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Vampire Academy: Pilot

“Moroi, come first.”

We're told Lissa and Rose's unlikely friendship sparks a rebellion. This is how it starts.

Pilot episodes, by necessity, must cover a lot of ground. They need to introduce the main characters and set up the major conflicts for the season. For an urban fantasy such as this, the episode has the added burden of explaining how the world of the show differs from our own.

In this respect, I think they accomplished their goal. We are quickly introduced to Dominion. The kingdom (or Queendom as it were) of the Moroi. A society of modern vampires with Victorian Age customs that seem to exist alongside our own.

But the Moroi are not the only vampires in town. There is also the Strigoi. Where the Moroi feed from volunteers, the Strigoi attack and kill their seemingly more evolved cousins. And, while the Moroi may be long-lived, the Strigoi are immortal. They are also stronger than the Moroi, which is why the latter require Guardians. This may be why a Moroi might choose to become a Strigoi. The downside is it's also a mortal sin.

This is the world of our protagonists, Lissa Dragomir and Rose Hathaway. Lissa is the younger sister of the soon to be King and Rose is her best friend and Damphir. Their friendship is a contrast to the starkly divided class structure of Dominion. Rose attends the parties that the other Damphirs guard and is Lissa’s roommate in the Moroi dorm rooms instead of living in the Guardians’ barrack-like housing.

The class divide extends to the Moroi as well, where royals and non-royals have separate feeding areas and are only allowed to mix socially on special occasions. And even royals can fall out of favor, as shown by Christian Ozera who has become infamous since his parents became Strigoi.

That is a lot of information to impart in less than an hour. The Powers That Be handle it deftly and with none of the obvious exposition dumps often found in shows of this nature. And that was just the foundation for this episode’s plot.

Lissa and Rose had it all planned out. They’d graduate from St. Vladimir’s and Lissa would study abroad while Rose acts as her personal bodyguard. Tragically, a freak car accident leaves Lissa the sole surviving member of the Dragomir family. Instead of escaping on a European tour, she is now the named heir to the Queen. However, her rule must be elected by the Royal Council and while her brother’s position may have been assured, hers is not.

While the show takes some license from the novel it’s based on, they kept to the spirit of the events even as they’ve compressed some and rearranged others. I don’t think fans of the book will be displeased. I should also mention that airing on Peacock rather than network television has allowed for the occasional f-bomb and more nudity than might otherwise be expected.

Hands down, the best part of the show was the anything involving the Queen. Pik-Sen Lim stole every scene she was in with the perfect combination of arrogance and wit that one should expect from a 200-year-old royal vampire. Everyone else paled in comparison.

Not that the others were bad. Sisi Stringer’s Rose is far from one note, showing us both her brashness and her vulnerability. Daniela Nieves exudes the warmth that Lissa is known for, which offsets her just shy of implausible naivete. Their respective love interests may not be as fully realized, but they also had much less screen time. That said, Dimitri’s aloofness doesn’t exactly lend itself to heartfelt conversations. J. August Richards’ character (best known for Angel and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) is playing his cards too close to his vest to make any snap judgements. Although, his speech to Mia certainly implies that neither of them is what they appear.

The weakest link for me was the fight scenes. A good fight scene is a dialogue with text and subtext. Unfortunately, having all the combatants dressed in black and fighting at night was the equivalent of having a conversation next to a waterfall. There was also the problem that most of the shots were cropped so closely it was hard to follow the action, even if you could tell who was fighting whom. I might forgive that in Rose and Mace’s fight, where the director may have been trying to cover the parts of the fight handled by stunt doubles. However, I had less patience in the fight between the Guardians and the Strigoi. They obviously cast highly skilled fighters for the scene. Why not show off what they can do?

Despite the fights, I thought it was a promising start. Sure, there were some rough edges. Several characters still feel more like caricatures than living breathing individuals and I don’t think they’ve fully established the visual style of the show. But those things can be resolved with a little time. We know our leading ladies. We also have a hint of the dangers they’ll face both inside and outside of St. Vladimir’s though seemingly unconnected to the promised rebellion. For now, that’s enough.

2.5 out of 5 Nerd Guardians

Bits and Bites:

This show was co-created by Julie Plec and Marguerite MacIntyre. Julie was the showrunner of The Vampire Diaries and its spin-off The Originals, as well as being an executive producer for Legacies, Roswell, New Mexico, and most recently The Endgame. Besides acting in The Vampire Diaries, Marguerite was one of its executive producers. She was also a producer on The Originals and Legacies among other things.

Quotes:

Rose: “I look like a fucking macaroon.”

Lissa: “Heavy is the head. Thin is the hair.”

Marie: “A guardian’s place is at the gates.”

Tatiana: “Never leave a girl undone, Andre. Not even for the Queen.”

Andre: “What we want and what we must do can be two very different things.”

Dimitri: “Will Rose Hathaway be a problem?”
Alberta: “Rose is always a problem.”

Jesse: “Look who’s back from the dead. Too soon?”

Rose: “It’s cool. Do your thing, perimeter man.”

Victor: “There’s a lot you can do without ever sitting on a throne.”

Rose: “I don’t suppose there’s any way we can keep this between us?”

Dimitri: “There’s good enough and there’s gone.”

Shari loves sci-fi, fantasy, the supernatural, and anything with a cape.

4 comments:

  1. Shari, I assume you know the books? As a viewer totally unfamiliar with the source material, I'll admit I was a bit lost. Royalty, different flavors of vampires, rules all over the place, I wasn't tracking it. I felt like I should have been taking notes, and that didn't make me happy. I'm also aware that it takes a few episodes for a Julie Plec show to get going.

    I'll admit I'm tempted to wait until it's been airing for awhile and see if it takes off.

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    Replies
    1. I was wondering how the show would appear to someone who hadn't read the books. There was an awful lot of set up to get through. And yes, I read and enjoyed the whole series (six books).

      I think the only thing you need to understand is the different classes of citizens and their inability to mix. Especially between the royalty and guardian classes. If they follow the novels even a little they'll be giving a fuller explanation of the Strigoi very soon.

      As far as how long the show will be airing for, technically the first four episodes have already dropped. Although the rest is behind a pay wall. They will be releasing them to the general public on Thursdays. And I know they're doing post production on the season finale. We'll see what happens after that.

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    2. I thought the first episode was baaad, It had a cheap flavour around it. The following three episodes were better and got my attention so I will continue watching.

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  2. TJ -
    I know what you mean about it feeling cheap despite all of the glamour. And it was far from the strongest premiere I've seen. However, I thought it showed enough promise to keep watching. It looks like you did too. I'm glad that our patience is rewarded.

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