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The Vampire Diaries: Pilot

“I am a vampire, and this is my story.”

Luckily, Stefan’s opening lines aren’t really the show’s guiding principle. I say ‘luckily,’ because Stefan is not the most exciting of vampires, and he’s at his banal worst in this pilot. Now don’t get up in arms, Diarists (is that what we call ourselves?). I like The Vampire Diaries. I just don’t like it yet.

The first five minutes of this episode nearly did me in the first time I watched it: mysterious fog, crows, deep-voiced vampires who like to journal and then leap off of their roofs. Luckily, by midseason most of these plot devices and horror-genre ticks have disappeared entirely. (In fact, many of Stefan’s neat vampire tricks aren’t possible when he’s not drinking human blood: he compelled the high school admissions officer, which we know now was impossible. I’m glad they ret-conned that bit.) In fact, there’s very little journaling at all by the end of the season. So that’s something to look forward to.

From the vantage point of the Great VD Re-Watch (GVDRW, an elegant acronym), I know that it’s the characters that I connect with the most: really, this could be a show about scientists, but as long as Ian Somerhalder is in one of the lab coats…well, I’d watch that in a heartbeat. Also from the GVDRW perspective, I can see how much these characters have developed and grown over the course of the first season.

Developed and grown? Am I paid by the word? No, seriously: the way the characters are written has improved by vampire-leaps and bounds. Gone is the hokey exposition, gone are the characters explicitly stating exactly what they are feeling. The characters themselves have also grown: in this pilot, Jeremy’s hair is super-short, and Bonnie’s has been flat-ironed half to death. Oh, yeah, and Caroline has far more depth than she shows here, as do Elena, Stefan, Damon…well, everyone.

That above paragraph is the nicest way I can think to say that this episode is darn silly. The music is too schmaltzy and overbearing; the attempts at Gilmore-Girls-meets-Buffy dialogue are deader than something undead; the acting wouldn’t help the characters out of a Ziploc, much less a paper bag; even Elena and Stefan don’t have that much chemistry. Re-watching, I remembered why I stopped watching. But don’t worry, GVDRWers. It gets better.

In the meantime, let’s review what we’ve learned. Or, if you choose to skip watching this episode, this is what you should know for the next one:

Elena and Jeremy (sister and brother) lost their parents in a tragic car accident, and now live with their aunt Jenna, a graduate student (which is code for “no apparent job but not a prostitute”).

Jeremy hangs out with the rough kids who smoke behind the gym, go to class high, and drink a lot. He’s sleeping with Vicki, who has a crush on Tyler, who is best friends with Matt, Elena's ex-boyfriend.

Elena’s trying to keep it together, even though she’s worried about Jeremy, grieving her parents, and unsure of what’s up with her ex-boyfriend Matt. Her best friend is Bonnie, who thinks she’s psychic and gets a flash of a crow when she touches Elena. Her other friend is Caroline, who is not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

Stefan is a Gemini and his favorite color is blue. He’s got a mad crush on Elena. He lives with his uncle at the old Salvatore place, which is appropriate, since he’s a Salvatore. He’s also a vampire, as is his brother Damon, whom he hadn’t seen in 15 years. Stefan is brooding and all-forehead, like Angel. Damon is snarky, like Spike—Buffy early Season Two Spike, back when he was super-scary and something of a wildcard.

Damon bit Vicki.

Mini-Bites:

• Jeremy: “When was the last time you had sex with a puppy?”

• Damon: “I promised you an eternity of misery, so I’m just keeping my promise.” This line actually matters later in the season.

And Pieces:

• That history teacher is a jerk. He deserved to be embarrassed by Stefan.

• Stefan and Elena had their first intense emotional connection on a bridge, as Elena was talking about her family’s car crash off of a bridge. Ah, bridge-symbolism and bridge-foreshadowing. If only real life were this easy to understand.

• I’d like to give props to the show for nearly killing someone (Vicki) in the first episode. It would be easier for me to give them those props, though, if it hadn’t been done quite a bit.

One out of four dark crows of foreshadowing.

(Screencap courtesy of vampire-diaries.net. Thanks!)

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

13 comments:

  1. Nice review, Josie. I kind of blame LJ Smith's books for the series' slow start and the shallow characterisation. I gave up reading her novels half way through "The Fury". The Vampire Diaries is one show which, in my opinion (and I should also add "in time"), completely eclipses its source material. The books were dire, and the series started off in a similar vein. But the show's characters soon outgrow the book's characters, and the show improved dramatically. But you're right. This episode was a one star dud.

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  2. I could barely make myself watch the first couple episodes, and gave up for awhile. When it started hitting, I came back -- and couldn't follow what was going on, which was actually encouraging, because it meant something was actually going on. So I'm trying it again.

    Nice review, Josie.

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  3. I am happy that Josieconvinced u to give it another try Billie, because I truly think u will like it :D Please let us know, hehe.

    And: nice review, although I liked the pilot a lil better than u, u summed it up really well and made me laugh out loud a few times. thumbs up, looking so forward for more!

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  4. Actually Vicky was a subversion for me. I was expecting something like Jessie in the Buffy pilot. Kill one of the supposed cast and never talk about him again. So i was suprised she lived to tell the tale or one word to be specific.

    Seeing lots of similarities with True Blood here. Small town in the south, vampire from a founding family moving into old family mansion, probably fought in the civil war. I know the Vampire Diaires books came out before Sookie Stackhouse, but still can't help noticing.

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  5. I've promised myself a re-watch this summer because of the events of the past three seasons. I had forgotten how dire this pilot is.

    Great review, Josie. You perfectly sum up what was so, so bad and what improved exponentially throughout the course of the series.

    Glad I stuck with it, though if it hadn't been for your reviews and I had watched this cold, this would have been it for me.

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  6. Good luck slogging through the first seven episodes, Chris!

    Re-reading this review after watching Season Three, it's fun to note some of the foreshadowing that was going on. Even little stuff, like Stefan being a Gemini.

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  7. Josie -- agreed that there is a fair amount of foreshadowing, even this early on. I was pleasantly surprised by that.

    It is interesting, however, that TPTB realised early on what was working and was not and fixed it the latter issues. Hard to believe that this is the same show I am now so addicted to!

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  8. Starting to watching this show, on the flimsy excuse that if I'm going to write books that have vampires in them, I need a good understanding of vampires in popular culture. (Yes, I said flimsy, but Stephanie Meyer didn't read/watch stuff about vampires and look what we got out of that. P.S. Love the scene in a few episodes where Damon makes fun of Twilight!)

    Hated the pilot, but I read somewhere (on this site maybe?) that the pilot really wasn't a good indication of the rest of the show. So I've watched the next six episodes and am enjoying it so far. Not as good as Buffy, but holds up decently well compared to Buffy's first season.

    But WHY am I starting another show when most of the shows I already watch are coming back this week?!?

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  9. Katie, if you can make it to the aptly-named "The Turning Point," you'll get entirely sucked in. :-)

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  10. I watched 13 episodes in 3 days. I think I'm officially hooked! ;)

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  11. I attempted to watch this show awhile ago, and turned it off after 10 minutes. But, because of you, Josie, I gave it the good "college try" and you are so right - it gets sooo much better. I'm not all the way through the first season yet, but I can already see the potential this show has. So, thanks for getting me hooked. :)

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  12. I've been watching on Netflix. Months went by after watching that first episode for another viewing. Then a couple more months after the second. I'm not sure which episode really hooked me, just that it took way too long. I love your reviews, though, so I'm going to read the rest to catch up with my viewing. I'm glad someone else feels the same way!

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  13. I just started watching this show. I'm skeptical so far but encouraged by your assessment of the series. One of the things that worries me is the character Elena seems SO uninteresting; I really hope that improves.

    That history teacher was a jerk. And a terrible history teacher. What kind of history teacher expects students to memorize the exact number of casualties in a battle? How about learning the significance of the battle?

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