The strangest thing about season seven of The Vampire Diaries is that the entire thing feels like a setup for something else. This has always been a hallmark of the show; every story propels itself into the next thing, the next plot, the next danger, the next fight. But where before the story felt lived-in and exciting in the moment, the stories in season seven feel lax and empty, making them all somehow feel like placeholders until the next thing. Yet when that next thing comes, it’s equally ephemeral, resulting in an entire season that doesn’t really feel like it happened at all.

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Doing this giant, sweeping soul swap is a fun idea. Putting the soul of an evil person inside Stefan and allowing Paul Wesley to have a good time playing bad is a fun idea. The actual execution of both ideas ends up being halfhearted at best, with the concept that there is a widespread and potentially terrifying soul confusion problem completely dropped in this episode, and Stefan’s time in the wrong body turning out more of a perfunctory plot obstacle than anything actually substantive. The purpose of Stefan’s plight is to strain his relationships with Damon and Valerie, which is a fine idea in theory. The problem is that the Stefan and Damon conflict is a mess due to all of the things expounded upon in last week’s review, and Stefan and Valerie’s connection has always felt tenuous at best. Valerie’s real place in Stefan’s life this season is to serve as a bookmark in his story with Caroline, giving the Stefan and Caroline love story a tinge of the angsty, star-crossed thing TVD loves so much, and more importantly giving Candice Accola a chance to take her maternity leave. It’s a plot born mostly out of necessity, and it feels like exactly that while watching it.

One thing that felt exciting about the episode at first was the return of Ric and his relationship with Damon. It quickly becomes clear, however, that Ric is just the next stop on this season’s quest to convince everyone that Damon is worthless. Ric wanting to get away from the supernatural life and the insanity of Mystic Falls makes sense. He has kids now, he needs to keep them safe. Ric saying that the last three years of his life have specifically been good because Damon wasn’t around to drag him into his drama? That’s ridiculous. Damon did horrible things that ultimately changed Ric’s life, yes, but Damon isn’t the supernatural boogeyman. He didn’t personally cause every single bad thing that has befallen every character on the show. Yet every week, every episode, every minute, a new person is accusing Damon of doing exactly that. It is insane, it is maddening, and what’s most frustrating is that instead of making Damon look bad, it just makes everyone accusing him of being the devil incarnate seem like an asshole. Horrible things have happened to Ric. Over and over again. But him refusing to take responsibility for any of them and putting them all on Damon? That’s crap, and I don’t understand how the writers don’t know it.

The one character who feels like they have a legitimate reason to be angry with Damon is Bonnie, based on their last scene together before Damon decided to put himself in a coffin for three years. She laid herself bare in regards to their friendship and he couldn’t stay for her, so her being hurt and shutting the door in Damon’s face at the end makes the only logical emotional sense in this whole Damon story. Theirs is also the relationship that’s meant the most over the last two seasons, been the best developed, so it’s easy to actually feel that gut punch. The stakes are there, because the writing took the time to get them there. It’s the one thing in the episode I’m anxious to see play out, to see worked through, because there’s something there to grab on to.

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As for the rest of Bonnie’s story, it works a bit better than the rest of the episode even if it is wrapped up in the Armory and the St. John family, two things that are perfunctory elements of the season so far at best. TVD has a tendency to bring in secondary villains toward the end of their seasons and not develop them enough to make their menace completely felt, and that’s what appears to be happening here as well. The one thing going for this plot is that Bonnie is involved, and Bonnie is the one consistently good thing about this season. Bonnie might have died once or twice already in the past, but it’s easy to care whether or not she dies again, because if she dies what the heck else is left? Never leave us, Bonnie (at least until the end of next season when you plan on exiting the show).

Stray observations

  • What the heck could be in that Armory vault? I hope it’s a dragon.
  • Doing keg stands with actual coeds as the proverbial kegs is a nice-if-fleeting reminder of the casual, brutal humor of the show at its best.
  • Everything about Rayna ended up being a bust. Her existence was always as a magical plot device, but she is so devoid of intrigue and personality that I find it hard to pay close attention to her scenes.
  • Bonnie and Enzo is definitely still a thing. A thing that happened entirely off screen. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to get invested in a relationship that happened entirely during a time jump.
  • “I hate how good that felt.” This line reminded me of when Ric was great. Come back, Ric.

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