The Vampire Diaries 4.10 “After School Special” TV REVIEW
Writers: Brett Matthews
Director: David Von Ancken
THE ONE WHERE Rebekah compels Stefan, Caroline and Elena into staying after school for a confessional session; Klaus forces Damon into upping the ante when it comes to Jeremy killing vampire; and Elena confesses her true (not sire-bonded) love for Damon.
VERDICT “After School Special” could have – should have – been a four star episode if it weren’t saddled with a director who doesn’t seem to have any empathy for the material. Time and again Von Ancken squanders some potentially cracking scenes with a listless, soul-sucking approach that leads to a watchable, but rather listless 45-minutes. Nowhere worse than when Rebekah compels Elena to admit, “I didn't sleep with Damon because of the sire bond. I slept with Damon because I'm in love with him." This should be a crucial moment, but it’s delivered so matter-of-factly she may as well have just admitted she prefers salted popcorn to sweet. Stefan’s reaction is equally passionless.
It would be easy to blame the performances, but we know from three and a half season’s worth of melodramatic eyerolling and deeply hurt expressions that these actors can serve up a slice of emotional cheese with aplomb. So you have to look to the director for the reason, and certainly, there’s enough evidence elsewhere that he’s underselling key moments. From the feeble way Jeremy kills the pizza delivery vampire to the limp final scene in which Klaus serves up a bar full of recently turned vampires for Jeremy to slay – which should be creepy as hell, but just looks like the aftermath of a frat party – the episode is a litany of missed opportunities.
It’s a crying shame, because the script is full of promising moments. Crucially, it also strives to make Rebekah and Klaus credible villains again (maybe with an eye to setting up the Originals’ spin-off series). Klaus’s practical solution for finding vampires for Jeremy to kill (to force his map tattoo to grow) is satisfyingly ruthless, while Rebekah is great fun as she forces Elena and co in compelled detention so that she can find out what’s been going while she’s been staked out of the game. Admittedly, there is an element of infodumping involved, but Rebekah also has some great lines (see below), especially when she starts taunting Stefan about breaking up with Elena. She actually looks like she’s having fun as she torments her “naughty students”. But somehow these scenes never quite kick into top gear. They bumble along entertainingly enough, but there’s never any real threat, and the emotional revelations lack punch. And when Rebekah uses a turned Tyler to “kill” Elena, Stefan and Caroline, it’s a tactic so obviously doomed to failure (if she really wants them dead why not just stake ’em?) it makes her come across like a panto villain again (maybe her heart just wasn’t in it?).
And how long is it going to take Bonnie to realise what a lowlife Professor Creepy really is? He’s being allowed just a few too many Get Out Of Jail free cards at the moment.
The scene in which Elena finally tells Damon that – sod the sire bond – she loves him, also feels wasted, but on this occasion it is as much the writing’s fault as the director’s. Spielberg would have problems giving a cell phone conversation like that some emotional clout. Sometimes you wonder if The Vampire Diaries might be a better show if all the phone masts in Mystic Falls suddenly broke down, but then where would the show get its sponsorship from?
So, we’ve got three sets of “cure” hunters, which could be a fun dynamic for future episodes, or it could all end up like some supernatural National Treasure .
CRAP FX When Bonnie’s spell causes flames to erupt, it’s a shame the scene takes place in chemistry classroom, because the effect looks for all the world like it’s been achieved by somebody turning on some Bunsen burners.
GRATUITOUS SHIRTLESS SCENES Another example of director David von Ancken not capitalising on his material. There he is, given a naked, post-werewolf Tyler to play with, and he shoots in him in extreme long shot, or close-up or with Caroline draped around him like something out of an ’80s Athena poster. This guy really doesn’t understand The CW’s target dynamic, does he? Though we do get Jeremy showing off his new muscles a bit too proudly again. He’s flexing so hard when the map tattoo grows you fear he’s going to burst a vein.
TRIVIA This is the first episode in which we see a hybrid change into its werewolf form (though, to be honest, we don’t get to see much of it).
NEW ARRIVAL This is the first time we’ve met Bonnie’s dad, and he’s the new mayor. A traveling salesman who’s about the zillionth on the list to be asked to fill the job, he accepts because, he says, he wants to protect Bonnie. So where’s he been for the past four years? He has, “SECRET TO BE REVEALED IN A COUPLE OF EPISODES” written all over him. The embodiment of Silas, maybe?
DAMON’S QUIP OF THE WEEK
Jeremy: “Don’t act like you care about my life. You care about the hunter's mark and curing Elena so she’s not sired to your ass.”
Damon: “Both require you to be alive, which means I’ve updated our relationship status to, ‘It’s complicated’.”
Rebekah: “What are you doing?”
April: “You asked me to take notes.”
Rebekah: “I wasn’t being literal, darling, but now that you mention it, a flow chart would be nice.”
New episodes of The Vampires Diaries season four will debut in the UK on ITV2 in the next few weeks