The Vampire Diaries, Ep. 4.10, “After School Special”: Frustrating ep highlights series’ flaws
The Vampire Diaries, Season 4, Episode 10: “After School Special”
Written by Brett Matthews
Directed by David Von Ancken
Airs Thursdays at 8pm (ET) on the CW
This week, on The Vampire Diaries: Rebekah puts Elena and Stefan in time out, Tyler has Mommy issues, and Klaus takes Jeremy’s training in a new direction
The majority of this week’s Vampire Diaries falls into a fairly common genre-show category- the truth serum episode. For whatever reason, be it chemical, magical, or other, characters with built-up secrets are forced together in a situation where they cannot lie. This is often used for comic effect, but almost always ends with a dramatic revelation or two. Here, Elena and Stefan can’t lie, thanks to Rebekah Compelling them, and it’s revealed that Elena’s in love with Damon, not Stefan, and that Stefan would forget their entire time together if given the choice. Unfortunately, though these developments are interesting, the episode around them is one of the worst examples of the Truth Serum episode this critic has seen (for one of the absolute best, watch “Once More with Feeling” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
First of all, most of the action takes place with Elena, Stefan, and Caroline literally sitting around a table telling each other their feelings. There’s no story at this point- Rebekah’s just back and bored and this is the best she can come up with. After a few moments, this falls into a predictable pattern of, “Plot synopsis, plot synopsis, ask someone a revealing question, they say they don’t want to answer, we remind the audience they have to answer, they answer”. There’s not an ounce of nuance or elegance to it. Even the performances suffer; there’s only so much one can do with this script, but though Claire Holt is having a little fun as Rebekah, Nina Dobrev and Paul Wesley seem stuck in insolent attitude mode. Even Caroline, usually so reliable for insight and laughs, gets nothing to work with.
Elsewhere in the episode, Bonnie is ready to fulfill Professor Shane’s dastardly scheme, tapping into the magic he’s taught her to try to save him from Rebekah and Kol’s torture. This in and of itself is interesting, but her reaction to this obviously dark magic is incredibly frustrating. Watching a character be continually confronted with evidence that they’re being manipulated and used and then choose to ignore it, especially someone like Bonnie with so many experiences that should help them see the red flags, is aggravating.
Also eye-rolling is the decision to not kill April. If Shane was “dead”, that should mean April is dead. Not almost dead, not mostly dead, dead. Having Stefan come in after she appears to have died and open a vein just in the nick of time is a cop out the likes of which this show used to abhor. This is no longer the show that killed off main characters, good and bad, mid-season, that gobbled through plot and kept viewers on the edge of their seats. This is a show so in love with its central love triangle and villains that it’s become a predictable, tiresome teen soap and little more.
Upon reflection, the moment The Vampire Diaries started coming off the rails was last season, when the writers had the opportunity to kill off Klaus and the other Originals but didn’t take it. By tying all vampires’ fates into those of the Originals, they’ve ensured that on this show where for the longest time anyone could die, at least one of the Originals can’t. Klaus and the others have too much power- they can compel anyone, they can beat anyone in a fight, and the only thing that can put them down at all is a far too temporary dagger through the heart (unless they’re Klaus). Plus there’s only one White Oak stake left in existence, with which they aren’t nearly careful enough, so even if they wanted to kill the Originals, they only could take out one. And now the CW is looking to make an Originals spinoff, ensuring that none of these characters are in danger of anything permanent happening. The Originals are too powerful to be truly allied with our characters, else there wouldn’t be enough conflict, and therefore every time they pop up as antagonists, the excuses get thinner and thinner for why they haven’t just killed the lot altogether.
Aside from the annoying Originals issues, this episode also introduces Bonnie’s father. He’s been noticeably absent throughout the series and his appearance should be a welcome one. Unfortunately, his opening scene establishes little about the character to distinguish him from the last unseen father to blow through town, Bill Forbes. Bonnie’s dad has been absent throughout the series (there’s no way he’s actually a travelling salesman, btw) and has decided to come back to fight for the town against the supernatural elements taking it over. If this isn’t going to be a complete retread, the writers needed to establish that immediately.
Finally, we have the Vampire Hunter training camp up at the Gilbert lake house. First, praise where it is due- Ian Sommerhalder’s performance upon hearing Elena’s news is fantastic. Unfortunately, that moment is the best thing about this entire segment (actually, entire episode). The Originals issues affect this storyline too, but there are also added problems from the reminder that, at this point, the only non-supernatural recurring character is Matt and they’re all supposed to be teenagers. This show is infinitely more interesting the further these characters are from school, yet the show insists on so frequently basing episodes in the high school it’s difficult to ignore.
After a weak first several episodes, The Vampire Diaries quickly became much more than its premise would imply, due to its pacing, creativity, and stakes. Over the past season, much of that progress has slowed or even regressed. Here’s hoping TVD goes back to being the entertaining, strong show it is capable of being.
What did you think of this episode? Anyone else annoyed that Elena and Bonnie talked through the Minute of Silence (seriously guys, it’s only a minute)? How long before Elena swaps Salvatores again? Post your thoughts below!