Punishment, suffering and personal accountability—three things we don’t normally associate with Damon Salvatore—unless we’re talking about him inflicting them on someone else.
As The Vampire Diaries’ first concept episode “Hell is Other People” threw the show’s formula out the window. Other than one brief scene of the gang trying to rescue Damon, the entire hour rested on Ian Somerhalder. While the story itself showed its flaws, Somerhalder delivered a fantastic performance from start to finish.
Trapped inside the Phoenix Stone, Damon found himself living the same terrible day on an endless loop. In 1863, Confederate soldier Damon received a heartbreaking letter from Stefan expressing how much he needed his brother. To be granted leave, Damon agreed to round up deserters for his commanding officer even if he didn’t believe in the cause—anything to get back to his brother.
With his buddy Henry (did anyone remember this season one callback?) at his side, Damon set out for the farmhouse where three women hid two soldiers in their cellar. Things escalated and Damon and Henry wound up killing everyone in the house. War withstanding, this marked the first time Damon had innocent blood on his hands because of a decision he made.
It’s always a little jarring to see the genuine side of pre-vampire Damon. He loved Stefan so much and did everything he could to protect him. Damon felt terrible about what happened at the farmhouse, but he justified it. He didn’t choose the war or the assignment. He enlisted to please his father. He hunted the deserters to get back to Stefan. He hated Lily because she left him.
But as Lily, Julian, and Stefan pointed out over the course of Damon’s various versions of his day, blaming others would not save him this time. Damon needed to take responsibility and suffer the consequences. That’s how hell works in the Phoenix Stone and it’s brilliant. Guilt is one of the hardest emotions to face. Matched with Damon’s stubborn streak, it made perfect sense when Stefan worried his brother might never return from this internal prison.
Damon’s irritation grew as he tried to change the day and still ended up with the same outcome over and over again. He thought he understood the game and went in for the reset faster, whether it was ripping out Stefan’s heart (rude), or letting the deserters kill him. But Damon’s refusal to take responsibility or admit the truth kept holding him back.
Of course the resolution came eventually and Damon confessed to a dying Lily that it wasn’t his brother he wanted. He wanted his mother. She broke his heart each time she died and he just kept burying the grief beneath his hatred for her. Damon let the pain destroy him as he begged for one more chance to make it right. Watching this hurt like hell as Somerhalder bared all of Damon’s vulnerability and a spark of hope—this time would be different.
Except his moment of clarity allowed Bonnie to pull him out of the stone. Damon woke up and all he wanted was to go back. Stefan attempted to calm him and Damon broke his neck. Then he proceeded to take out Caroline, Matt, and Bonnie (the most painful one to watch). But time didn’t reset itself. Did Damon just kill his best friend?
A great/terrible/scary cliffhanger if it wasn’t for the fact that we know all those people are alive three years from now (maybe not Matt). This brings me to the elephant in the room we need to talk about with 10 episodes of season seven behind us:
What exactly is the point of this slow crawl toward the inevitable three year jump?
The small glimpses in the cold opens provide far more intrigue than anything happening in present day. Who cares about the Heretics’ relationship drama when Caroline is engaged to Alaric and hating Stefan? Julian’s threats pale in comparison to a huntress holding Damon and Caroline captive. Nora wants to go to college? Bonnie’s in a mental hospital—by choice!
For a show that built a reputation on a breakneck pace, The Vampire Diaries treading water with the present day storylines is bothersome. Each episode should propel the characters (and the audience) toward this strange destiny. Instead, we’re forced to watch our heroes wage war with subpar villains (they’ve killed two Original vampires, but these people who spent a century in prison worlds are too much for them to handle?).
The Phoenix Stone and the promise of the huntress who once wielded its sword combined with whatever’s going on with Matt and Enzo—these stories feel like important pieces of the future puzzle. Can we please stop wasting time on boring new characters and get to the good stuff? Taunting us with the promise of an exciting future and then spending the majority of the hour on stagnant stories is just plain mean at this point.
-Bonnie and Damon should always be interacting. Make it a contract mandate.
-Speaking of Bonnie, what was up with the tension between her and Stefan? Was she just mad because Damon got stabbed because of him? If so, fair. If not, explain!
-How cute is super-pregnant Candice King (almost as cute as her birth announcement)?
-Annie Wersching provides the best behind the scenes photos. But can this please be the last of Lily?