
In this episode, Elena shows empathy for Damon and understanding of the motivation for his erratic, often destructive behavior. She tells Stefan that she thinks that Damon believes that everything he’s done he’s done for love. In saying this, Elena shows far more insight into Damon than Stefan does, despite the fact that Stefan has known Damon for over a century and a half.
Stefan’s response to Elena is far more complex than it seems on the surface. He tells her, “There are other ways to get what you want. You don’t have to kill people. Damon has no regard for human life. He enjoys inflicting pain on others. For 145 years, every single time that I have let my guard down and let Damon back into my life, he’s done something to make me regret that. I’m not going to make that mistake again.”
The irony here is that Stefan and Elena are the ones who, at that moment, are acting untrustworthy. They are pretending to work with Damon in order to thwart his goal of releasing Katherine from the tomb. And this is not the first time Stefan has betrayed his brother’s trust. We see in a flashback that it was Stefan’s unwitting betrayal of Damon’s trust that led to Katherine’s capture and imprisonment in the tomb in the first place. Despite what Stefan says, it is he who has done more to make Damon regret letting Stefan back into his life than vice versa.
In fact, in subsequent viewings of the episode, it appears that Stefan’s whole description seems more like a self-portrait than an accurate depiction of Damon. Stefan is being a Hector Projector, attributing his own faults to his brother.
The flashbacks introduce us to another important recurring character, Pearl (Kelly Hu, X2, The Scorpion King), Katherine’s best friend and Anna’s mother. Pearl’s betrayal and capture by her crush, Jonathan Gilbert, explains Anna’s desire to open the tomb (and her fixation with the Gilberts)—because even vampires can want their mommies. Here, the issue of trust and betrayal that we see in flashbacks about the Salvatores recurs in the conflict of Pearl and Anna with the Gilberts.
Where the episode stumbles is in its execution. Nina Dobrev comes off as artificial in her portrayal of Katherine. It’s the one time we see her struggling with the double duty. Kat Graham still seems awkward as Bonnie. To be fair, the writers don’t seem to have figured out Bonnie’s personality yet. And with three regulars missing—Candice Accola (Caroline), Zach Roerig (Matt), and Michael Trevino (Tyler)—the episode comes off as somewhat of a digression, not fitting in with the fabric of the series, even though it does give the sense that the show is building up to something (obviously, the opening of the tomb).
Where the episode shines is again in its scenes of the interaction between the main troika. The first scene after the titles is enjoyably light-hearted. Stefan and Elena awake to find Damon sitting at the foot of the bed, eager as a puppy to begin their joint quest to open the tomb. Damon dismisses their discomfort with his presence by quipping, “If I see something I haven’t seen before, I’ll throw a dollar at it.” Their mortification is only increased by Damon’s parting line, “I really like this whole ménage a threesome team thing—it’s got a bit of a kink to it.”
Later in the episode, Elena’s interactions with the brothers turn more serious. After making himself comfortable in the Gilbert kitchen and charming the always oblivious Aunt Jenna, Damon asks Elena if he can trust Stefan in his promise to cooperate in opening the tomb. Misunderstanding Damon’s intensity, Elena reminds him that she’s wearing vervain and can’t be compelled. Damon’s response, that he’s not trying to compel her, that he’s just asking, surprises her by its sincerity. It’s a nice moment that shows the budding closeness between the two.
At the end of the episode, when Damon learns that Stefan and Elena were attempting to thwart him the whole time, his hurt is obvious. Stefan criticizes him for being incapable of trust. Damon replies, “Well, duh, you’ve done nothing but betray me.” Well, he doesn’t use those exact words, but that’s the gist. He does say, “The only one I can count on is me. You made sure of that many years ago, Stefan.” He then turns to Elena and says chillingly, “But you, you had me fooled.” She looks suitably contrite.
As we’re beginning to learn, Damon strikes out when he’s hurt. He threatens to rip Elena’s heart out if Stefan destroys the book that is needed to open the tomb. Stefan says confidently, “You won’t kill her,” which is true—Stefan understands that much about his brother—but, Stefan should know that it is also like saying, “I double dog dare you to do something awful.” So Damon force feeds Elena some of his blood and threatens, “Give me the book, Stefan, or I’m snapping her neck, and you and I will have a vampire girlfriend.” Damon, thus, gets the book, and Elena gets a vampire blood hangover.
Stefan takes Elena home to nurse her through her headache. Aunt Jenna tells him that he can’t spend the night and that he should leave the door open when he goes up to Elena’s room, and we have to wonder what Jenna thinks is going on when Elena sleeps over at Stefan’s. Perhaps, her concern as an authority figure only appears when the wind is blowing in a certain direction.
The episode ends on a cliffhanger, creating story continuity between this and the next episode. The title of the next episode, “Fool Me Once,” also suggests thematic continuity between the two, as the issue of trust and betrayal remains crucial.
Stuff that Bothers Only Me:
While Asians began migrating to the U.S. in the mid-19th century, the population was largely male and concentrated on the west coast. Two females of Asian descent residing in Virginia would have been extremely rare if not unique at the time, yet no one ever mentions it. I would have been interested to see the show reflect more historically aware notions of ethnicity.