The Vampire Diaries: “500 Years Of Solitude”
B+

The Vampire Diaries: “500 Years Of Solitude”

B+

The Vampire Diaries

"500 Years Of Solitude" 

Season 5, Episode 11

100 episodes. Although not the magical syndication signal it once was, reaching 100 episodes is still an impressive, recognized milestone for a television program. (It’s such a widely accepted benchmark that this very site has a regular feature highlighting programs that manage to achieve the feat.) Generally dismissed upon announcement as The CW’s desperate cash grab on the Twilight phenomenon, The Vampire Diaries seemed like an unlikely candidate to reach such an important milestone.

Then something unexpected happened: The show got really, really good, and fairly quickly. Granted, a show doesn’t have to be considered “good” to reach 100 episodes (the television landscape is littered with examples of this), but for a small, niche show on a small, niche network, being good was essential for it to break out beyond its limited scope. What it broke out into was a crazy, wild ride of a show, with a rabid fanbase and the kind of breakneck, twisty plotting where you just hold on (and hold your breath) until the next insane things happens and you can finally let go.

One-hundredth episodes can take many different approaches, from ignoring the occasion completely to going for full-on fan service. The Vampire Diaries wisely goes for something a little in between, cleverly continuing the season’s story while also taking ample time to give its fans moments with all of their favorite characters. The result is a little awkward at times (Why is Rebekah even there, really?) but certainly well-intentioned, and the whole episode comes across as nothing if not a love letter to all of these characters and actors the fans have loved over the years.

The smartest thing the writers did here was to focus the episode on Katherine. More than probably any almost other character on the show, Katherine has the ability to bring everyone together in the event of her death, even if it is just so they can all drink together and hilariously lament how many times she screwed them over throughout the years. She also has a compelling, distinct relationship with all three members of the show’s central triangle, and those distinctions get a great showcase here as Stefan, Damon, and Elena all say goodbye to Katherine in their own unique ways. There’s Stefan, who has long since forgiven Katherine and is there to lend a soft shoulder; Damon, whose anger and resentment barely allows him to do more than torture her on her way out the door; and Elena, who falls somewhere in between, not willing to say she doesn’t hate Katherine but willing to forgive her in the end for everything she’s done.

This exploration of the three main characters’ reactions to Katherine’s imminent death shows a nice, stark contrast, sure, but also a very convenient way to get the writers to where they want to be at the end: with Elena forgiving Katherine and letting her guard down one last time so Katherine can do what Katherine does and take advantage of it. Showing Katherine’s softer side throughout the episode through flashback, allowing her to wallow in everything she’s done, and then eventually allowing Stefan to show her she deserves forgiveness... All of this exists to give Katherine vulnerability right before the inevitable happens and she does what she always does: survives.

Would we really want it any other way? Would Katherine Pierce going out in a sea of tender moments and forgiveness ever be a satisfying end for a character who is wholly defined by her willingness to do anything to just keep on living? Not a chance. A repentant Katherine who feels bad about her past actions is only good because of the moment we get where Katherine starts to cross to the other side and then violently, savagely forces herself to come back and keep fighting. That’s the Katherine Pierce The Vampire Diaries created, and that’s the Katherine Pierce who will live on, albeit in Elena’s body (at least for a little while). It’s not a shocking twist whatsoever, given the events that came before, but it’s a satisfying one, and that, to me, is more important.

Other than the moments taken up by Katherine’s bedridden death rattle, the rest of this episode was really about getting these people in the same room and watching them bounce off each other. The Vampire Diaries is often such a scattered universe that getting everyone in the same episode is rare, let alone the same room. Here, the relationships and banter between friends who have been through so much together are allowed to shine in the most thematically appropriate way, as they toast what an awful person Katherine is.

And then there’s the Caroline and Klaus thing. A lot of this 100th episode feels like fan service—the obligatory brother bonding scene, Tyler/Matt hug, all of the appearances by people long dead and missed, including my beloved Alaric—but it’s mostly wonderful and perfectly harmless fan service. When it comes to Caroline and Klaus, that line between fan service and something else is a bit murkier. Caroline and Klaus getting together has repercussions for Caroline’s character, repercussions I hope the show is willing to follow up on since it embarked down this path. It’s obvious this isn’t going to be some grand love affair right now, and that’s fine—Klaus is on his own show, and Caroline needs something better to do than be someone’s girlfriend—but my fear is that Caroline giving in to her (understandable) urges where Klaus is concerned won’t inform her character in the way I hoped their coming together would. Caroline falling for someone who is objectively not a good person, who is the cause of so many of the group’s troubles throughout the years, is a big deal. I just hope the show sees the big deal and not just the fun, spontaneous moment where this is concerned.

Either way it ends up shaking out, it was a fun moment in an episode full of them, in a series defined by them. The 100th episode of The Vampire Diaries might not be perfect, but it’s fun and warm and exciting, and it’s also a great example of why the show is so beloved. Now it’s time for The Vampire Diaries to take the baton of this episode and run with it, to solve some of those problems it was having in the first half of this season.

Stray observations:

  • The Vampire Diaries was my first show assignment for A.V. Club, and I will never be more proud of anything I’ve been involved with on this site as I am of what a wonderful, interesting, engaged comment community we’ve all created in this space. Group hug!
  • My favorite TVD moment: The reveal in “Klaus” that the sun and moon curse was fake. Gutsy, show-defining awesomeness. What’s yours?
  • Nina Dobrev is absolutely fantastic in this episode. We’ve seen her work in the Katherine flashbacks before, but when she is crying to her mother in Bulgarian it never fails to move me.
  • I still miss Alaric like breathing.
  • So Damon was the one who told Klaus about Katherine. Does he have Klaus on speed dial? Do they text?
  • What on earth are those Travelers going to do with a bucket of doppelganger blood? Doppelganger blood sausage?
  •  “You memorized my breakup?” “Of course I did.”
  • Caroline: “She did kill me, although I’m weirdly better off.”
  • Stefan: “Have we really gone through four bottles of bourbon today?”

More TV Club