What distinguishes “The Vampire Diaries” from that other vampire phenomenon is that Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) never wanted to become part of the supernatural world. Where “Twilight” ’s Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) was ready to throw away human life for eternal love, Elena was adamant about living out the rest of her days as a mortal. But as we found out in the superb season three finale, Elena will not get her wish.
The Vampire Diaries
Season Four Premiere
Thursdays at 8 p.m.
As Elena awakens at the outset of the hour, the realization comes crashing down on her: Either she feeds on human blood within one day in order to complete the transition or she will die. She quickly places her faith in her best friend — and casual witch — Bonnie (Kat Graham) to reverse the effects of dying with vampire blood in her system.
But Bonnie has been playing with fire lately, upsetting nature’s balance by bringing Jeremy (Steven McQueen) back from the dead last season. The witch spirits don’t like her repeated forays into dark magic. They scream a resounding “No!” in the face of her attempts to reverse Elena’s fate, and as Bonnie’s efforts fail, Elena’s body becomes weaker and weaker, yearning for that first taste of human blood.
What could have been a very strong episode instead became distracted by its sub-par secondary storylines. Last season, Klaus (Joseph Morgan) possessed Tyler’s (Michael Trevino) body to escape certain death, only to have it ultimately undone by Bonnie in this episode. It’s a shame that this story doesn’t feel lived in (and how could it after only two episodes?) because the exploration of the Klaus/Tyler/Caroline (Candice Accola) love triangle was one of the better parts of season three. It’s likely that the writers are reserving the possibility for a romance between Klaus and Caroline in the future, and don’t want to explore it too much while Klaus inhabits her current lover’s body. But their hesitation results in a flat plotline that took away more than it gave.
In Elena’s emergence as a vampire, she begins to remember all of the moments that she had been compelled to forget during her time as a human — most notably, Damon’s (Ian Somerhalder) confession of love. With that on the table, Damon finally establishes himself as the one who will save Elena at all costs, even if it harms him in the process. This persona is in stark contrast to Stefan (Paul Wesley), who will obey Elena’s wishes down to the last detail — the dichotomy of the two brothers is beautifully constructed. Though Elena chooses Stefan, we see that this decision cuts deeper now than it did before.
Even worse than the Klaus/Tyler body hybrid was the introduction of the new leadership of the Mystic Falls Founders Council, more determined than ever to rid their town of supernatural beings. The arc was reminiscent of “Heroes,” which pitted humans against their superpowered counterparts. While Elena feeds and finishes her transformation, the new leader Pastor Young rounds up all of the known vampires, only for them to break out at episode’s end. In an act of cowardice, Pastor Young literally blows up his entire regime, prompting the same questions that plagued followers of “Heroes”: What was the point of all of this, and where can I get my wasted time back?
Both subplots were pointless, engaging in story arcs that only lasted the course of one hour. The focus should have been on Elena’s transition, but instead we had Klaus return to his original body unscathed. We could have spent more time engaged in Elena’s realization that she could now remember everything that she had been compelled to forget, but instead we met new characters that would be blasted to smithereens by the time the episode was over.
Ultimately, “Growing Pains” didn’t set up much narrative beyond Elena’s transition to vampirism and wasted a lot of time getting into storylines that have no future trajectory. But with some great character development, “The Vampire Diaries” sets up season four to be one of big transitions, realizations and decisions.