The ongoing adventures of Mystic Falls, Virginia teenager Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) as she’s stuck in the middle of a love triangle involving dueling vampire brothers Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder) while trying to keep newly made hybrid Original Klaus (Joseph Morgan) that she is, in fact, still alive.
I get that the book series that The Vampire Diaries is based on has been around since 1991, but no one is going to mistake the cult favorite CW gothic soap opera as nothing more than an above average riff on material “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “True Blood” and the Twilight movies have already covered. From the central love triangle, the mystical nature of the heroine, to the fact vampires and werewolves coexist in a world that for whatever reason doesn’t quite seem to be able to recognize their mutual existence, there’s not a lot happening here we haven’t seen before.
Yet, for whatever reason, somehow, someway, this show just gets better and better with each successive season. After a humdinger of a final two episodes which ended the show’s second 22-episode run, season three picks up with Elena trying to hide her existence from half-werewolf, half-vampire Klaus while also urging the ever selfish (yet sensitive) vampire Damon to help her learn the whereabouts of his estranged younger brother, and supposedly the love of her life, Stefan. Also making things difficult? Elena’s own younger brother Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen) has been seeing dead people ever since his girlfriend, and his sister’s best friend, Bonnie (Kat Graham) brought him back from the dead after Sheriff Forbes (Marguerite MacIntyre) accidentally shot him.
From there, things go right into overdrive, Stefan forced to give into his dark side in order to appease Klaus, Damon trying to walk the straight and narrow in order to appease Elena, Bonnie trying to get a handle on her powers (especially after she angered the spirits of a 100 dead witches for bringing Jeremy back to life) and teenage vampire Caroline (Candice Accola) trying to decide between werewolf Tyler (Michael Trevino) and High School BMOC Matt (Zach Roerig) while also navigating perilous waters with her one-time vampire-hating mother Sheriff Forbes. Topping it off, Elena must come to grips with the fact she’s in fact in love with both Salvatore brothers, a truth she doesn’t want to admit to herself knowing that for one of the two her eventual choice as to whom she wants to be with will be absolutely devastating.
The best thing the season does is introduce the full family of Originals, not just feuding elder siblings Klaus and Elijah (Daniel Gillies) but also their dangerously batty youngers sister Rebekah (Claire Holt), their undead vampire hunter father Mikael (Sebastian Roché) and their all-powerful original witch mother Esther (Alice Evans). This fractured group of familial cutthroats put the ‘fun’ in ‘dysfunctional,’ and watching them navigate their ever-shifting waters is a total hoot. It goes without saying that Holt steals the show, enlivening nearly episode she appears in, but Morgan ends up being something of a surprise, making Klaus a far more complicated and conflicted character than I’d ever have guessed he would become when originally introduced back during the latter stages of season two.
The issue the show has, other than the fact many of its subplots feel ‘borrowed’ from a certain classic pair of Joss Whedon television shows, is that it never quite goes far enough. Stefan goes bad, but he never truly goes THAT bad, the showrunners continually giving him an out making his actions nowhere near as despicable as they should be (unlike, say, the Angel/Angelus storylines in both “Buffy” and “Angel”). Same goes for Jeremy’s ‘dead people’ abilities, the writers giving up on his abilities just as they get interesting, only returning to them after they’ve written themselves into a corner and need someone to assist their getting themselves out of it.
But the characters remain universally strong, especially Elena, Damon, Caroline and grieving vampire hunter Alaric Saltzman (Matt Davis). Their respective plot strands go in some great directions, especially Alaric’s, all of them building at the same pace and speed as things dangerously escalate towards the final cliffhanger. I also like the fact the show displays a devastating fearlessness in dealing with death (remember what happened to Jenna?) making no character safe allowing for one to wonder if Elena will actually survive to choose between her dueling undead lovebirds.
The show builds to a heck of a finale, closing things out on a scene that had me virtually screaming with shock-filled glee. I’m curious to see where the writers take things next, eager to see how they resolve their ethereal cliffhanger (hopefully in a satisfying way). It hints that the show is ready to take another leap up in quality, to go to another level separating itself from the “Buffy,” “Angel,” “True Blood,” Twilight pack finally standing on its own. More than a guilty pleasure at this point, The Vampire Diaries has the look and the feel of a show on the rise, and for those still a bit unsure as to whether or not its worthy of a look I think season three is the perfect place to start a perfectly acceptable obsession.
My picks for the season’s best episodes:
· Episode Three – The End of the Affair: Introduction to Rebekah, a clue as to why Klaus is so obsessed with Stefan and a glance as to just how much of a ‘Ripper’ the mopey Elena-obsessed vampire used to be.
· Episode Five – The Reckoning: Senior Prank Night goes off the rails when Klaus learns about Elena, leading to a catastrophic denouement that puts Stefan’s freewill in jeopardy and leaves Tyler’s life hanging by a thread.
· Episode Seven – Ghost World: Jeremy’s seeing the ghosts of his former girlfriends, while Elena finds herself face-to-face with Stefan’s deceased best friend Lexi (Arielle Kebbel) all the while Bonnie attempts to come up with a spell to undo the damage done by her resurrection of her boyfriend.
· Episode Twenty-Two – The Departed: What’s fact? What’s fiction? Where does the dream end and the actual real-world drama begin? Everything is up in the air as the team attempt to save Klaus’ body from Alaric’s wrath, Elena the key to survival even though this means, once again, it’s her life on the line if all those she loves are going to live.
The third season of The Vampire Diaries is presented on four dual-layer 50GB MPEG-4 AVC Video Blu-rays with 1.78:1/1080p transfers.
These Blu-rays feature English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtracks along with French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks and comes with a plethora of subtitle options.
Extras here include:
· Blu-ray Exclusive: The Producer’s Pages
· The Original Vampires: The Beginning
· Stefan's Descent into Darkness
· Blu-ray Exclusive: Favorite Scenes
· Unaired Scenes
· Second Bite
Let’s start with the two exclusives, The Producer’s Pages and the ‘Favorite Scenes’ addendum. The former is solid, if not especially engaging, split into three parts (“The Writer's Pack,” “The Producer's Spells” and “Sound, FX, Score and Suspense”) covering most aspects of the third season’s production. As for the latter, it’s a collection of eight fan-selected scenes considered as ‘favorites,’ and for the life of me I’m not entirely sure why I’d ever want to watch them separately and not as part of the actual episode they’re a piece of ever again.
The two featurettes, The Original Vampires and Stefan’s Descent into Darkness, cover the ground you expect them to, the former far more interesting and involving than the rather superficial (not that I was expecting it to be otherwise) one involving show heartthrob Paul Wesley. There are a collection of deleted scenes from “Ordinary People,” “Our Town” and “All My Children”, all of which are okay but none of which deserved to be edited back into their respective episode, while the ‘Second Bite’ deleted scenes are better than average getting me to chuckle far more often than I expected it to.
Finally, like season one of Person of Interest, Warner has packaged season three of The Vampire Diaries in a massive nine-disc collection (four Blu-rays, five DVDs), and I for one don’t see the point, the set now taking up far more room on my shelf (it’s over an inch thick) than I’m remotely happy with.
It has to be stated, The Vampire Diaries is getting better and better with each successive season. Stealing liberally from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “True Blood” and, of course, the Twilight films, the show nonetheless manages to stand on its own developing a core group of characters worth becoming enamored with. The final episode cliffhanger is a humdinger, and if the showrunners continue to try to push the envelope and get more out of their comfort zone pretty soon this show will become more than a soapy guilty pleasure standing on its own as quality entertainment worthy of being labeled ‘appointment television.’