What do you call a cat and mouse game where no one cares about the cat or the mouse? That’s basically what “Days Of Future Past” boils down to, and what it results in for The Vampire Diaries is essentially a disaster. In a season full of half-baked relationships and unengaging plots, this episode bothers the most simply because of how empty it feels, despite how hard it works to convince that what’s happening is emotional and important.

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The biggest problem with the episode is a continuation of a story the show has been trying to push for a significant portion of the season: that Stefan would be better off without Damon. The Salvatore brother relationship is the most important thing The Vampire Diaries has at this point following Elena’ departure, so spending a ridiculous amount of effort trying to invalidate that relationship is puzzling. There is a thin, thin line tying Stefan stepping front of Rayna’s sword and Damon being the person who is destined to ruin Stefan’s life, and the episodes between that event and now haven’t done nearly enough to convince that Stefan could have some big epiphany that Damon is worth abandoning. This show started with the brothers in conflict, worked with that tension, then slowly unraveled the relationship to find the layers and depth within. To take all that work and then try to walk it back in season seven—the season where the brothers are finally front and center, without Elena as the main character—just doesn’t work, especially because the brothers haven’t even spent enough time together during the season to make these emotions land. The worst part is probably Valerie’s assertion that she kept him happy while they were traveling, and that happiness was directly because Stefan didn’t have to have any contact with Damon (and not for any number of other reasons). It just doesn’t track. Having Stefan‘s epiphany that he should abandon Damon forever be tied to Damon refusing to take the mark from him was silly and under-baked, and needed much more buildup than was allowed here.

Also lessening the emotional impact of the episode is the decision to tie the secondary emotional arc to Nora and Mary Louise, a pairing that hasn’t really worked all season. A key part of buying into their big Thelma and Louise moment at the end hinges on feeling Nora’s desperation at being apart from Mary Louise for three years, and then only seeing her when there’s nothing she can do to save her. It’s an excellent example of something that might look fine on the page but simply doesn’t translate well onscreen, because we simply don’t have the emotional foundational brickwork needed to make it feel like more than a house of cards.

Harping on the underlying emotional fallacies of the episode is almost a distraction, though, from the biggest problem of the whole thing: That it’s just so damn busy. From beginning to end, this episode rips through plot at a breakneck speed, switching character allegiances (sometimes mid-scene) and setting up false alliances left and right, only to completely dissolve them a few minutes later. All of the twisted allegiance between Alex and the Armory, Nora, Enzo, and Matt played like a recording of a recording of what used to work about this show played back underwater, all fuzzy and distorted. What is interesting about Enzo and Nora working together for five minutes to achieve a common goal and then never speaking again? What is the point of any of Rayna’s long monologues while she tracks Stefan? The idea of an unstoppable hunter who you can’t shake is a great way to ratchet up tension, so why does everything about her chase of Stefan feel so empty? Careening through scenes and plot to get to the next big shocking moment isn’t what made The Vampire Diaries at its prime interesting. Grounding those moments in character and emotion and carefully constructed long-term plots is what made it interesting. This is just a mess.

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The most (only?) intriguing thing to come out of all these twisted alliances is learning that Enzo is willfully hiding Bonnie somewhere so the Armory can’t find her. The last time we saw Bonnie in the future she was devastated and in a rehab-like support group. What happened to put her there, and what does the Armory have to do with it? And why is Enzo hiding her? This is the one question that feels like the answer won’t be somewhat of a slog. Save us, Bonnie Bennett.

Look, I’m being hard on this episode, perhaps harder than it actually deserves. But as season seven progresses, it feels like every bad decision just keeps compounding each week, creating piles on piles of nonsense that the show has to wade through with no real payoff. And I’m not sure how long the show can keep this up without being buried in it forever.

Stray observations

  • This episode was directed by Ian Somerhalder, and a lot of it looked like it was a very artfully staged Instagram feed. Much more conspicuously showy than his last effort (but featuring a few very beautiful shots).
  • When the first “Three Years Ago” title card came up, I groaned out loud. I really thought we were don’t with the flashback structure with the last episode.
  • Matt broke Rayna out of the Armory because he wanted her to trap Stefan in the phoenix stone, as Stefan apparently had something to do with the death of Matt’s lady friend Penny. Who we barely know. So, sure.

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