The Vampire Diaries Season 7, Episode 17 (“I Went to the Woods”)
Something that has always set The Vampire Diaries a cut above many of its vampire contemporaries (Twilight, True Blood) is that despite all of the insanity that occurs on it, the heart of it is always the relationship between two brothers. Sure there is a lot of love triangle drama and a never ending parade of bad guys to fight, but those things are generally used to illustrate some aspect of a character or their relationships. The questions of morality and humanity surround everything that happens. The Phoenix Stone has been a major plot piece this season and it has become clear that it exists primarily as a tool to explore the Salvatores, both individually and as brothers. What is the primary thing that keeps them from being happy?
For Damon that thing was his dependence on others to shape his morality. As a human he looked to his mother to tell him what to do. As a vampire he looked to both Katherine and Elena. But the one person who has been there throughout it all is Stefan, so why doesn’t he use Stefan in the same way? Though as Stefan points out in this episode, it shouldn’t be about one person. You are who you are. The influence of other people is temporary. Damon claims his basic instincts are to be selfish, which, although true to an extent, is an oversimplification of his character. This is where the latter half of the season is really failing. The Vampire Diaries has always been more nuanced and given its characters many layers. To boil Damon down to the selfish brother is lazy and infuriating at this point. We have watched seven seasons of character growth for the writers to say, that was all for nothing, Damon is still just as selfish as he was at the start.
According to the stone, Stefan’s biggest barrier to peace is his relationship with his brother. Despite the entire series telling us the opposite. Though what I think they are trying to show here is that his issue is the imbalance in the relationship, not its existence. What I don’t like about that is that it puts all of the fault of their relationship on Damon. Once again making Stefan good and Damon bad. After the stone is destroyed, Stefan’s soul is randomly flung into a body and it is ironically the body of an alcoholic human. Stefan has wanted to be human for so long and he kind of gets his wish here. Only he is very quickly reminded of what that means. You can die. He goes through a pretty brutal day as he is going through alcohol withdrawal, running from the police, and trying to stay alive during a blizzard. He is helpless and has to put all of his faith in Damon to find him and save him. But he doesn’t think that that is going to happen.
This leads to a somewhat iconic scene of the series, Damon driving through the snow to find Stefan while Stefan is brutally honest with him. Stefan has completely lost faith in his brother. He just seems exhausted with Damon’s inability to be there for him like Stefan has been for him so many times. Damon still thinks he needs Elena to be good but Stefan fairly calls that out as being crap. In the grand scheme of things Elena is a very recent addition to his life. He had many good and bad moments prior to meeting her. As illustrated by the hide-and-seek anecdote, Damon’s instincts as a human were always to protect Stefan. Becoming a vampire changes you, but generally keeps those instincts the same. Sure Damon can be selfish, but not when it comes to his brother. I really like this scene for what it is attempting to do but I am disappointed by the false narrative it keeps trying to spin. Stefan’s grievances with Damon are legitimate, but oversimplified. Conveniently ignoring a lot of the character developments over the past seven seasons.
The destruction of the Phoenix Stone means that all of those souls are randomly placed into recently dead bodies. Some vampire, some human. Stefan ends up in the body of a drunk bus driver. But someone else ends up in Stefan’s body. Whoever is in Stefan’s body is very happy to keep it and tries to trick Damon into thinking he really is Stefan. However, when he is overindulgent in human blood Damon figures out pretty quickly that he is not really Stefan. This does lead to the fun return of “evil Stefan” in a way. Anytime that Paul Wesley gets to play evil it is very fun and this is no exception. Alaric and Valerie figure out that he is likely a serial killer from the 1880s who preyed on fraternity houses, compelling them to kill each other. They are going to have to figure out how to find him and get Stefan back in his real body before Rayna kills him for good.
Episode Grade: 7.5/10
- “Day 57 of being pissed off at my garbage heap of a brother”
- “That hair requires a tremendous amount of maintenance”
- Body Count: 1, Fake Stefan kills a waitress. There was also all of the people on the bus that died from Marty’s crash.