Last night, we got a generous helping of two hours of The Vampire Diaries, or technically one hour of TVD and one hour of its spinoff, The Originals. There were some lovely moments — but also a sense that the wheels are coming off the vampire bus. The Vampire empire is running into four lethal problems.
First, here's what happened in both shows last night:
Rebekah took Matt to Europe, where he had a threesome and got robbed by a hot chick, who later put a nasty spell on him back in MysticFalls. And then Rebekah took a bath that lasted an entire episode of The Originals. Seriously, that woman knows how to make a bath last. Without getting pruney.
Meanwhile, Elena and Caroline go off to college, not realizing their witch friend Bonnie is dead, and they have a mysterious new roommate who has vervaine water in her mini-fridge. New roomie is killed at a frat party, apparently by a vampire, and Elena and Caroline act like they've never seen a vampire kill anyone before.
Stefan is still stuck at the bottom of a lake, and Elena's having weird dreams about him — but nobody else has noticed. Stefan is struggling with whether to turn on his emotions, and an imaginary Damon almost convinces him to — but then an imaginary Elena talks him out of it.
Meanwhile, Silas is wandering around doing a bad job of pretending to be Stefan, until he realizes Katharine is human again — and then he just wants Katharine back, to the point where he disrupts one of MysticFalls' 1000 seasonal parties and kills the mayor. You gotta love Silas announcing to the crowd in his best announcer voice that he's been drinking a lot of blood and can now do mind control on a wholesale basis.
What else? Jeremy gets expelled from school for fighting. Damon is being a mother hen to him. Bonnie is going to silly lengths to pretend not to be dead. Tyler dumps Caroline by voicemail, after all that insane drama. Elijah is so co-dependent, he not only follows Klaus around trying to clean up Klaus' messes, he actually spins co-dependency into a life philosophy that he explains in 1000 voiceovers, and tries to tell Klaus that co-dependency is power.
The character I am rooting for in all of this? Agnes, the witch who gets a grand total of about two minutes of screen time in both versions of the Originals pilot combined —who seems to be getting set up as the lone voice of reason in this crazy universe. I am Team Agnes.
So basically, this universe now has its characters spread out in three different locations: MysticFalls, FancyPantsUniversity, and New Orleans. Which solves the problem of a billion supernatural and vaguely apocalyptic things all happening in one small town, but also creates a much bigger problem of things not feeling terribly cohesive or urgent. (Already, just in the pilot, we're having to watch Damon lie to Elena about what's going on, so she won't come running back to MysticFalls and desert all her own storylines.)
In any case, here are the problems that are afflicting this universe, in both its incarnations:
1) The goalposts have been moved too far
The most interesting moment, for me, of the revamped Originals pilot is when Elijah sees a witch that's been murdered on the street and goes into full-on pearl-clutching mode. "Please tell me — gasp! — that Klaus had nothing to do with this!" Excuse me, how many witches has Elijah watched Klaus kill at this point? How many people, generally? We just saw a flashback of Elijah watching Klaus kill a boatload of sailors. And meanwhile, Elena and Caroline see one vampire murder on campus, and treat it like a huge pressing mystery. Why? Because the campus authorities are covering it up? The campus police were probably compelled. It's no accident that the funniest line last night is when Jeremy points out that Damon murdered him once before, and Damon huffily replies that he had the decency to kill Jeremy behind closed doors, in the privacy of his own home. This show has turned murder and general mayhem into a joke for too long to try and pivot back towards the sanctity of human life. That boat, like Klaus' boatload of corpses, has sailed.
2) Everybody has gotten too powerful
When the Originals were antagonists instead of protagonists, it didn't matter as much that they could kill everybody in a 100-mile radius without breaking a sweat. But now? I'm still puzzled by how Marcel and those scheming witches are supposed to pose much of a threat to Klaus. Yes, Sophie is magically linked to Hayley the pregnant werewolf girl, so if Klaus wants Hayley alive, he has to protect Sophie. And yes, Marcel apparently has his own secret witch ally. But still. And meanwhile, Elena and Caroline's campus adventures seem to be predicated on the idea that they're out of their depth and struggling to keep up — but they really ought to be wiping the quad with these people.
This problem especially afflicts Klaus, because he really ought to be killing almost everyone he meets, based on what we know about him. Any time people defy him and he doesn't paint the walls with their blood, I lose a bit more respect for Klaus.
And meanwhile, Jeremy is apparently still a super-hunter, who can throw down with a bunch of high school kids. Everybody on both of these shows is superhuman except for Matt and Cami the psychologist bartender.
3) All the romances have run out of steam
TVD has always been a show with a heavy element of romance — and it was hard not to notice how few of the relationships on the show, romantic or otherwise, still had any spark to them in last night's season opener. Yes, Tyler ditching Caroline over voicemail rankles, after how much drama she went through to get Tyler un-banished. But also, now that the Damon-Elena-Stefan love triangle has been resolved (for now), it's not clear that the Damon-Elena relationship has someplace interesting to go. The show seemed in a big hurry to turn them into a long-distance relationship, in any case. Even the big friendships, like the Elena-Caroline friendship, are feeling a bit played-out — although I do like Bonnie dictating emails to Jeremy from beyond the grave.
This show has never really done that well with big "someone evil wants to do something evil" plots, and has always done way better with weepy romance — in which it just so happens that the weepy romance is bound up with tremendous, scary, potentially earth-shattering events. I'm sort of reminded of Lost, after the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle had run its course.
4) Everybody has grown up and we need a new metaphor
It's the problem every high-school show faces, when the kids go off to college. See Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, and a few others. Basically, we need to bring back compulsory military service, purely so all of these shows can be about their newly adult heroes being forced to go through basic training and struggle with another repressive, conformist organization — rather than watching them struggle with the freedom of college. At this point, of course, Elena has basically been a grownup for a couple years, since her last adult authority figure died ages ago and she's a vampire. Basically what I'm saying is, I miss Alaric and Aunt Jenna.
But I still love Vampire Diaries, and here's hoping it picks up steam in the next few weeks. Both shows, in fact.