Previously on The Vampire Diaries, ‘Cold as Ice’
The Phoenix Stone traps vampire souls inside of it and forces them to relive their own personal hells, over and over again. For Damon, this means he’s back in the Civil War – complete with the cutest little waves in his hair – revisiting the day when he first had innocent blood on his hands. At first however, he isn’t fully cognizant of where he actually is.
The first time we’re taken through this day in Damon’s life, the events take place as they actually happened. He receives a letter from Stefan – which was the epitome of the dramatic, broody Salvatore – and decides that he must take a leave of absence to be with his brother. In order to obtain the time away, Damon must retrieve two deserters who are hiding in a house nearby and bring them back for punishment. He and his soldier pal, Henry, find the hideout but are unable to stop the mission from going south. While defending themselves, Damon and Henry end up killing the deserters and their host family. Damon investigates a noise coming from the basement only to find his mother waiting for him. He’s still under the impression that she died from consumption but the reality of his situation slowly comes back to him. This isn’t about remorse, Lily tells him, it’s about punishment, and then she shoots him.
When he wakes up, he’s back in Mystic Falls thanks to Bonnie’s magic. He quickly learns Stefan is also trapped, and despite the fact it took a major toll on Bonnie just to get Damon out, he pushes her to get working on Stefan. Except Stefan’s body has been taken hostage by Julian. Thanks, yet again, to Bonnie, Damon is able to track Julian to a diner, where he’s soaked Stefan’s body in gasoline. Julian warns Damon to stop resisting the pain and then throws a lighter on Stefan’s body. When Lily shows up again, it becomes clear that Damon’s escape from the Phoenix Stone wasn’t going to be that easy.
I was genuinely surprised, and relieved, to learn that Damon hadn’t made it out of the stone so quickly. Making this twist work so well early on really helped to stick the landing in the the final moments of the episode.
Clever man that he is, Damon realizes immediately that he’s stuck on repeat and attempts to change the fate of that day in 1863, so he can get home to Stefan. Round 2 at the farmhouse doesn’t go well, this time he’s the only one left alive. When he wakes up back in Mystic Falls he’s ready to go find Julian, but Stefan was taken out of the stone first in this version. For a moment Damon concedes that this could be real, but Stefan knows too much about the farmhouse, so Damon stabs him and starts over again.
Watching Damon try to solve this puzzle was incredibly amusing and engaging. After several failed attempts at preventing the massacre –my two personal favorites being when the three women get the jump on him, and when he tells Stefan to never write him again – he realizes that changing this day isn’t the solution. He then decides deserting the war himself is the best option. He heads home to Mystic Falls only to find himself back at the farmhouse, but this time Lily and Stefan are there. Hell-dimension Stefan is finally able to get Damon to acknowledge the truth. It wasn’t Stefan he wanted to go home to, it was his mother. Now we know why Damon was ready to apologize in that flash-forward scene when he believed the mysterious woman was Lily.
Damon wakes up again on the battlefield, but instead of Henry being pinned under a wheel it’s Lily. He’s stubborn at first, as usual, but eventually he gives into the pain. He tells Lily how much it hurts to have lost her so many times and admits that he ruined every single goodbye. Before he – or the audience – has time to process this moment, Damon finds himself back in present day Mystic Falls. But he’s not to be fooled, he knows this isn’t real and he’s desperate to get back to his mother. He tries to hit the reset button again by staking Stefan, but when that doesn’t work he also stakes a very pregnant Caroline, throws Matt across the room, and slams Bonnie up against a wall and chokes her, possibly to death. WHAT THE? THIS CAN’T BE REAL!
When I saw blood on the wall behind Bonnie’s head I gasped before my jaw literally dropped, and that’s not something this show can generally elicit. I’m still unsure if the reality where the gang is together trying to bring Damon back is even real. There was one point where I thought it might be a glimpse into Stefan’s hell; he would be the type to torture himself over knowing his brother was still trapped and he was safely removed.
The Vampire Diaries S7E10
This was, by far, the best episode of season 7, and is fully deserving of its perfect 10. In fact, I don’t remember being this excited about The Vampire Diaries since Bonnie and Damon were spending all that time together in the prison world. I was so thoroughly engrossed throughout the hour, I completely forgot about the whole three-years-from-now storyline, which had been the highlight of the season thus far. Also, there wasn’t a single heretic in sight, and I even found Julian entirely tolerable. And on the topic of tolerable, let’s turn to Lily.
I have no sympathy for that woman, she was a shitty mother plain and simple, and I was never interested in seeing Damon be anything but petty towards her. This episode however, was so strong in it’s storytelling that I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest to learn that the entire point of it was to force Damon to reconcile with her. When he woke up (or did he?) and was rambling on about wanting more time and needing to get back to her, my heart broke for him. I was blown away by just how affecting that moment was, and there several other moments that showcased Ian Somerhalder’s acting chops. I honestly didn’t know he had such a range. He carried this entire episode on his shoulders and didn’t slip up, not even once.
There are a few things that didn’t quite add up about this episode. Why wasn’t Alaric waiting with the rest of the gang? How would Damon’s soul know that Nora stabbed Stefan? But the execution of Hell is Other People was so well done, I’m going to let those nitpicks go. Despite being burned so many times by this show I’m going to say, yet again, that I’m hopeful for the future of TVD. It is a bit troubling, though, that it’s move to Friday nights – typically a spot where TV shows go to die – has come just as it’s unveiling its best material in ages.