The Vampire Diaries, S2E13: Daddy Issues [TV review by Robin Franson Pruter]

The Vampire DiariesOriginally broadcast February 3, 2011
Written by Kevin Williamson & Julie Plec
Directed by Joshua Butler
My rating: ★★

Episode is a storyline mishmash, not up the series’s usual level of quality.

* * *

Complaints about the abundance of special events in The Vampire Diaries abound, yet, before annoyed viewers make such a complaint, they should consider episodes like “Daddy Issues,” which lack such an event to unite the elements of the episode into a coherent whole. Without a unifying special event, “Daddy Issues” meanders through various storylines without ever giving a sense that the writers know what the episode is about.

I had high hopes for this episode when Aunt Jenna is given a good line early in the episode after she learns that John Gilbert is Elena’s biological father. She says, “Elena is my sister’s husband’s brother’s daughter, and her mother is my boyfriend’s deceased wife. I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.” I suppose that because she was speaking to Alaric she left out the part about her own prior relationship with John. Unfortunately, the show’s weakest character getting a good line was not indicative that the whole episode would be of high quality.

Despite the title, Elena’s relationship with John gets no more screen time than any of the other storylines in the episode and significantly less than the werewolf plot. Also, nothing in this episode develops the relationship in any way. Elena and John have the same strained relationship at the end of the episode that they had at the beginning.

The most interesting developments involve the Caroline/Tyler relationship. Despite Tyler’s personal growth since the first season, he remains less than perfectly noble. We see him show uncertainty and weakness when Jules and her friend Brady (Stephen Amell, The CW’s Arrow) capture, torture, and threaten to kill Caroline. Even though Caroline has been incredibly supportive of the newbie werewolf, Tyler still feels betrayed by her lie that she was the lone vampire in Mystic Falls. Thus, he hesitates to free her from the cage in which the werewolves were holding her, and he fails to speak out in her favor when she’s recaptured and the werewolves hold a gun to her head, threatening to shoot. Jules and Brady come off as cold, heartless villains, and it’s difficult for the audience to understand why Tyler would choose them over Caroline even given that they are his kind and that wolves are pack animals.

The relationship between Caroline and Tyler would be complicated enough without the writers attempting to create unnecessary conflict by reviving the lifeless corpse of the Caroline/Matt romance. This needless attempt to pick up a storyline from the first season to put another obstacle in the way of Caroline and Tyler prevents the show from focusing on the bigger obstacle of vampire-werewolf enmity. This episode does use that obstacle effectively to push Caroline and Tyler apart, but the series fails to exploit the old Romeo & Juliet trope for all its proven narrative worth.

The series is also failing to make the fullest use out of the Stefan character at this point in the season. Paul Wesley must have felt frustrated having his character relegated to being a sounding board for the rest of the cast. None of the scenes in this episode that feature Stefan is actually about him. His function has become to listen sympathetically to the other characters and to provide support for Elena when necessary. With the exception of the flashback scenes in episode 15, he doesn’t have any hint of a story focused on him until the season finale. Half of a season is a long time for the top-billed male star to spend twiddling his thumbs between reaction shots. He could at least be shown having an existential crisis in the shower, but apparently Damon used up all the hot water in the Salvatore mansion.

This episode’s two scenes of Damon pondering the nothingness of his being while bathing were excessive fanservice even by The CW’s standards. He manages to acquire a new girlfriend, intrepid girl reporter Andie Star (Dawn Olivieri, TV’s Heroes, TV’s House of Lies), who, apparently, appreciates cleanliness in a man. I like how the relationship between the two develops over the rest of the season despite my irritation with their first major scene together. Apparently, Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec, who wrote this episode, hadn’t received the script yet from the writers of the previous episode because both end with Damon confessing his troubles to a female he has compelled to listen to him. (Williamson and Plec obviously took care in scripting the compulsion scene to avoiding falling into problems with dubious consent, writing the scene in such a way that Damon compels Andie only postcoitally and merely not to be afraid of him when he reveals he’s a vampire.)

The final shot of the scene shows poor direction by Joshua Butler. I really thought, the way the scene was shot, that Damon killed Andie at the end of his soliloquy, like he did with his victim in the previous episode. This false impression, which others commented on online (so I know I wasn’t alone in my surmise), was not intentional because, when Andie appears in the next episode, it’s not in a “Ha! You viewers thought I was dead, but I’m really alive!” kind of way. Part of the problem stems from the fact that the various directors never establish any consistent sense of how long a vampire has to drink before killing someone. In a few cases, the victims seem to suffer nearly instantaneous death after being bitten. In other scenes, vampires can suck away for an extended period of time without the victim even swooning.

Those who know me might find it difficult to believe that I’m giving a negative review to an episode that begins and ends with scenes featuring wet, naked Damon, but there’s as much wrong with this episode as there can be with it still being entertaining to watch.

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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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