The Vampire Diaries, S1E20: Blood Brothers [TV review by Robin Franson Pruter]

The Vampire DiariesOriginally broadcast April 29 2010 (USA)
Written by Kevin Williamson & Julie Plec
Directed by Liz Friedlander
My rating: 4 stars
IMDB

Episode provides strong character development as it delves into the story of how the Salvatore brothers became vampires.

* * *

Stefan’s tortured angst reaches epic proportions in this episode. I suppose we can believe his guilt can make him suicidal, but a part of me still wanted Elena to conjure her inner Cher, slap him, and say, “Snap out of it!”

Damon is more quippy than usual this episode, which works as a nice counterpoint to Stefan’s angst. For example, when Stefan refuses to feed, intending to starve himself death, Elena decides to give him a meal he can’t refuse and asks Damon what kind of animal blood Stefan likes best. Damon replies, “Stefan likes puppy blood. Cute little golden retriever puppies with big, floppy ears.” The rapport between Elena and Damon continues to grow, as, together, they take care of Stefan.

Stefan’s angst is so overdone that it would have irreparably harmed the episode had the present-day story—Elena and Damon playing Dr. Drew with Stefan to get him off the human blood—been little more than a framing story, an excuse to examine more of the Salvatore brothers’ history.

What’s revealed in these flashbacks is startling yet not inconsistent with what has been shown previously in the series. That’s what The Vampire Diaries is so good at—constructing stories to create shocking developments that, afterwards, viewers realize the show has been leading up to the whole time.

In this episode, there are a few revelations in the Salvatore brothers’ history that meet this criteria. The flashbacks begin with the brothers being shot as they try to rescue Katherine. Damon is shot first. And after Stefan watches the unthinkable happen—his brother die—he continues to attempt to free Katherine before he is shot himself. As he dies, he watches her carted off, supposedly to her death.

Most of this scene is just the playing out of what we already knew. The rest of the flashbacks in the episode reveal new information—how the brothers made the transition to become vampires, which we learned in “Lost Girls” involves the choice to drink human blood.

Stefan is a wee bit surprised to wake up from his death. But Emily Bennett, Katherine’s witch handmaiden, functions as an exposition machine and explains that Katherine had been compelling Stefan to drink her blood. When Stefan notices Damon, also not dead, Emily tells him that, with Damon, “No compulsion was necessary.” This is new information for Stefan but not for us viewers. What does surprise us is Damon’s revelation that he has chosen to die, that he doesn’t want to be a vampire now that Katherine is dead. (Emily has withheld the information that the vampires have been preserved in the tomb in hopes that Stefan and Damon won’t complete their transitions. Present day Damon comments that witches are “judgey little things.”) The make-up team did a good job in this scene. Stefan and Damon both look subtly corpse-like each in his own way given Wesley’s and Somerhalder’s significantly different natural skin tones.

Stefan, too, decides not to complete his transition. Now that he’s in transition, his feelings for Katherine are gone, but he has a moral objection to the vampire lifestyle. When he goes to say goodbye to his father (Damon couldn’t care less about Papa Salvatore), we get our first shocking revelation. Giuseppe Salvatore was the one who shot his sons to keep them from bringing shame on the family. Before we viewers can catch our breath and before Stefan has barely gotten words out that he plans to let himself die, Giuseppe attacks his son with a wooden stake. Stefan reacts instinctually and shoves his father away, leading Giuseppe to be impaled by his own stake. As he lies bleeding, the human blood proves too much of a lure for Stefan, who can’t control his attraction to the stuff, and he feeds, completing his transition on his own father’s blood. Thus, Stefan’s overwhelming feelings of guilt are becoming a little more understandable.

At this point, we’re only halfway through the episode, and we might think that, having already revealed that Stefan killed his father, the episode would be all downhill from there. But we would be wrong. There’s another huge revelation coming up, another incident to compound Stefan’s guilt.

Now that Stefan is fully a vampire and high on human blood, he doesn’t want to spend eternity alone. So, we next see him bringing a lovely young woman to a rapidly weakening Damon. Damon resists as Stefan explains the wonders of being a vampire and human blood, but Stefan shoves the young lady’s bloody neck  at Damon, forcing him to feed and complete his transition. Thus, Stefan feels guilty, not only for his own misdeeds, which, we’re only beginning to learn, are legion, but for all of Damon’s crimes as well.

Elena eventually talks Stefan off his metaphorical ledge—he had decided to expose himself to the sunlight—as we knew she would. While minor characters may die, and they often do, we know the main three are safe—the show couldn’t continue without them.

The episode gives us one final scene between Damon and Stefan. It’s nicely staged with Stefan standing behind and to the side of a seated Damon, speaking to the side towards the back of Damon’s head, which is not as overt as having Stefan speak directly behind Damon. He apologizes for forcing Damon to turn. Damon explains that his anger was never about that; he tells Stefan that he has been angry for the last century and half because Katherine turned Stefan too. He says, “It was only supposed to be me.” He also absolves Stefan of his guilt over Damon’s crimes, saying, “Everything I’ve done, it’s on me.” It’s a great scene between the brothers drawing on and building on their ever more complex relationship.

The episode also provides some nice interaction between Damon and Alaric, who are surprisingly becoming BFFs—surprisingly because, as Damon reminds Alaric, “You tried to kill me,” and as Alaric responds, “Yeah, well, you did kill me.” They bond over the fact that they’ve spent an inordinate amount of time chasing after women who didn’t want them. Alaric decides that two years is long enough to have searched for Isobel, who, Damon points out, is not going to be waiting with “slippers and the evening paper” at the end of the search. Damon comments that giving up after two years is “almost healthy,” and Alaric asks him, “How long has it been for you? 146?” Damon shrugs and replies, “I think I’ll stop at 200. A nice, round number.”

This episode shows the strengths of the series—strong character development, rich and evolving relationships between those characters, and well-plotted storytelling.

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About Robin Franson Pruter

Robin Franson Pruter is a recovering academic. She is now in the process of making amends for egregious use of esoteric neologisms and for passing around scholarly journal articles at social gatherings. She studied screenwriting in film school and really plans to finish that degree someday. Luckily, she has three other Master’s degrees collecting dust on her wall. A permanent resident of the state of adolescence, she obsesses over teen media—having, in the past, argued for the social and cultural relevance of girl group music, taught college courses in teen films and Harry Potter, and delivered conference presentations on the latter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (An article of hers can be found in Terminus: Collected Papers on Harry Potter, 7-11 August 2008 available through Amazon.) The only film that has ever scared her was The Green Man—yes, it is a comedy, but she was four and there was a body in the piano.
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