This review contains spoilers.
4.1 Growing Pains
Of all the returning shows this season, The Vampire Diaries has to be near the top in terms of high expectations. Losing some of its admirable momentum during its relatively unpopular third season, old and new fans were waiting with bated breath to see whether the show could tackle its biggest game-changer yet. Elena is now a member of team undead, and absolutely everyone in Mystic Falls has something to say about it. Will this be the shot in the arm the series needs or a massive mistake?
Having now seen the results, I’m confident that it’s the best decision the executive producers ever made. Viewers already love the characters enough to overlook any change of species, but to do it to your star is an admirably bold move. We see Elena’s transition from start to finish in heartbreaking detail, from the moment she discovers her death to her eventual fate, and it’s the best outcome any fan could have hoped for. We saw Vicky and Caroline change in previous seasons, of course, but the writers have decided here to show us the process from Elena’s point of view, with memories flooding back and blood lust setting in.
Most people would have been satisfied with an entirely Elena-centric episode focusing on her emotional journey towards vampirism, but The Vampire Diaries has never been satisfied with doing one plot line at one time. Instead, we get an action-packed premiere with resolutions and set-ups for almost all of our beloved characters, dealing with the love triangle all over again as well as Klaus and Tyler’s body-swap, Bonnie’s increased power, Matt’s guilt, Alaric’s betrayal and Caroline’s state as a fugitive. There are also some intriguing new characters and a shift in the rules of Mystic Falls that could alter the show forever.
Predictably, Damon isn’t best pleased with Stefan’s decision to save Matt from the car wreck first, and takes his frustration out on almost everyone he meets. Not forgetting that around ten minutes before her death, Elena had chosen Stefan over her broodier suitor, we’ve been promised a darker, more ruthless Damon this season and I, for one, can’t wait. Thankfully (and this is coming from a Delena fan), the writers have decided not to do a U-turn on her decision and she’s, for now, happily in love with Stefan. That’s not before she remembers some important moments, however, but they’re not as big of a sway as many would have hoped.
Elena’s transition is conducted in awful detail and, when she says she was ready to die in the car, it’s a sad thing to hear from an eighteen-year-old girl. In parallel, Stefan’s main mission in this episode is wriggling out of the mess he made by finding a way to stop Elena actually becoming a vampire. If he wasn’t tortured enough, he now has something to really feel guilty about, and I reckon that’s just how he likes it. Unlike Damon, he doesn’t take it out on Matt, but both brothers are in agreement about who was the real priority. Whether Elena is happy with her new life isn’t discussed at length, but I’m sure it will be explored over the rest of the season.
He’s willing to do anything, and ends up smashing some random bloke’s head in so she can feed. She completes the change just in time to save Matt from Damon’s bitter wrath, and it’s a great re-entry for a character we’ve come to know and respect. I’m glad that just because she’s a vampire Nina Dobrev isn’t playing her like Katherine, as that would have been too much of a departure. Poor Matt is probably going to have more trouble than anyone, since his guilt can’t actually be erased by some heroic act. I predict that he somehow contributes to Elena’s feeding schedule, especially since he’s the only human left in Mystic Falls.
Stefan’s original plan to save Elena involves Bonnie and her ever-changing magical powers. Using too much dark magic has upset the spirits, though, and her attempts have landed her with a bag of nasty consequences. It might be because she hasn’t had time to irritate me yet, but I actually quite enjoyed the character this week. Ty-Klaus also has some interesting things to do, even if the body-swap didn’t last as long as originally promised. Klaus/Caroline shippers got a treat at least, with the pair (thanks to the Tyler disguise) getting hot and heavy in the woods. Aside from this, with Klaus back in his own body and Elena’s blood-bags discarded, what the show has in store for the original siblings isn’t clear.
One thing’s for sure, they’re no longer fit to be the series’ villains, so we were all expecting a new threat to be introduced. We got just that with the new town pastor coming to shake things up, armed with the inside information offered to the council by Alaric last season. In one big wave, Meredith was removed from the hospital, Sherriff Forbes sacked, and the undead population of the town rounded up and put in cages. In a show that could have been accused at some points last year of treading water, this is a game-changer, and effectively makes every one of our characters (except Matt and Jeremy) targets for the big bad.
The interesting twist at the end was also a brilliant tease for things to come, and I can’t wait to see what season four has to offer. This episode wasn’t just a return to form, but a demonstration in how to re-energise a show without upsetting existing viewers, and I don’t think they could have pulled it off any better.
Read Caroline’s review of the season three finale, The Departed, here.