The Vampire Diaries, S2E02: Brave New World [TV review by Robin Franson Pruter]

The Vampire DiariesOriginally broadcast September 16 2010
Written by Brian Young
Directed by John Dahl
My rating: ***
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Candice Accola shines as new vampire Caroline runs amok at school carnival.

* * *

The Vampire Diaries had a good run of five straight four-star episodes, but no show can maintain that level of quality for every episode. “Brave New World” settles in place as a good, if not extraordinary, effort.

Most of the episode focuses on Caroline and her new status as a vampire. Caroline, a type-A personality if there ever was one, won’t let a little thing like her own death prevent her from completing her duties as the organizer of the school carnival, which provides the special occasion for this episode. Why the school is having a carnival two days after the town’s big Founder’s Day celebration is a mystery, but maybe the writers thought the audience wouldn’t realize or care about the timing.

Unfortunately, Caroline’s wreaking vampire havoc interferes with Elena’s plans to have a normal day. Elena should know by now that such a thing is impossible, particularly when Mystic Falls is having some kind of special event.

Caroline’s transition to vampire is neatly done. Instead of depicting the reaction of a generic high school girl to becoming a vampire, the episode shows Caroline dealing with it in a way that is unique to her, at times efficient, neurotic, silly, and astute. The series maintains continuity by having Caroline, like Vicki Donovan, remember everything that Damon compelled her to forget in the first season. Thus, Caroline comprehends what’s happening to her, and the show doesn’t have to waste time with explanations. Her first action once she arrives at the carnival is to track Damon down and kick his ass for manipulating and compelling her when they were in a relationship. He deserves a good ass-kicking, particularly after the previous episode.

While Caroline runs loose at the carnival, Stefan, Damon, and Elena debate how to handle the Caroline situation. Damon is all for staking her outright to prevent her from going off the rails like Vicki. Elena adamantly refuses. Stefan votes against killing her, but he fears Damon is right. The trio probably should have tracked Caroline down and slipped her some vervain to put her out of commission before they had this little powwow because she gets hungry and, to avoid feeding on Matt, ends up killing a carnival worker. This upsets Bonnie greatly because the carnival worker was apparently the only young black guy in town. Bonnie’s resulting attempt to kill Damon makes little sense. As Elena points out, Damon’s not to blame for turning Caroline, even if it was his blood in her system when Katherine killed her, and, after all, Bonnie was the one who told Damon to feed Caroline his blood to heal her after the car accident.

Caroline has a “Why me?” moment, which comes off as a little hackneyed, later in the episode. Overall, however, the main story of the episode is well-handled and presents the situation in a way that is distinctive to the particular character. With this episode, Candice Accola, who, throughout the series, has risen to the challenge of playing a character who is supposed to be obnoxious without irritating the audience, proves that she can carry an episode.

The secondary story picks up on the Lockwood mystery. The late Mayor Lockwood’s younger brother, Mason (Taylor Kinney—Zero Dark Thirty, TV’s Chicago Fire), has come to town ostensibly to help the family after his brother’s death. But, in reality, Mason is searching for a hockey puck-sized moonstone, which had been in his brother’s possession. The moonstone will spend a number of episodes changing hands and being pursued by various characters—because what the show really needs is another MacGuffin. *Sigh* I wouldn’t mind the whole moonstone business if the show ever coherently explained its importance and if the darn thing didn’t stick around for the whole frickin’ season.

The mystery of Mason himself is more interesting. Damon is convinced that there’s something supernatural about Mason and is determined to prove it. Stefan scoffs initially but soon agrees that his brother might be on to something. That Mason is a werewolf should be, at this point, pretty clear to the viewers even if the show holds off on that revelation until the next episode. Putting the werewolf revelation in this episode would split focus too much from Caroline’s story. So, in consideration of episode unity, the series was right to hold off on the revelation. The show excuses the characters from not picking up right away on what is now obvious to the audience by revealing, through a Damon quip, that, in the show’s universe, vampires think werewolves exist only in fantasy.

Ultimately, there’s nothing really poorly done with this episode. It’s just not extraordinary. What’s impressive is that it manages not to be a letdown after the previous group of exceptional episodes.

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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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