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The Vampire Diaries, S01E17: Let the Right One In; Review by Robin Franson Pruter

vampire-diaries-s1

Originally aired 8 April 2010
Written by Brian Young and Julie Plec
Directed by Dennis Smith

Starring Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, and Ian Somerhalder

My rating:  ★★★ 1/2 stars

A storm hits Mystic Falls in an episode that presages a major development in the character of Stefan Salvatore.

The title of this episode recalls the 2008 cult vampire flick from Sweden, but that’s as far as the similarity goes. Actually, much of the episode revolves around gaining entrance to a house. In this respect, the title is appropriate.

This episode codifies the final rules about vampires and entrances according to the mythology of the series. Vampires need an invitation to enter a private dwelling unless no humans live there. While the Salvatore mansion is not safe from vampires because its only human resident, the barely mentioned Uncle Zach, died in episode five, the tomb vampires have holed up in a farmhouse with a human resident whom the vampires keep alive to prevent unwanted vampires from entering the building and also to provide a handy snack in case they’re feeling peckish.

Stefan , having been stabbed in the previous episode, begins the episode in need of a good meal. He goes off in the woods in search of some woodland creature to sate his hunger despite the fact that Mystic Falls is suffering from a bout of inclement weather.

The storm provides the big event for this episode, which is appropriately photographed in a palette of browns and grays. One nicely shot scene is the final fight in the woods between Stefan, Frederick, and Elena. The characters are lit so only the edges of their faces are in light, appropriate as this scene begins Stefan’s spiral into darkness.

The inciting incident of the episode is Frederick’s kidnapping of Stefan. Frederick, defying Pearl’s orders, snatches Stefan from the woods during the unusual darkness (caused by the storm) of the morning. Luckily for Stefan, Frederick decides to torture him before dispatching him, giving Damon and Elena time to enact a plan to save him. Little of the torture is shown compared to far more graphic torture scenes in later seasons. In this case, the torture seems to amount to little more than tying Stefan up (shirtless, of course) with vervain-soaked ropes. Despite the episode’s focus on saving Stefan, Paul Wesley doesn’t have much to do throughout most of the episode but stand there and look rippled. Until the climax.

This episode only hints at the full import of what occurs, but the events here begin a huge unpacking of the complexity of the character of Stefan. Up until this point, the way Stefan is characterized in the series follows the books pretty closely. He’s the good, responsible brother, as opposed to the erratic, over-emotional Damon. He avoids feeding on humans because he finds it morally wrong and because he dislikes being a vampire. However, the Stefan that develops out of this episode is far more complex.

Stefan’s kidnapping leaves him severely debilitated. This is in addition to both his earlier disability from being stabbed and then being kidnapped before getting to feed and his general weakness resulting from the fact that he drinks animal blood and not human blood. During the climax, however, Elena offers Stefan her blood so that he can defeat Frederick. We understand that, were Stefan’s life the only one at issue, he would not have taken her up on her offer. However, to save Elena, as well as himself, Stefan breaks his human blood prohibition and takes her wrist.

What happens is not fully explained by the events in this episode. The violence and rage with which Stefan dispatches Frederick shocks Elena. Although Elena explains later that his behavior disquieted her, Stefan doesn’t give her any real explanation as to his reaction to the blood. The next time we see Stefan is in the final moment of the episode when Damon walks in on Stefan guiltily gorging himself on Damon’s supply of stolen human blood. Something has clearly changed with Stefan’s relationship to human blood, and the episode leaves us hungering (heh) for answers.

No words are said in this final scene. Wesley and Somerhalder convey much with just an exchange of glances, Stefan’s guilty desperation, Damon’s apprehension, suggesting that, whatever this means, it doesn’t bode well.

Meaningful glances count for a lot in this episode. Stefan and Elena exchange one before he takes her wrist. Caroline gives Matt one when she comes with her mother, the sheriff, to deliver the news that Vicki’s body has been discovered after having been unearthed by the storm. And Jeremy and Tyler share one when they learn that Vicki is dead.

Steven McQueen does a particularly good job in this episode. With Jeremy’s interactions with Anna about becoming a vampire, he comes off as simultaneously eager, scared, lost, fascinated, titillated—above everything else, trying to look cool.

Some depth also is added to Tyler in this episode. In the books, he is pretty much an unmitigated asshole. In this episode, we see both his bitter chagrin when, in front of Tyler, his father flirts unashamedly with someone who is not Tyler’s mother and, later, Tyler’s genuine shock and dismay at learning about the discovery of Vicki’s body.

But the main story of the episode involves Damon and Elena’s rescue of Stefan from the farmhouse where Frederick and the rogue tomb vampires are holding him. Damon cannot enter because, as a vampire he needs an invitation and the homeowner has been compelled to deny him one. Elena can enter, but Damon convinces her that it would be imprudent to go running unarmed into a house full of vampires. So, they approach the one person they know who has both a cache of anti-vampire weapons and a Get-Out-of-Death-Free card (or, in this case, a magical ring) from supernatural attacks—Alaric.

Damon attempts to gain Alaric’s help by employing the same method Pearl used to try and ensure Damon’s cooperation in the previous episode. Pearl then had made the improbable claim that she could help Damon find Katherine if he supported her, even though Pearl had been locked in a tomb since 1864. Here, Damon makes the even more improbable declaration that Pearl could help Alaric find his wife, Isobel. Alaric understands that this idea is ridiculous, yet he cannot resist the slim possibility that it might be true.

The writers are still struggling to solidify Alaric’s character. After presenting an incredibly stupid Alaric in the most recent episode he appeared in, “A Few Good Men,” the writers give him a series of unmotivated actions in this one. Yes, his need to find Isobel is strong enough that we could accept that he’s willing to aid Damon and Elena in going after the tomb vampires on the minuscule chance that he could find some answers about his wife, even though saving Stefan, a vampire, would seem peculiar for a character who came to town as an amateur Van Helsing. However, Alaric’s nonchalance about Elena’s safety and about Damon’s murder of the farmhouse’s owner doesn’t seem to fit with anything we know about his character. It just appears convenient for the writers to forgo dealing with Alaric’s responses and reactions when the behavior consistent with the little we know about him would interfere with the story that they are trying to tell. While it makes some sense that Damon, who knows Elena better after all, would be the one who would argue and cajole her to stay in the car out of harm’s way, one would expect that Alaric, as an adult authority figure, would, at least, say something to her or show some concern about keeping her from entering a house full of vampires. Furthermore, Alaric objects only a little when Damon snaps the neck of the homeowner so that he can enter the farmhouse. Alaric protests, “You were supposed to compel her,” to which Damon responds, “It doesn’t work that way.” Alaric continues with his objection, “She’s human,” and Damon replies, “And I’m not, so I don’t care. Now, get out of here and get rid of the body.” And Alaric does. Just like that. On one hand, Alaric may realize that making a big stink about it while they’re in a perilous situation is not a wise idea, but a “bury her yourself,” at least, is warranted. However, this earlier inconsistency in the character is somewhat redeemed at the end of the episode. After the danger is over, Damon crows over how “badass” he and Alaric were as a team. Alaric says nothing, just decks him. Still, at the end of the episode, Alaric’s character remains unclear.

This episode presents strong character development (Alaric excluded), examines the evolving and deepening of relationships between these characters, and offers an exciting storyline that evolves from those characters and relationships, even as that story deepens what we know about them.

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