March 12, 2015, 8pm (EST), The CW
The Vampire Diaries had one of its best episodes in ages – and certainly the best of the season – in “The Downward Spiral.” The series came back strong after a few weeks off with some major turns for its core characters.
This season has had our main characters on the periphery for much of the time – relegated to secondary plots, while the main storylines focused on guest stars. In particular, the Gemini coven and the backstories of Kai, Jo, Liv and Luke received a lot of screen time. But this episode marked a significant turnaround from that trajectory. While Kai makes an appearance, it’s in service of a larger plot that delved into the history of the Salvatore family.
But the real highlight of the episode was Caroline Forbes. After burying her mother, Caroline decided at the end of the last episode to turn off her emotions to avoid dealing with the grief. The Vampire Diaries uses this device of vampires “turning off their emotions” to give an opportunity for our generally friendly vampires to temporarily go down a dark path. Even without her emotions though, Caroline is practical. And while she’s sucking co-eds dry in the back corners of bars, she can stop herself from killing them.
Caroline uses this good behavior as leverage to stop her friends from getting in her way or trying to force her to turn her emotions back on. She wants a year of not having to feel any grief or pain. While Elena seems open to giving in to Caroline’s demands, Stefan tries to draw the real Caroline back out. This is partly because he feels responsible for her deciding to turn her emotions off in the first place – after he couldn’t express his feelings for her in the aftermath of her mother’s death.
Stefan finally admits he has real feelings for her, but newly-emotionless Caroline says she doesn’t care. However, it’s clear that she still does and Stefan sees that he’s an emotional trigger for her. He believes that he can draw the real Caroline back out. Unfortunately, he isn’t fast enough and Caroline follows through on her threat to become everyone’s “worst nightmare” if they cannot leave her alone.
As retaliation, Caroline goes after Sarah Salvatore – compelling Elena’s pre-med classmate Liam to operate on and eventually kill her. Only one action can save Sarah’s life, according to Caroline. Stefan has to turn his emotions off too – to ensure that he isn’t around to try to bring the real Caroline back out.
And this is where it gets interesting. We’ve had our characters chase after vampire friends who have shut off their emotions – but never two at the same time. The final shot of the episode – with Elena pleading with Stefan to not say he turned off his emotions as he lazily hands the phone to Caroline – must have been one of the most exciting moments the show has had in a while.
Part of the thrill of this development is seeing a new side to Caroline – which Candice Accola pulled off quite well. As Bonnie observes (and Caroline ridicules her for saying), “it’s like she’s Caroline, but not.” Where Caroline normally cares deeply about her friends and what they think, this new version says and does everything that’s on her mind and relishes in the pain it may cause. But while other emotionless vampires we’ve seen on the show become mindless killing machines, Caroline is different. She’s not weighed down by guilt or sadness, not caring about much of anything at all, but she knows what she wants and is able to reign in her worst tendencies or let them loose at will. It will be interesting to see more of this new Caroline, but the addition of an emotionless Stefan may prove to have been her first miscalculation. As we’ve seen in the past, Stefan is vicious and unpredictable when he’s free to gorge on human blood.
But it isn’t only Caroline who’s dealing with the ramifications of recent events. Bonnie’s still struggling to adapt to the real world after being stuck alone for so long in the 1994 prison world. Damon is also looking for answers after the reveal that his mother, who he believed died of consumption while he was a teenager, is stuck in another prison world. He calls on Kai to find some answers, but Kai is only interested in helping if he can first obtain Bonnie’s forgiveness – indicating that some, but not all of Luke’s emotions rubbed off on him after the merge.
Damon, who bonded with Bonnie while they were stuck in the prison world, tries to coordinate a meeting. But Bonnie isn’t interested in seeing or hearing from Kai ever again after all the pain he inflicted on her. Damon, however, is single-minded in his quest for answers, and surprises Bonnie with a visit from Kai. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t take it well and gives Damon a taste of the pain she felt at Kai’s hands.
In the end, Damon gets his answers about his mother and they’re horrifying. It turns out that Lily – Damon and Stefan’s mother – was turned into a vampire shortly before she faked her death. She killed thousands before the Gemini coven took it upon themselves to imprison her. Indeed, she was a “ripper,” exactly like Stefan, who has struggled with his bloodlust over the years. So, just as we learn more about Stefan’s bloodthirsty mother, Stefan has just turned off his emotions and will not care at all about killing a bunch of innocent people. These next few episodes should be fun.
The only downside of “The Downward Spiral” was time spent on Enzo and his unclear but nefarious plans for Sarah Salvatore. His ultimate goal of revenge upon Stefan now seems moot though, since Stefan has turned off his emotions. Even in one of the strongest episodes of the series, the writers still clearly have nothing for Enzo to do. Matt, Tyler and Alaric were also all absent from this episode, which probably worked in its favor while also illustrating their lack of importance on the show these days. The limited storyline for Alaric this season is particularly baffling, since he was brought back from the dead at the end of last season to apparently primarily serve as a boyfriend to a guest star.
Overall, this focus back on the characters we care most about marked a return to form for The Vampire Diaries, with callbacks to plots from its more dynamic earlier seasons but with fresh twists that tread new territory.
- “Feelings are hard.”
- “If I see your face again, I will melt it off.”
- “I compelled a student to perform surgery on Stefan’s niece and you found a way to make this about you? You truly have a gift, Elena.”
- “Stefan, don’t you dare tell me you shut it off.” “Okay. I won’t.” “He shut it off.”
The Vampire Diaries had one of its best episodes in ages – and certainly the best of the season – in "The Downward Spiral."