After my whirlwind, 2.5-day screening of The Vampire Diaries‘ first season, I have been chomping at the bit for more. So I can only imagine how those of you waiting since May felt. No matter when we watched first or how long we waited, I think it’s safe to say that the season two premiere, “The Return,” was well-worth the wait.
The great thing about “The Return” is that it doesn’t go overboard with any plot development. Of course, with this being Vampire Diaries, it’s hard to top the speed at which things moved last season, but I was a little concerned that the desire to do so would still set in and S2 would be even more ramped up, leading to some O.C.-like issues. However, this effort is a well-paced, but not ridiculously so premiere that does exactly what a premiere should do: resolve or at least partially resolve last season’s cliffhangers and set up all sorts of insanity for the season to come.
So I guess, in some ways, “The Return” defies expectations. We expected Katherine to raise all sorts of hell very quickly thanks to her spectacular entrance in the finale. Instead, she methodically toys with all the main characters just enough that they’re rattled and scared that said hell could be raised at any time. We’re left wondering why she wanted to kill John Gilbert aside from just signal that she’s back, but I’m sure there’s more to that. Predictably, Katherine really messes with the heads of the Salvatore brothers. She is very forthcoming and playful with Stefan while telling him that he is the reason she’s back. Meanwhile, she’s putting on more of a front with Damon while telling him that he was never that important to her. Ouch. As Stefan suggests to Damon in the middle of the episode (a scene which more or less serves as the thesis statement for where this season is going), the brothers are going to have to stick together if they or Elena want to survive.
Moreover, the episode spends a surprising amount of time on Tyler and the Lockwood family, a story that was certainly on the E or F level last season. Tyler’s cool uncle returns for Mayor Lockwood’s funeral and it looks as though he’s going to be something of a mentor for Tyler so that he can control his…issues. Though these scenes are more table-setting than anything else, I appreciated that Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec were willing to push Tyler more to the foreground, especially this early in the season.
Finally in terms of subverting expectations: Jeremy is not a vampire. In fact, the episode toys with that development twice, once in the beginning (he didn’t take enough drugs and the vamp blood just healed him) and at the end (Damon snaps his neck but the Gilbert ring protects him). In that sense, I was relieved to learn that no one else would be turning into a vampire. But of course, this is The Vampire Diaries and it looks as though that Caroline will wake up a vampire next week thanks to Damon’s blood save and Katherine’s subsequent murder. I’m not sure how I feel about that development since it leaves only Matt and Tyler as the only normal kids, but at least it does give Caroline something interesting to do. Moreover, it’s not as if a crazy twist like this is out of the series’ wheelhouse.
But amid all of that, “The Return” is most successful because it relies on its three leads to do what they do best. This is definitely Ian Somerhalder’s best performance to-date, he played Damon’s hurt, emotion and rage perfectly. The episode really ramped up in the second half after Damon and Elena had their conversation on the Lockwood porch and Somerhalder slowly unhinged Damon as it went on, ratcheting up the tension all the way until he attacked Jeremy. Additionally, I really like that Paul Wesley has clearly taken something away from Stefan’s blood splurge last season and added it into his performance, as Stefan is more confident, less gloomy and even a bit of a bad-ass on his own now. And finally, Nina Dobrev handles the two characters pretty darn well. The hair and costume people certain help her become Katherine, but she is also full of more energy and playfulness in that role as well. Even despite the clothes, you could always tell which character she was playing, and that’s to her credit.
So now Katherine’s back and Stefan, Damon and Elena are left to ponder what she’s up to. It looks as if she’ll be around for an extended period of time, almost like a quiet virus (well aside from turning Caroline) that slowly infects the three characters until things are never the same. But interestingly, it looks as though the three of them are screwing things up enough between themselves without Katherine’s help.
- Without turning into a vamp, what does Jeremy have to do now?
- Hey, where’s Alaric?
- John scooted out of town pretty quickly, but we’re still unclear as to why Katherine attacked him. I have to imagine that he and Elena’s mother Isobel will be back.
- I have a bad feeling about Matt when it comes to Katherine. She loves those blue eyes.