While not exactly solving the problem of the Travelers' lack of potency as villains, the penultimate episode of The Vampire Diaries' fifth season had plenty of gripping drama to offer, mostly in the form of a massive shocker ending (for those who hadn't heard the rumors) that raises the stakes of everything going into the finale. Even though I suspected what might happen to Stefan this week, how it happened caught me by surprise. And though Markos' lameness continues, there were some wonderful moments for most of the other characters...as the world began to crumble around them in various ways.
After being "doppelnapped" last week, Elena and Stefan were then drained by Markos for several days before being freed by my favorite and least fortunate Traveler, Maria. Meanwhile, Damon tried to figure out a way to stop those inane chanters from stealing Mystic Falls and destroying all forms of magic they disapprove of, including vampirism.
Julian was still housed in Tyler's body while Caroline hoped for a way to free the former love of her life. Bonnie fessed up to lying about her impending doom and concocted a fairly badass scheme I hope she can find a way to still make happen.
The delirious conversations of Stefan and Elena as they wandered the roads trying to get home were adorable and funny, as well as revealing. Stefan's gentle reminders of what it means to be a vampire, and how to deal with love when you are one, were typically wise. His suggestion to Elena that she just give up trying to be done with Damon echoed Matt's similar comment to Damon back at la casa Salvatore. Furthermore, Stefan managed to encapsulate the difference between how he and Damon approach the violence of vampirism with perfect eloquence:
Elena: "How come you're so much better at controlling it?"
Stefan: "Because I'm so much worse when I don't."
Meanwhile, when talk turned to Caroline, both Stefan and Elena showed their affection for their friend, and then tried to embrace her mentality.
This segued neatly into Stefan and Elena getting picked up by Maria, whose decision to stop drinking the Traveler koolaid would unfortunately also seal her doom.
Liv, who I find increasingly irritating, dragged Luke along to make good on their coven's demands that the twins kill the doppelgängers to stop the Travelers. Because Luke knows what's up and wanted to join the TVD gang about thirty seconds after meeting them, he tried the "these people are nice" approach to dissuade Liv. However, the violent reply that came from the coven's powers-that-be was just as scary as the similar witchy-ghosty terrors being visited on Genevieve over on The Originals. The combination of Liv and Luke's mission and Julian's discovery of how Maria became collateral damage was a combustive one that yielded awful results for Stefan, as we later saw.
One aspect of this episode that I found quite amusing was Damon's almost fourth wall- breaking comments about the Travelers and their plots. "Can't have you mumbling any of those annoying Traveler ditties, it's a sure migraine," he quipped to a baddie embodying a banker. Damon also called the Travelers' fight to get their full powers back "boring" and remarked on being surprised that Markos had a sense of humor (if banal real estate observations count). And then there was this bon mot,
"I'd invite you to stay for dinner but I'm not too familiar with the Traveler cuisine. I'm sure it involves lots of trail mix and gruel." -Damon
For the win.
Damon's verbal barbs formed a thinly veiled admission (as I interpreted it, anyway) on the writers' part as to the inherent problems with the storytelling and big bad in the last batch of episodes. While this was entertaining, Damon's confused methods of trying to defeat Markos only further muddled the continuation of said story. I mean, sure, there were all those Traveler "husks" (bodies) lying around for the taking, which does reflect badly on Markos' lazy methods of villainy. But once Damon had them, they weren't much of a bargaining chip because unlike, say, Klaus, Markos doesn't really seem to care about anyone, including his own cohorts. It's hard to know how to try and get the upper hand with someone like that. Even having Julian come out of the basement and supposedly help Damon against Markos didn't really make any sense, and the attempt was derailed by the sudden disappearance of Julian/Tyler's wolf fangs as the Travelers' spell started up.
It was very frightening and well portrayed when some of our immortal pals began to revert to their human deaths, such as Elena's drowning or Damon being shot. And Enzo, who'd hoped to "piggy-back" on Bonnie's made-up spell to get back to the world of the living, let his rage flare up as he felt neglected by Damon and kept confronting Bon Bon about it. I say, good for you Enzo! Eventually, his ceaseless needling seemed to give Bonnie a firm nudge past her usual indulgence in melancholy resignation. Somewhere in the middle of one of Caroline's cute little whine-fests, a spark went off in that wonderful witchy brain of Bonnie's that was a relief to see.
I loved the nice bookending of the romantic Elena and Damon scenes between "What Lies Beneath" and "Promised Land." Here, as they both struggled against the resurfacing wounds of their mortal deaths, Elena grabbed Damon for a kiss, explaining afterwards that she'd had a crappy day and really needed it (exactly what Damon said when he kissed her last week). It seemed that between everyone telling them to get back together, and the peril that loomed so large, Elena and Damon were more than happy to just collapse back into their relationship. And that works for me!
Sadly, although Maria was willing to share the spell needed to bring spirits back to the human world, she was torn from Enzo's grasp before she could do so. This setback was made a million times more horrifying when a vengeful Julian went and ripped Stefan's heart out, leaving him to die in poor Caroline's arms. Ehmagawd. What.
I had half-suspected that Stefan might sacrifice himself to save Elena in the battle with Luke and Liv, since the twins only needed to kill one doppelgänger. When that didn't happen, I truly was not expecting Julian to be Stefan's killer. Frankly, it was hard to keep a straight face as the Traveler monologued cheesily about how all of his problems were somehow Stefan's fault, when everything that's gone wrong for Julian is a direct and sole result of his being a Traveler (just a poor life choice, dude). So that scene took a very quick turn for the gruesome and serious with almost no warning.
Caroline's reaction to seeing Stefan die, her despair and feelings of helplessness, were heartbreaking. Then Bonnie saw Stefan's spirit and had to tell him that her plan with Enzo had - for the time being - failed. So he had to pass on to The Other Side! Oh dear, this is a problem. I am truly looking forward to seeing how the gang can confront, and hopefully conquer, this debacle. We need Stefan back!
What did you think of this episode? Any hopes - or fears! - for the season five finale? Share your thoughts in the comments!