These are not the types of episodes at which The Vampire Diaries excels. This is a show that thrives on momentum; on “What’s next?” rather than the more subtle “What now?” the season six premiere is attempting to establish. Stumbling out of the gate a bit after a season finale that completely changed the status quo is to be expected. Still, it’s a bit disappointing to have the stumbling feel as mundane as it does here, as The Vampire Diaries feels like a show that should always stumble in style.
The goal of “I’ll Remember” is to completely disorient the audience before putting the pieces back together, and on that note the episode succeeds, starting with what looks and sounds like a happy-go-lucky Elena who is quickly revealed to actually be a fully in-denial Elena who is coping with Damon’s death not by getting on with her own life, but by drinking a magic potion in order to interact with (an obviously fake version of) Damon regularly. Elena’s quest to sublimate her own grief creates the framework for the entire episode, which begins with her denial, transforms into her acting out in order to continue her denial, and then ends with her so desperate to let him go that she asks Original vampire Alaric to compel her love of Damon out of her forever. It’s a fairly predictable arc—and not a terrible one—but it feels a bit shaggy and lacking in heft to use as the framework of a status quo shift the way The Vampire Diaries is attempting to here. “Elena has a problem” is a classic thing to construct an episode around, but the emotions of it don’t quite land enough for it to be as reliable an anchor as it has been in the past.
Beyond establishing Elena’s grief, the episode must also establish an entire new life for almost every other character on the show, and it simply feels like too much to tackle gracefully in the amount of time given. Stefan is off being a regular guy in some far-flung town, playing at being a mechanic and sleeping with a local woman, but he’s still in regular contact with Alaric so all is not what it seems. Caroline is lurking around the edges of Mystic Falls, reading every magic manuscript ever written in order to find a way to break the Traveler spell that is keeping Mystic Falls a magic-free zone. Tyler is human again and enrolled at Whitmore, but at any moment he could trigger his werewolf curse and start the whole cycle of his high school years over again. Jeremy is drinking and kissing random girls and playing video games and generally being a layabout who doesn’t care about anything. Matt has joined some sort of community protection squad who seem to like to do CrossFit in the town square. Alaric compelled his way into being hired as the occult studies professor at Whitmore, and every single person who is close to him in real life is in his class, because conflicts of interest don’t exist in this world. And Liv and Luke are still around, being witches and doing witchy things.
It’s a lot; too much, actually, to introduce in one episode and still come away with any sort of emotional connection to where the characters are in this place and time. And because this isn’t an episode that relies on plot momentum or action to excite, the character beats have to land in order to make it satisfying. The closest to satisfying are probably Stefan and Alaric, who are both essentially almost catatonic. It starts off disconcerting but as the episode progresses, feels more like a calculated decision to have their grief be the polar opposite of what Elena is going through—the calm to her storm. In both cases, it’s more confusing than cathartic, simply because it’s difficult to see two characters who were very much alive in the past seem so dead inside. A Stefan who doesn’t compel his crooked boss into giving him the proper amount he’s owed on his paycheck is a most depressing Stefan, indeed.
But the season six opener has one big thing going for it: That weird, wonderful final scene. After an episode full of grief and denial, initial confusion and then eventual recentering, seeing it end on a nonsensical scene where Damon and Bonnie appeared to be in full domestic bliss, making breakfast together and eating blueberry pancakes like it was the most normal thing in the world, was a welcome breath of fresh air. What does it mean? Where are they? And can I have some of those pancakes? All will be answered in due time, I’m sure, but for now it’s just nice to live in the glorious weirdness.
- As previously announced, TV Club is not continuing with regular coverage of The Vampire Diaries. It has been a singular pleasure to cover this show for so many years and through so many ups and downs. Thank you so much for reading, and especially for all of the intelligent, insightful comments. You made me better at my job, which makes me feel pretty lucky. I’ll still be tweeting about the show every week, so feel free to find me there if you want to chat!
- Alaric hating everything about being a vampire breaks my heart in half.
- So Matt wants to protect people but he’s willing to cover up the bad things his friends do in the process of protecting people. Welcome to being part of the law enforcement team of Mystic Falls, son, you’ll fit right in.
- The graphic of “Mystic Falls, VA” seemed very strange in the opening moments, until the couple leaving Mystic Falls became a plot point. Still, I think the audience could have gotten it without the identifier, you know?
- Elena wants to be a doctor? And is doing some sort of course at the medical center as a sophomore? Or was that made up? I’m confused.
- DAMON DREW FANGS ON BONNIE’S PANCAKE. The next time I go to IHOP it is going to be very disappointing in comparison.