Season two of The Vampire Diaries sets off with a whole lot of plot, as doppelganger hijinks ensue and the groundwork for a new season is set with a vengeance.
The first season of this show took things slowly for a while in its first few episodes, establishing its status quo and setting up what seemed to be the obvious arc plots: that Stefan couldn’t hide his vampire nature from his true love forever; that Damon was around to make everyone’s life hell; that there was some shadowy history with this ‘Katherine’ person that would turn out to be relevant; that the adults would figure out what was going on (okay, maybe not that one, this is a CW show after all). It then proceeded to burn through those plots in their entirety by about episode 10, build whole new plots on top of their skeletal remains and in the process invert all of the obvious truths we thought we were seeing. Elena figured out what Stefan was with very little assistance, Stefan turned the tables on Damon very effectively when he needed to, Katherine was still alive, and most of the adults already knew vampires existed (though they were still pretty useless at dealing with them). On top of that, the helpless girl protagonist kept showing increasing amounts of backbone, regular characters kept getting killed off with surprising regularity and it turned out that no-one’s life was actually more hell than Damon’s no matter how hard he tried to make it so.
It was, perhaps, not the show we’d all assumed it would be. As the season continued, yet more plot appeared only to be summarily dealt with and repurposed within a very few episodes. Katherine’s still alive and in the tomb! But now there’s no chance of getting into the tomb! No, wait, now there is – but Katherine’s not there! But all the other vampires still are and boy are they angry! Okay, you’ve teamed up with various mortal enemies to deal with that, but now Katherine’s back! Not to mention all the Founders Council shenanigans, the Isobel sub-plots, the tendency for Tyler Lockwood to beat someone up whenever there’s a full moon, the development of a surprisingly pointy love triangle and of course the never-ending formal parties that this town seems to have.
And yet the basic premise of the show would seem to restrict it. Surely after a while there are no more vampire stories to tell, surely there’s a point where we all feel burned out on this kind of story and where every character in the central cast has changed so much thanks to supernatural influences that they’re no longer recognisable? Perhaps, at some point, that will still turn out to be the case. But on the evidence of this episode, they haven’t run out of plot twists just yet and there is plenty of development potential in the status quo as we move forward into the new season.
Katherine, far from being an arc-haunting vampirus ex machina, is now present and far from correct in Mystic Falls, and has her own plans for how things will go from now on. Far be it from me to guess what those plans are – it seems a fair assumption that none of our central characters are guessing right either, since I don’t think it’s all about any of them in particular – but there’s plenty of potential for fun with her around to manipulate everybody in person. It was hard to tell whether she was pleased or disappointed with her interactions with Damon and Stefan – her avowed preference for Stefan rings entirely false to me and it’s clear she has a bigger game in play, but she’s still vain enough that you’d think both of them falling for Elena would hurt her slightly. Yet I never got that feeling, so either her long game involving Elena is sufficiently twisted to make me not really want to work out where it’s going or else she doesn’t really care that much about either of them. She knows how best to provoke them, reminding Stefan that he felt something for her independent of her compulsion and voluntarily telling Damon that she always loved Stefan more even before he’d framed the question. While she’s busy gleefully causing as much wanton destruction as that, I honestly don’t care if she has a bigger plan involving them or not – it’s just fun to watch. It’s also fun to watch her swan in and impersonate Elena for just long enough to do the damage she needs – Nina Dobrev is clearly having a ball playing both characters, and that energy comes across nicely.
And yet, does Katherine know or care that she isn’t as important to either Salvatore as Elena? Stefan is a no-brainer, maybe, but it would also come as no surprise to anyone watching that Damon would also turn to Elena as someone who could remove the sting of Katherine’s rejection. Without that, he probably wouldn’t have forced the issue of whether she’d have kissed him back – despite all his taunts and flirting, his innate lack of self-worth would have held him back from actually acting on her zero encouragement – but as it is, he’s too desperate to care that he’s pushing their relationship far too far. Katherine made him desperate, but it’s Elena who actually breaks him, pushing him past the point where nothing at all matters any more. I’m not sure that snapping Jeremy’s neck is the logical thing to do in that situation, but then again, it’s Damon. Logic may not enter into the equation. And yet that action seems to snap him back to reality – the shocked look he gives Elena seems to indicate he knows exactly what he’s done, and the later shot of him throwing a perfectly good glass of alcoholic beverage into the fireplace doesn’t let us assume that he’s just switched back to devil-may-care Damon from the start of the show. So the writing gets to have its cake and eat it: Damon goes dark, the love triangle is defanged, Elena’s back to hating him, but the original status quo is not resumed. Wherever his character goes from here, it looks like being a new and therefore still interesting arc.
The town itself is in a different state from its sleepy pre-Salvatore self. The Founders Council, far from being a force that could act against vampires if required, is in disarray with the death of the Mayor and the fleeing of John Gilbert. Carol Lockwood has never been shown to be particularly competent, and both she and Sheriff Forbes have an unfortunate habit of turning to one Damon Salvatore for backup on vampire investigations. They should really turn to Alaric Saltzman instead, of course, but Damon would probably disapprove of his friends talking about him behind his back. Tyler has an unnaturally good-looking uncle who is clearly not going to be as laid-back as he is rumoured to be, and the only people whose teenage lives retain any semblance of normality are Matt and Caroline.
Oh, wait. Katherine decided to ruin that, too. And much as I loved human Caroline and her sweet, normal relationship with Matt, I’m inclined to think that’s one of the best things the show could have done in setting up a load of new storylines. In terms of human central characters still remaining on this show, Caroline is the one with the potential for most collateral damage – she’s one of Elena’s best friends, her boyfriend has many times over said he has nothing good in his life except her, her mother knows about vampires, and turning into a vampire should mean that her memories of Damon using her as his plaything come back. The fallout from all of that ought to be spectacular. I also have a modicum of hope that she will not turn into The Cautionary Tale Of Vicki Donovan, Part 2, mostly because we already saw that story once. Vicki was minor enough that her death caused more ramifications than her (un)life would have done. With Caroline, I hope that balance is the other way round and that she manages to survive as a vampire.
Whatever happens, though, the plot has changed directions yet again and a whole new set of stakes have been raised for every character involved. Game on, indeed.
I’m not sure I’d have immediately picked up on Caroline being vamped and not just killed if I hadn’t been spoiled for it. Was Katherine’s talk of sending a message enough to clue everyone else in?
So glad they didn’t stretch out the misunderstanding over the kiss. Particularly loved Damon ‘fessing up in front of Stefan, with that mixture of shame and wanting to provoke Stefan’s anger.
I’m not sure if I’m glad John isn’t dead – he wasn’t one of my favourite characters, and I can’t imagine he’s going to stay away and not attempt to cause trouble from afar, but I suppose it’s good to have one human who is absolutely vampire-unfriendly and wants the world to know it. Also I do remember him saying that if he died, all his documents would go to the Council, which would include info on the Salvatores. I don’t want that reveal just yet.
Katherine’s face as she drew her mouth down over her fangs when Bonnie slammed the doors open was hysterical.