Image: CW

The Vampire Diaries is in a peculiar situation heading into its eighth and final season. It’s never been a show that relies on long-term mythology, preferring to instead to embrace the immediacy of its storytelling. This has mostly proven to be of great advantage, and is directly responsible for some of the show’s best moments. But going into a final season, it also leaves The Vampire Diaries as a mythology show with no actual mythology to wrap up. There are no dangling questions that need answering, no long-lost characters whose loose ends need to be tied up. Other than the question of whether or not Elena will show up in the finale to reunite with Damon, most every other avenue of the show’s history has already been thoroughly explored.

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It’s because of this peculiar situation that it’s probably best “Hello, Brother” feels very much like a typical season premiere of The Vampire Diaries. There’s the establishment of what evil Damon and Enzo are up to, the easy-to-follow emotional through line of Bonnie and Stefan’s search for them, and the slight “what the heck” question of what Ric is doing taking over the Armory. Nothing earth shattering or shocking, but it’s solid and blessedly simple in comparison to the muddled mess that was season seven.

Most importantly, the episode manages to effectively establish the evil that is controlling Damon and Enzo, while still keeping enough of its identity a mystery to be unraveled in the future. When Damon was lured into the vault last season by the sound of Elena’s voice—quickly followed by Enzo—I posited that the writers might not actually know what the evil was going to be. Here, though, it seems like they had a handle on it the whole time: It’s something to do with Sirens, or is an actual Siren, and she is definitely up to no good. What works about her so far is that for most of the episode, she’s just an evil presence in a tank who happens to have complete control over Damon and Enzo’s mind, forcing them to feed her people who had stains on their souls. (For a good portion of the episode it could have been an actual evil shark of some sort, for all it appeared.)

What also works is that the episode’s imagery is seriously committed to focusing on the horror aspect of the show again. The warehouse where Damon and Enzo set up shop is something out of a horror movie nightmare, as is the meat hook Damon uses to dangle their victims in the tank for their evil master. This visual horror does good work to set up what the show really wants to land, which is the emotional horror of what Damon and Enzo are going through. They are forced to do this evil being’s bidding, having very little free will and yet obviously being able to still analyze it with their own personal moral compass still in place. Damon solves his problem by turning off his humanity switch and outwardly saying goodbye to his promised future with Elena. Enzo, however, is ready to put up a fight if he can, setting up a trail of clues that leads Bonnie to maybe start to figure out exactly what evil lurks for them to attempt to defeat.

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All of this works fine, especially the moment where Stefan and Damon finally see each other again and Damon lays out exactly how hopeless his future is now. It’s more nihilistic than the show typically leans, and is a good way to get Stefan to a place where he finally questions if they can actually defeat the evil this time. This leads to a great scene with Bonnie and Stefan, where Bonnie gets to draw upon all of her great character development in the last few seasons and be the one who convinces Stefan they can’t give up.

Less successful is anything that has to do with Caroline, Ric, and their kids, which is mostly due to the fact that small children on supernatural shows are usually a terrible idea. We will get a chance to learn if this is true, it seems, now that the crazy woman who bit off her own tongue revealed that the evil thing is especially interested in these magical children, for a reason to be revealed in the future. In a way all of this is inevitable, a compound story hangover of many decisions in the past that the show now has to deal with going forward. As long as the future is handled better than it has been in the past, there is hope the writers can pull this out of the skids.

Overall, it’s a solid season premiere that sets up a clear direction for at least the beginning of this final season. The biggest problem with season seven was that the villains were never effectively established or decently threatening, and that’s certainly not the case here. The actual name of the evil might still be a bit of a mystery, but her presence is effectively menacing and how that presence affects all of the main characters very well laid out. Knowing how fast The Vampire Diaries blows through plot this might not be the final evil, but at least it’s being set up to be a good one. It’s just what they need.

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Stray observations

  • Welcome to coverage of the final season of The Vampire Diaries! After this week, we’ll be doing discussion posts instead of full reviews, but a full review will be back for the series finale.
  • Per Julie Plec’s Twitter, the episode titles this season are all past quotes from the show. I’m into it.
  • This episode was written by Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec, and you can really feel Williamson’s influence. The cold open (which is basically a direct callback to the pilot) and the graphic imagery of what I am affectionately dubbing the “murder warehouse” are particularly in his wheelhouse.
  • Damon and Enzo killing people and then talking about watching TV vs. reading before bed? Murder husbands.
  • Damon is reading 50 Shades of Grey, and I assume it’s a reread because it just feels like he would have read it long before now.
  • So the evil is obviously a Siren, who are said to be messengers of the devil. Is the evil the devil? That seems… ambitious, for this show.
  • Why is Ric running the Armory? I actually don’t care, because I think it makes sense for his character and I like the two research assistants. The show is so sparsely populated at this point that it’s nice to see some (hopefully) pleasant side characters to add some life.
  • I’m glad they specified that Caroline and the kids were living in Caroline’s old house, because I thought for a second they were still in Texas and was concerned the show forgot it was actually set in Virginia. Or that somehow everyone had invented teleportation.
  • Matt was not in this episode but he is in the promotional material for the season, so he didn’t run far away like I told him to. Dammit, Matt!

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