Previously on The Vampire Diaries, ‘Days of Future Past’
Though nearly anything would have been better than last week’s embarrassment of an episode, ‘I Went to the Woods’ was more than just a recovery. It was actually a vast improvement. Where last week felt very muddled – as though it had travelled through time right along with the storyline and hadn’t quite found its bearings – this week set itself firmly in the new timeline and it fit quite well.
The Vampire Diaries may have become an ensemble show as the seasons passed by, but its best episodes have always been those that focused on a few core characters, like this one did. While I would always prefer to see more of Bonnie, if she can’t be the center of the story then surely Damon and Stefan should be. After several episodes spent trying to tear these brothers apart (yet again) the show has (hopefully) realized that their bond is absolutely integral to the structure. It’s like a load bearing wall in a house: you can try to knock it down and see what space you’re left with, but it will only end badly.
The destruction of the Phoenix Stone and the subsequent release (not the loss) of all the souls trapped within it was a much-welcomed twist. I thought for sure we were about to get another episode with a Salvatore brother trapped in hell. Despite the fact that Damon’s journey through the stone was intriguing and one of the best episodes this season, there was no need to see something so similar again. Especially considering season seven has already provided so much in the way of re-hashed material. Like Ian Somerhalder did with his episode, Paul Wesley really took the opportunity this week to shine, playing not one but two Stefans.
When the souls were released, they hopped into the closest body they could find. While one lucky vampire managed to stake a claim on Stefan’s body, Stefan’s soul wakes up inside Marty, a severe alcoholic who just crashed a bus full of people. At first he believes he is in fact in hell; inhabiting the body of an addict who hurts people instead of helping them does feel like the exact type of irony the Phoenix Stone would throw at him. Once it becomes apparent that his wounds aren’t healing and that he has the face of an entirely different man, Stefan realizes he’s both alive and human.
The first few minutes of Stefan wandering through the woods, trying to escape the consequences of Marty’s actions, gave me pause: was this just going to be an hour of grunting and groaning starring Paul Wesley? Thankfully, no, and he actually pulled off the whole survival thing pretty well. His desperate struggle really translated; he even made the pain of his broken thumb look different than it would were he still a vampire. In a show where almost no main characters ever truly die, he managed to sell the idea that this could really be his end, or at least the closest we’ve ever seen him come.
What’s even more impressive is how Damon and Stefan’s phone conversation didn’t feel entirely like an echo of past exchanges. It’s not like we’ve never heard Damon admit to being selfish or that he wasn’t a good person until he met Elena, but something felt different this time around. Perhaps it’s because he was saying it for the right reasons. Damon typically only offers these confessions as a last ditch effort during a plan gone wrong or when he simply wants people to shut up and leave him alone. Aside from motivating Stefan to move so he wouldn’t freeze to death – for which he could have figured out a dozen other ways to do so – there wasn’t much else to gain.
Perhaps it’s also because Stefan’s reaction was different than before. Rather than trying to save him, he had truly given up hope for his brother. His almost-last-words essentially said Damon would never figure out how to be there for him. Of course, Damon does rescue Stefan from the icy cold just in the knick of time. Instead of instantly forgiving him though, which is what he’s always done in the past, Stefan isn’t ready to absolve Damon of his sins quite yet. With any luck, this heralds the beginning of a new direction for their relationship.
First, though, they’ll have to find Stefan’s body, which has been hijacked by a very old vampire who used to be a serial killer. Even though this fake Stefan feels a lot like real Stefan with his humanity switch off, I’m excited for the potential of this new threat.
So Valerie never thought her and Stefan would be a forever thing, because Caroline. She’s says as much to Ric, but he’s a lot more confident in his relationship than she is in hers. I hope TVD is comfortable with it too, because it’s going to be beyond ridiculous if Stefan and Caroline end up back together after all of this.
Aside from the fact that their voices are driving her insane, why is Rayna so hell bent on finding all of the released souls? There’s a slim chance that all of them found their way into vampire bodies, so won’t they just die in a few days like Jo and Oscar did? If any of them do manage to find a vampire body, like fake Stefan did, it will be an interesting new threat. One that just has to be better than the heretics and Julian – because anything could be – and hopefully better than the disappointment Rayna turned out to be.
The Vampire Diaries S7E17 = 8/10