Review: The Vampire Diaries, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

I haven’t discussed the last two episodes of The Vampire Diaries here on the blog, but you probably don’t have to make much of a guess about how they were received in the Barker Complex. If anyone was concerned about how Stefan’s departure from Mystic Falls would be handled, you’re probably laughing at your past self at this point. This season has done a masterful job of keeping Stefan in Elena and Damon’s orbit without stretching the fabric of believability too much and his new post as “Blood bank Watchdog” is just lovely.

Basically everything about this season has worked thus far. The small questions I had coming into season three – Stefan, Klaus’ awareness of Elena being alive and the ghosts – have all been answered fairly emphatically and every new element Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson have thrown into the blender, from Rebekah to Mikel and Klaus’ past, has been integrated wonderfully. If you’ve read my TVD reviews before this probably sounds repetitive but I literally have no idea how this writing staff just keeps piling on the characters, the mythology and the insanely powerful twists without faltering. I didn’t necessarily think the flat-out greatness of season two was an outlier or anything, but The Vampire Diaries has arguably gotten better in season three. I don’t even.

In any event, tonight’s humorously titled “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is more or less the season’s ghost coming out party. Jeremy and Matt have been dealing with Anna and Vicki all season in small, but substantial stories. However, “Spirit” brings the ghosts to the forefront, answers some questions and not surprisingly posits a few more. As I mentioned, I wasn’t completely sold on how the ghosts would fit into the series’ larger narrative, especially when they were only visible to Jeremy, but now that it appears that this is absolutely not the case and there is a possibility for literally any dead person to appear to any live person, I am substantially intrigued.

You’d expect most series to drag out Matt’s attempts to make tangible contact with Vicki, but in barely two episodes, Matt killed himself, was brought back to life, achieved legitimate contact with his ghost sister, let her knock him out with a wrench and attempt to complete a somewhat villainous plan to kill Elena and then shut her back out so that she was no longer able to exist on everyone else’s plane of existence. Not only did this happen in an episode and a half, it all happened in a 24-hour period. Barely.* And even though TVD burned through all of that in 75 minutes and moved on to other stories, there’s no fear that it Vicki’s return was rushed or that she probably won’t appear again.

*I’m assuming that senior prank night took place the night before school started. Because why wouldn’t it?

More importantly, Vicki’s actions in this episode have blown the door open on the ghosts’ place in the story and presented the possibility for all sorts of insane things to happen (which of course do start happening at the end of this episode). Vicki has apparently been working with an original witch on her side of the veil and folks “over there” are trying to stop Klaus just as people are in reality. Unfortunately Vicki’s plan involves taking out Elena The Blood Bank, but the threat is still the same. Just when the series seemed to give Elena a minor reprieve (at least in terms of life or death circumstances, obviously Stefan in his current state is a lot to handle), now it seems that she could have all sorts of people coming from an entirely new direction looking to take her out. Girl can’t catch a break, when is she going to find time to fill out college applications?

There’s also a mention of a “balance” that requires a new death once someone transitions from ghost back into…something else. I would wager that the likes of Vicki, Anna or MASON FREAKING LOCKWOOD don’t just come back as normal, breathing vampires or werewolves. I have no idea why Mason is back, other than to torment Damon, but I am extremely curious to find out a few answers to that question. And I have another: Is it only supernatural entities that can be “seen” and can come back? Vicki and Anna were vampires, Mason a werewolf. Or do they come back without their supernatural identities? I mean Vicki didn’t bite or super-speed did she? She just knocked Matt out with a wrench, so I don’t know. Definitely something to think about.

As the ghosts start to have a major impact on the story and fight for their “former” lives, many of the series’ living characters are forced to confront the cold, hard truth that their lives have changed dramatically in just one year.* Everyone is back at school, trying once again to pretend that they have a normal life and quickly realizing that those naïve assumptions aren’t doing anyone a modicum of good.

*Apparently, seasons one and two took place across one school year and the summer. Season two was particularly vague in regards to time the passage of it, so I’m willing to go with that. It’s not like it really matters if the characters are in school, at dances or whatever else. There is enough going on that those kind of things don’t really bother me with this series.

Elena and Stefan are certainly not the depressed, diary writers they were just a year ago in the series’ timeline, but that doesn’t mean they’re in good shape either (obviously). Always the proactive, intelligent young woman, Elena is now taking some vampire self-defense lessons and generally trying to avoid her enchanted/zombified former lover. As I’ve said before, Elena is one of the stronger female characters on television and it is especially impressive that she is so strong, smart, caring and independent within the constructs of a series about vampires. She’s smart enough to recognize that protecting herself is the right thing to do, no matter how much she cares about or hopes for Stefan’s current situation to improve.

Speaking of the devil, this other new version of Stefan (I think this is like his third or fourth substantial identity shift in six episodes and they’ve all worked) is probably one of the best things that could have ever happened to the series. It’s inherently just a hoot to see Paul Wesley and Stefan get to loosen up, but Wesley deserves some credit for being able to make flat-out asshole Stefan as compelling as early season one Damon and also make him slightly different than that version of his older brother. It’s easy to make the comparison between the two Salvatores, however, the series goes to long lengths to show the small, but important differences between them. The ways in which Stefan cockily struts around the school, calls people dick and adores Twister are just fantastic. I really hope he starts calling everyone dick.

Meanwhile in other troubled coupledom land, Caroline and Tyler face similar challenges in regards to change. With Tyler’s new hybrid status, his personality traits are heightened, especially the douche ones. And though Caroline sort of wants things to be back to normal, Tyler’s tool behavior is the one thing she’d prefer not to relive. On top of that, he has an odd loyalty to Klaus that stems from being “sired,” which I’m sure will only cause more problems in the future. Of all the supernatural characters, Caroline wants a “normal life” the most and I quite like the series keeps allowing her to get close to readjusting her new circumstance to “normal as possible,” before pulling the rug out from underneath her. She’s managed her vampire issues and found a guy who can relate to her, but now he’s got all sorts of unfortunate issues and Rebekah is attending school and screwing with her at very pass. I mean come on, DID YOU SEE THAT MOVE REBKAH DID? Heh.

The Vampire Diaries is given a lot of deserved credit for mastering a certain kind of pace and plot development, but it has an underrated ability to tie characters’ stories together thematically, particularly within one episode. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is definitely one of these instances. Overall, this episode probably lacked some of the intense punch that carried the last few efforts, but it made up for it with some enjoyable character moments and one hell of a cliffhanger.

Other thoughts:

  • So Mikael The Vampire Vampire Hunter doesn’t feed on humans, but he feeds on other vampires. That’s just fun.
  • Bonnie, u mad? I mean I understand why she’s upset about Jeremy’s relationship with Anna, but she was very mopey and whiny in this episode. I feel bad for Kat Graham, she was gone for three episodes and now this? Blurg.
  • Alaric really needs to get over his grudge with Damon. Sure, Damon killed him, but he’s trying so hard to be friends. I love them so much and it just hurts me to see this fissure. Even Elena noticed.
  • So if Matt doesn’t have Vicki to talk to, does he have anything to do? Poor guy.
  • I don’t usually drop quotes from episodes here but I couldn’t resist with this one: “Come on, Buffy.”
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2 thoughts on “Review: The Vampire Diaries, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

  1. You stated that there is a possibility for a ghost to appear to any live person. I have yet to see anything hinting about this. Damon was confused at why things were breaking, and I’d bet that if he had turned around during the moment that Mason threw him, he woudl not have been able to see him. Vicki became corporeal with Matt’s help, but she could only be seen by those who could see ghosts like Jeremy/Matt. Alaric and Elena were completely unable to see her.

  2. You didn’t write anything about how Stefan & Elena met outside the boys washroom again. I thought it was adorable? LOL. But seriously everything has changed so much & on their anniversary they got to meet in there again even though Stefan has gone psycho & OMG THE PART WHERE HE CATCHES HER & they have this intense connection which is broken when Alaric shoots him. I think Stefan still somewhat has his humanity. ❤

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