In the season premiere of The Vampire Diaries, Elena and Damon have been searching for Stefan for the past few months but now that he is with Klaus, Stefan may not be the man they once knew.
Even of the eve of her birthday, Elena is tracking down every plausible lead on Stefan but is unaware that Damon has been conducting a search of his own for his brother. Stefan and Klaus are on the hunt as they go from town to town leaving only death in their wake looking for werewolves to create more "hybrids" like Klaus. Life hasn't been any easier for Jeremy since his return from death as visions of his dead ex-girlfriends, Vicky and Anna, haunt him for unknown reasons. Tyler and Caroline's relationship continues to develop but since she turned him down last season, it's more or less been on a standstill until their primal "urges" finally get the best of them. It's only when Damon catches up with his brother that he realizes he is further out of reach than even he could have thought possible.
Surprisingly, this wasn't the big return that I was expecting from The Vampire Diaries. Although the show has a large cast, it isn't always necessary to have all of them on the show in a single episode. Considering I didn't even mention that Alaric is feeling pretty down on himself since Jenna's death and how Elena has to confront both Caroline and Damon in the same episode as she refuses to give up on Stefan, it's just too much for just one hour. The erratic pacing of going from Elena and Caroline to Stefan and Damon is jarring and made both scenes feel rushed more than anything. If more time had been spent between Damon, Stefan and Elena I think this would have been a much stronger episode.
Though Stefan has spent the entire summer with Klaus slaughtering countless people across several states, his transformation wasn't convincing. In last season's premiere, The Return, Stefan threatened to turn John Gilbert into a vampire if he didn't give him the answers that he wanted and I believed him. In The Birthday Stefan felt like the indentured servant that Klaus describes him as; doing the bidding of his master rather than acting for his own interests. The reveal that Klaus knew Stefan was faking and the phone call to Elena at the end of the show was premature and could have came later to make us believe that Stefan could truly be lost.
Ian Somerhalder's performance is the obvious standout of the episode. Though Somerhalder easily has the best material as Damon, the struggle of doing the right thing and falling back into a state of utter detachment from those around you isn't easily shown but Ian hits all of the right notes. Without the constant guidance of his brother, Damon is looked to as the leader and a source of strength which is a role he has never taken on before and how this unfolds throughout the course of the third season will definitely be a highlight.
The third season premiere could have unquestionably been better but this is just the start of the season. Seeds for storylines have only begun to be planted and I'm certain that the road ahead will filled with the usual twists and turns fans of the series have come to know and love which will continue in next week's The Hybrid.