The Vampire Diaries, S1E22: Founder’s Day [TV review by Robin Franson Pruter]

The Vampire DiariesOriginally broadcast May 13 2010
Written by Brian Oh & Andrew Chambliss
Directed by Marcos Siega
My rating: 4 stars
IMDBNetflix

An exciting, engrossing end to the first season, “Founder’s Day” stands as a paragon of the serialized drama season finale.

* * *

A season finale of a serialized drama like The Vampire Diaries must do two things.

  1.  It must satisfactorily wrap up the arc of the season it is concluding.
  2.  It must create anticipation for the upcoming season.

“Founder’s Day” successfully accomplishes both of these goals.

All the celebrations this season have led up to the big Founder’s Day festivities, which kick off with a parade. The show was able to come up with enough funds to create a scene of a realistic small town parade with a suitable number of spectators. However, the scene of the climactic showdown at the fireworks display is a little sparse, but that’s a minor quibble.

The showdown is between the Founders’ Council, led by John Gilbert, and the remaining tomb vampires. John has discovered the plot of the vampires to attack the descendants of the town’s founders during the fireworks display. He decides to use that opportunity to set off the Gilbert Device and rid the town of vampires once and for all.

Sheriff Forbes is horrified by the plan to use the townspeople as bait, but John knocks her out and locks her up with her own handcuffs. I like that the sheriff defected from the party line; it shows that her character will be rounder (more psychologically complex) than she has been up this point.

My one problem with the season climax is that the tomb vampires are all anonymous. If Frederick had survived to the end of the season, having him as a leader would have given the tomb vampire faction some identity.

As the vampires are about to attack, John sets off the Gilbert Device, which emits a sound that incapacitates vampires. When the vampires go down, Sheriff Forbes’ deputies swoop in, inject each vampire with vervain, and drag him or her off to the old Gilbert medical building. Stefan escapes the dragnet with some help from Alaric, but John and the deputies capture Damon, Anna, and surprisingly, Mayor Lockwood. As Damon watches, unable to move from the vervain, John mercilessly stakes Anna. Yes, she’s a vampire, but Malese Jow looks so small and helpless that the act comes off as cruel and heartless. As he leaves, John sets fire to the building.

The fire scenes are reasonably well done, although the fire seems to take a long time getting to Damon while the other vampires go up rather quickly. Of course, Damon Flambé would mean no more show, so there’s little suspense that he might be toasted. He has a nice exchange with Mayor Lockwood, who is unaffected by the vervain, as the fire gets closer. Before the mayor can answer Damon’s question as to why the Gilbert Device affected him but the vervain did not, one of the tomb vampires recognizes the mayor and kills him.

So two recurring characters go down permanently, one right after the other. Mayor Lockwood is no big loss, but we’ll miss Anna.

With Bonnie’s witchy help in controlling the fire, Stefan rescues Damon. This tiny effort from Bonnie absolves her in her friends’ eyes of her major betrayal of pretending to deactivate the Gilbert Device, even though that act puts Caroline in mortal peril. As far as I’m concerned, they let Bonnie off the hook too easily.

With the fire closing out the first season’s arc, the episode lays the groundwork for Season 2 by providing five separate cliffhangers.

1) Caroline in jeopardy—After being warned by his father to get to safety, Tyler is driving Caroline and Matt out of the town center when the Gilbert Device goes off. Like his father, Tyler is affected by the device and loses control of the car. In the ensuing crash, Caroline is seriously injured. The season ends with Caroline still in surgery hovering on the brink of death.

2) The Lockwood mystery—The season ends without explaining why Tyler and Mayor Lockwood were affected by the Gilbert Device, why Mayor Lockwood was not affected by the vervain, and why, when Tyler is being examined by the paramedics after the crash, his eyeballs appear less than human. The answer to this mystery isn’t that mysterious for anyone who has read the books or who has been paying attention to the clues. Supernatural hearing (affected by the Gilbert Device). Not a vampire (not affected by vervain). Animal eyes. Wildly aggressive around the full moon. What could it possibly be?

I do have to wonder if the answer to this mystery was as obvious to people who hadn’t read the books ahead of time. Nah. Even the viewers who hadn’t read the books probably could have made a pretty good guess.

3) Jeremy in jeopardy—After being rescued from the fire, Damon informs Jeremy of Anna’s death and offers to take away his suffering as he did when Vicki died. Jeremy tells him that taking away his memory didn’t take away his suffering, that he was still in pain but just didn’t know why. In both of Jeremy’s scenes with Damon during this episode, his dialogue strikes me as overly candid. Initially, I was critical, but I noted that such uncomfortable emotional honesty is a recurring characteristic of Jeremy’s speech. And Steven McQueen sells it well. He has a knack for portraying Jeremy’s vulnerability, particularly in this episode. After Damon, unknowing what’s going on in Jeremy’s head, tells him that vampires can turn off their emotions—doubtful, as Damon’s the most emotionally high-strung character on the show, but Jeremy buys it—Jeremy downs a vial of Anna’s blood that she had given him, takes a bottle full of pills, and lies down preparing to wake up a vampire.

4) Damon kisses Elena, kind of—As Damon leaves, not knowing that Jeremy is doing something really stupid, he catches Elena on the front porch. He opens up to her about the warm, fuzzy feelings he’s been having. He kisses her—not just a friendly little peck either—and she…kisses him back? What? Whoa. As she’s leaving the house, Jenna walks in on them before things get too heated, and she’s as mystified at Elena’s behavior as the rest of us.

5) John in jeopardy and a surprise—After Jenna and Damon leave, Elena walks into the kitchen and sees John. John tries to say something about an earlier confrontation they had over his killing vampires and his being her father. She takes a butcher’s knife and chops his fingers off. This behavior seemed to me to be a little inconsistent, a little more petulant than we’ve come to expect from Elena. However, before we can think too much about this, the scene cuts to Stefan escorting Elena up the front porch, where she comments that someone in town walked off with her belongings. The scene cuts back to the kitchen, where the girl with the butcher’s knife has developed an extreme case of vamp face and stabs John multiple times, having removed his Gilbert ring along with his fingers. He looks at her and gasps, “Katherine?”

I’m really impressed with Nina Dobrev in this episode. As much as I was fooled along with Damon and Jenna by Katherine’s masquerade during the porch scene, watching this episode again, I can see Dobrev using gestures and expressions we will come to associate with Katherine. She has created two distinct characters. I can only imagine the difficulty that goes into portraying one pretending to the be the other without completely slipping into the other character, on the one hand, or, on the other, making the masquerade painfully apparent to the viewers and the other characters.

The timing of Katherine’s return couldn’t have been better. Anticipation was allowed to build, but it was not drawn out. The groundwork for the return was laid out but not in a way that made the return seem imminent or obvious.

Katherine’s return is also an open-ended cliffhanger. Most cliffhangers can be resolved as soon as a show returns. Will _______ live or die? Who killed _______? The answers can be quickly revealed. What Katherine’s return portends is not that simple. With this cliffhanger, The Vampire Diaries has set itself up for a new season’s worth of story, not just a single episode or even a single scene revelation.

A good season finale is more than its cliffhanger(s), however, and this whole episode feels big. All the regulars appear. There’s a parade. Fireworks. A car wreck. A fire. A mass slaughter, including two recurring character deaths. Three characters, two of them regulars, in mortal peril. There’s significant development in the triangle arc that defines the whole series. And a paradigm-shifting return. Also, throughout all this, there’s development of characters and key relationships—and not just our main trio. Matt and Tyler’s relationship, Elena and John’s, Damon and Jeremy’s, Jeremy and Elena’s, Bonnie and Stefan’s—all are explored within the context of the finale. This episode was satisfying on every level.

We, the viewers, are left staring at the screen in mute astonishment, until it dawns on us that we’ll have to wait three months in breathless anticipation of the next season’s premiere. And then “Holy #ᴪ©₹” stops scrolling through our brains like words on a marquee, and we lament that three months seems like an eternity.

Stuff That Bothers Only Me:

We’ve just been through a whole season’s worth of celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the town’s founding, and no one has used the word “sesquicentennial.” I would think Carol Lockwood, at least, would have used it and then defined it for the plebeians who didn’t know what the word meant.

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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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