The Vampire Diaries, Ep. 4.02: “Memorial” delivers with compelling stakes, strong antagonist

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The Vampire Diaries, Season 4, Episode 2: “Memorial”
Written by Jose Molina and Julie Plec
Directed by Rob Hardy
Airs Thursdays at 8pm (ET) on the CW

This week on The Vampire Diaries: Matt and Elena finally get to necking, Damon is moody, and the gang holds a wake

Emphasizing the journeys each of our main characters have undergone, and acknowledging who and what they’ve lost, is a smart way to kick off the fourth season of this plot-churner of a show. Audience members would be forgiven for forgetting that the beginning of the series saw the deaths of Lexie (Stefan’s best friend for centuries) and Vicki (Matt’s sister), both at the hands of Damon, incidentally, and reminding the viewers  of just how much these people have gone through, and why, therefor, they cling so tightly to each other, is important. With most of our originally human cast now vampires, witches, mystics, and werewolf hybrid thingies, it’s easy for any sense of reality and consequence to fly out the window, but TVD has a track record for regrounding the show in its characters’ core humanity when necessary and this week they do just that.

Last week’s premiere dealt almost exclusively with fallout from the game-changing season three finale and while that will undoubtedly continue to play into the plot moving forward, this episode introduces the next immediate threats. Our heroes are no longer protected by a set of town elders conveniently enlightened towards non-(well, make that less-)violent supes. Though the explosion of the non-sympathizing Council members last week seemed like it’d help our protagonists, it would seem that is not the case. If there were ever a time for the Mayor and Sheriff to rebuild the Council, perhaps with help from upstanding concerned citizen Damon Salvatore, one would think it would be now, but apparently that isn’t the plan. Hopefully we’ll get a bit more explanation of why in the episodes to come, but adding a renewed anti-establishment sentiment to the proceedings isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

More interesting is the introduction of Todd Williams as vampire hunter Connor Jordon. Williams was good on the short-lived The Chicago Code and it should be fun to see a new (assumedly) human antagonist running around. Though Williams isn’t particularly physically menacing, writers Jose Molina and Julie Plec do a good job of establishing him as a smart, efficient, and ruthless opponent. There’s clearly more to be revealed here, given his invisible ink, but for now, having a contrast to Alaric, whose death hangs heavily over several scenes, is interesting. Presumably the writers have a new direction in mind for this character and pitting a newly vamped Elena, her protectiveness for her friends greatly magnified by her transition, against a human hunting vampires, who TVD still seems to mostly consider baddies, offers any number of possibilities.

Even if Jordon were written out permanently between this episode and next week’s, his brief appearance would be worth it just for the fantastic setpiece we get here at the church. The stakes of the scene are enormous and provide not only tension and action, but significant character beats as well. Molina and Plec do a tremendous job setting up Elena’s condition by the time she’s at the memorial service. The notion of her doppleganger status affecting her transition, much as a witch’s, is credible and intriguing and Nina Dobrev does a great job selling Elena’s confused frustration, determination, and pain. Her makeup is well handled too- balancing “newly transitioned and starving to death” with “but Jordon can’t tell she’s a vamp” isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do, but it works.

The church, aside from telling us a lot about Jordon and keeping the audience from exhaling for what feels like an eternity, also allows character beats for Matt and Elena (his selfless offer and her fortunate self-control) as well as Tyler. Of all the characters on the show, Tyler is the least developed and while Tyler as comparatively unkillable bait will eventually get old, here it works like a charm. The Tyler/Caroline relationship needs attention. We love Caroline- she’s a badass, she’s funny, and she stayed by Tyler and helped him when it could easily have killed her, but we have little reason to care about Tyler or understand what Caroline sees in him. There are undoubtedly many fans of the character and actor who disagree, but to this reviewer, this is one of the show’s most glaring character issues. The writing for Tyler this week is a step in the right direction. Let’s hope this season brings more, and soon.

After the build to and climax at the church, the denouement we get, the gang lighting lanterns and letting go of at least a symbol of their pain and loss, is lovely and one that feels absolutely appropriate. The show doesn’t take breaths like this for long, and certainly not without purpose, so it would seem we are in for a hard road ahead. Ending with Damon’s bitter monologue to Alaric is fitting and it’s great to see Matt Davis back for this brief scene- whether he’ll be recurring as a ghost (handy to have Jeremy the Medium around) or this is a one-off, getting another moment with everyone’s unlikely buddy-cop duo is a pleasant surprise. Season four came back with a solid premiere and this episode is even better. A lot about the season is still up in the air, but if the past two weeks are any indication, we have another entertaining, intense season ahead of us.

What did you think of the episode? Any predictions about Jordon’s tattoos? Would you prefer to see more GhostAlaric this season or that the show leave him and the Damon/Alaric friendship on this touching beat? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick

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