Second seasons are so much more fun. A show’s first season is usually about new character exposition and unfolding the backstory. We spend so much time getting to know the characters, where they came from, and what makes them tick. By season two we are invested and have a good understanding of these characters and the mythology. Now the possibilities are endless and that’s when a series can really take off.
The strength of “The Vampire Diaries” in its first season was the storytelling. Love triangles that go on for 22 episodes can get stale fast. Love triangles between vampires brothers and a human girl get a little more mileage, but that still doesn’t make a series. When the whole town gets involved and suddenly everyone’s past plays into the ancient mysticism of this little burg in Virginia, that keeps a series fresh. Luckily the momentum from last season has continued full steam ahead in the second season premiere and doesn’t look like its stopping anytime soon.
Executive Producer Julie Plec promised at Comic-Con that the secondary characters would step up this season and the premiere solidified that. If anything, the secondary characters were the weak link in the first season but no more. Bonnie is growing more unstable, for in understanding her power she is having to accept a new responsibility, one that she might not be prepared for. Tyler’s story is just beginning and all signs point to something really good. Jeremy’s struggle, one that I didn’t care for last season, suddenly gripped me really tight in the premiere. How will he handle the family history with vampires? Since he didn’t become one, will he end up fighting or helping? What sort of stand will he be driven to, especially since he now has the ring of…not dying (help me if there is a better name). Then there’s poor Caroline. Sure, she always seemed like vampire material to me, but we were always rooting for her not to end up that way.
Then there are the main players, aka the “love square.” Katherine is back and raising a stink, which sets up the immediate conflict. Stefan and Elena are still holding fast together, trying to keep control of the spiraling mess that surrounds them. Tops on their issues list is Damon, who has imploded. Not that we’re surprised, but for those that had any doubts that Damon was a desperately lonely man, those doubts are put to rest. He is good at his core, but that core also is a swirl of isolation, insecurity, and desire to be loved. No wonder he shut all that out for so long, for the truth hurts. That part hasn’t changed in 145 years.
The one person he’s longed for all these years doesn’t love him back. The one that sparked all these new feelings inside him doesn’t want him. Both want his brother, the man that made him what he is right now. The man that cursed him for all eternity. Katherine knows all this. She drove that wedge between the brothers back in 1864 and she knows whatever worked probably still works now. So, there’s a big setup for the episodes to come. Stefan sees what she’s doing but Damon opening himself up has opened up that vulnerable side. He’s more unstable than ever. He may realize Stefan is right but he doesn’t care. He’s kept his feelings buried for so long he doesn’t know how to deal with them.
“The Return” offered something different we haven’t gotten from several previous episodes. This was a chance for the acting to shine, and Ian Somerhandler delivered in a big way. There’s not often opportunity in this twisting story to experience the intensely emotional moments, the ones that come out so powerful we feel the sucker punch. I certainly felt for Damon and just one peek under that layer exposed a whole new part of him that brings enormous depth to his already complex character. Big kudos also go out to Nina Dobrev, who pulled off her dual roles of Katherine and Elena beautifully. Just the look in the eyes and we could tell the difference. No confusion there at all. I only have one nitpick and that’s this loaded episode would have benefitted by an appearance from Matthew Davis, aka Alaric. He plays into all of this as well but I’m sure he and Katherine will get to know each other soon.
All in all, I felt “The Return” was one of the series’ stronger episodes and it did what a premiere is supposed to do, set the tone and conflict for the rest of the season. I want to come back now and see what next. That alone tells me the episode worked.