If last week’s episode was a big, juicy, satisfying steak, “A Bird In A Gilded Cage” is more the cheese course than the actual dessert; something you enjoy in passing while still looking toward the decadence to come. For a transitional episode mostly designed to set up situations that will pay off in future episodes, it still managed to be pretty darn entertaining all on its own.
The big story coming into this episode is Caroline and Stefan both turning their humanity switch off and what that means for their relationship. “The Downward Spiral” ended with one of the best teasers the show has ever done: Stefan and Caroline, sexily lounging around drinking margaritas, seemingly just waiting for their chance to go out and raise hell together. It doesn’t turn out to be that easy, though: Caroline is still determined to stick to her very regulated, one-year humanity-free plan while inflicting minimal damage to those around her (she even cleans up her mess at the bar!) while Stefan is determined to do anything in his power to mess up her plans. It’s the perfect setup for a fun cat-and-mouse game as Stefan tries to lure Caroline to the dark side and she pushes back just as hard.
Caroline’s arc with her mother’s death and the emotional aftermath is the first storyline the character has had in far too long, and my one complaint throughout is that she has at times been oddly sidelined, in service of the show’s attempts to build her romantic relationship with Stefan. The best thing about the turn Caroline takes in this episode is that although it is still all wrapped up in Stefan—and although she ultimately succumbs to his temptations and lets go of some of her worries about being “good” while humanity-free—the last two weeks have finally felt like Caroline separating herself as her own character, even while still interacting with Stefan. Her hallway fight to save the hapless coed? Pure Caroline, and by allowing her to have her moments of pure Caroline, the show earned her turn into the not-so-pure Caroline with Stefan. It will be interesting to see just how not-so-pure Caroline and Stefan become under each other’s influence.
While Stefan and Caroline were playing hide-and-seek with Caroline’s humanity, Damon and Elena were back in Mystic Falls searching for a way to get back to 1903 and retrieve Mama Salvatore so she can tempt Stefan into turning his humanity back on. It’s a ridiculously complicated idea—only on this show would the easy way to get something done be using witches to magically time travel to a prison world—but the idea to team up Damon, Elena, Bonnie, and Kai for road trip shenanigans is definitely a good one. And so we get to meet Lily Salvatore, who was turned into a vampire because a nurse gave her vampire blood and she died of tuberculosis with vampire blood in her system. Lily is strangely standoffish with Damon but effusive about the idea of saving Stefan, which is so painfully reminiscent of Damon’s relationship with Katherine that it has to hurt. Lily agrees to help but she has one caveat: She wants to bring her weird coven of desiccated prison world vampires back with her, and Damon isn’t having it. Damon manages to bring Lily back without them, but I have a funny feeling this isn’t the last we’ll hear of them—especially because Lily is far too calm to not have an agenda at this point. This is The Vampire Diaries, after all. Everyone has an agenda.
For example: Bonnie, who turns out to be queen of the agenda here. Bonnie keeps reiterating that she’s a different person now after her 1994 experience, and the way it is manifesting so far is that she has zero desire to sit around and idly forget all the bad things that have been done to her. This isn’t a Bonnie who can forgive and it’s definitely not one who can forget, especially when it comes to Kai and all of the torment he caused her. The Bonnie of old would likely have just threw a few sharp words his way, but this Bonnie takes action instead. This Bonnie tricks Kai into thinking she’s starting to forgive him, and then leads him into the woods in the 1903 prison world and then leaves him there to rot, just like he left her. This Bonnie is not messing around, and while I love it I still can’t help but want more. More of Bonnie’s emotional journey, more of Kat Graham’s great performance this season, and definitely more of Bonnie and Damon’s friendship, which is back on track after bumpy episode last week.
Which brings us to the end of the episode, a great friendship scene between Bonnie and Damon that turns into something way more troubling. It seems when Bonnie was in 1994 she retrieved the vampire cure for Damon, so now Damon can give it to Elena if he wants to. For the life of me I cannot remember the mythology from two seasons ago that would allow this vampire cure to actually exist in 1994, but I am not looking forward to the angst this is going to cause. (Remember how the cure storyline was generally awful? And before this everything was going so well!)
- Humanity-free Stefan is the best Stefan. Paul Wesley has so much fun when he gets to stray from the “good Stefan” model. It’s a joy to watch, every time.
- How about Candice Accola singing “Still Hurting” from The Last Five Years? Absolutely gorgeous.
- Jo gets a lot of great moments here, even if I don’t quite know how she and Alaric fit into the show right now.
- Elena had a few annoying moments this week cooing over Damon as a child, but her awkwardly addressing Mama Salvatore as “Mrs. Salvatore” pretty much makes up for it.
- Putting Enzo with Alaric and then having Enzo spend the whole hour acting like Alaric is some sort of scared puppy who’s never fought vampires in his life is not the way to rehabilitate Enzo, show. Don’t you realize we actually like Alaric?
- So why doesn’t Sarah Salvatore know who she is? Is she Sarah Salvatore at all or has she just been compelled? Did I totally misunderstand that bit?
- This week, in Matt Donovan Is The Best: A second straight episode without Matty Blue Blue. From the looks of next week’s promo, that won’t last for long.
- “Crocodile Dundee wants his knife back.” “You know, he’s no longer a thing and neither is that joke.”
- Jo: “Actually I thought about it, and anyone named Alaric should not be allowed to name another human.”