Review of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES – Founder’s Day (2010)

The White Knight and the Dark Prince were saved by the Wicked Witch, while a villain slipped into their midst unseen

While the wicked witch may not have been so wicked after all, a truly evil villain arrived to bring Mystic Falls to its knees. After slaying the competition, Katherine (Nina Dobrev) casually stole Elena’s (Nina Dobrev) dress, strolled up to her front door, melted Damon (Ian Somerhalder) with a good-night kiss, sashayed right into Elena’s home, and stabbed daddy-dearest with a kitchen knife. Not bad for a day’s work. Now that Katherine’s back, looking exactly like Elena, imagine the havoc she is going to wreak on that poor town — not to mention on the helpless Salvatore brothers.

 As if the Founder’s Day blood-bath that came to nothing was not enough, Katherine’s masterful illusion took our breaths away. We knew all along that she would return at some point. We just never expected that it would be under the guise of pretending to be Elena. It was such an obvious ploy, but it still worked magnificently. We are all going to be awaiting the second season with baited breath all summer long.

 What Worked

 This was another superb episode high-lighting Damon’s attempt at transformation. He was trying to shake his bad-boy ways and become a better man worthy of the woman he was discovering he loved; but, being who he is, it was not so easy to shake. Right away, Damon was back to his usual frisky tricks trying to mess with Stefan’s head and Elena’s heart. But the ultimate trick ended up being played on him. As he tried to be a genuine hero and find a selfless way to do good, Damon let his guard down and never caught on that the girl he so desperately wanted to kiss was the wrong girl.

 The slight of hand with the Founder’s Day festivities being the bait to trap the vengeful tomb-vamps was clearly just a trap for the viewers, so that we never for one second suspected that Katherine was roaming around loose with her own agenda. After the shocking reveal as she cut off John’s (David Anders) protection ring and stabbed him in the chest, it made one wonder if she had been masquerading as Elena all along throughout the episode or just parts of it. Was she just there at the very end to sweep Damon off his feet, or did she mess with everyone’s minds at various points throughout the Founder’s Day revelry? Re-thinking it and re-watching it, you will still be undecided and it makes it all the more delicious to think about over the next 4 months before the show returns for its second season.

 Damon’s obvious delight to be considered a rival for Elena’s affections provided some of the better humor of the night, like when Damon quipped to Stefan (Paul Wesley), “I’m here to eat cotton candy and steal your girl.” But after Stefan just stared at him, Damon hastily added, “You have no sense of humor.” To which Stefan responded with a slight smile, “Actually, I just have no sense of Damon-humor.”

 But joking or not, Damon seemed intent on obtaining Elena’s approval and he seemed to be wondering whether he might be able to win her affections. His expression, as he saw her walk up in the very same clothes that Katherine might have worn and her smile that was more “come hither” than “curl up and die,” showed he was love-struck. So when he softly said, “Elena is no Katherine,” Stefan sharply replied, “You’re right. She’s not.” It gave the sense that it did not matter to Damon that Elena was nothing like Katherine. Damon was falling for Elena for who she was, not just because she looked like Katherine – though the vision of her looking exactly like the vision of Katherine reincarnate certainly stunned him into silence.

 Later wishing to further needle both Elena and Stefan, Damon stepped directly in front of Elena’s vision as she waved to Bonnie (Katerina Graham) from the Miss Mystic Falls float and waved a cute wave back. After a quick glance to see if Stefan noticed, Elena made a face back at Damon. Their exchanges are feeling more and more intimate as if those moments are just for them. Thus, later when Damon accosted Elena at the Grill and said, “I like you better like this. The period look — it didn’t suit you,” there was a surprising ring of sincerity in his voice. Perhaps haunted by the woman who used him and abandoned him, Damon is now drawn to Elena because of her purity, and her genuineness. Elena is not using him and seducing him; she is simply honest and open – which is clearly more attractive to him. Damon seems to crave something “real.” But Elena merely looked at Damon like he’s up to something, not understanding that she is seeing his naked heart. She then warily asked, “Is that an insult?” To which, he tried to assure, “Actually, Elena, that is a compliment of the highest order.” But still uncertain about whether his attentions were genuine or a ruse to get under Stefan’s skin, Elena told him, “I think you should stop with the flirty little comments and the eye thing you do.” While mimicking the very same eye contact that she was referring to, Damon innocently asked, “What eye thing?” prompting Elena to make another face at him as she retorted, “Don’t make me regret being your friend.” Damon, sensing that he may be pushing too hard, simply nodded his acquiescence. For anything she asks of him, he will try to honor as he is chained by his new-found feelings and while being uncertain how to do as she asks and yet pursue his heart too.

 But the depths of his feelings were laid bare when Anna (Malese Jow) first told him of the tomb-vamps plot.  Damon’s first thought was to get Elena to safety. He immediately sought her out and pulled her protectively against him – despite the fact that Stefan was right on the other side. Damon’s intent was no longer that of a faux-jealous suitor, but only to keep her safe — and having two vamps at your side is the safest place to be. Slightly annoyed and a bit worried, Elena asked him, “What are you doing?” To which Damon simply responded, “Saving your life.” It was only after securing Stefan’s promise that he would remove Elena to safety that Damon then felt he could track down the perpetrators.

An all-new Damon has begun to emerge. Damon also took on the Herculean task of trying to get Jeremy (Steven McQueen) to see reason and not lash out at Elena about having his memory wiped over Vicki’s (Kayla Ewell) death. But Jeremy was resistant to Damon acting as a peace-broker and Stefan was forced to intervene. This only provoked Damon as he thought he was trying to do something good, so he snidely remarked to Stefan, “Oh, there’s only one do-gooder hero role available. My bad. I’m sorry.” Annoyed at Damon’s short-sightedness, Stefan retorted, “Get over yourself. We both know you’re not doing this for the right reasons.” Which prompted Damon to mockingly ask, “What are the right reasons, Stefan? Enlighten me please.” To which Stefan carefully explained, “It’s only real when it comes from your desire to do the right thing — for nothing in return. . . . I know that is an entirely foreign concept to you. I completely understand how you would not get it.” But angered at having his attempt to do something self-less, Damon only renewed his efforts – albeit with a different tact.

 So once the fires were out, the tomb-vamps dead and everyone was recouping from their shock and losses, Stefan took note of Damon’s uncustomary absence and asked, “Did you see where Damon went?” Puzzled herself, Elena said, “No, he kind of disappeared.” This actually made perfect sense. Of course Damon disappeared. He doesn’t know who to trust. Bonnie and John both nearly had him killed.  But it was not Damon’s safety that worried Stefan.  Instead, revealing again how much he fears that Damon’s charms will eventually sway Elena, Stefan said, “I try too hard to hate [Damon]. I guess it’s just pointless.” Elena then emphasized to Stefan that, as much as she likes Damon, she loves him – and it was clear from Stefan’s face that he desperately wanted to believe that. But, as Elena added, “You have nothing to worry about,” Stefan’s face showed that he did not quite believe it for he knows how fickle human emotions are and whatever Katherine saw in the both of them, Elena will too. That is perhaps the curse Elena inherited along with her identical features from Katherine.

 The set-up was perfect. We then watched as what looked to be Elena returning home to find Damon about to leave and she quizzically asked, “What are you doing here?”  To which Damon simply responded, “Failed and feeble attempt at doing the right thing. . . . You know, I came to this town wanting to destroy it. Tonight I found myself wanting to protect it. How does that happen? I’m not a hero, Elena. I don’t do good. It’s not in me.” She then softly said, “Maybe it is.” Damon just shook his head in sadness, “Nah. No, it’s reserved for my brother and you and Bonnie — even though she has reason to hate me, she still helped Stefan save me. . . She did it for you — which means that somewhere along the way, you decided I was worth saving.” Then he stepped closer to her and as he said, “I wanted to thank you for that,” he kissed her on her cheek. Looking a bit mystified, she said, “You’re welcome” and hearing the warmth in her voice and seeing her welcoming countenance, he kissed her softly on the lips.  Though long after, she was ushered inside by Jenna (Sara Canning), Damon still seemed shocked and surprised.

 But as we then quickly found out, that was NOT Elena. For the faux-Elena swiftly dispatched John with a kitchen knife. With dawning recognition, John said, “Katherine?” and Katherine said with a smile, “Hello, John. Goodbye, John.” It was the perfect introduction to the biggest villain of all – the one who started it all and who has now come back to Mystic Falls for her own purposes.

 Damon’s transformation may have been but for naught as it was Katherine who heard his impassioned speech and who received his attentions with welcoming arms. Will Damon even know that it was the wrong girl? How will he react once he finds out? Will his developing relationship with Elena ever be a reality now that Katherine has come back to corrupt his soul once again? Will the Dark Prince find the redemption and happiness he so desperately craves?

Damon not only tried to do right by Elena, he apologized to Bonnie as well. When Bonnie tried to tell him to go away by saying. “Just leave me alone,” Damon interjected firmly saying, “Thank you. The device that Emily spelled could have killed me. I don’t take what you did lightly. So thank you. . . and I owe you.” His apology was heartfelt enough that Bonnie looked stunned and as if she might have regretted not deactivating the device.

The other olive branch that Damon extended was to Jeremy, when he went to tell him about Anna and to apologize for his part in Vicki’s death. When Jeremy saw Damon, he simply asked, “What are you doing here?” and Damon said, “I took away your suffering once before. I can do it again, but it’s your choice.” Jeremy declined the offer saying, “Look, I know you think you took it away, but it’s still there. Even if I can’t remember why. I still feel empty, alone – and making me forget won’t fix it. It won’t fix what’s really wrong.” Despite his resistance to having his memory wiped, Jeremy did want the pain to go away. So he told Damon, “Anna said that vampires don’t have to feel pain. That they can turn it off. They shut out their humanity. . . . Is it easier that way?” Damon only responded, “Life sucks either way, Jeremy. At least as a vampire, you don’t have to feel bad about it, if you don’t want to.” Jeremy then curiously asked, “Is that what you did?”  Damon just answered, “I did it for a very long time — and life was a lot easier.” History seems to be repeating. Damon knows exactly how Jeremy feels since that is exactly how he felt when he thought Katherine had been burned in the church. That empathy, however, will not necessarily save Jeremy from the fate that for which Damon has been cursed. Life as a vampire is not a cure to feeling the pain of loss. It will only eventually emphasize it. Having the ability to turn off human emotions only makes you inhuman. Jeremy wants to be human; he just does not want to live with the pain. Thus, does he truly want to sacrifice his humanity to ease his pain?

Finally, another sneaky, but fun reveal was to find out that Mayor Lockwood (Rob Pralgo) was stricken by the device’s piercing sound like a vampire, but he was not a vampire. So when Damon awoke in the basement and saw him unaffected by the vervain, Damon curiously noted about their shared predicament, “I’m a vampire. What’s your excuse? The vervain didn’t affect you. You’re not a vampire. What the hell are you?” Alas, that question was not answered before the Mayor’s untimely demise. This will be another fun mystery to look forward to next season.

What Didn’t Work

While it was super cute watching Caroline (Candice Accola) and Matt (Zach Roerig) get their pictures taken in their Founder’s Day garb, it would have been nice if Caroline and Matt could be integrated more into the regular storylines. With so many people knowing that there are vampires in Mystic Falls, it feels about time that they too were included in the big secret.

Also the ongoing tension between Matt and Tyler (Michael Trevino) seemed a bit too forced. There would certainly be awkwardness between them, but the outright animosity that Matt exhibited seemed unwarranted. It was a much more natural feeling when Matt and Tyler sat together worried about Caroline in the hospital. These are two teenagers whose lives have been torn apart by Vicki’s death and mutual chagrin over Matt’s mom’s drunken behavior. They should share in each other’s pain a bit more – especially now that Tyler’s dad has died.

But by far the most glaring faux-pas of the night was when Stefan simply let Elena go by herself to fetch her clothes back at the school. If there is one golden rule in Mystic Falls, no one is allowed to wander around alone after dark. It is oddly negligent of Stefan to not feel more protective of her right after a mass vampire attack. His complacency speaks more towards an uncaring boyfriend than a vigilant one. Was he perhaps more worried about where Damon was? He should be. Damon was at Elena’s house! A better boyfriend would have escorted her home.

Finally, it was another brutal loss to the show with the death of Anna and possible death of John.  After a season of so much death, can we perhaps allow for the possibility of not killing all the cherished guest-stars next season?

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

‘Founder’s Day’ was written by Brian Oh and Andrew Chambliss and directed by Marcos Siega. ‘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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