In last night's Vampire Diaries premiere, Elena turned eighteen, but it felt very much like the show itself was becoming an adult. Spoiler-full discussion after the cut . . .
First of all, WHOA. The tone of the show was so very different, but not in a bad way or an out of character way. It was confident and cohesive and knew exactly what it was doing. Guys, I think our little show is all grown up. Sniff.
The thing I was most looking forward to over the summer was the advent of Ripper Stefan, and he did not disappoint. From the cold open on throughout the episode, he and Klaus made a delightfully creepy team. I still want to know what exactly Klaus is trying to do and why he needs Stefan specifically, but for now, I'm willing to just enjoy the ride. The sexy, murderous ride. I loved Stefan's confrontation with Damon, from "Hello, brother" to "Goodbye, Andie" - when he appropriated the kill that we'd all assumed from the start would, eventually, be Damon's. And that last scene, when he's on the phone with Elena - well. As I said on Twitter last night, PAUL WESLEY FOR ALL THE AWARDS.
To give the birthday girl her due, Elena was great in that scene too - and she got her birthday wish. She knows he's alive. Apparently she's never heard that old saw "Be careful what you wish for." Her quiet determination throughout the episode was completely believable, and the dynamic developing between her and Damon is fascinating. They've both hunting for Stefan, but he's trying to convince her to give up - presumably because he doesn't want her to be hurt by the truth. Aww. But what I really liked was how comfortable they seem together. They always have to some extent, but Elena is acting toward Damon like more of an adult and a peer now. I loved that moment when she casually took his bourbon glass out of his hand and drank from it.
And oh, poor Damon. Such frustration! Such personal growth! Obviously a big part of him would LOVE to be out causing mayhem with his brother, but instead he's trying to keep everyone alive and out of the good bourbon. First-season Damon would have been thrilled at a houseful of drunk teenage girls, and right there in the middle of it. Third-season Damon doesn't even seem to consider it; instead, he's got a harried look and a murder board hidden in the closet. And he's the closest thing these kids have to a responsible, functional adult, which - POOR KIDS.
Edited to add: I LOVE the idea that we've heard about Stefan following Damon around, tracking his killing sprees, and now we've got the opposite, but we've never heard of them going on a killing spree together. It's like they have an unwritten rule that one of them always has to be there to pick up the pieces.
Unexpectedly, my absolute favorite part of the episode was Caroline and Tyler. I liked them last season, but I LOVED them this episode, and I thought they were the best example of the way the entire episode made it clear that all the characters had been having lives off-screen while we weren't watching. Their dynamic was so natural and human, even though they're both technically monsters. They somehow managed to come across as completely normal teenagers and completely integrate the vampire/werewolf things into their personalities at the same time. Well done. And, of course, OMG MRS. LOCKWOOD HOW COULD YOU?
The rest . . . let's see. POOR ALARIC. I love that he's been trying to take care of the kids, and that he's self-aware enough to realize he's not a very good role model. And the tension between his feelings of responsibility for Elena and his friendship with Damon is going to have to come to a head at some point, and I'm really curious to see where they go with that. I was less invested in the Jeremy/Matt/ghosts/digital!Bonnie storyline, but that was more because everything else was so amazing and absorbing, not because I didn't like it.
All in all, wow. The show is BACK, and if this episode is anything to go on, this might wind up being my favorite season yet.