The Vampire Diaries goes to college

The Vampire Diaries Season 5, Episode 1 (“I Know What You Did Last Summer”)
Candice King, Nina Dobrev, and Kat Graham, The Vampire Diaries

We have officially reached the thing most dreaded by high school shows, the college transition. Very few shows pull it off. Putting characters into a new setting, taking them from the established, sometimes beloved, setting can be jarring. A lot of themes don’t translate from high school to college which are such different experiences. High school is a universal experience that most can connect with, even if what is shown on TV is often an exaggeration. College is something that much fewer people do and people tend to change a lot during that time. There is a reason that high school shows are so common and college shows not so much. For The Vampire Diaries, the college transition is just OK. The high school aspect was never all that important and only a few characters go (really just Elena and Caroline). For this show it just seems an unnecessary element to add. Elena and Caroline are immortal vampires, why are they going to college? I get wanting to have the normal, human experience but it would have made just as much sense for them to skip out on it and there would be no need for them to gamble with the college transition. However, this episode quickly establishes that Whitmore College is just as mysterious and full of the supernatural as Mystic Falls.

As soon as Elena and Caroline get to Whitmore they are surprised to find that they have a human roommate, who theoretically knows nothing of vampires. However, she drinks vervain, knows Elena’s dad somehow, and is killed by an unknown vampire during their first night at a fraternity party. They wanted to go to college to try and be normal, but they did not pick the right college for that clearly. Their roommate’s death is covered up by either campus security or another unknown entity, it is not very clear at this point. Of course they were never going to have a normal college experience, this is The Vampire Diaries. They could also never have had a human roommate who didn’t know they were vampires so whoever killed her did them a favor.

Damon is in Mystic Falls still and has been put in charge of looking after Jeremy. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind a bottle episode of just these two having to live together while Elena is at college. The idea of Damon being anyone’s guardian is absurd and he is already making a mess of it. Jeremy gets expelled for fighting (though Damon compels the principal to just suspend him), Katherine returns in hopes that he will protect her from her many enemies, and he finds out that Stefan has been suffering somewhere all summer while he got in on with Elena. He also neglects to inform Elena of any of this, not wanting her to drop everything and come back.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the episode was Bonnie still pretending to be alive and using Jeremy to write emails to Elena. I get that Bonnie wants Elena and Caroline to be happy. For the first time since the show started they have actually had a period of a few months where they have been mostly happy, not dealing with supernatural drama. Of course that is only because they don’t know that Stefan is continuously drowning in a safe and that Bonnie is dead. But as Jeremy points out, she is only delaying the inevitable. She can’t pretend to be alive forever and eventually they will find out. They will be even more hurt if they find out that she was dead all summer. Bonnie always puts others needs ahead of her own, but in this case she isn’t doing what is best for anyone.

This episode sets up a lot of new plots for the season, some of which have the potential to be interesting, though it is still too early to really tell at this point. Whitmore definitely has a lot of secrets and appears to be just as intrenched in supernatural drama as Mystic Falls. Silas is after Katherine who is now a human. Stefan is still suffering as he continuously drowns, dies, and comes back to life. There is also a subplot that has to do with Matt and a mysterious woman he met in Prague named Nadia. She shows up in Mystic Falls to return the Gilbert ring which she stole from Matt. There is also a man with her who hijacks Matt’s mind while speaking in a foreign language. This premiere is not a bad start for the college transition and it wastes no time setting up a lot of plots that will unfold throughout the rest of the season. However, none of the plots at this point seem to have much potential for character development, which very were present in the previous season premieres. Season 2 starts with the return of Katherine and the effect that has on Damon, Season 3 with Stefan joining Klaus in a killing spree and the effect that has on everyone, and Season 4 with Elena’s transition. One of the things that the show has historically done well is balance all of the crazy plot with character development. These plots seem more like complications than anything that gives the characters a chance to grow or teach us more about who they are.

Episode Grade: 7/10 (I have decided to switch to a number graded system instead of the letter grades. I think it gives more space for nuance in the grading system and makes more sense to me. Though they should not be compared with the letter grading system – i.e. a 7/10 is not the same as a C. I will wait until Season 2 of the Hart of Dixie reviews to switch for that show as well).

Other Thoughts:

  • Also starting with Season 5 I am going to scale back to only two Vampire Diaries episodes a week (I will still do the two Hart of Dixie reviews as well). I got too excited with this project and five episodes a week has become a real time suck. I think only doing 4 a week will help this to feel fun again and less like work. Therefore I will no longer be publishing a review on Fridays.
  • Bonnie and Elena writing each other emails throughout the summer was very reminiscent of the diary writing earlier in the series.
  • Tyler ditches Caroline at school, he wants to defer and help a werewolf pack.
  • Rebekah and Matt seemed to have a very eventful summer, they even had a threesome with Nadia. Too bad she seems really sketchy.
  • Elena scrolling down her contacts list in her phone was comical. First, she doesn’t put anyone’s last name in there. Does she really only know one Matt? One Sarah? Also she has Kol’s number? She helped Jeremy kill him quite a while ago.
  • Damon: “You’re going to college. You’re gonna drink cheap beer and you’re gonna protest things you don’t care about”
  • “Yeah no. We’re not doing this”
  • Caroline is very judgy about Elena dating Damon.
  • Caroline: “That nagging feeling is your brain waking up to tell you that you’ve made a horrible yet completely reversible mistake”
  • Elena is very tan, can vampires even tan?? She is also uncharacteristically giggly in this episode. Is that what she is like when she isn’t dealing with people who want to kill her?
  • Human life has been very rough for Katherine.
  • Katherine/Damon: “I might never wake up” “And that would be tragic”
  • Jeremy/Damon: “Says the guy who once killed me” “Yes, in the privacy of your own home!”
  • Silas is like a sassy, sociopath version of Stefan.
  • Body Count: 2, an unknown vampire kills Elena and Caroline’s roommate (1) and Silas kills Bonnie’s father (1).

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