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The Vampire Diaries, Ep. 4.22, “The Walking Dead”: Emotional returns don’t help forgettable ep

The Vampire Diaries, Ep. 4.22, “The Walking Dead”: Emotional returns don’t help forgettable ep

Nina Dobrev and Kat Graham, The Vampire Diaries, "The Walking Dead", S04E22

The Vampire Diaries, Season 4, Episode 22: “The Walking Dead”
Written by Brian Young and Caroline Dries
Directed by Rob Hardy
Airs Thursdays at 8pm (ET) on the CW

This week, on The Vampire Diaries: Each of our leads gets a blast from the past and Bonnie still hasn’t learned to listen to her Grams

A note to all TV writers- giving an episode the same title as a different and hugely popular series isn’t clever. It’s just confusing. With that out of the way, last week’s episode was emotional and satisfying, but raised concerns about where the final two episodes of this season were headed. This week, those concerns prove well founded. Despite several much-anticipated character returns, this episode is, on the whole, forgettable and the most memorable elements only serve to highlight the season’s flaws.

There have been a number of significant issues this season, but they all come back to one core problem- continual betrayal of the rules of the world, the established identities of the characters, and the trust of the audience. Showrunner Julie Plec recently commented to Zap2it, when discussing Elena’s sire bond to Damon, “It would take a lot to rip Elena away from loving Stefan. It would take years and seasons. We’d be eighty, if we followed the natural progression of that relationship.” She continued, saying that the sire bond gave them a “supernatural reason” for Elena to act on her residual feelings for Damon. This quote goes to the heart of the problems this season. Plec and the writers knew what was authentic and true to their central character, but rather than adhering to that, they contrived an excuse, one not supported by their canon, to change her. They pushed a magic button to get Elena and Damon together because they didn’t want to put in the time to get there naturally and, in doing so, sacrificed Elena’s identity on the altar of ‘shipping.

Kat Graham, The Vampire Diaries, "The Walking Dead", S04E22

This is horrendous storytelling and this lack of commitment to character explains a lot about Bonnie’s journey this season as well. She’s been a schizophrenic character this year, to say the least. She’s been mentally secure, she’s been mind controlled. She’s been powerful, she’s been powerless. She’s been 100% on board with Silas and then, an episode later, 100% against him. Shifts like these, especially over the course of a season, can be incredibly compelling, but they require work. They require setup and motivation. The writers haven’t seemed interested in such details, though. Take this episode, for example- Bonnie lifts the veil, chats with Grams (the always wonderful Jasmine Guy), and finds she can control Silas… ‘cause. In a ridiculously Glinda moment, Grams all but tells Bonnie she’s had the power all along and this is enough to let Bonnie overpower him. It’s lazy, lazy writing and if the PtB behind The Vampire Diaries care so little about Bonnie’s journey that they don’t mind contradicting themselves week to week and season to season, then they shouldn’t expect their audience to care either.

This isn’t the only sloppy writing this week either. Only moments before Bonnie clicks her heels, re:Silas, we get another betrayal of the audience’s trust. After recently establishing that Bonnie is immune to Silas’ mind control, here we find out she isn’t and that Silas had merely allowed her to think she was safe. Which means the entire thread from last week of Silas hunting down Caroline to get to Bonnie was a ruse. Again, ‘cause. (We get a third “… ’cause” later in the episode, by the way, when Alaric conveniently finds the Cure offscreen.) It’s one thing to have an unreliable narrator. It’s quite another to tell the audience they shouldn’t trust what you show them and they certainly shouldn’t engage with the characters or invest in the rules you lay out, because you’re happy to throw them out the window on a whim.

Elena gets a bit less screen time this week, and it’s a fortunate thing. We’ve been told that the humanity switch is an all-or-nothing proposition, that the most important thing to do was get Elena to flip it back on, so we could get our protagonist back. But this week, Elena isn’t back. She doesn’t care about Caroline, she doesn’t care about Bonnie, she only cares about revenge on Katherine. She barely even registers seeing Jeremy again. How is this different than SwitchedOffElena, who was happily partying away or getting pissed at and vengeful towards the Salvatores? The writers have painted themselves into a corner by making Elena an unlikeable character for much of season. It would seem, based on this episode, that they don’t care to start any emotional rehab for her until the finale or even next season.

Candice Accola on The Vampire Diaries, "The Walking Dead", S04E22

There are a few things this episode does get right, however. On the whole, the character returns are nice. It’s a sign of how poorly Silas has been handled that putting him in the form of Alaric has so much power. The minute Matt Davis shows up, the episode improves- first by giving Damon anyone to talk to and then by giving us a villain with a face we’re emotionally invested in. Lexi’s return is great too, though you’d think Stefan would be a little more emotional about it (anyone else wish they’d give the Cure to her rather than to Bonnie, who it seems eye-rollingly obvious will be the recipient next week?). Building Caroline into a sort of Lexi 2.0 has been a smart move this season and it’s nice to see that Lexi (mostly) approves. For someone who’s stressed the importance of family, Rebekah seems rather disinterested in Kol’s return, but the bigger familial question mark is Vicki. Poor Matt can’t catch a break- even his dead relatives don’t care enough to check in (yes, yes, the writers are probably saving her for next week, but still).

The episode on the whole looks good, Matt and Rebekah continue to make a compelling pair (it will be a shame to lose Claire Holt next season), and Candice Accola remains a highlight in the cast, when not shackled to Klaus (another bit of character betrayal this season, despite their obvious chemistry). As mentioned earlier, it’s always a pleasure to see Jasmine Guy show back up as Grams, a remnant of good will from earlier seasons, and while the reasoning for all of this is questionable to say the least, the notion of a full on Goodies v. Baddies rumble including everyone supernatural who’s ever died on the show is appealing.

Overall though, this episode is mostly forgettable, much as it represents more of the same mistakes that have plagued the season. Silas’ end is anticlimactic and unsatisfying. Jeremy’s return lacks emotional punch, as we’ve seen him several times recently, first as himself in Bonnie’s dream and then as Silas. Elena’s return to humanity is underwhelming and, though Caroline’s trauma this week is effective, it certainly isn’t as memorable as most of Silas’ previous mental attacks. There’s only one episode left this season and though any hopes for a dramatically or emotionally satisfying finale died a while ago, fingers crossed that it’ll at least be fun.

What did you think of this episode? Do humans in transition count as “supernatural” and, if so, think we’ll see Jenna or Bill Forbes next week? If you ran the writers room, who would you give the Cure to? What, if any, hopes do you have for the finale? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick