The Vampire Diaries

The Vampire Diaries, S2E03: Bad Moon Rising [TV review by Robin Franson Pruter]

The Vampire DiariesOriginally broadcast September 23 2010
Written by Andrew Chambliss
Directed by Patrick Norris
My rating: **
IMDBNetflix

Exposition-heavy episode fails to deliver engrossing drama.

* * *

I almost took off a star for the clichéd episode title. No one should call anything werewolf-related “Bad Moon Rising,” particularly when there’s no CCR involved. However, two stars is already a low score for an episode that’s not that bad.

This episode is not horribly flawed. It’s just mediocre, and we’ve come to expect better than that from the series.

The biggest problem with the episode is the large amount of exposition it must convey. Laying out mythology is not the most exciting part of a narrative, and even the best writers struggle to make it interesting. However, it doesn’t seem that this episode’s writer, Andrew Chambliss (Once Upon a TimeDollhouse), even bothered to try.

The construction of the opening scene leaves something to be desired. Chambliss created the most static, visually dull way to set up the episode.  The characters just sit there on some couches and discuss werewolves—not the most interesting way to convey exposition. The scene could have been written with Damon and Stefan spying on the Lockwoods with binoculars and Alaric complaining about being invited along on the Peeping Tom party or something—anything but sitting around a coffee table discussing boring, but necessary exposition.

The scene does give us our only clue in the whole series as to Damon’s age when he was turned. Stefan is 162 (Time in the series’ terms runs about a year every two seasons, so Stefan would be the same age he was in the first season) and was turned at 17, and Damon says he’s “160-something.” Thus, he would be between one and seven years older than Stefan, meaning he was turned between the ages of 18 and 24. Both brothers are played by actors now in their thirties, but, obviously, just because vampires don’t age doesn’t mean producers of vampire series can contractually obligate actors to stop aging.

Damon, Alaric, and Elena then take a road trip to Duke University in North Carolina to discover more exposition. Damon and Elena have some nice conflict over his manipulative attempts to regain her friendship and her manipulative attempts to pump him for more information about Katherine. But that thread still ends up being about exposition. Damon reveals that Katherine’s real name is not Katherine Pierce but Katerina Petrova (a change from the novels to weave in actress Nina Dobrev’s Bulgarian heritage).

Yes, forcing people in conflict to share a car together is a pretty standard narrative ploy, but this episode doesn’t get much out of the set-up. Somerhalder is off his game, too, overworking his forehead and eyebrows to try and make poorly written scenes work. Alaric is given little to do but chauffeur the arguing pair around and make introductions. It’s as if the writer doesn’t have much sense of Alaric as a character and so tries to forget him as much as possible.

Nonetheless, the episode requires Alaric to be present. He needs to be there because the group is going to Duke to look through Alaric’s wife Isobel’s stuff. That Isobel is presented as being a full-time professor at Duke with her own graduate students took me right out of the narrative. At most, I could see her being a postdoc or an adjunct.

As graduate student Vanessa Monroe, Courtney Ford seems to be gunning for the Most Annoying Guest Star award. Ford was irritating when she recurred on Dexter and True Blood, she was irritating when she guest-starred on The Big Bang Theory, and she’s irritating here. She plays such a large role in this episode that I feared she’d stick around for more. Happily, that wasn’t the case.

Vanessa starts off, at least, doing something interesting; mistaking Elena for Katherine, she shoots at her with a crossbow. Damon jumps in front of the arrow, saving Elena. Elena then removes the arrow, Alaric corrects Vanessa’s mistake, and they all sit down to talk. Again.

We learn about an Aztec legend of the “Sun and the Moon Curse,” which prevents vampires from walking in the sun and forces werewolves to change only during the full moon. Vanessa also tells Elena that doppelgangers tend to torment their doubles. Vanessa reveals one more key piece of information—a werewolf bite can kill a vampire.

And then the Mystic Fallsians jump back in the car and go home, where Damon admits he didn’t know Jeremy was wearing the Gilbert ring when he snapped his neck, although he’s thankful that Jeremy was. Elena tells Damon she’ll never forgive him and rejects his overtures of friendship. That should have been a great scene of conflict, but it comes off as merely okay. That is partially because, although Elena and Damon have been talking over the situation throughout the episode, the drama doesn’t build up to this final confrontation. The actors seem to be straining to reach the level of intensity the scene needs. Normally, Dobrev and Somerhalder are never short on intensity when they have a scene together.

This exposition road trip takes up so much time that it draws focus away from the main storyline of Mason Lockwood’s lycanthropy. Here, the limited TV budget really shows itself. The series probably has enough money for only one big special effects werewolf transformation per season, and it’s not going to waste it on a recurring character like Mason. So the transformation happens out of sight. We do see the werewolf, but much of its movement is disguised by the darkness and the forest setting.

We don’t learn much about werewolf behavior. It attacks anything that gets in its way, most notably new vampire Caroline, who’s been sucking neck with her boyfriend, Matt, in the woods. Yet, the werewolf also seems to retain some of its human control because it runs away from hurting Tyler.

Luckily, Caroline escapes without being bitten. She’s the best thing in the episode, making the viewers want to see more of her development into a vampire, which so far she’s handling better than Vicki Donovan did. She gets some help from Bonnie, who makes her a daylight ring, and Stefan, who tries the Henry Higgins routine again.

Caroline doesn’t necessarily appreciate all of Stefan’s lessons, like telling her not to compel people for petty, selfish reasons. She complains, “It’s just I haven’t been in the sun for days. And everyone’s at the swimming hole, having fun. And Matt is there. And he finally told me that he loved me, but I’ve been blowing him off. And now you want me to eat bunnies. And I’m kind of freaking out, okay?” Stefan laughs at her reaction and tells her that, when people become vampires, all of their natural behaviors get “amplified.” Caroline responds, “So you’re saying that now I’m basically an insecure, neurotic control freak—on crack?”

The levity of the interaction between the two provides some much needed energy in an otherwise plodding episode. And it shows that the series is aware of its own limitations. For example, as a character, Stefan falls into the typical brooding reluctant vampire archetype, and Caroline acknowledges that when she teases him, saying that his “serious vampire look” and his “worried vampire look” never stray too far from his “‘Hey, it’s Tuesday,’ look.”

In the end, Caroline compels Matt to forget that she bit him, and he breaks up with her. They always were a mismatched couple, and they are even more unsuited to each other now that Caroline is a vampire. The break-up seems inevitable, but, like the Damon/Elena confrontation and the werewolf rampage, the scene fails to have much of an impact.

The episode is not terrible. It just has fundamental problems at the script level that it never overcomes.

Stuff That Bothers Only Me:

When Alaric suggests that the Lockwoods might be werewolves, Damon says, “If this wolf man thing is true, I’ve seen enough movies to know it’s not good. It means Mason Lockwood is a real life Lon Chaney and that little Tyler punk may just very well be Lon Chaney Jr., which means Bela Lugosi, meaning me, is totally screwed.”

Lon Chaney Jr. was in the original version of The Wolf-Man. However, Lon Chaney Sr. never played a werewolf. (He did play a character called “The Wolf” in the lost 1914 short “The Lamb, the Woman, the Wolf,” but the character name was metaphorical. The Wolf was just a thieving mountaineer.)

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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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