The Vampire Diaries Season 7, Episode 10 (“Hell is Other People”)
Since getting into Season 7, this is the episode I have been looking forward to the most. It is a highlight of the season for me for a few reasons. The first being that it is such an interesting way to tell this story and different from anything the show has really done up to this point. The entire episode is dedicated to Damon’s experience in the Phoenix Stone as his relives the same day over and over trying to figure out a way out of it. This is the closest thing to a bottle episode the show has ever had. It also kept the audience guessing as to what Damon needed to do to get out of the stone. What was the key to this story? I also love the way the Phoenix Stone is used in this episode to illustrate Damon’s fatal flaw. The stone is not just about being tortured. The stone makes you confront your worst quality and what that quality makes you do. For Julian it was the fear that he would be responsible for the death of the woman he loved, which he ultimately was. We don’t yet learn what Stefan’s experience was, only that he handled it very differently from Damon.
It would be easy to boil down the Phoenix Stone experience as Damon realizing he needed to apologize to his mother. That he needed to admit that he loved and missed her. But that is really only a part of it. The real key is his conversation with the imagined Stefan. Damon’s central issue is that he justifies wrongdoing by claiming it is in pursuit of doing right by the people he loves. He is continuously reliving this day during the Civil War because it was the first time that he killed someone and justified it by convincing himself he had to to it to get home to Stefan. He has been justifying his treatment of his mother by blaming her for Elena being in a coma, for never coming back for him and Stefan after she became a vampire, and for choosing her new family over them. He puts all of the fault on her for the state of their relationship. Though Lily is not blameless by any means, Damon isn’t innocent either. When she died as a human he didn’t give her eulogy. When she chose her other family he didn’t fight for her or tell her that he needed her too. He decided instead to resent her choice and use it as an excuse to pretend he didn’t love her. When she died he spat on her grave.
Damon is also unable to make his own moral decisions, he has always needed someone to guide him in order to determine right and wrong. When he was human he used his mother, but after her death he stopped knowing how to choose for himself. By the time he was in the war she had died. He couldn’t make the right decision when it came to the deserters. Instead of owning up to his mistake, he rationalized it. Now he uses Elena as his moral compass. Now that she is gone he once again doesn’t know what to do. Without her he is struggling to do the right thing and justifying his mistakes by saying they are in Elena’s honor. This is not a new revelation for the audience, or for Damon. When she broke up with him back in Season 5 (or more accurately when Katherine broke up with him) his response was to kill her friend. When Damon first became a vampire and was waiting for Katherine he tried to maintain his humanity for her, but the longer he was without her the less human he became. If Damon truly wants to evolve, he can’t use his love for someone else to do it.
The reason it took Damon so much longer to get out of the stone than Stefan is because he avoids feeling pain at all costs. He was convinced he could just solve the puzzle and be free. He focused on his actions instead of his feelings. As the imagined Lily kept reminding him, even if the events weren’t real the way he felt about them was. The key wasn’t saving the deserters or Stefan or Lily. He had to give into what the stone was trying to make him feel. Remorse for what he did to the deserters and to Lily. He had to confront his flaws even if they caused him pain. All episode Damon insisted that the stone didn’t have an effect on him. He didn’t feel remorse for killing the deserters, he was justified in that because Stefan needed him. But that isn’t true. Of course he felt guilty. He felt guilty for Lily too. Damon likes to act like he doesn’t have a conscience. He does, he just doesn’t listen to it because he would rather avoid the pain and responsibility of it.
I really liked this episode and it is probably my favorite of the season. There were no Heretics and Julian was only there as part of Damon’s imagination. I love any episode that dives deep into who the characters are. None of the “revelations” about Damon were anything new but maybe now he will finally begin the work to really change. That is after he deals with the lingering effects of being trapped in the stone. I’m interested to see how he deals with it (the end of the episode does not show him in a good place) and what Stefan’s experience was like. What was his fatal flaw?
Episode Grade: 9/10
- We meet a friend of Damon’s in the flashback, Henry. He was another soldier who went with him to round up the deserters and was also against the war. He didn’t really want to do it either but he and Damon were too afraid to stand up for what they believed in.
- I love how whenever the show wants to make Damon look younger they just make his hair longer and his skin pale. His hair in these flashbacks made him look very emo. He had kind of a Jack White vibe.
- Damon relives the day a total of eight times before he finally gets out.
- Body Count: 5, Damon and Henry kill the two deserters and the three women that were hiding them.