Damon is trapped in the phoenix stone and undergoes a trial meant to make him face his guilt while reliving a day during his time as a confederate soldier. Though Bonnie helped pull Stefan from the phoenix stone, she is unable to help Damon. During a crucial moment of discovery, Damon seemingly finds his path back to normal reality, but his obsession with having another chance to find his mother comes at the cost of destroying those closest to him.
This was a tremendous return for TVD and I was greatly impressed by both Damon’s performance and the setting which earned its likely tight budget. The struggle to reclaim Damon’s soul took a lot of interesting turns, most notably how he finally deals with Lily’s death and the result of that anguish. This kind of mind-screw capitolized on the kind of cliffhanger ending that really grips and makes it frustrating that there’s another week in-between episodes. Well acted and well directed, tonight’s episode of TVD marks a return to form for the seventh season.
Damon wakes in the height of a skirmish during the civil war in the south. After he accepts a mission to retrieve deserters in exchange for a leave of absence to find Stefan, Damon begins to piece together what’s happened and where he truly is. Forced into a gun fight, the deserters are killed along with the sympathizers who took them in. After encountering Lily, Damon returns to the present with Bonnie having saved him. He tracks down Julian who ends up lighting an unconscious Stefan on fire. After encountering Lily again, Damon wakes back in the civil war repeating his mission again. He attempts several times to bring the deserters in only to fail with them dying each time. After he deserts the confederates himself, he comes across the same house with the deserters trapped in a circle. Lily draws him inside where she attempts to gain answers to his feelings toward her. Eventually, Damon breaks down and finally confesses that after he was originally forced to kill the deserters he wanted to be with his mother and has been secretly angry since. Lily dies again but Damon wakes back in reality with Bonnie, Caroline, Stefan, and Matt nearby. Frantic over wanting to see Lily again, and believing he’s still in the phoenix stone, Damon murders everyone in the room in hopes of restarting the sequence all over. Damon is then shocked to discover he may actually have killed his friends and brother for real.
The character forced to relive the same moment/day is a trope long utilized in sci-fi, and supernatural dramas. Buffy, Supernatural, 12:01, Groundhog Day, and others have gone through this and to varying degrees each version has their own unique way of evolving the character they are in. This was an excellent opportunity for Damon to go through this method and it really fleshed out his frustrations and belief that he could solve his own problem. I’m glad his “hell” didn’t consist too much of the current cast acting evil with the exception of Stefan he played an early version of himself, but it was actually done well. The civil war backdrop was perfect because we barely ever got to know what Damon was like during that time. I was impressed by the production quality as this felt more of a specially designed episode rather than the run-of-the-mill town drama we’re very used to seeing.
Damon’s acting was phenomenal. The highlight really came as he slowly began to remember his present self and the inflection in his voice changed so slightly, until he was completely present day Damon again. The subtle shifts worked great from his youthful naive personality to the cynical and impatient immortal he became. He truly made this episode with his behavior and methods of dealing with madness.
I’ll get to the cliffhanger scene in a bit, but I do want to mention that it was done with such a chaotic sense of urgency that even though I know these characters aren’t dead, I really can’t tell if he’s still stuck in hell or not. I assume he for the moment because of the insinuating result that if these main characters are dead, he’s in a world of trouble and the future makes no sense.
This was almost a perfect episode in the realm of how TVD produces its content. I might have cringed a little when the music started playing during Damon’s montages with trying to capture the deserters, but in order to keep the flow going, I understand the comedic element. There’s only so many times you can experience the same situation before it just becomes ridiculous and laughable.
It’s hard to say if its bad or not, but it’s definitely tragic that Damon’s confession with wanting his mother over what happened in the past led to his obsession with seeing her again and becoming deluded into killing what he thought were apparitions of Stefan and company. Damon’s growth throughout the episode hinges on personal discovery and being selfless for himself rather than for others. His introspective reveal is the crux of how he’s supposed to deal with and change his behavior but this moment cost him a lot more he was prepared for.
When Damon finally tells Lily it was her she wanted and not Stefan when he wanted to leave the war. Good acting all around, but he really laid it heavy on the sorrow because a vampire bottling all those emotions is bound to release is epic droves. I also loved the last twenty seconds. Pure carnage without understanding where Damon actually is.
No surprise but Damon was on fire tonight. Not like Stefan who was actually on fire, but Damon ruled the screen in comparison to some other dry performances that haven’t aged as well over the seasons. Ian has depth and the writers let him really dive into Damon’s psyche with good cause resulting in some crazy moments that were plenty heartfelt and worthy of the top 5 episodes of all time.
Okay, the ending was crazy in lots of ways because there’s very little evidence to suggest which side of reality he landed on. In my experience, these kind of cliffhangers are hardly without a flaw in that what we see is almost never what we get. If I had to bet, I’d say we’ll learn very fast that his next stage of hell involves a different approach than reliving the same memory over and over again.
I honestly couldn’t grasp if Lily was just a representation of Damon’s guilt, or if she was an entity conjured by the phoenix stone itself. We really don’t know enough about its internal structure that in truth, anything is possible. It’s not the real Lily, just like that wasn’t the real Stefan, but again, in a world of make-believe hells, what is real is always a subjective trait, perpetuated by the victim who must endure it.
If the ending was real, maybe everyone but Stefan was wearing a protection ring. Not that there’s three of those lying around. Do they work on vampires too? Maybe a spell was performed to keep everyone alive…I’m reading too much into this.
One thing to note is Bonnie was wearing a different shirt in the third scene where Damon wakes up in the present. In fact, everyone was wearing something different including Damon who was actually wearing a shirt. And the third scene was at night suggesting again that Damon woke in reality.
Or maybe, just maybe, Damon woke up in Stefan’s hell, and killed Stefan’s apparitions of Bonnie, Caroline, and Matt and now the brothers must collectively work on their issues and escape together. Okay, I peeked at the preview for next week and it lends toward this possibility.
Very high 8, almost a nine tonight. Production quality, writing, acting, and that stunning cliffhanger made for a crazy return from the holidays as TVD shows it can still pull great episodes in its seventh season. This was one of if not the only episode this season not to feature any moments in the future, but considering the content of Damon’s hell, that would have interfered too much with Damon’s story in the stone. I’d like to believe every episode from here on out will be of this kind of quality, but I can’t say I’m too terribly optimistic. Hopefully the reviews are good and the ratings hold steady, because this was definitely a top 5 worthy episode of all the seasons combined. Damon told a unique story through his frustration, cynicism, confession, and obsession with wanting to do the right thing, but he’s still Self-absorbed and will make unthinkable decisions even if he’s sure of the result. Excellent episode, keep them coming. Thanks for reading.
No more words