The Vampire Diaries Ep. 3.16, “1912”: Underplotted filler ep saved by closing reveal

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The Vampire Diaries Review, Season 3, Episode 16: “1912”
Written by Julie Plec and Elisabeth R. Finch
Directed by John Behring
Airs Thursdays at 8pm (ET) on the CW

This week, on The Vampire Diaries: It’s brotherly tough love for Stefan, Rebekah does some tree-related sleuthing, and Elena has a heart-to-heart with Matt.

After several weeks of reruns, and with a not-insubstantial cliffhanger to resolve, The Vampire Diaries is back this week with a flashback-laden lorefest heavy on the brotherly angst. Usually this is just the kind of story the series excels at. Flashbacks to Stefan and Damon’s human life have been reliably entertaining in the past and last season’s jaunt to ‘20s Chicago was a hoot. This time, however, the story falls flat, with little development and not nearly enough action to warrant the time dedicated to 1912 Mystic Falls.

During these flashbacks, we’re introduced to Sage, a redheaded vampire acquaintance of both Damon and Rebekah. She has potential, but we learn very little about her, beyond her general joix de (un-)vivre. For such a seemingly significant figure in Damon’s life and, by proxy, Stefan’s, she’s disappointingly ill-defined, and she’s probably the least interesting (prominent) vampire we’ve met so far. The rest of the flashbacks, beyond the opening and closing tags, focus on Damon and Stefan’s relationship at the time, which would be interesting, except that it so closely parallels their current dynamic that these scenes feel repetitive, rather than revealing.

One of the strongest elements of the previous episode, “All My Children”, was the return of Damon and Stefan as brothers, rather than just romantic rivals. This thread continues here, but instead of the two forging forward together, they spend the episode at odds. Granted, Damon’s approach to his legitimate concerns over Stefan’s return to the wagon is utterly in character and appropriately misjudged, but one would think Stefan at least would have learned to be a bit less petulant in the past 100 years (as it’s now clear that that’s one trait Damon’ll probably never grow past).

As for Elena, she continues to demonstrate herself to be hearteningly grounded and self-aware, as seen in her exchange with Matt. Yes, she breaks into Dr. Fell’s apartment, but at least she has decent cause, gives herself a rough timeframe, and brings a friend along just in case. Matt functions well here, though he still needs more definition now that he’s not with either Elena or Caroline. What does he do? None of them spend any time in school, It seems (they’re still seniors, right?), so what is he doing with his time while his friends are holed up transitioning their mothers or staking Originals or whatever else those crazy kids are into these days? That’s not to imply that they should spend more time in school- one of the best moves the series made was stripping away the high school aesthetic as much as possible. Another smart move was ditching the titular diaries and voice over narration. They make a return here, and rather clunkily, but Stefan’s early voice over is more than made up for by Damon and Rebekah’s readings later in the episode.

The other significant issue with this episode is the about-face pulled with Dr. Fell. The cliffhanger we were left with was Ric discovering her stash of weapons matching the Founder Killer’s attacks and, upon her seeing Ric with them, shooting him. Now she’s a good guy and Ric lunged at her with a knife (which is verified by him during questioning)? This isn’t what we were shown, so either we don’t have a reliable viewpoint/narrator or, more likely, we were intentionally misled in favor of an exciting cliffhanger. This cheat is disappointing, to say the least. If memory serves, this is the first time the series has done this and, while it’s not enough to destroy the trust the show’s writers have earned thus far, it’s their first baby step in that direction.

The end of episode twist is, as usual, interesting, surprising, and well done. It’s great to have some consequences at last for the Gilbert rings, as well as an explanation for Jonathan Gilbert’s late-life insanity. It also provides an organic incentive for Elena to bring Jeremy home, should the writers wish, as well as a new well of potential storylines for him. It could also explain the somewhat fluctuating strength of at least Ric’s ring, which seemingly maxed out early this season (not long before the Founder Killings started, in fact), only to be far more reliable more recently.

More than anything, what makes this episode disappointing, despite the interesting ring reveal, is that it commits that sin that The Vampire Diaries had, until now, avoided- underplotting. This has always been a series that plows through story, chewing up plot and spitting it out at a breakneck pace, gleefully daring itself to keep going. For the first time, this episode feels stretched for time, during both the flashback and present day scenes, and in both plot and character. This is by no means a poor episode of television. The acting is, on the whole, strong and there are a number of interesting and fun scenes. What it is, unfortunately, is a little boring, which is perhaps the worst thing an episode of The Vampire Diaries can be. Hopefully next week we’ll be back on track and this will be nothing more than a blip in what has been an incredibly fun season.

Kate Kulzick

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