This review contains spoilers.
5.19 Man On Fire
Elena used to be a worthy character for us to follow through the madcap world of The Vampire Diaries, but not anymore. If this year’s Katherine body-snatch arc proved anything, other than the fact that Nina Dobrev is not at fault for the show’s current staleness, it’s that we can survive pretty well without our go-to heroine. And that’s where this episode, Man on Fire, shone. The love triangle gets all of the headlines (if the show even got headlines anymore, that is) but the strength of Vampire Diaries is in its male relationships.
There’s a reason the show’s nosedive in quality coincided with Alaric’s death back in the season three finale, and then again when Klaus and Elijah departed for New Orleans. The bond between Stefan and Damon was all we had left in that department, and it was far too reliant on their shared love for Elena. Somewhere along the way, conversations between the Salvatores became less about their historical dysfunction and unconditional co-dependence and more about which one got to share a bed with Elena, and that’s when everything went to hell. That’s why Enzo was such a good character to introduce and, even if it doesn’t end up sticking, it’s also why his death actually mattered.
It was quite comical how little Elena mattered here, her purpose only as a pawn in the game of revenge between Enzo, Stefan and Damon. Usually, this would be something to complain about but, since she’s been such a useless character for so long, it’s more of a relief. Taken hostage along with Stefan before Enzo figures out that it was Damon, not Stefan, that killed his long lost love, it was clear that no matter which brother was to blame for his trauma, Elena was the one to threaten if he wanted retribution. And it worked because, even if neither of them is with their true love right now, she’s still the quickest way to get under their skin.
The conceit that Stefan killed Maggie was a strange one, righted by Damon’s realisation that he had done it as part of his life-long Whitmore massacre scheme, and I almost checked out when we started to tread this familiar ground. But then I realised that this wasn’t like all of the other times – the show has somehow made us care about Enzo over the past few weeks, despite everything else going on, and his friendship with Damon had a bigger emotional resonance than I thought possible as this stage of the show. I don’t think anyone really gives two hoots about Maggie, but the ramifications of Damon’s actions in the ‘60s matter a great deal.
As do Enzo’s actions in 2014 (or whatever year we’re actually in), essentially framing Stefan for his murder and royally screwing up the brothers’ temporary truce. To have them fighting about a lost friendship rather than lost love is more refreshing than it maybe should be for a show essentially about supernatural romance but, much in the same way Damon’s murder of Lexi tore them apart in season one, this will undoubtedly spark some interesting moments between the two of them now. We might have lost Enzo this week – at least in corporeal form, as we know no one ever dies in Mystic Falls – but he leaves behind lots of new angst for Stefan and Damon to deal with. That’s exciting, and should inject future episodes with a bit of drama.
This all felt like something that belonged to the early years of the show, when the siblings were as much a focus as the love stories but, on the flip side, Markos and the travellers are very much a product of the show’s current rut. Doppelganger blood can cure vampirism? Sure, why not. The fact that the cure actually kills the vampire in question, returning them to their mortal states once the curse is removed, is a little more interesting but, given that no one can die on this show, it’s hard to care about any new ancient threat that comes to town. The same goes for Bonnie, who thinks she’ll die along with the other side. Fat chance.
As much as I liked this episode, next week looks like a return to the “which of us loves Elena the best” norm, with travellers and doppelganger drama to boot. See you there!
Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, Resident Evil, here.
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