The Vampire Diaries: 3.01, “The Birthday”

Vampire Diaries: The CW, Thursdays

Into every generation, a chosen one is born. One girl in all the world who is destined to be loved by two hot manpires. One is dark and brooding with an overhanging forehead and tries oh-so-hard to be good, in spite of being a ruthless killer with a sadistic, artistic streak that makes him play with his food and arrange the bodies into gruesome sculptures. The other is insouciant and devil-may-care, with sharp cheekbones and a sharper tongue, who tries oh-so-hard to be bad in spite of a soft, vulnerable underbelly and a romantic streak that causes fangirls everywhere to swoon at his woobieness. What makes the chosen one’s two vampires even more special is that they have a history of loving the same women; a simmering resentment that goes back decades, beginning when the broody one made the woobie one what he is; and a familial relationship spawning a deep-seated love for each other that they can never bury, no matter how much they want to.

And the chosen one’s name is Buffy Sum—

Oh, wait. Wrong generation.

Welcome to Season 3 of The Vampire Diaries. Despite all appearances, Elena Gilbert is not Buffy Summers; her boyfriend, Stefan Salvatore, is not Angel (no matter how hard he tries to be); and Damon Salvatore is—well, Damon is Spike only taller. But if he weren’t Spike I wouldn’t be watching this show, so, yay for Spike-types.

This episode is a pretty obvious homage to “Dead Man’s Party,” an episode from Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3 (oh, look! Even the seasons are the same). In it, our heroine is in mourning for her boyfriend, the love she lost at the end of last season after he turned evil. The heroine’s friends recognize her grief, but are pretty clueless about how to help her cope, and so they decide to throw her a party. And they’re all so caught up in their own shit that they really don’t show Buffy Elena a lot of sympathy.

“It’s your party. You can cry if you want to,” Damon quips, and she will.

The excuse for the party is that it’s Elena’s birthday, and the episode is so titled. Birthdays symbolize fresh starts, new beginnings; but nearly all the characters seem emotionally stuck in the same place they were at the end of last season. Caroline and Tyler appear to be the only ones starting something new, so let’s begin with them.

Caroline decides that Elena, her bestest buddy, needs some cheer in her life, so she decides to throw her a birthday party. Caroline got vamped last season, but thanks to a handy magic ring she can walk around in sunshine, and when we first see her she’s out shopping, smiling brightly. Elena asks her to keep the party small, but Caroline, being the social queen bee of the school, invites the entire underaged population of Mystic Falls. I didn’t know the town even had that many students.

Next, we see Caroline and Tyler Lockwood in the most unromantic conversation ever about how they’re both horny all the time. Seriously, Tyler, that’s your pickup line? I get that you’re a werewolf and dogs aren’t really known for their poetry skills, but couldn’t you at least bark out a chorus of “I Can’t Stop Loving You”? You’ve got that Elvis thing going on, use it.

In spite of the unsexy talk, Caroline gets all hot and bothered at the party when she sees Tyler grinding with his date on the dance floor. Caroline’s a vampire, see, and they’re horny all the time too, so she compels Tyler’s date to leave the party. Tyler calls Caroline out on her jealousy: “You shot me down last year, and I’m not going to make another move until I know for sure that you’re interested.”

Caroline does, and how! She grabs Tyler around the back of the neck, slams him up against a wall and kisses him hard. Frantic clutching ensues, and the next thing you know they’re upstairs ripping off each others’ clothes. How much did I LOVE Caroline tossing him across the bed at supersonic speed? Chicks in charge for the win.

Another thing about this show that makes it unBuffy: teenage girls are allowed to have sex without being punished by having their boyfriends go evil or try to rape them. Instead, Caroline gets punished by Tyler’s mom, who shoots her in the back with vervaine. Next week will no doubt bring torture and death threats at the hands of the Council. Poor Caroline gets kidnapped and tortured more regularly than anyone else on this show. I’d hire Stefan as my bodyguard, if I were her.

Unfortunately, Stefan is otherwise engaged as Klaus’s butt monkey. If you recall, at the end of last season, Damon was bitten by a werewolf, and werewolf bites are fatal to a vampire. Klaus, a magical vampire-wolf hybrid, has magical veins filled with magical blood filled magical healing properties. Klaus agreed to give Stefan his wolfy blood to cure his brother, and in return, Stefan agreed to go on a killing spree road trip with Klaus. It’s still not clear why he needs Stefan for this trip, but Stefan is dutifully obedient and doesn’t ask questions. “I do whatever he says,” Stefan says, and that line should not be as hot as it is.

Klaus wants to make more hybrids like himself, so he finds a werewolf, ties him up and has Stefan throw darts at him laced with wolf’s bane. (Poison darts seem to be the weapon of choice this week.) Stefan is apparently a very good shot, as indicated by the dart sticking out of the poor guy’s forehead. After wolf boy confesses to the location of his pack, Klaus feeds him his blood and then breaks his neck. Will the wolf come back as a hybrid, like Klaus? Tune in next week to find out.

Alaric is spectacularly drunk at the party, hanging out on the balcony with Damon and bemoaning his failure, as teacher and chaperone, to keep all the kids in town sober. Damon tells him to drink more, it’ll make him feel better. Alaric has been crashing on Elena and Jeremy’s couch all summer because he’s still grieving for their Aunt Jenna, his late girlfriend. But by the end of the episode, he’s packing up his stuff and telling Elena it’s time for him to move out. He hasn’t been helping her or Jeremy; he drinks too much, and he misses Jenna so much that he can barely function. Poor Ric. I hope they find something good for him to do this year. I love his buddy-cop scenes with Damon and I want them to make out more. Or, ever.

Meantime, Damon has been secretly tracking Stefan’s kills, with the help of Andie, the intrepid TV reporter and Damon’s part-time squeeze. Damon and Alaric resume their buddy-cop act (yay!) by following Stefan to the site of his most recent murder. Damon burns down the house, but not before discovering a werewolf lair. Klaus and Stefan realize that Damon is getting too close, and so Stefan sets out to warn him off.

Stefan kidnaps Andie and compels her to call Damon, asking him to meet her at the TV station. Once there, the brothers confront each other:

Stefan: “I just want you to let me go.”
Damon: “I’ve got a birthday girl at home who won’t let that happen.”

Stefan’s face remains impassive, but Damon isn’t fooled. He knows Stefan loves Elena and always will, but it isn’t enough to make Stefan give up his evil, wicked ways. Instead, Stefan compels Andie to jump from the studio catwalk, falling to the concrete floor below and breaking her neck. Damon makes his woobie face and fangirls around the world fall into a swoon.

Back at the party, Elena’s brother, Jeremy, is getting high with Matt, who used to date first Elena, and then Caroline, but now dates no one because the supernatural skeeves him out and nearly everyone in town is a skeever. Jeremy died at the end of last season, and his witchy-wonder of a girlfriend, Bonnie, brought him back to life. Since then, he’s being haunted by the ghosts of his two dead girlfriends, Anna (who was a vampire) and Vicki (who was also a vampire, and Matt’s sister. Two guys who used to date each others’ sisters, hanging out with each other—only in a town the size of a donut hole does this happen.)

Anyway, Jeremy has a Vicki sighting, and Matt overhears him say Vicki’s name and catches him looking spooked. Jeremy confesses that he’s been seeing her. Matt puts it down to grief, and says he thinks he sees her too, sometimes. Jeremy doesn’t bother to correct him, realizing that Matt is still having trouble dealing with the supernatural skeevie-jeebies and doesn’t want to believe that his beloved sister could be a tormented vampire ghostie.

Elena, needing a break from the crowd, finds her way upstairs and into Damon’s closet. And there she discovers his hidden collection of tie-dyed dresses and stilettos—no, wait, they’re just maps with pins in them. (Sadface.) Damon returns home from watching his brother kill Andie and Elena confronts him:

Elena: “Why didn’t you tell me you’ve been tracking Klaus’s kills?”
Damon: “Because they’re Stefan’s kills! He’s left a trail of body parts up and down the Eastern seaboard.”

Elena looks stunned and doesn’t want to believe it, but knows deep down that Stefan is lost to her, for now. “He’s not coming back, Elena,” Damon tells her. “Not in your lifetime.” OH, that line killed me! Damon has forever to wait for his brother, and the two of them will spend eternity crashing into each other; through all the fights and scars and splits and reconciliations, they’re stuck with each other. Narrative kinks for the win.

Elena, however, doesn’t have that kind of time, and her face crumbles. (Nina Dobrev is an excellent crier.) Damon obviously aches for her, but refrains from comforting her. Instead he waits until she’s gone, then smashes Stefan’s room apart. Everything except his guitar—he can’t bring himself to smash that. OH, BOYS.

At the end, Stefan calls Elena’s cell phone, but stays silent when she answers. She knows it’s him, though: “I love you Stefan. Just, hang onto that.” Stefan’s face is a mask of pain, but he knows he can’t go back because he’s still a killer, and he’ll only end up hurting everyone he loves.

Acting was stellar all around in this episode—I can rarely find anything to criticize among this cast. Paul Wesley, in particular, displayed a Hannibal Lecter-like stillness in his cruelty. Joseph Morgan as Klaus brings a malicious glee to the show, delighting in the blood on his face as much as he does the truculence on Stefan’s: “Don’t sound so tedious and indentured about it. Aren’t you having the tiniest bit of fun?” Maybe not, Klaus, but we certainly are. (Especially since Morgan’s name is in the credits this season as a regular – YAY! Can Elijah be far behind?)

The pacing in this episode didn’t live up to the show’s usual standards. First episodes of any season are usually slower because there’s recapping and exposition left over from last year, and this was no exception. Bonnie had nothing to do except be conveniently out of town, talking to Jeremy by video phone. And by the end of the episode, everyone except Tyler and Caroline were in pretty much the same emotional place they started. So, although this episode was entitled “The Birthday,” it didn’t offer much in the way of new beginnings.

Still, I’m so happy to see The Vampire Diaries back on the air that it felt like a party to me.

SHIRTLESS SOMERHALDER SIGHTINGS: We’re barely five minutes into the episode before we see Damon emerge naked from the bathtub, dripping water and bubbles onto the carpet and sneaking up on Elena, who has come upstairs to look for him. She covers her eyes and throws him a towel, but she’s quite obviously peeking through her fingers. Damon’s smirk is impossible not to love.

Alaric: Showing chivalry to your compelled, fake girlfriend?
Damon: Ours is a complicated relationship.