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Throwback Thursday - The Vampire Diaries - 3.01 "The Birthday"

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Throwback Thursday is a weekly article in which we look back at our favorite TV episodes from the past.

It's that time of the year again! And by that, I mean the time of the year when we get the chance to recap shows that have finished airing, and shows I never dreamed I'd be able to recap! I watched The Vampire Diaries during its original run, but gradually fell off somewhere around season 6. I'd never planned to go back, especially after Nina Dobrev announced she was leaving. Never, that is... until the pandemic hit and I started comfort-watching shows I was familiar with but never finished. Hellooo PLL and Gossip Girl! There does seem to be a theme to my comfort-rewatches, in that they're all pretty "light" shows with nary a mask in sight during which I can pretend none of this is happening. Anyway. Back to the subject: The Vampire Diaries was one of the best shows that premiered during its year, and it was niche, but still must-watch TV for the first 3 or 4 seasons. Which is why I decided to pick an episode that's smack in the middle of its best storylines, i.e. our little protagonist's 18th birthday! Okay, full disclosure, I also (mainly) picked it because later on in the series it becomes A Symbol of Damon and Elena's love story, but more about that later.

It's Elena's birthday, but she seems to have trouble finding a reason to get out of bed, let alone celebrate another year. Of course, this one has to be bittersweet since the reason she felt alive again after her parents' deaths, Stefan, is off being his Ripper self with Klaus, in exchange for the latter's blood which saved Damon when he was biten by Tyler at the end of season 2. (Was that a mouthful or what?!) You know who else is struggling to make it through the day? Jeremy Gilbert, whose life keeps getting interrupted by ghosts of girlfriends past. Seriously, he needs some Dumbledore-therapy about not dwelling on nightmares dreams, instead of hoping his less than stellar performance as Mystic Grill's resident server will leave Matt no choice.

- "Maybe he’ll fire me."
- "Aim high!"

Alaric, who is supposed to be the Gilbert kids' guardian after literally every single parent-figure of theirs either died, or... well, died, isn't doing a great job, even if Elena insists on him staying on something else than the couch. Seriously, no one's getting any younger here. I know Alaric feels and acts like a frat bro, but surely the couch is taking it too far? Elena hasn't given up on finding Stefan, but little does she know that Alaric and Damon are following up on every single lead Sheriff Forbes finds. And by lead, I mean "every single suspicious, gruesome, death" in the tri-state area. This does bring us a delightfully awkward scene of Elena innocently making her way into the Salvatore mansion to bring over said tip though, only to barge into a decidedly unclothed Damon.

Unlike Elena, Damon is mourning his brother's humanity by spending A LOT of time in his fancy bathtub, usually in the company of a still compelled Andie, and with a side of champagne. To be perfectly honest, I'd forgotten Andie was still there, and by the look on Damon's face when he came across an unsuspecting Elena, so had he. Speaking of things Damon has forgotten, clearly a hair-cutting appointment is also on the list.
Damon Haircut Watch: I know couples tend to resemble each other the longer they're together, but surely this race with Andie for spikiest neck strands is taking it too far?

As it turns out, far from dismissing Elena's little Stefan tips, Damon has assiduously been following each and every one of them but has been avoiding telling Elena because not only is Stefan alive, he's back in full Ripper mode with his signature death style: beheaded bodies put back together. Klaus and him have been on a rampage if this episode's cold open is anything to go by, thanks to Klaus' frantic search for werewolves to turn into his new hybrid army. I have to admit, Klaus with an American accent feels far less threatening than his usual drawl (but that's the point, preying on unsuspecting "country folk"). A surprising little 2020 tidbit from this episode was recognizing Sarah Cooper, of Trump lip-synching fame, as one of the victims. Klaus isn't convinced that Stefan is giving it his all, however, and is getting increasingly peeved about Damon and Alaric playing True Detective on them both.

Back in Mystic Falls, Caroline's "small gathering" for Elena's birthday is turning into a full blown rager, much to its guest of honor's chagrin. She's a good sport about it though, as long as there's alcohol it can't be too bad, and anyway, Elena is a girl with a plan.

- "Don’t worry, I’m not gonna lose it. At least not before the cake."
- "It’s your party, you can cry if you want to."

Fortunately, she's already ready (and by ready, I mean clothed) when it's Damon's turn to walk into her room unexpectedly...and with a gift! Now, at the time this aired, this scene generated myriads of interpretations because it does truly show how much Damon cares and has changed. Giving back to the girl he loves the necklace that symbolizes her love with another man, and worse than that, his actual brother? Season 1 Damon would never. But to those who've seen the series in its entirety, this scene actually represents the moment Elena falls for Damon, despite her clinging on to her relationship with Stefan for another season. Case in point: for the longest time, she couldn't even admit to herself that she'd fallen in love with Damon before she and Stefan were officially done. But it's in this scene, and a thousand little others, such as the very familiar way she asks Damon for his drink after finding out Jeremy is taking "Aim high!" literally. Then again, the boss (Matt) is also in said stoner club, so maybe Jeremy's actually aiming for a raise! Damon Hair Watch: Is he actually trying to get back to 1864 by copying his flowing locks from back then? Then again, Elena is sporting a slight curl for the big day, so maybe he's mimicking that too, à la Brad Pitt and girlfriends.

In any case, it's a very sweet, unselfish, moment, that truly seals how much closer they've become. Them kissing in the season 2 finale probably didn't hurt, and even if Elena denies it having any importance, Caroline and new gossip afficionado Tyler are not having it. Which brings us to the love triangle that isn't one: Caroline, ex Matt, and future boyfriend Tyler. Who are in the throws of the awkward "friends" part, in which Caroline wants to be friends with EVERYONE even though Matt wants nothing to do with her, and Tyler wants to be everything but friends.

It's very entertaining though, as Caroline gets increasingly annoyed (and drunk) by Matt's stand offishness, and Tyler's extracurricular activities involving, I quote, "Slutty Sophie" (Caroline is nothing if not subtle). Thankfully, the "will they, won't they" can only last so long in this case, and after Caroline moans yet again about ruining Matt's life, she and Tyler finally get it on.

"He hates me. Hating me has driven him to drugs!"

This had been in the making for a while and Tyler and Caroline will go on to become one of the most compelling couples on the show, but unfortunately, their beginning started off a little rocky. Not only does Caroline have to do a dawn staircase walk of shame, but she falls straight into Mama Lockwood's clutches. Nothing says welcome to the family like getting injected with verveine, bison tranquillizer style!

Meanwhile, Damon (and his hair) are avoiding an irrate Elena, who not only has a stoner brother but has found out all about Damon's little Stefan-themed board of murder locations. Andie (remember her!) is being held hostage at the studio by none other than the Ripper himself, who is trying to convince Klaus that he has no attachment left, and won't back down even for his only family. Unfortunately for Andie, her stint as anchor/fake girlfriend comes to an abrupt end as Stefan aims to convince Damon of letting. Him. Go. by sacrificing his girlfriend. I'm not sure what Stefan was thinking since Andie probably wasn't first or even second choice in the pursuit to make Damon do anything, but it does send the point through nonetheless, and Damon spends a minute destroying his room. Not the bathtub though, the bathtub is sacred! Damon Hair Watch: if it gets any longer, he'll be able to pull it into a very tiny, but very real, ponytail

Damon might have taken the high road (to the path of self-righteousness) when giving Elena her Stefan necklace, but he doesn't take any gloves when he lets her know just how far Stefan has fallen. This, combined with Caroline's "you're letting your life pass you by" speech, would have made for pretty convincing arguments... if Stefan hadn't done his version of the infamous "you up?" text with a silent call and Elena hadn't pulled the equally sickening "waiting for that special person to wish you a happy birthday until you've given up hope, and then they end up wishing it at the very last minute". In any case, she reminds him of her love for him and tells him not to give up. You have to admire Elena's resilience, honestly, because this comes right after Alaric just up and went, claiming he's a bad role model and since she's 18 now, she can handle everything herself. What the hell Alaric, she's lost so many people at this point and she's barely an adult. Granted, Alaric isn't the best but he's still better than nothing.

All in all, an excellent premiere to what would go on to be a great season, and the launch of a lot of defining storylines for the show. What did you guys think of this episode, back in the day? Did it deliver, after that crazy second half of season 2 when it seemed like the summer would never end after those cliffhangers?

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