The Vampire Diaries: “No Exit”
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The Vampire Diaries: “No Exit”

This week, both The Vampire Diaries and The Originals returned from their Olympics-imposed hiatuses with episodes that revolved around characters finding out a big secret the audience already knew. In both cases, this path to realization basically creates a filler episode, a way to move the story to the place it needs to be for the inevitable big confrontation in the future, but the difference was all in the execution. In the case of The Originals, the realization comes as a story told via flashback, rendering the drama fairly inert, while The Vampire Diaries has much more success by making the characters active participants in figuring out the mystery.

I point this out not to pick on The Originals (because even though I love the show, it wasn’t the most successful episode) but to make the point that giving a character an active storyline is far more interesting than simply telling a character information they need to know. Katherine taking over Elena’s life was an incredibly inspired storyline, and watching it unfold has been delightful, but sooner or later, someone had to figure out what was going on. To spend an episode almost solely focused on making that happen is a good thing, not only for the good of the overall narrative but for the likeability of the characters being duped. Stefan and Caroline finally putting the pieces together (with a great assist from Matt) was satisfying in the moment and also satisfying in that it immediately sets up anticipation for what will happen next.

The episode itself was a bit spread out but not in an unpleasant way, following three separate storylines that finally came together in the end with the big revelation that Elena isn’t really Elena. The least successful of these—although it contained some great moments—was Damon’s encounter with evil doctor Wes, who is still out there and obsessed with experimenting on Damon. Damon and Enzo figured out a clever (if sadistic) way to take care of Damon’s little vampire-only feeding policy: Kill a human, turn them into a vampire, then have Damon feed. Wes puts a stop to this with help from the ever-creepy Travelers, who appear to do nothing but help Wes (why?), stand in perfectly spaced intervals, and chant with their heads down. (Seriously, I don’t understand the Traveler thing at all. Help me, wise commenters.) It all leads to Damon attempting to kill Enzo, which was the most logical place for this story to go from its very inception.

The problem with this story is that Wes remains a horrible villain with murky motivations, so it’s really difficult to get invested in anything he does. Damon’s character doesn’t feel like he’s getting much of a benefit, as we’re not learning anything about him we didn’t already know. The only reason for Damon to feed on vampires at this point was so that we could get to the place where Katherine offers herself up as bait and tries to goad Stefan into killing Damon to save her. Was that the point of this all along? Or is there more to come for Damon? As much as this season has teased giving Damon a true story, it’s turned out to be disappointing at every turn.

As for Katherine’s little trick, her road trip with Stefan was the surprising highlight of the episode. For as much as Katherine said she loved being Elena Gilbert when we last saw her, she seems to be getting impatient in her quest to win Stefan over, and that impatience costs her dearly here. Before Stefan figures her out, though, we get a pretty great sequence where she sabotages Stefan’s car so they have to get a hotel, and she sabotages their clothes with grease so they have to shower. It leads to a long, patient, steadily building seduction scene the likes of which the show hasn’t featured in quite a while, culminating in Katherine finally getting Stefan exactly where she wants him. It’s this little bit of confidence—this taste of success—that ultimately causes Katherine’s downfall, though, as she uses the victory as justification to completely overshoot and attempt to get Stefan to kill Damon in order to save her. The only thing that doesn’t quite work here is Katherine not realizing Stefan would never kill Damon; not for anyone, even Elena. This is something Elena knows implicitly; did Katherine not figure this out in the hundred-odd years she’s known the Salvatore brothers?

But Stefan and Caroline, as smart as they are, never would have realized Katherine’s duplicity if it wasn’t for Matt. Matt is having a very strong season five, feeling vital and involved in stories in a way the character hasn’t in quite a long time. He saves the day here by sheer force of his likeability, basically charming Nadia into not killing him and then tricking her into a fake hookup in order to send the text to Caroline that ultimately helps reveal Katherine’s scheme. When Katherine said Nadia should kill Matt, she wasn’t wrong. The world is definitely happy she didn’t listen, because yes. We all love Matt Donovan.

So now everyone knows and Katherine must figure her way out of a mess yet again. Having Katherine pretend to be Elena made for a fantastic boost to the season. I can’t wait to see how she gets herself out of this particularly troublesome mess.

Stray observations:

  • The creepy horror opening was wonderful. It reminded me of the great opening sequence to the season two premiere, which featured Stefan and Klaus on their very own hunting spree.
  • Tyler doesn’t really feel like he has much of a place on this show anymore, but I did love him telling Caroline he’s just not going to get over her having sex with Klaus. Sometimes, you just don’t get to go back to the way things were.
  • Tyler bit Nadia! I admit; I didn’t see that coming. And yet I don’t care too much about Nadia, so it doesn’t really register.
  • I do, however, like Enzo, and Damon needs a friend. I wouldn’t mind if he sticks around.
  • “We all love Matt Donovan. Otherwise he would have been dead a long time ago.” Katherine goes meta.

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