I’ll say this much for vampires who don’t fight the urge to score their blood straight from the human’s neck: They sure as heck seem to have better senses of humor! Or at least that seems to be the case when you compare witty bad-boy Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder, pictured) to dishy-but-broody bro Stefan (Paul Wesley). Indeed, last night’s fourth Vampire Diaries installment (your regular recapper, Mandi Bierly, had the night off, FYI) started out feeling like a particularly mean-spirited standup routine by a guy who’s been undead (and not exactly thrilled about it) for a good century or so. Exhibit A: Damon getting revenge on Stefan for stabbing him in the chest with a letter opener, then hissing about his damaged shirt: “This is John Varvatos, dude. Dick move.” Or how about Damon taunting his teenage plaything Caroline (Candice Accola) about her love of all things Twilight: “What’s so special about this Bella girl? Edward’s so whipped.” And later: “I miss Anne Rice. She was so on it.” (Your move, Stephenie Meyer!) Yeah, maybe the jokes were a tad too meta by half, but still, amusingly snarky. Not to mention, Damon’s ability to make a funny allows him to seem a little more, well, alive than his occasionally catatonic, always earnest, exceedingly well-coiffed sibling. And that might come in handy now that it’s been revealed that a well-connected group of adults is aware that vampires are back in Mystic Falls, and planning to exterminate ’em.
Yes, Caroline’s cop mom, Tyler’s mayor and first-lady parental units, and Jenna’s news-reporter ex-boyfriend all came together in the episode’s closing minutes to reveal that at least some folks weren’t buying the old “mountain lion ate my locals” excuse. The sudden and unexpected chill I got from that revelation made me feel a little repentant for my previous annoyance that the episode was spending so much time focusing on snoozy adult characters. In particular, Tyler’s mom, played by Young and the Restless vet Susan Walters, seems to excel at that special brand of smiling-and-benign-exterior covering driven-and-(not literally)-bloodthirsty-interior that’ll make her a dangerous adversary to the brothers Salvatore.
I can’t imagine, for example, if Mama Lockwood had managed to get Damon weakened by an overdose of vervain, that she’d have thought locking him in a musty basement with some horticultural samples would keep him down for, oh, more than half an episode. (And next week’s previews seem to support my cynicism.) Seriously, after finally getting his brother to take another sip of poor Caroline’s vervain-soaked blood, you’d think Stefan would’ve gone to greater lengths to keep his brother in captivity, or maybe to finish him off for good. Even if that would have turned Stefan into the exact kind of monster that he’s trying to defeat, it seems a small price to pay if he wants to spend the next couple centuries pursuing hot cheerleaders without worrying about corresponding killing sprees.
And speaking of cheerleaders-in-peril, this was the first episode where I started to feel genuine sympathy for Caroline. When she casually asked Damon “are you gonna kill me?” during a makeout session, it was one of the series’ most genuinely creepy moments to date. (Damon answering “yes…but not yet” only added to the effect.) And later, the genuine terror in Caroline’s eyes when Elena uncovered her copious bite marks drove home the point that we’re not just watching another Dawson’s Creek or Everwood with super-gnarly orthodontia. The stakes here are higher, as history teacher/football coach/pep-rally leader/Mystic Hill High’s only adult employee Mr. Tanner learned last week. (Side note: What was with that tossed-off remark when Caroline’s mom asked after her father’s whereabouts? “In Memphis. With Stephen.” Could it be Caroline has two daddies?)
With so much plot advancement happening, some of the kiss-squabble-repeat aspects of the episode — Vickie wavering between Jeremy and Tyler, Elena struggling whether or not to trust Stefan, beautiful Bonnie discovering her witchy ways while inexplicably repelling every high-school age boy in a 20-mile vicinity — seemed somehow less compelling, but overall, you’ve got to give Vampire Diaries credit for erring on the side of action rather than stasis. What did you think of episode 4? Were you excited to see some townsfolk rising up as a threat to Stefan and Damon? And who was kind of impressed by Bonnie’s final-act candle-lighting routine? Girlfriend will never again have to grab a pack of restaurant matches after a dinner out, unless, of course, she really digs collecting colorful little boxes. (Hey, some of us do!)
Image Credit: Quantrell Colbert/The CW