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The Vampire Diaries’ fall finale can’t quite overcome the sins of its past

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“Cold As Ice” is almost a good episode of The Vampire Diaries. It has all the signifiers of a good episode, most notably a good central conflict that slowly brings in characters from the secondary storylines before exploding in a dramatic fashion. It has plenty of interesting emotional content, especially between the show’s central relationship of Stefan and Damon. It ends in a surprising and exciting fashion, leaving the audience wanting more. And yet despite all of these good things, the episode still doesn’t ever fully connect.


The main reason this episode doesn’t quite work is because this season doesn’t quite work. All of the stories here are the culmination of everything that has been building since the season premiere. All of the time spent with the Heretics, all of the time spent with Lily and her sons, all of the time spent introducing Julian as the big, scary presence of the season: All of it is designed to make this episode work, but because the world building was unsuccessful the episode that world building was supporting is never able to fully click into place.

This is too bad, because there is a lot of good at the center of this episode. The best is Stefan and Damon going in search of Julian, because it’s really just an excuse for them to hash out all of their feelings about Lily. One of the things Elena’s departure gives the show is a chance to explore the relationship between the Salvatore brothers without her as a lynchpin, and this episode takes great advantage of that fact. The whole story essentially hinges on Stefan’s desire to find Julian and kill him to avenge Lily’s death, with Damon along playing the good brother to support Stefan but not caring much that Lily is gone. It’s the quintessential Stefan vs. Damon conflict, with Stefan playing the role of sensitive brother and Damon playing his usual role of sarcastic, unfeeling scamp. Their conflicts always boil down to this essential difference, but although it’s nothing new it’s great to see them working through something together again.

Where things start to go a bit off the rails is in the plotting, which is fairly tight in construction but extremely poor in the necessary emotional motivation to make that tight plotting work. When Stefan and Damon finally do run into Julian, it becomes clear that he is far more menacing with Lily gone than he ever was with her alive, because now he has nothing to lose—and Stefan and Damon to blame for her death. The show cleverly brings the phoenix stone back into the conversation, with Julian brandishing the sword that holds the stone early in the episode, promising it will make a more important appearance later. It’s what happens in between that ultimately dulls some of this carefully constructed impact.

The entire time Stefan and Damon are dealing with Julian, Bonnie is off seemingly in a story of her own with Nora, of all people. In the wake of her breakup with Mary Louise, Nora has decided to change her entire life, enroll in Whitmore, and attempt to be a better person. It’s this quest that leads her to Bonnie, and it’s Bonnie’s ever-willing ability to forgive all the craziness around her that causes them to bond fairly quickly. But it’s all really just a ruse by the writers; it’s just a way to get Nora and Bonnie in the same place, so Nora can believe Bonnie was lying to her the whole time and have an excuse to turn against Bonnie and her friends yet again. Allegiance shifting is a tale as old as time on TVD, but that allegiance shifting has to feel like it’s coming from a genuine place of character in order to work. Here, because it relies on the very thinly sketched Nora and her tiresome relationship with Mary Louise, it just feels like exactly what it is: story points on a board, moved around because they need to use them to get to the big reveal at the end. We need to feel Nora’s desperation for a new life, her happiness at finding a potential friend in Bonnie, in order for her shock in thinking Bonnie was actually betraying her to land. Instead, it’s just a thing that happens, because it needs to happen. It’s disappointing.


The big moment at the end of the episode does land for the most part in spite of this, simply because it’s at least something interesting. When Stefan gets the grand idea to kidnap Mary Louise in order to lure Julian back to town so he can kill him, something else happens instead: Julian comes back to town, finds an oblivious Damon, and sticks the phoenix stone sword in his heart. Stefan spent the whole episode angry with Damon for not giving Lily forgiveness before she died, but he never saw what Damon did—that his obsession with punishing Julian for Lily’s death put them both in unnecessary danger. Staring at his brother’s lifeless body makes Stefan realize he’s been wrong, which is right when Nora shows up to exact her own revenge by stabbing Stefan with the phoenix stone sword herself, leaving both Salvatore brothers in vampire limbo.

Although we know Stefan and Damon will somehow get out of this (we’ve seen three years in the future, after all), it’s still a fun, surprising ending, the kind that TVD is known for. Leaving Stefan and Damon trapped in their own personal versions of hell until they can be reunited with their bodies makes for a good narrative hook for what’s to come. But the episode itself can’t help but feel half-done, full of the wasted potential that was this entire fall season. This finale was one of the best episodes of the season, and it was only almost good. And as we all know, The Vampire Diaries can certainly be good. It just needs to figure out how to get there again.


Stray observations

  • In three years, Stefan is dating Valerie. That is literally all the information we get in the flash forward this week, and it’s that Valerie is still around in three years. Yay?
  • I’m really starting to dislike Caroline’s story, despite her great moment at her mother’s grave. Nothing about it is working for me.
  • The sequence coming out of the main title with the coffin in the snow was truly beautiful and gorgeously directed.
  • Why wasn’t Caroline at Lily’s funeral? Hell, why wasn’t Alaric there? This makes no sense.
  • This Week, In Matt Donovan Is The Best: Let’s hope Matt did the smart thing this Christmas and celebrated far, far away from Mystic Falls. Merry Christmas, Matt! Get out while you still can!
  • “Lily, you were a terrible mother when you were alive, and you were a terrible mother when you were dead.”
  • “What a lovely way to be greeted: ‘Hi Bonnie, I need something.’”
  • “Wait. This is you… sane.”

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