The Vampire Diaries: "The Cell"
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The Vampire Diaries: "The Cell"

The biggest problem with reviewing television on an episodic basis, especially in a twisty, plot-heavy show like The Vampire Diaries, is that it’s very likely everything I’m about to complain about will be completely resolved in the next episode. If these issues are resolved, that won’t make “The Cell” a better episode of television—this one is a dud, no matter what happens in the midseason finale next week—but it will make most of the maddening, incomprehensible character moments in “The Cell” much less horrifying.

To be more specific, everything the show is doing with Damon right now is completely baffling. Finally giving him a story of his very own is a wonderful thing, and tying him to the main Whitmore arc the show has been teasing since Elena and Caroline showed up there in the first episode is even better. It’s the fact that the writers are doing it by seemingly grabbing the necessary back-story for it out of thin air that’s troubling. If when telling a story the way you get around a narrative cheat is to have your character forget their own backstory due to a convenient repressed memory, well, that’s just not good, and it’s exactly what’s going on with Damon right now. Having him repress the memory of being captured and tortured by the original Dr. Whitmore—for five years, no less!—would almost be forgivable if the repression part of the memories didn’t seem to completely disappear once it is narratively convenient for them to return.

Unless TVD is now trying to say they were never really repressed at all? When Damon tells Elena his story of being captured and tortured for years, a story that ultimately ends in him betraying his only friend in order to save himself, what is Damon really saying? When he tells a distraught Aaron that he killed his parents as part of some decades-long vendetta against the Whitmore family in retaliation against what happened to him all those years ago, is he trying to save Elena by lying or telling the truth? Has the show suddenly erased three years of Damon’s character development in order to make this Augustine vampire story even remotely work?

Those are a lot of unanswered questions, and those unanswered questions are why I’m so uncomfortable with analyzing what is actually going on in this episode in regards to the bigger picture of the story the show is trying to tell. My only reaction is one of pure revulsion if it’s true, a literal physical recoiling at the thought that the writers are really going to have us believe that Damon is carrying out this vendetta as recently as a few months ago, all while hiding it from everyone the whole time. The Damon of the past who betrayed his only friend in order to escape horrific torture had to turn off his humanity in order to do it. To say that tracks with a Damon who willingly kills generations of people over a long-forgotten vendetta, well, that’s where I have concerns.

Putting aside any issues with concerns about the direction of Damon’s character, the story itself is just kind of a snooze. Evil doctors doing inhumane experiments aren’t the most groundbreaking territory to explore, and despite the pleasing presence of Damon’s new friend Enzo, there’s just not much meat to the flashbacks. It doesn’t help that Aaron—who is finally folded into the story mix with the reveal that he’s a Whitmore—is completely bland as well. He’s obviously going to become more important as the story progresses, so here’s hoping he gets a bit more interesting as he goes along.

This was actually a fairly streamlined episode of TVD, with most of the action happening either in the dungeons of Whitmore or back at the Salvatore mansion, where Katherine and Caroline team up to attempt to cure Stefan of his PTSD issues. Hilariously, Caroline thinks locking him in the safe will somehow magically get him over being locked in the safe, but instead, it just causes more panic attacks. In a twist I’m sure we all saw coming, Katherine turns out to be the person with the magic cure, tapping into Stefan’s “hero” instincts and locking herself in the safe with him, forcing him to confront his desire to both kill and feed on her and urging him to save himself by resisting both. 

The development of Stefan and Katherine as burgeoning friends and reluctant allies has been one of the biggest joys of the last few episodes, so much so that when they evolve into more than friends by the end of the episode it feels earned and, honestly, really exciting. Stefan and Katherine might not be marked for epic love, but the two characters have shared a spark ever since Katherine strolled into town in season two and started making trouble, so it’s nice to see that spark paid off all of these years later. The beauty is that even though it would have been easy to put these characters together at basically any time—there’s plenty of history to draw on to make it work—the show waited until both were in a very similar mindset, therefore making their inevitable hookup seem like the most natural thing in the world.

Oh, and the biggest bonus? This is going to drive Elena crazy. That is, if anyone has the heart to tell her after she gets over whatever awful fate awaits her on that operating table.

Stray observations:

  • Welcome Michael Malarkey as the mysterious Enzo. Your voice is incredible, sir. I am glad you are still alive, whatever you are.
  • Aaron put on the Fancy Watch Of Great Importance. Work your magic, whatever that may be, Fancy Watch!
  • So Damon never had any flashes of his torture time while hanging out with Elena at Whitmore? Never any subconscious inkling he should urge her to consider another institution of higher learning? This is bothersome.
  • The one bit of the Damon story that was fantastic was the scene of him killing everyone at the New Year’s party. Unhinged Damon is certainly fun to revisit.
  • The fact that I cursed Caroline three separate times during this episode is not a good thing. Why is the show turning her into the world’s biggest buzzkill? 

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