The Vampire Diaries: "For Whom The Bell Tolls"
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The Vampire Diaries: "For Whom The Bell Tolls"

This is one of those episodes that I don’t quite know what to do with. The tease of Amnesia Stefan last week was intriguing because it had the potential to be either the best or worst thing ever, but what I didn’t count on was it being both at the exact same time. Add to that a confounding memorial for Bonnie, the addition of Zach Roerig to the show’s gang of dual-character-playing wunderkinds, and an intriguing new direction for the college storyline, and what you’ve got is a mishmash of a lot of things that don’t quite come together to create any kind of coherent whole.

Let’s start with the good, because there was definitely good here: Amnesia Stefan is a total blast. Paul Wesley has been prominently featured this season but rarely as Standard Issue Stefan, adding yet another different shade to his performance tonight as the slightly bemused, much more devious amnesiac version of Stefan. The absence of Standard Issue Stefan has gotten so obvious that it almost feels like a dare Wesley issued to the writers to see just how long they could go before bringing him back to life.

Amnesia Stefan finding his past a puzzling bit of complicated, overly-earnest nonsense is a joy, as is watching him enjoy tempting fate by pushing the boundaries of his Ripper past—most notably in the genuinely menacing scene with the Mystic Grill waitress. What’s less joyful is the show treating his amnesia as a weird way to resolve Stefan and Elena’s issues regarding her relationship with Damon. Having Damon and Elena neglect to tell Stefan they were dating until far later than they should have felt like nothing but a writer’s crutch, designed to give Amnesia Stefan a reason to embrace his Ripper roots and get a little bit dangerous. The problem with this is that it never seemed very plausible to me that finding out this information would make any real impact on Amnesia Stefan at all. (It didn’t help that most of the first half of the episode was taken up with Elena weirdly taking Stefan on a “This Is Your Life” of their past relationship, completely with misplaced awkwardness.) If you don’t remember your brother, or your old girlfriend, why would it matter so much that your brother is now dating her?

Most of this apprehension is due to the fact that the amnesia seems like a great way to get Stefan back into the picture without all the triangle baggage coming with him—at least for now—and instead it brought it to the foreground immediately in a way that felt forced, at least on a character level for Stefan. The saving grace of all of this, though, is that Amnesia Stefan is still hanging around, and did I mention that he’s a blast? Any guy that could accept that he’s a vampire with 200 years of really twisted history within one day of waking up with no memory must be at least a little bit fun, and the best part is that unlike we would with Standard Issue Stefan, we really have no idea what he will do next.

And then there’s Bonnie. After three episodes of Jeremy begging Bonnie to let him tell her friends she was dead, he finally goes against her wishes and tells Damon when everyone is desperately searching for her so she can help cure Stefan’s amnesia. This reveal and subsequent funeral is very frustrating because while it is emotional and poignant—highlighted by a great moment where a distraught Damon hugs Jeremy—it’s ultimately completely undermined for me by the fact that Bonnie is still around. Alaric saying goodbye to Damon in “Memorial” last season was heartbreaking because Damon couldn’t hear him and had no idea he was there. Bonnie saying goodbye to her friends at her memorial was lovely and touching, but knowing Jeremy (and the audience) will still see her on a constant basis takes a lot of the sting out of the goodbye. How can you mourn someone who never leaves?

One thing that’s working like gangbusters is Matt Donovan and his possession by Gregor. For once, Matt gets to be an active participant in his very own story, and Zach Roerig is making the most of it, embracing the very heart of the menacing yet hilariously cheesy Gregor. Matt has whole scenes by himself! Where he makes a plan, follows through with the plan, and gets results! Who knows what Gregor and Nadia are up to and what the significance of this Magic Knife of Great Import holds, but it’s really refreshing to see the show finally giving Roerig something to do after four long years of him being there basically just to make sure there was someone fully human left in the cast.

Just like this episode was all over the place, my thoughts on this episode and this season so far are equally muddled. There is something genuinely great about how the show has revived itself following the departure of the Originals and the consistently reliable menace they created. The dialogue in particular this year is sharp and funny in a way the show sort of lost near the end of season four. And yet, there’s just not enough cohesion to the overall story yet to say if anything in the overall framework of the season is actually working, or if it’s simply doomed to be highly entertaining in sustained bursts but ultimately disappointing when viewed as part of a greater whole. It’s too early to write anything off or even really express significant lasting concerns, but I definitely have a few muted reservations.

Stray observations:

  • So the kind professor who knew Elena’s father is into vampire stuff? Who would’ve thought! It seemed like poor Jesse had an ulterior motive with Caroline, but it looks like he’s just collateral damage.
  • Remembrance Day is basically just getting drunk in graveyards, which sounds like the best holiday ever.
  • I wonder if Tyler is going to stick around or if he is just doomed to be sent away by yet another one of his infamous phone calls with Caroline.
  • Why did Damon ruin a perfectly good car? How did they get home?
  • Where was Katherine? Katherine really needs to meet Amnesia Stefan.
  • Stefan: “Is this town always so upbeat about dead people?”

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