A show like The Vampire Diaries is easily dismissed; there seems to be no reason at all to tune in unless you’re a fifteen-year-old girl who really loves Edward Cullen, or a cable-less vampire lover. The latter might even be a bit of a stretch. What you’d be missing while under that assumption, however, is one of the most consistently good shows on network TV. Though the premise might be a little hard to swallow at first – especially if you’re not the target demographic of anything else the CW puts out – the show is worth the effort. Hidden behind a trite storyline is solid writing, intriguing storytelling, and one of the most frivolously addictive shows on air right now. Hit the jump for our review of The Vampire Diaries season two Blu-ray.
When The Vampire Diaries premiered in 2009, I figured I’d give it a shot. I’ve always been a fan of terrible teen programming (until I eventually, and inevitably, forget it exists) and, for no particular reason, I have a weird archaic attachment to Ian Somerhalder (possibly because he was in another terrible teen show, Young Americans, which aired during the summer of 2000. Summer shows on the WB were my favorite/terrible). The show wasn’t good; the pilot was basically Twilight without all the eye-banging and weird camera angles. Then, for no particular reason, after about three episodes it became really, really interesting. I have no idea what made them decide to veer away from the book series (written by L. J. Smith), but Kevin Williamson (Dawson’s Creek, Scream) and Julie Plec (Kyle XY), the show’s creators, must have realized that there was a lot more to work with than just a little supernatural teen romance.
Though I assume you’ve all seen the first season (no? Weird!), here’s a little recap (and a million spoilers from here on out): In a tiny town called Mystic Falls, Virginia – so tiny, in fact, I’m fairly sure it only has one street – Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) is a pretty, popular-ish high school student who has recently lost her parents in a freak car accident. She’s trying her best to keep her shit together, but isn’t doing a real bang-up job of it. She meets Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley), a mysterious transfer who stalks her a little and keeps a lot of secrets, but with whom she falls in love anyway. Stefan, of course, is a vampire, and his sarcastic, serial killing brother, Damon Salvatore (Somerhalder) shows up to ruin Stefans’ life and kill innocent campers. The brothers were turned in 1864 by Katherine Pierce (also played by Dobrev), a catty, bewitching vampire with whom both brothers had a secret affair. The Salvatore’s were a part of the Mystic Falls five founding families, all of which were aware that vampires existed and meant to eradicate them from the neighborhood. They rounded up all the supernaturals in town and locked them in a tomb (sealed by a witches curse, of course). Katherine was apparently part of this group, and Damon, still in love with her after 145 years, came back to set her free. Through a series of complicated events you find out that: Bonnie Bennett (Kat Graham), Elena’s bff, is a witch, Katherine was never in the tomb and just felt like playing with the Salvatore’s minds, and Elena is the Petrova doppelganger, a distant descendent of Katherine’s and an important part of… something.
Season two picks up right where season one left off, with Katherine returning to Mystic Falls, having just made her way into the Gilbert household and – in my favorite scene of the previous season – switching from pretend-Elena to crazy-Katherine and chopping off the fingers of John Gilbert (David Anders), Elena’s uncle (and biological father). Elena walks into the mess Katherine has made, narrowly missing Katherine’s exit. In the local Mystic Falls hospital, Caroline Forbes (Candice Accola), Elena’s insecure, chatty friend, is struggling to survive after a car accident earlier that night. In the car was Matt Donovan (Zach Roerig), Caroline’s boyfriend, and Tyler Lockwood (Michael Trevino), who was inexplicably affected by the Gilbert Device, a handy little vampire-taker-down used by John earlier in the evening in order to round up the newly free tomb vampires and kill them once and for all. Urged by Elena and Bonnie to help, Damon feeds Caroline his magic healing vampire blood. Caroline undergoes a miraculous recovery, only to be smothered later that night by Katherine. When she awakens, Katherine gives the newly vampired Caroline a little message to deliver to her Salvatore friends: “Game on.”
The bulk of season 2 follows three intertwined plotlines: the existence of werewolves, the curse of the sun and the moon, and the impending arrival of Klaus, an Original, and apparently the oldest vampire in history. Werewolves are introduced almost immediately in the season; the Gilbert Device that affected Tyler also affected his father, Mayor Richard Lockwood (Robert Pralgo), who was killed amongst the tomb vampires. During his funeral the Mayor’s brother, Mason Lockwood (Taylor Kinney), shows up to give some family support and in search of a moonstone, which he claims is a family heirloom. The Lockwood family has the werewolf gene, and though the Mayor never “triggered the curse,” Mason had. Tyler eventually also falls to this fate, and in episode 11, “By the Light of the Moon,” Caroline helps Tyler as he undergoes a painful and rigorous transformation. The actual transformation looks fantastic, as it focuses equally on Tyler’s emotional reaction to the change as well as his physical one; though I wouldn’t say that Trevino is normally a great actor, in this episode he excels, as does Accola as a heightened version of her chipper, supportive human self (kudos to the writers for unexpectedly turning Caroline into a likeable character after being especially annoying during the majority of the previous season).
The coveted moonstone ends up being an important part of breaking the sun and moon curse, or the curse that bans vampires from walking in the sun and binds werewolves to turning during the full moon. The intricacies of the curse unfold over the first half of the season, with the brunt of information being supplied by either Katherine – who has unsurprisingly made Mason fall in love with her and thus do her bidding – and Rose (Lauren Cohan), a 500 year old vampire who received a 5 episode arc in which she kidnaps Elena, joins forces with the Salvatores, and eventually dies of a werewolf bite. Her role does two important things for the show: it supplies a good chunk of the curse mythology, and helps illustrate Damon’s ongoing struggle with simultaneously retaining and rejecting his humanity. There’s a good case to be made for Somerhalder’s overacting, but somehow it works – Damon does terrible things, and though I like him better when he’s killing people needlessly, part of the characters likeability is his wavering emotional stability.
Dobrev playing both Elena and Katherine is another highlight of the season; it seems very much like a soap opera evil-twin scenario, but Dobrev manages to create two very distinct characters. Katherine is the perfect malicious opposite of Elena’s sometimes Mary Sue personality. Later in the season, Katherine takes on maybe too much of a role in the story, however, first pretending to help the Salvatore’s out in protecting Elena – who is meant to be scarified in order to break the curse (doppelganger blood!) – then being held captive by Klaus (Joseph Morgan) when he eventually makes his way their rural, randomly paranormal Virginia town. Though I enjoy Katherine, I like her better as a looming possibly than a fully functioning character.
The mythology is well thought out, and though the story sometimes pulls you in the wrong direction – as is the case with the sun and moon curse – you never feel misled; it never ends up being wasteful or unimportant, and the significance of feeling like you haven’t simply wasted your time for the past few episodes is a nice little reminder of the unexpectedly fantastic writing. My biggest criticisms are that because of the decidedly silly premise, the dialogue, when presented by lesser actors, can sometimes be a little ridiculous, and the giant conflict between the werewolves and the vampires seems a bit overhyped considering most of the vampires (some of whom are hundreds of years old) had absolutely no idea that werewolves even existed. I’m nitpicking, though; even the lesser episodes are still better, and especially more engaging, than most other shows of this kind.
The four-disc Blu-ray set is presented in 1080p HD with 78.1 DTS-HD sound. Special features include the three part featurette The Vampire Diaries: Pages of the Wolf which consists of The Myth and the Mystery, a short feature that recaps the show’s werewolf mythology and its accompanying curse, Building the Beasts on working with actual wolves on set, and Howling at the Moon which explores the processes behind the wolf transformations. Other features include Her Own Worst Enemy… Elena, Katherine and Nina! A tour through the nuances of Dobrev playing the various roles, The Perfect Love Trinagle: Vampires, Werewolves, Witches, on the tangled and sometimes ridiculous incestuous ties between all of the characters (both romantically and biologically), and an audio commentary on episode 6, “Masquerade,” by Williamson and Plec.