We thought the similarities between the "going off to college" storylines on Buffy the Vampire Slayer season four and Vampire Diaries season five were all just on the surface... until we saw last night's episode. Holy cow, this show is biting Buffy's ideas big time.
So just like on Buffy, it turns out the nice innocent college campus hides a secret research facility, where they experiment on vampires, and probably other supernatural creatures. And just like on Buffy, the creepy authoritarian professor turns out to be the secret mad science mastermind. In this instance, he's turned Jesse the cute T.A. into an ubervamp who feeds on other vampires' blood — cutting short Elena and Caroline's cute attempts to give Jesse a quick course in Vampire 101, especially after Elena has to gank Jesse to save Damon's life.
And then it turns out that Damon was actually an experimental subject of the Augustine research project back in the 1950s, and he just hasn't made the connection until now. And as the episode ends, he gets gassed and shipped back to his old cell. Cozy!
Luckily, we're treading slightly different ground than Buffy, not least because the Augustine project's motives seem moderately noble — if you could engineer vampires to feed off other vampires instead of people, you would save a lot of lives. It's just that on this show, we're supposed to sympathize with vampires all the time, regardless of how homicidal they are.
As usual, there are 1000 subplots, too, including Matt's Czech hitchhiker getting ganked unceremoniously, and Bonnie finding out just how hard it is to be the "anchor" to the other side.
But the main "B" story in this episode involves both Stefan and Katherine finding reasons to go on living. Stefan is having PTSD that's so bad he's actually going into a kind of fugue state and breaking shit — and Katherine finally helps him find a weird coping mechanism: list everyone he's ever killed, in chronological order. Why does that help? Does it replace Stefan's trauma with his customary guilt? Does it make him feel powerful and in control, as Katherine suggests, to be responsible for so many awesome deaths? Or something else? And meanwhile, Katherine finally tries to off herself, and Stefan tells her "You're Katherine Petrova. Suck it up." Because having a rep to live up to is better than therapy.
Anyway, I'm continuing to be intrigued by the "all over the map" storytelling this season — I guess we'll see if it actually gels into a storyline at some point? But you know, college is for experimentation.