The mad scientist plot begins!

The Vampire Diaries Season 5, Episode 8 (“Dead Man on Campus”)
Ian Somerhalder, The Vampire Diaries

We are officially in the mad scientist section of the season and it is honestly one of the worst plot lines the show ever has. At the same time this was probably my favorite episode of the season so far. Even if I hate the plot, this episode at least provided character choices that seemed to actually matter. The plot has real stakes for the characters we are supposed to care about and that is something that the season has lacked thus far. It was also one of Damon/Ian Somerhalder’s best episodes. If I wanted to show someone who didn’t watch the show how Damon is both terrible and likable all at once, this is probably the episode I would show them.

Let’s start with what makes this plot so bad. I don’t have a problem with the general concept. It is not surprising that there are doctors/scientists interested in studying vampires considering they have the ability to heal people with their blood. It is also not surprising that they would try to engineer vampires like they did with Jesse, making him feed on other vampires instead of humans. The concept that there is a secret society at Whitmore that keeps vampires captive and does experiments on them is fine. It isn’t a plot that I think could be kept up for an entire season, but it works for a mid-season plot. The problem is that it is constructed so poorly, you can feel how tired and out of ideas the writers must have been at this point.

Damon’s entire connection to it feels pulled out of thin air. All episode he is making comments about how he knows people like Dr. Maxfield and is familiar with his brand of mad science. But it isn’t until the end of the episode, when he sees a number on a blood bag, that he makes the connection that the society that Dr. Maxfield is a part of is the same one that apparently held him captive and did experiments on him 60 years ago. This entire set up makes absolutely no sense. It is unclear if he has repressed those memories and seeing the bag triggered his memory, or if he remembered all along but just didn’t connect the dots. His comments about knowing people like Dr. Maxfield makes me think he has always remembered he just didn’t think they were the same? Wouldn’t he remember that it was at Whitmore? Did he think there would be more than one secret vampire experimenting society in Virginia? Later developments in this storyline make it clearer that he absolutely remembered everything, and that it was at Whitmore. None of this make sense, which is what makes it a truly infuriating storyline.

Caroline is also suddenly very anti-Damon. She always has been, but in this episode her disapproval is ramped up seemingly out of nowhere. She isn’t responding to anything specific that Damon did. When Elena kills Jesse to save Damon it just confirms her belief that Damon is a bad influence on Elena and that she has changed. I don’t know that that is fair to say, at least at this point. Sure Elena doesn’t hesitate to kill Jesse, but what was she supposed to do? He was literally engineered to feed on vampires and not stop until they die. Was she supposed to let her boyfriend die to save someone they barely know? Jesse was a casualty of the Augustine Society, not Elena or Damon. It sucks that it had to be someone that was good but they are really the ones to blame.

Bonnie is happy to be alive but is dealing with the consequence of being the anchor. She has to witness and feel the passing of every supernatural create on Earth, which has to happen at least once a day? The show never really gives any estimates for how many vampires, witches, or werewolves exist in the world but it is not a trivial number. She sees it as worth it though to get to be alive and be with the people she loves. Bonnie is always the one who sacrifices the most. Being the witch of the group means that she is the one who can save them, and that comes with costs. Her biggest fault though is not knowing when to just let people be dead. Knowing that she has the power to bring supernatural people back, she always tries. No one asked her to bring Jeremy back, but she felt like she should. She does this mostly for others but she is the one who deals with the consequences, not them.

This was a really packed episode and mostly an enjoyable one, if you don’t know what is coming at the end. The group is pretty scattered right now, each of them dealing with different dramas. Stefan is completely separated from the other vampires as he is still too mad at Elena and Damon to tell them what is going on with him. He and Katherine end up making an unlikely pair this episode as neither really have anyone else they can turn to. On the one hand this separation gives more of characters something to do that is interesting, but it also means there is a lot of story to be keeping up with.

Episode Grade: 7.5/10

Other Thoughts:

  • All of their jello shots brought me back to college, they were a significant part of my college partying experiences.
  • Bonnie is at Whitmore now with Caroline and Elena. Did they compel someone to let Bonnie enroll in the middle of the semester?
  • Katherine expels the traveler inside of Matt by stabbing him with the special knife. She learns that the travelers wanted Katherine dead as well.
  • Caroline: “Who the hell turned you into a vampire!?”
  • Caroline: “You realize that Damon’s going to kill Wes, right?”
  • Damon’s method of torture includes injecting Wes with infectious diseases unless he answers his questions, and a lot of snarky comments.
  • Stefan: “Just out of morbid curiosity, which one of you is younger?”
  • Damon: “Well rabies was a bust”
  • Aaron’s parents were killed by vampires, he doesn’t know that though. He also just kind of ended up with Wes after his parents died, but he doesn’t know how they are connected.
  • Elena is being weirdly flirty with Aaron. I don’t think she is trying to flirt with him, she is just trying to be friendly to get information, but he definitely thinks she is.
  • Elena: “Damon. Tell me that you won’t kill him.”
  • Stefan: “You’re Katherine Pierce. Suck it up”
  • Body Count: 2, Elena kills Jesse and Katherine kills the traveler inside of Matt.

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