For as much as the characters on The Vampire Diaries have changed since the series began, they’re still not very good at it. They’ve turned into vampires (and some turned back into human again), died in various traumatic ways and come back to life, gotten trapped in alternate dimensions, and lost numerous people they’ve loved. It’s been a crazy ride of love, loss, trauma, grief, letting go, and moving on, and the theme of season six has been how these characters react to these changes; who can move on and let go, and who is desperately clinging to the past. This theme continues with the January premiere, as Damon and Elena navigate their weird in-between relationship and Caroline must deal with her mother’s cancer diagnosis.
Caroline’s story is the more compelling one here, as she must deal with the fact that something is happening beyond her supernatural control. So many times in the past The Vampire Diaries has given its characters seemingly unsolvable problems, only to have them eventually be solved by a last-minute magic supernatural savior. The story of Liz’s brain tumor is one firmly entrenched in the real world—as Stefan gently tells Caroline, in all of his days he’s never heard of vampire blood being able to cure cancer. They’re stuck with fallible human medicine, which is something eternal optimist Caroline refuses to accept. It leads her to seek out a medical trial of her own, as she gives a patient with the same diagnosis as her mother her blood to see if it cures him. (Don’t worry, she checked to see if he had a next of kin first and he did not, as if that makes it okay. I hope he didn’t have any friends! Or cats!) Initially her blood seems to cure him instantly, so naturally she races home and gives her mother her blood to begin to cure her as well. There’s a reason medical trials don’t rely on just one test subject, though, which is revealed in the most tragic and typical TVD way: During an ironic montage where the patient dies in a pool of his own blood, intercut with Caroline giving her own mother the “cure.”
The best thing about this story is that it’s a nice departure into reality for a show that pretty much solely relies on the supernatural. It’s easy to forget that ostensibly these characters live in the real world, with as insular and magic-focused as the series is at all times. Also, having one of the only parental figures left on the show go through a non-supernatural death scare is almost refreshing in its sober truth (and having it happen in a completely different way than “The Body” helps, too). It also doesn’t hurt that it’s finally a story for Caroline that feels like it comes from her own past and character, rather than her being inserted into someone else’s story just because she needed something to do. Plus, Candice Accola and Marguerite MacIntyre are just fantastic together. Finally, it gives a nice emotional background to the Caroline and Stefan pairing, making their inevitable transition into more than friends feel a lot more natural and grounded.
As for Elena and Damon, well, most of this season has been about their inability to let go and move on, which was thankfully a bit on the backburner here. I recently watched the first 10 episodes of the season again in preparation for the show’s return, and while the writers and actors are playing their story as some kind of epic obstacle to their unbreakable true love, it sadly was the thing about the episodes that fared the worst upon rewatch. Part of this is my own fatigue with love stories on the show, and part was simply that while a lot of the twists and turns played perfectly fine at the time, when compressed into a shorter amount of time it just felt a lot like stalling. The couple does get a bit of forward momentum here as Elena finally agrees to go out on a date with Damon (and seems to have that love-struck look back in her eyes) so I’m hopeful that they’ll return to being a couple sooner rather than later, so the show can concentrate on the more interesting aspects of the season.
Those interesting aspects? Oh, that would be Kai. It’s been a long time since The Vampire Diaries had a villain as fun as Kai, someone who is evil just because he kind of likes being evil (sad puppy dog backstory need not apply) and is out to get power and do evil things, just because he wants to be evil. It doesn’t hurt that Chris Wood is charismatic as hell in the role, with the perfect mix of charm, smarmy humor, and “fuck it” panache. The absolute biggest plus to Kai’s presence on the show, however, is that he isn’t after the Mystic Falls gang because he has some sort of long-simmering doppelganger love for one of the main characters. He has no vendetta against anyone except his own family, and to have that disconnect from the mythology of the show is absolutely freeing. The mythology of the Gemini Coven is kind of tedious and not that interesting—I don’t really care if Jo, Luke, or Liv ends up dying in the quest to stop Kai from taking over his family’s coven, not really—but so far Kai is enough of a story driver to make the rest of his family’s lack of essentiality not be an issue.
As for the overall feel of the episode itself, it wasn’t the most spectacular effort of the season, but it was what most of season six has been: solid, and solidly entertaining. After the jagged, uninteresting mess that was season five, this has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the television season so far. The Vampire Diaries might never reach the dizzying heights of its early seasons again, but if it continues to churn out seasons like this, it will remain a fun, entertaining part of the television landscape.
- And we’re back! Sorry about the momentary interruption in these reviews. If you want to pass along the link to spread the word that they’re back, that would be the nicest.
- Kai torturing Elena was pretty rote stuff (torture has been done so many times on this show it’s literally boring now) but Elena lighting herself on fire in the sun and using the gas burners in the science lab to burn Kai was neat! Go Elena!
- This episode was directed by Paul Wesley and he did a good, confident job. This episode was better than his last because it was less focused on being directed, so it fit more seamlessly into the show’s style. And he also did a nifty little cloaking spell hallway sequence in the school.
- Luke called his dad to say he and Liv are out of the merge spell, so I expect big bad daddy to show up soon and be the new Big Bad.
- Now, a roundup of my thoughts on all the stories that happened while the reviews were on hiatus!
- The best, best, best thing about this season? The rise of Bonnie Bennett. I cannot wait until she comes back so we can talk all about how the writers have completely turned her around this season. All it took was them giving her an active storyline of her very own. WHAT A CONCEPT.
- Alaric is human again. The way it happened was insane and only could work in TVD logic, but I’m so happy he’s not a vampire I don’t even care.
- What the hell is happening with Enzo this season? He is completely rudderless. The main point of his story seems to be that he hates Stefan and wants to get revenge, mostly because Stefan was a bad brother to Damon, but if Enzo missed Damon so much why isn’t he back in Mystic Falls hanging out with Damon? This is so confusing.
- Jeremy’s hair is terrible.
- This season, in Matt Donovan Is The Best: I dunno, he’s kind of been annoying me? At least he almost killed Enzo?