Guilty pleasure The Vampire Diaries ended last season with a handful of cliffhangers that have been eating me up all summer.
Where did we leave things on this small-town supernatural soap? Oh yeah: Elena (Nina Dobrev) chose Stefan (Paul Wesley) over Damon (Ian Somerhalder) just before dying with vampire blood in her system, OG vamp Klaus (Joseph Morgan) possessed Tyler (Michael Trevino) before being killed, psycho Alaric (Matthew Davis) ruined the peace accord between Mystic Falls’ dead and living populace before expiring due to his supernatural link to Elena, and Stefan just kinda moped around.
Cue the long summer of fingernail-chewing.
Come Thursday, all of your questions will be answered… only to be immediately replaced by others. The fourth season premiere manages to resolve, delay, and explode the myriad dangling plotlines without drowning the show's momentum in exposition. Not that a quickly evolving plot has ever been a problem for Vampire Diaries: In fact the show’s real strength is in making every episode feel like a season finale, something I can only imagine keeps the writers room busy calculating new configurations for the cast of impossibly ripped and inexplicably heaving teens.
Elena’s impending transition to a vampire may seem foregone but if there’s one thing we’ve learned from three seasons of arcane lore, it’s that there are always ways around the inevitable: The dead can be resurrected, werewolves and vampires can get along, and ghosts can come and go with surprising ease. What is inevitable is Stefan and Elena back together and relatively happy in the season‘s second episode, even though those two have as much chemistry as every other leading vampire-inclusive couple (Sookie and Eric, Bella and Edward) – which is to say little to none. Surely their lovers' bliss will not last long and Stefan can go back to sulking and self-flagellating while Elena keeps trying to figure out why the hell it matters that she is the "dopplegänger."
For symmetry’s sake, Stefan’s happiness has led to his brother’s reversion back to his former snarky self. Damon has some memorable one-liners which stand out amidst the usual melodramatic bilge. But that bilge, however much we might deny it, is why we watch. (For more on my predilection for tawdry TV, see "Why I Binge Watch Bad TV.")
If Elena’s indecision from last season frustrated you, wait until you get a load of her new “heightened emotions” – a phrase used to describe her a good five times in episode two. Having Elena make absurdly poor decisions is a helpful plot device, but feels cheap (and a tad sexist) even for a CW teen drama. Of course believable plots and relatable characters are not what draws viewers to a show named after two things high-school girls obsess over. Rest assured that over the course of the first two episodes there are five shirtless characters, a few new bad guys to mix things up, and one Alaric – hands down the most attractive of the bunch – coming back as a ghost. Sadly, ghosts wear clothes in the afterlife.
The Vampire Diaries' season four premiere airs Thursday, Oct. 11, 7pm, on the CW.
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