“You cannot run from a vampire.”
We’ve all seen the young girls out there swooning over the Twilight films and books as if the whole vampire idea had just been invented. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the television networks and cable channels would be taking notice. No, it’s not the swooning teenagers, it’s the green being transferred from their pockets to their coffers. But vampires on television are not new either. Dracula itself was a series. In the 1960’s and 70’s there was Dark Shadows and the vampire Barnabas Collins. I rushed home from school every day to watch that show. Maybe that’s why I missed so many homework assignments. I should have tried the “under a vampire’s spell” excuse. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are about to bring that franchise back to life. I can’t wait. In the 1970’s Kolchak began his monster-chasing career going after a vampire or two. Then there was Buffy, and the craze reached another crescendo. The spin-off Angel only made the genre even hotter. Before that there was Forever Knight and The Hunger. I could go on for pages talking about vampires in television and movies. The Underworld franchise gave us Selene, and the sexy female vampire was reborn. Yeah, there were scary ones as well, but I was a bit distracted. HBO is mining vampire gold with yet another series of vampire books in True Blood. If you think this is going to end any time soon, you just haven’t lived long enough … yet.
Now Warner Brothers has entered the scene with yet another vampire series taken from yet another powerful franchise of popular books. Enter The Vampire Diaries. While I’ve avoided the Twilight series so far (I’ve had my full of teenage angst as a high school teacher), I was looking forward to catching this promising show when it aired for the first time last season. Alas, I was so busy watching stuff for you guys that I never got around to it. Once or twice I tried to catch an episode, but after finally seeing the entire season I was really glad that I never did. That may sound like I was disappointed in the show. Just the opposite. I ended up watching all 22 episodes in about 4 days. If I had tried to catch it from somewhere in the middle, I would have been pretty lost. That would have led to frustration. Finally, I would have given up and missed the best new show on television last season.
The series follows loosely the series of novels written by L.J. Smith. If you’re a fan of the books, you have to take a few things into consideration. Characters work differently on screen than in a book, so many of them have been changed. Perhaps the biggest change is that Elena’s four-year-old sister is now a teenage younger brother. You may not like the change, but it does make for better prime-time drama, doesn’t it? The crew attempted to keep as close to the source material as possible, while attempting to create their own special television universe. I’m not sure about the books. I’ve never read them. I do know that this show works.
The series takes place in the mythical Mystic Falls, Virginia. The town is celebrating its 150th anniversary. It’s one of those towns that never strayed far from its roots. The predominant founding families still live there. They still control the positions of power in the town. While they celebrate their heritage, the founders are still hiding a 150-year-old secret. The town was once full of vampires, and the founders rose up and attempted to kill off the creatures. Since that time they have kept some vigilance, passing down the secret only to those on the council. As our series begins, it just might be time to dust off those stakes, because the boys are back in town.
The “boys” are the Salvatore Brothers. We first meet Stefan (Wesley). He has returned to Mystic Falls because of an 18-year-old girl who lives there. She is Elena Gilbert (Dobrev). She has recently lost her parents in a car accident, and she and her brother Jeremy (McQueen) are trying to get by living with their young Aunt Jenna (Canning). But Stefan’s interest goes back quite a few decades. Elena is the splitting image of Catherine, the vampire who turned him, and with whom he was deeply in love. But Stefan wasn’t the only man in love with Catherine. Enter Brother Damon (Somerhalder). The two brothers have been enemies from the time Catherine left their lives. Stefan drinks only animal blood. It sustains him, but makes him weaker than the average vamp. Damon feeds on humans, killing without remorse or hesitation. He’s here to make Stefan’s life miserable … and, of course there’s Elena/Catherine.
Stefan and Elena become romantically involved, bringing Elena into his secret world. She has a morbid fascination with their world and a belief that both Stefan and Damon can be redeemed. Her best friend Bonnie (Graham) has just discovered she’s a witch. Her powers will definitely come in handy from time to time here. The rest of the cast is made up of humans and vampires who play a complicated role in the show’s mythology.
Every vampire film owes quite a bit of its mythology to the Dracula novel and films. Most of the common ones developed there have been the basis for the creatures ever since. Here are the rules for The Vampire Diaries:
Things that don’t work: Vamps do reflect in mirrors here. They can eat garlic. Crucifixes and holy water have no ill effects. They do not turn into bats or anything else for that matter.
Things that do work: Vamps must be invited to enter a home where a human lives. Wooden stakes, and bullets, can very well end a vampire. Burning and decapitation also do rather nicely to end your vampire problems. These vampires can do the Jedi Mind Trick, but Stefan really can’t do it well because he only drinks animal blood. The show calls it compelling. Sunlight will kill a vampire, but some, including the brothers, have bewitched rings that allow them to tolerate sunlight.
The show’s kryptonite is a plant called vervain. Vervain will make vampires weak in its presence. It’s a great protection from the Jedi Mind Trick. It can be incorporated in jewelry or even consumed to have the benefit of its protection.
The cast here is exceptional from top to bottom, but I really have to talk about Ian Somerhalder. We last saw him as Boone on Lost, and he was pretty good on that show. He wasn’t near the best, however. Here he absolutely is. One of the skills that Somerhalder has learned well is his ability to act with his eyes. There are very few actors who ever master that to this level. Carroll O’Connor was one of the best in that regard. He’s the bad guy at times, the good guy at others, and it’s a very complicated role. So, why does it look so easy? There’s not a weak link in the lot, but he shines far above the already excellent work on display by this cast. There is great chemistry here. This looks like the kind of cast that are into their third or fourth season. They click on all cylinders. It’s amazing how quickly they became this well-oiled machine.
The show’s Atlanta locations work well with the old southern charm the town is intended to possess. There’s skill in all of the crucial crew positions as well. I’m just impressed as hell at how well this team functions for a first season show. It truly is remarkable.
So what is in store for you in season 2? It picks up pretty much exactly where the first season left off. Catherine has arrived. She’s pretty much the big problem for the season’s first half. She does a pretty good job of imitating Elena, and the series did overuse the which-one-is-it card. It’s actually not hard to tell because they have very different hair. Of course, that’s so you have a clue. She and Elena get caught up in a plan to release an ancient curse. It’s bloody and brings in a ton of new players. Most of these stories involve trying to find a way from Elena being killed as the vital ingredient in the curse removal.
The most notable new thing is the arrival of werewolves on the scene. There’s even a little Romeo and Juliet thing going on as Caroline, who is now a vampire, kind of falls for the new werewolf. This is particularly dangerous because werewolf bites are fatal to vampires, even if they have those invincible rings.
We meet two “original” vampires. These are the guys who are the first vampires ever. Elijah (Gillies) is the first one we meet. He offers Elena a deal to protect her loved ones if she remains safe for the eventual sacrifice. The real big bad comes in the form of Klaus, who is at first the form of someone we know and eventually played by Joseph Morgan. He’s the strongest vampire there is, and he wants even more power. He’ll figure in the season’s big climax, and expect him to be a thorn in our heroes’ sides for a long time to come. He’s a corrupting force for Stefan, and thus we have a season finale cliffhanger.
The Vampire Diaries is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The 1080p image is brought to you from an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. Kudos to Warner for correcting a huge error in the previous Blu-ray releases. They were squeezing 7 episodes plus bonus material on one disc. The bit rate was barely above DVD specs. What a difference just one more disc makes. One less episode on each and most bonus material pushed to the final disc which only has 4 episodes. Thank you, Warner. Colors are brilliant, particularly the primary tones. Of course, that means wonderful blues, reds, and yellows. Contrast is better than average, and black levels are good. What you come to high definition for is the detail, and you get it here. But it’s those black levels that shine here. This show does shoot a lot at night, although not as much as you might think. There is plenty of shadow definition here to go around.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track isn’t near as impressive as the video presentation, but it works. There is some effective use of creepy ambient sounds. The presentation isn’t always as immersive as I might like, but it’s more than effective enough. Dialog is always clear. This is a step-up from the first season, to be sure.
There are a few Audio Commentaries on selected episodes. There are spoiler warnings, so do not listen to them until you’ve seen the season through at least once.
All features are in HD
Deleted Scenes: Many of the episodes have deleted scenes available on the same disc as the episode.
Her Own Worse Enemy: (4:29) This is a profile on actress Nina Dobrev, who has a ton to do in this season. She plays Elena as well as Catherine at four different stages of her life. She does a wonderful job and deserving of the special love-fest here.
The Perfect Triangle – Vampires, Werewolves and Witches: (9:00) A little fun with the various relationships for the season.
Pages Of The Wolf: This two-part feature focuses on the werewolf arc of the season. The Myth And Mythology (5:38) and Howling At The Moon (7:29)
Second Bite: (2:37) Gag Reel
A few of our favorite characters die this season, and many of them come back. If there is a weakness at all to the second season it’s the number of “loopholes” that show up whenever someone gets in mortal danger. They play the miracle-cure card a bit too often. Eventually, the element of danger gets watered down a bit. But there is a ton of epic stories, and the scope of this season is huge for a television production. The stories remain compelling, as are the wonderful performances and characters. I’ve stayed away from a lot of plot elements to avoid spoiling your enjoyment in case you’re entering the season for the first time. Want to know what happened? “Catherine happened.”