Previously on The Vampire Diaries
As a series heads towards its end, there’s always some level of impulse to bring back certain aspects from its beginnings. It’s partly because nostalgia is a powerful thing, but it’s also a way to offer a sense of closure to a show’s overall narrative; to bring everything full circle. There’s a fine line to walk in doing this, though. A few nods to the past is fine, but getting too clever could run the risk of making the audience feel overly nudged or winked at. Retreading too many old plotlines could also leave a final season feeling more like a replica, ultimately ending with the viewer feeling wildly let down. So far, The Vampire Diaries has hit the right balance between paying homage to its roots and plowing forth with a newer, fresher plot.
Picking up after a few months from last season’s finale, the first scene of “Hello, Brother” is essentially a mirror image of the pilot’s – a couple driving down the road, blinded by fog hit someone, and that someone winds up killing them. It manages to steer clear of feeling overdone though, and not just because Enzo happens to mention that it might finally be time to put that trick to rest. This familiar opening is merely our gateway into the new mystery of this final season: who has taken control over Enzo and Damon and why? Though we only scratched the surface of this mystery by the end of the episode – we have a decent idea of the who part – it’s already been better established and has a much greater chance at being far more engaging than the heretics of season seven ever were. Thank goodness.
Despite devoting so much screen time to the vampire-witch hybrids in last year’s premiere, their overall threat level was very, very low. For most of this premiere, the evil manipulating Enzo and Damon was little more than a presence hovering over everything (and splashing around in a strange tank) with no name or face to assign it. This sense of unidentifiable danger, mixed with the ominous atmosphere in the abandoned slaughterhouse, gave off a horror vibe that’s been missing from TVD since the early days. And that brand of abstract terror was a hell of a lot creepier than a bunch of whiny heretics. Instead of trying to get the audience on board with a handful of new characters, “Hello, Brother” used its time wiser by connecting the new threat to those we already know and love; generating a great deal more investment from the audience.
Sure, we’ve seen the Salvatore brothers constantly in pursuit of saving one another from countless big bads, or themselves, but this time it feels different. In large part it’s due to the manner in which Damon has decided to turn his humanity switch off. He’s no stranger to giving up and wreaking pointless havoc just for the sake of it, but this time it’s not for himself. While at first it seems as though Damon has simply surrendered to his pathetic new existence, we soon learn that in cutting off his emotions he’s protecting those he loves by not allowing this new evil to learn who he truly cares for. It’s yet another element of this premiere that feels reminiscent of the past without also feeling repetitive. Enzo, on the other hand, is cautiously grasping to what little control he has left. Though he’s clever enough to keep his love for Bonnie buried deep beneath the surface, he definitely hasn’t given up hope.
Bonnie and Enzo’s brief yet wholly compelling relationship is, without a doubt, the driving force behind the emotional stakes in “Hello, Brother.” Any Bonnie-centric plot is always welcome, and though it took 7 seasons to get here, it finally feels like she’s going to be a main player. The flashbacks to a happier time for the couple serve not only to raise said emotional stakes, but also play a large role in advancing the plot. It’s through their past encounters that we learn Enzo is leaving clues for Bonnie. Though it’s a rather morbid way to inspire it, seeing a guitar string wrapped around a dead woman’s neck was enough to reignite Bonnie’s hope and push her to investigate further. Other details of the way this poor woman was left behind force Bonnie to recall The Odyssey, a book she and Enzo read together. Yes, it’s a little convenient that they would have read a novel that seems to explain so perfectly what’s happening to Enzo and Damon. But the convenience is anchored in some serious emotional depth, so it gets a pass.
There were a few things about the premiere that are a little harder to let slide. Caroline and Stefan’s relationship is difficult to get on board with because of the nagging sense that they will likely be torn apart again. Caroline and Ric’s kids feel mostly problematic – as do most children on a show of this genre. Though there is a possibility the twins will have a larger part in the overall narrative, what with having so much to do with opening The Vault, right now they’re just in the way. And although Elena’s return to the series is likely inevitable, the episode would have been just fine without all the silly journal entries and the flashback to a scene we’ve seen a million times. I swear it must be in a contract somewhere that Elena has to be mentioned, or seen in stock footage at least once an episode. Aside from all of that, “Hello, Brother” instilled a good deal of faith for the final 15 episodes. I know, I know, I’ve said that a lot in my past reviews. Maybe this is finally the time I won’t be let down.
- Every episode title of this final season is a quote from season one. “Hello, brother” were the first words spoken by Damon way, way back in the series premiere. I loved when they did this with song titles from the ’90s in season six and I feel the same way this time around. It should be fun to see what other quotes make the cut.
- Who is working at The Armory with Ric? One of his new sidekicks called him professor, while the other one was hitting on him. The Armory feels like the perfect place for Ric’s character to be – all this artifact stuff is definitely his jam. But I’m a little fuzzy on the details of how, why, and with who. Hopefully we get some clarification.
- Why does Caroline have to be so shame-y towards the new nanny, Seline? What does she care if Ric finds her attractive? Shouldn’t her only concern be that the twins are taken care of? This felt like filler dialogue to me, and there’s no room for that in a final, not to mention 6 episode shorter than usual, season.
- Did Virginia bite out her own tongue, or was she forced to do so? It’s obvious she had to go because her knowledge of The Vault would have answered too many questions too early on but, damn, it felt abrupt.
- Aside from maybe one or two lines between Enzo and Damon, TVD’s trademark banter was noticeably missing from the episode. It certainly helped to set a darker tone, but I hope it’s not absent from the entire season.
The Vampire Diaries S8E1 = 7.8/10