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Caroline Forbes used to be the hero of Vampire Diaries

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: HBO’s The Casual Vacancy has us thinking about other book-to-TV adaptations.

The Vampire Diaries, “Brave New World” (season two, episode two; originally aired 09/16/2010)

While the series has been on a downward trajectory lately, once upon a time, The Vampire Diaries was a thoughtful, character-driven tale about a human girl and her vampire boyfriend that managed to bring nuance and freshness to that overdone premise. Initially a book series, The Vampire Diaries improves upon its source material, especially when it comes to its secondary characters. Written as jealous and spiteful in the books, Caroline Forbes transformed into a compelling character early on in the series.

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Set against the backdrop of a colorful carnival, “Brave New World” pushes deep into darkness, exploring trauma, abuse, even death. Part origin story, part horror movie, Caroline’s storyline in the episode follows her rocky transition from human to vampire. Caroline didn’t need to become a vampire in order to be a dynamic character, but her transformation opened up new narrative possibilities, giving her a life outside of Bonnie and Elena.

Season two’s “Brave New World” provides the first glimpse of Candice Accola’s acting range. She makes Caroline’s transition scary and heartbreaking all at once. Vampire Diaries often requires its actors to tap into dualities: By the time of “Brave New World,” Nina Dobrev is already playing double duty as Elena and Katherine. As the show continues, many other characters play evil or otherwise just alternate versions of themselves. In “Brave New World,” Accola displays her abilities all within one character and one episode. She brings a soft sadness to her scenes with Zach Roerig’s Matt and turbulence to her scenes with Stefan (Paul Wesley).

But the best scene of the episode—and one of Caroline’s best moments ever—comes when she confronts Damon (Ian Somerhalder). In a dimly lit school hallway, Caroline tells Damon, “I remember how you manipulated me. You pushed me around, abused me, erased my memories, fed on me.” More than a season before, Damon used Caroline as a human blood bag, compelling her to forget. Now that she’s a vampire, her memories return, and the writers thankfully don’t let all that background sit in the past. It’s a bitingly real depiction of an abuser-victim dynamic, with Damon calling her crazy the second she starts hurling accusations at him. But Caroline lets him know she isn’t crazy, and she refuses to give him a pass, unlike too many other characters.

On top of the Caroline development, “Brave New World” possesses all of the strengths of early Vampire Diaries: nuanced character work, a thematic focus on friendship, and convincing, dynamic relationships. It follows the simple, reliable pattern of most early episodes, and even though Caroline owns most of “Brave New World,” the emotional stakes remain high for everyone. Every character feels the weight of her transition in different ways. They’re forced to see her strength, which was always there, but “Brave New World” pulls it to the surface, finally giving Caroline the unconventional hero arc she deserves—only for the writers to later take it all away when they started prioritizing Damon over everyone else.

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Availability: “Brave New World” is available as part of the Vampire Diaries: Season Two DVD set. It can also be streamed on Netflix.

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