Review of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES – Under Control (2010)

Be wary of a junkie in search of his next fix, especially if it’s an off-the-wagon vampire

Of all the vampires introduced on the show, I do not think I have ever been more terrified than when I was watching Stefan (Paul Wesley) try to hold it together last night. Even newly turned vampires seem to have more self-control – and new vamps do not have Stefan’s physical strength and powerful mesmerizing abilities. Stefan is a ferocious creature now that he has fed on human blood again. His appetite appears insatiable and he will turn on anyone instantly, if there is blood to be had. I never forgot for one second that he was a junkie vampire. Watching his struggle to contain the beast within and curb his desires was intense. We ached along with Elena (Nina Dobrev) for the Old Stefan – the quiet, reserved guy that won her heart and ours along with it. But now that the blood-lust has been unleashed within him, it is unlikely we will see Old Stefan for awhile. In what alternate dimension are they now living where Stefan is to be feared and Damon is the one with all the self-control? Watching the role-reversal was unnerving and yet oddly interesting. Will Damon (Ian Somerhalder) step-up and be the responsible one and the one to take care of his brother for a change? Will Damon become the protector, if not savior of them all, with our White Knight stricken with his affliction?

What Worked

In two words: Uncle John (David Anders). Casting the subtly devilish David Anders to play Uncle John Gilbert was brilliant. Like bringing Lady Heather (Melinda Clarke) to Mystic Falls to play Matt’s wanton and boozing mom, bringing ‘Alias’ Sark to reign down a new type of terror on Mystic Falls just amped up the stakes. (Pun intended.) Uncle John seemed so benign upon first introduction. Yet within minutes he was peeling back the mask of congenial affection and showing that he was a force to be reckoned with. It was excellently played when John revealed that he knew exactly who he was dealing with, prompting Damon to snap his neck and tossed him over the balcony. The look of astonishment on Damon’s face as John walked back into the Founder’s party was priceless! It never once occurred to me that he too would possess one of those invincibility rings. So the interplay between Damon and John both before and after his attempted murder was
delicious. It is about time that Damon came face-to-face with a foe that he finds more terrifying than he is. We had watched how casually Damon and Alaric took down a whole household of angry vamps, yet John stopped them dead in their tracks. It is going to be a lot of fun seeing what trouble John stirs up in Mystic Falls. He clearly does not want to just start a witch-hunt to eradicate the vampires. So it makes us wonder: what does he really want? Even Damon could not get a straight answer out of him when he asked and John only said, “So many questions.” With that mysterious comment, we are left wondering: what the heck is John up to and when will he strike with his next move?

Also fun to watch this week was the interplay between Damon and Elena when she invited him to her house to talk about Stefan. Their chemistry sizzles and yet you get a sense that neither’s heart is in it – yet. But their verbal exchanges and body language are heated and infused with hilarity. Such as when Elena opened the front door and said, “Oh good you’re here,” and Damon quipped, “You ask, I come. I’m easy like that.” As she shushed him to keep his voice down, he loudly said, “No, Elena, I will not go to your bedroom with you,” and she merely gave him a look of exasperation. Also, once up in her bedroom, Damon immediately made himself right at home by lying down on her bed and playing with her teddy bear, saying, “Ah, just like I remembered.” Elena only half-heartedly rebuked him by saying, “Stop messing around!” But once Damon noticed the damage that Stefan did when he threw himself against the wall, Damon’s body posture changed and he began playfully searching the room, going through Elena’s delicates in her underwear drawer and toying with a condom wrapper — all the while quizzing her about Stefan. Embarrassed, Elena protested, “Please don’t make me sorry for asking you!” Yet, sensing that she was more disturbed than she was letting on, Damon said, “It is what it is, Elena. The Stefan you know was Good Behavior Stefan – Rein It In Stefan — and fight-against-his-nature-to-an-annoyingly-obsessive-level Stefan. But if you don’t think there is another part to this, then you have not been paying attention.” Elena tried to protest in Stefan’s defense, “He’s not you, not even close.” But Damon softly explained, “Well, he’s a wanna-be me. That doesn’t mean that deep down he’s not.” No matter how much she wants to deny it, Stefan is still a vampire.

One of the interesting sides of Damon is that despite being a predator, his human upbringing is still deeply ingrained. Such as, he cannot seem to help making chivalrous gestures, like when he complimented Liz (Marguerite MacIntyre) on her dress or when he handed Elena a rose after offering to wipe Jeremy’s (Steven McQueen) memory again. Such things seem second nature to him to help cushion the pain or worries of others. Also revealing was, when Elena refused his offer regarding Jeremy, Damon gently said, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Angel or demon, Damon is a mixed paradox. Perhaps even more illuminating was when Stefan told Damon, “I really liked it better when you hated everybody” and Damon replied, “Oh, I still do. I just love that they love me.”

The other significant factor of this episode was the importance of alcohol. Throughout the season we have witnessed Damon engaged in drinking binges both at home and at the bar, but it was never quite spelled out that there was a real reason for it, other than he liked it. But watching Stefan’s attempts to control his blood cravings, the significance of alcohol in a vampire’s life took on a whole new meaning. Damon was the first to notice when Stefan started using it as a crutch when he said, “No cravings, no urges? That whiskey you’ve been drinking all day doing its job?” It was even more telling when he reminded Stefan, “We are who we are, Stefan. And nothing can change that.” Yet despite knowing better, Stefan still sought out alcohol every chance he got. Elena noticed it too when she found him at the Founder’s party and immediately asked him, “Are you drunk?” Stefan tried to explain by saying, “I know it’s a little weird, but it’s really helping me. Alcohol takes the edge off.” But this argument held little weight. Who was Stefan trying to convince? Because alcohol also lowers inhibitions and self-control — it does not help one keep control. By exposing himself to all those people at the party while inebriated and not in control, Stefan made himself the most dangerous person there. Even Elena had her doubts when she asked, “How worried do I need to be?” To which Stefan breezily replied, “It’s just until the cravings go away.” Self-denial is not a place to live, but Stefan seems content there for now. Damon also saw Stefan’s struggle and told him, “It’s different this time. The need is too strong.” Surprisingly, it was Alaric (Matt Davis) who offered the most insightful bit of advice for Elena, “I think Stefan is a good guy, but at the end of the day, he’s still a vampire.” Yet Elena still continued to protest, “I know it’s hard for you to understand, but Stefan’s different. He would never do anything to hurt me.” But underneath those false protestations, we can easily see that Elena is not certain and rightfully worried. She needs to face the fact that he’s an addict. Stefan is not curbing his desires. He is hiding from reality – he is a vampire and he is out of control.

What Didn’t Work

Jeremy is taking a dark path by fixating on the fact that Vicki’s (Kayla Ewell) body was buried. It made sense that he would wonder, but to actually search his sister’s room and read her diary was shocking. Understandable as it may have been, it was even more appalling that Elena wrote all those revealing things down where anyone could find them. What kind of naïve foolishness is it for her to think that it was ever safe to write down her darkest secrets and leave her diary to be found so easily?

Another insanely naïve thing to do is for Elena to flaunt her close relationship with Matt (Zach Roerig) right in Stefan’s face. Old Stefan would have ignored such ridiculous displays of overt affection between them, but I suspect that New Stefan is a more likely to react negatively — and most likely physically. Matt, watch-out, you are asking to have a bulls-eye painted on you.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

‘Under Control’ was written by Barbie Kligman and Andrew Chambless and directed by David Von Ancken. ‘The Vampire Diaries’ stars Paul Wesley, Nina Dobrev, Ian Somerhalder, Steven R. McQueen, Candice Accola, Katerina Graham, Michael Trevino, Zach Roerig, Sara Canning, Matt Davis. ‘The Vampire Diaries’ airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on the CW.

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