Pretty much everything has been turned on its head since we last visited Mystic Falls, Virginia, but it's a testament to The Vampire Diaries' consistently strong writing and acting that it already feels so normal.
Call it a new, bloody normal.
From the opening sequence to a vintage TVD shocker just before the the credits rolled, "The Birthday" was a wild ride, one that reaffirmed why the series has become a personal favorite and one of TV's best.
My great fear has been that the producers will take too many creative liberties, given the endless possibility offered by the genre, and deviate from the compelling characters and story arcs that define the show.
One episode into Season 3, consider those fears assuaged.
We knew after last season's finale that Stefan would enter a dark period, but boy, they didn’t waste any time prepping us for what he's become. The switch has been flipped, and a full-blown ripper has appeared.
He doesn't just kill, he gets into it, toying with victims, maybe even making them plunge 50 feet to their doom to switch it up. He even has a signature, reassembling dismembered corpses after the thirst is quenched and remorse sets in.
Like several of his co-stars, Paul Wesley looked the part of a transformed character, even if a look was all it took. He's outwardly menacing, inwardly empty (and the backlit silhouette of him in the studio was eerily awesome).
Still, we've gotten to know Stefan and what an upstanding guy he is for two years now, and we know his current position resulted from the ultimate self-sacrifice. So we actually find ourselves sympathetic toward the ripper. Amazing.
It's the kind of moral gray area and character extrapolation The Vampire Diaries executes so brilliantly against the backdrop of supernatural mayhem, of which there was plenty tonight. Where do we even begin?!Hitting the road with a hybrid: A real blood-guzzler as it turns out. Fun as it is watching Stefan kill people on its own merit, Klaus' intentions became clear from the get-go: Find werewolves. Create a master race.
This formidable task makes sense in that he actually needs a wingman to help make it happen, and lends itself to so many possibilities the season. Will it work? How will it work? And will the Stefan of old ever return?
Judging by the tearful phone call at the end, he's not dead inside yet.
Damon goes CSI: Now the restrained, reasoned Salvatore brother, Damon was a busy guy tonight. He was in what appeared to be a real relationship with Andy before Stefan put an end to that/her.
He was usually drinking. He was sometimes clothed.
Most significantly, Damon bestowed upon Elena a birthday gift: her necklace. The way he put it on her, then escorted her downstairs was quite romantic and more than enough to keep the Delena worshippers' hopes alive.
Will they ever really be together, though? Their mutual love for Stefan is a driving force behind their bond. Delena may never be Delena in the romantic sense, but that doesn't mean they're not electric to watch.
Werewolf-on-vampire action: Gulp. I assumed Caroline and Tyler were dating at the onset, but they weren't, much to my chagrin and hers. Then she let him know it, they discussed their mutual hornballocity and then ... holy crap.
The sexual tension was out of control, and the sex itself was even more out of control. Their chemistry is a treat to watch, and not only when half-naked - their back-and-forth exchanges offered some legitimately fun moments.
The girl essentially c--kblocked him with her eyes. Things only vampires can pull off.
Of course, Tyler's mom caught her sneaking out, then GUNNED HER DOWN. It wouldn't be TVD without a good gasp around the 8:59 mark, would it? Caroline was (I think) only shot with a sedative or something, so she'll live.
It's bad, though. What Mrs. L. knows about, and has planned for her is anyone's guess.
Ghost hunters: Jeremy, as we know, is seeing his dead girlfriends - one of whom is his friend's sister - as ghosts nowadays. But it appears they don't stop to chat, instead haunting him haphazardly and without explanation.
We didn't learn too much about what this entails, but it did set up a great bromance between Jeremy and Matt, who's apparently along for this ride - like it or not. Hate to say it, but it beats pining for Caroline, Matty.
It's hard to imagine a better start to the season. A few random, closing thoughts:
- Like Parenthood's Adam Braverman, Alaric is a mess, stuck in that in-between phase. It'll pass, man.
- How good was the music tonight? More so than usual, I thought. So appropriate for every scene.
- Just of few of the best lines this evening: “Hello, brother.” - Stefan. “It’s your party, you can cry if you want to.” - Damon. “I love you Stefan. Hold on to that. Never let that go.” - Elena
- Best exchange in my living room: Wife: "Since when does Matt smoke pot?" Myself: "Since when does Jeremy smoke pot?" Wife: "Dude, Jeremy's kind of a lost soul as it is, now he sees dead people." Myself: "Fair point."
- Hottest scene: Caroline and Tyler, or the gratuitous Ian Somerhalder nudity? You decide. Win-win.
- What happens if Caroline gets pregnant in that situation? Can she? How does that work, the cross-breeding and all. Just curious, they seem into each other. This could come up down the line. Or tomorrow.
We'll be back tomorrow to continue our coverage of "The Birthday," including our Round Table discussion, and begin discussing next week's Vampire Diaries episode. For now, sound off with your comments below!