As it stands now, this season of The Vampire Diaries inspires a lot more questions than it clearly ever planned to, and while doing so, it has yet to sufficiently answer said questions. This would be one thing if these questions were in relation to a greater mystery (like a past season’s “Who’s going to take the cure?”) or surprise (“How are the gang going to save their town,” which also goes back to past seasons), but instead, there are really just questions about the general plot and choices of this current season. How is the audience ultimately supposed to feel about the Heretics, whether that be empathy for them as “people” or hate from them as “villains”? What exactly was supposed to be so terrifying about Julian in comparison to so many other past villains in the series? And most importantly, especially for “This Woman’s Work,” why is the show pretending that there are any stakes in the “present” day?
That last question is one that really plagues the mind, because as interesting of a device as the “three years from now” flash forwards could have been and somewhat were in the opening of the season, all they really serve as now are reminders that every bit of dramatic tension that’s supposed to fill the bulk of the episodes is absolutely nonexistent. Things like Damon killing Elena are devoid of credibility because of these flash forwards; the possibility of Caroline’s pregnancy ending up poorly in the audience’s eyes is nonexistent because of these flash forwards; Stefan becoming marked and having to run from the huntress is also already a given because of these flash forwards. Then you have a character like Enzo, who time and time again is the unnecessary thorn in the side of the Mystic Falls crew… with the promise of a future relationship with the last person who should want him, in the flash forwards. Is a Vampire Diaries without stakes (no pun intended) really a Vampire Diaries? Or much like Stefan, is it just racing toward an inevitable finish toward expected disappointed?
The thing about “This Woman’s Work” is that it is an episode where, technically, a lot happens, especially with regards to the new Big Bad in town, but like I said, “a lot” means nothing when the audience already knows it means nothing. Plus, calling Rayna Cruz the “Big Bad” feels wrong when her biggest targets have been Julian and the Heretics (who, as well as Enzo, brought all of this to Mystic Falls).
At least the episode roots her existence as an immortal hunter in mythology first introduced in season four instead of adding completely new mythology: Her father was a hunter in the Brotherhood Of The Five, Julian slaughtered the people in her home town (“coincidentally” in Louisiana) and compelled her to kill her father, and she was given power and invulnerability by shamans. In terms of her huntress classification, she’s the First Slayer, only in her case, there is literally only a chosen one. Her immunity to magic and her super strength add more “sure, whatever you say” to the mythology of The Vampire Diaries (although her escape scene from Enzo’s lock-up is a nice early touch), but if the characters and audience are supposed to buy her as a threat, it works better already than the earlier threats in this season. Unfortunately, that doesn’t “fix” the fact that just because she’s technically a phoenix, her weapons must also have phoenix-like properties: If she really is supposed to be this ultimate hunter, the glaring plot abyss that is her (until this episode with Beau) or anybody not completely killing vampire bodies with the Phoenix Sword and Stone is still in play. Honestly, a stake (or the crossbow she wields) gets the job done much better than magical weapons that anyone can get their hands on and use just as well as the intended.
However, Leslie-Anne Huff and her character’s no-nonsense attitude are already a breath of fresh air in comparison to the melodramatic Heretics. Her killing practical non-character Beau this week, Stefan’s finally killing Julian last week, and Damon “killing” everyone a few weeks ago before bring an urgency and momentum that this season has severely lacked. That’s not surprising though, because The Vampire Diaries earned its stripes on urgency and momentum and killing characters left and right.
The Caroline plot, which picks up where last episode left off with her, lacks that urgency and momentum though. That’s due to the combination of the known endgame of it all, as well as the fact that Caroline is sedated for the majority of the plot and Alaric is on the longest taxi ride ever. The plot doesn’t really pick up in all of the looking through glass and magical yammering until Stefan goes into Caroline’s mind to have “a date.” That moment works for the Stefan/Caroline pairing much more than the greatest hits montage of their relationship later, as the latter is a device that may play well to the shippers but really feels out of place structurally when the show does it (as it’s done before with Damon and Elena). Stefan keeping Caroline company in her mind and their phone call at the end of the episode honestly do all of the work for the couple, and those moments do it much better than the montage.
As for the Damon plot, like clockwork, the Bonnie/Damon friendship aspects are a highlight. But it also has the secret of Damon “killing” Elena looming over it, along with Enzo and another one of his terrible plans causing a mess for everything else. And to think, this all begins with the aftermath Damon’s one night stand with “Krystal with a K” and Bonnie line of the night in calling Nora and Mary-Louise “a very bad L-Word rerun.” Damon spends this entire episode agonizing over and lying to Bonnie about the Elena thing, only for it all to end with Enzo, of all characters, admitting that Elena is alive and he has her kept safe in New York. Enzo gets to live another day, because he’s in the flash forwards, and there is no tension to speak of, again.
“This Woman’s Work” is really just a set-up episode in the greater scheme of things. It’s a set-up episode for next week’s Originals crossover, and like the rest of the season, it’s set-up for the world within the flash forwards. Rayna killing Beau and marking Stefan is set-up, and that’s not exactly how such “big” moments should come across in a show like this. It’s not the worst episode of the season, but it’s mighty symptomatic of the biggest problems with this season. As usual, the acting is there, but the actions remain questionable. Hopefully next week’s crossover kicks things into gear.
- As you can all probably tell, I am not Carrie Raisler. But thanks for letting me fill in for you, Carrie. You missed an episode without Matt Donovan, so I’m wondering if you planned this.
- This episode title of course comes from the Kate Bush song, “This Woman’s Work.” If you were disappointed the show didn’t play said song, please note that it actually played Greg Laswell’s cover of the song back in season three.
- “Saint Malo, Louisana 1842” is not “Ancient Greece, 2000 Years Ago,” that’s for sure.
- Bonnie: “You out of bourbon? How is that possible?” After all of this, Damon still never got to go on a bourbon run.
- Rayna having to kill her father is pretty moving if you ignore or at least trim his too long “remember everything I taught you” speech.
- While the flashbacks showed how Beau came to be mute at Rayna’s hands, the entire call to action for her character—as horrible as it is—made me wonder why a hunter’s daughter was not on vervain in the first place.
- Damon’s throwaway line about being thankful for Enzo in 1953 actually hit pretty hard. Remember when Enzo and Damon’s friendship had potential and could have meant something?
- You know what would be even more touching about Alaric telling Caroline that the girls are named after his wife and her mom? If the flash forwards didn’t already reveal said names. Then again, maybe I’m just disappointed that one of the twins wasn’t a boy. That’s what I get for holding out hope that Jo’s spirit would live on by Ric going and naming their son “Duke.”
- Damon: “Wow. You know—you look a lot like my girlfriend and her three doppelgangers.” I personally saw more of a Bonnie with a touch of Elena in Rayna, but the resemblance is sometimes uncanny in pictures.