The Vampire Diaries, Ep. 4.01, “Growing Pains”: Solid opener delivers on finale’s promises

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The Vampire Diaries, Season 4, Episode 1: “Growing Pains”
Written by Caroline Dries
Directed by Chris Grismer
Airs Thursdays at 8pm (ET) on the CW

This week, on The Vampire Diaries: Bonnie gets in too deep, Elena transitions, and there’s a new Pastor in town

Last season ended with one hell of a cliffhanger. In what was one of the best-kept secrets of recent television (with fans of the books generally keeping mum), Elena woke after dying and began to transition into being a vampire. This season picks up where last season left off, with Elena in transition and our characters’ secrets outed to the Council. In true The Vampire Diaries fashion, the plot hits the ground running and, while plenty of time is spent on Elena’s journey of loss, anger, and acceptance, by the end of the episode there are two big teases of what’s to come- the mysterious priest and his firey exit and the return and demise of Grams.

Four seasons in, it makes sense to change up the dynamic and ousting our characters’ allies from their positions of power, as well as destroying the entire town’s vervain supply, promises new challenges for everyone. Marguerite MacIntyre is always a welcome addition as Liz Forbes and her chemistry with Ian Sommerhalder is great- more of Damon and Sheriff Forbes teaming up can only be a good thing, and it looks like that’s where we may be headed. Susan Walters has gotten much less screentime as Carol Lockwood, as the writers have mostly kept her separate from the supernatural goings on, so should she gets more hands-on this year, it’ll be interesting to see how she interacts with our leads. More than anything, teaming Liz and Carol up more directly with Elena and the Salvatores puts two more of the increasingly dwindling human contingent front and center.

Bonnie’s dabbling in dark magic comes to a head refreshingly quickly. This is a storyline almost every supernaturally-themed series eventually gets to and it’s great to see the show skip over the, “Dark Magic is fun!”� phase and get right to the consequences. Bringing back Jasmine Guy as Grams to warn Bonnie is incredibly effective. Guy’s original departure in season one was an emotional one and calling back to it here underscores how much Bonnie has lost and, perhaps, how little she’s learned.

Unfortunately, despite the forward movement in these storylines, we also get a disappointing backpedal on one of last season’s most significant developments. Though Joseph Morgan was great last year as Klaus, reviving him and restoring Tyler makes much of the end run of last season feel almost meaningless. The Originals have been a blessing and curse to the series. They gave us Evil Stefan and Claire Holt as Rebekah, who’s turned out to be a pleasant addition to the pack, but they’ve also hijacked the show.

Unlike nearly every other story point, the PtB seem unwilling to let go of this one thread, despite the fact that there’s only so much to be done when facing off against a Big Bad who is Capital-E Evil and nearly impossible to kill. The end of last season suffered from the repetition and stagnation of the fight against Klaus and, with him back in fighting form, it looks like we’re back where we started. It also takes away the potential for a more interesting storyline for Tyler, who was almost criminally underserved last year.

Despite this disappointment, however, The Vampire Diaries appears to be on solid footing for what should be an entertaining, emotional season. The actors are given plenty to work with and the show continues to balance character and story well, spending the time necessary to let emotional beats, like the return of Elena’s memories and Matt’s survivor’s guilt, land. It’s not their best premiere, but it’s a solid start and this reviewer, for one, can’t wait to see where they go next.

What did you think of the premiere? Did anyone actually think Bonnie’s trick would save Elena? What are you more intrigued by, Pastor Young or Bonnie’s dark magic? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick

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