The Vampire Diaries has its best episode of the season so far as it gets back to basics

The Vampire Diaries Season 5, Episode 12 (“The Devil Inside”)
Ian Somerhalder, The Vampire Diaires

This episode demonstrates exactly what the show has lacked all season and gives me hope that the show will be correcting that quickly. As I’ve been saying, it has lacked a compelling villain that the characters had personal stakes in, as well as storylines that are rooted in who these characters are. They have four seasons of backstory and character development to draw from, so why have their storylines been so devoid of it? This episode gets back to basics while showing how much some of these characters have changed and what they’ve been through over the past four seasons.

Whatever redemption Katherine was hoping to get from Stefan will likely be wiped out by what she is doing now. Katherine has been a villain throughout much of the series, but willing to help them out when it suited her. This season has focused a lot on whether she deserved the punishment of being forced to take the cure. For someone whose only goal for the past 500 years has been survival, it was definitely a fate worse than death. Having to watch herself fall apart, knowing her life was finite. But taking over Elena’s body allows her to stop running and people will actually care about her for a change. She has done a lot of damage to their lives as Katherine, how much more can she under the Elena disguise? Katherine is a much better villain than Silas, Qetsiyah, or the Augustine Society, so I am excited to get into this portion of the season. Everyone in the show has grievances against Katherine (see “500 Years of Solitude” and the rest of the series) and having her take over Elena’s life gives them actual stakes in getting rid of her once they realize what is happening.

Another reason this episode was a big improvement was what it did with Damon’s character. The writers remembered that Damon already has a lot of interesting history to draw from and they can create plots that have him slide back into his old ways, without inventing some insane, sloppily written new backstory. It is rooted in who Damon is and his relationship with Elena. He regrets breaking up with her in “Fifty Shades of Grayson” and wants her back. Elena would probably have given him another chance, but Katherine takes over her body and makes the decision for her. She breaks up with him in a brutal way, but makes some decent points. He puts all of his humanity on Elena. His morality is based on how she will react to his choices. That is too much to put on any one person and makes Damon less active in his own life. Katherines harsh truths lead to a fantastic scene (probably my favorite of the season so far) that calls back to season 2.

Earlier in the episode Enzo tests Damon’s evolution by presenting him with the choice between revenge and mercy for Aaron Whitmore. He chooses mercy, the first time, because Elena would never forgive him. However after “Elena” dumps him he reconsiders and teams up with Enzo to get his revenge. They use the road trick to trap him and Damon has a great villain monologue calling back to the also excellent season 2 episode, “The Descent”. In “The Descent” Damon is drunk, lost, and unsure of whether or not he should kill a random woman he used the road trick on. He lays out his existential crisis while he tries to decide if he is going to kill her or not. Killing her is his instinct, it is what he really wanted to do. But if he wanted a chance with Elena, he had to be better than that and not kill her. In this scene Damon is no longer conflicted and he know he is going to kill Aaron, and he does. Without Elena he can follow his instincts. But Elena didn’t really dump him and killing Aaron Whitmore is going to have bigger consequences than some random woman when she finds out. Everyone (Caroline, Stefan, and even Katherine) was afraid that this is what Damon would become if he couldn’t get Elena back. His only ability to choose good is for her, his instincts are still to do bad, just as they were when he killed the woman in “The Descent”.

Meanwhile, Tyler has returned from New Orleans only to find out that Caroline slept with Klaus. Though we never really learn exactly what happened between Tyler and Klaus in New Orleans (unless you watch The Originals), Tyler essentially failed to get any revenge on Klaus. He has lost his family, his nemesis, and now his girlfriend. He is justifiably upset with Caroline, Klaus took everything from him. He killed his mom. But Caroline is also a good person who made an impulsive, bad choice. It was good to see this come back and have real consequences instead of just being a fan service moment in the 100th episode. Klaus can be charming but he is a monster who has destroyed many lives. As much crap as Caroline gives Damon for being a bad person, Klaus is 1000 times worse. She does feel guilty about it and tries to get Elena and Stefan to tell her she is a horrible person for doing it. Stefan though actually helps her to feel better in a really touching scene, drawing on the bond between these two that has slowly developed ever since she become a vampire.

This was by far the best episode of the season so far and one that genuinely surprised me by how good it was. I hadn’t seen it since I first watched through the show since I typically skip a lot of this season, but it was a hidden gem for sure. Much of what made it so much better was how much it drew on the history of the show to demonstrate where these characters are now. Tyler has lost everything that has defined his character since season 2, his relationship with Caroline and his feud with Klaus. Damon has the most Damon reaction to Elena dumping him, to kill someone. It didn’t feel like an attempt to make Damon bad again for the sake of drama, it was 100 percent in character. And with Katherine as the new villain, things are looking up.

Episode Grade: 9/10

Other Thoughts:

  • Katherine: “Play along with my secret Matty pants”
  • Katherine: “Who do I like better, Bonnie or Caroline? Please say Caroline”
  • Katherine also plans to get rid of Elena’s awful red streak in her hair that she got when she had her humanity off. Katherine may do some good for Elena.
  • Stefan actually tries to get Elena and Damon back together, realizing how good of an influence Elena is on Damon. Which is fair considering what happens when she dumps him.
  • Damon: “You once told me that calling me Satan was an insult to Satan”
  • Katherine: “I was pretending to care, it’s very time consuming”
  • Body Count: 2, Katherine kills the Traveler who did the spell to have her take control of Elena’s body (because she was a loose end) and Damon kills Aaron Whitmore.

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