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'The Vampire Diaries' Review: 'Man On Fire'

Christopher Monigle Christopher Monigle
April 25th, 2014 8:34am EDT

The Vampire Diaries

The vignette drive season five has started to cohere into a united narrative during the final stretch of season five. The Vampire Diaries’ writers told the season five in fits and starts, sidetracked by more exciting tales about mothers and daughters and hijackings, eager to show more of Damon’s bad side from the 1950s when a prisoner of the Augustine’s and how their torture of him created a vengeful monster that killed off-screen during these last five years of focused and determined writing that rehabilitated that character (if you will). Season five, though, had a through-line nestled in its seemingly unconnected stories that now connect: vengeance/revenge. Damon wanted to take revenge on the Augustine’s for what they did to him. Tessa wanted to take revenge against Silas. The Travelers want to avenge the witches curse. And so on, and so on. The vengeance-driven characters create end-of-the-world consequences. Sometimes the end-of-the-world means the end-of-the-world, or, rather, the end of the other side; and sometimes it means the end of relationships—brotherly relationships, sexual relationships, and so on. TVD combines both.

Enzo drives the action in “Man on Fire.” The Travelers alerted him to the fate of his Maggie, the poor soul that kept him human during the years of tortured confinement, who felt for him deeply enough that she tried to avenge his death when she thought Damon burned him alive in the fire he set. Enzo suspects Stefan murdered Maggie. Her death modeled The Ripper style of slaughter: head detached from body in an artful style. Savagery requires perfection. Enzo threatens Elena and Bonnie; he threatens Liv and her brother. Stefan accepts blame for Maggie’s death, and spares Bonnie from death. Enzo tortures him for a bit. Damon, having received a call from Enzo, researches the night. The research jars his memory and he then recalls the night he murdered Maggie. Damon’s murder of Maggie devastates Enzo. His only friend in the world murdered his only love in the world. TVD characters react in one way to trauma: flipping the switch and creating chaos for those who care for the emotionless friend. Very few care for Enzo in Mystic Falls, among them Damon. And “Man on Fire” becomes problematic when Enzo flips the switch, and Damon’s emotional stability suddenly hinges on the salvation of his dear, dear friend, more dear to him than Alaric, who once was the dearest.

Damon’s arc this season involves what tethers him to humanity. Elena keeps him sane. Stefan keeps him sane. Alaric keeps him sane. Enzo, more than these three, was most important to his sanity, to his desire to not flip the switch. The Enzo revenge plot moves quickly through beats and important plot points to create the important conflict, which is brother vs. brother. Enzo’s plan for revenge involves pitting the brothers against each other. Enzo loses his mind as the writers lose track of the story. “Man on Fire” bounces from plot point to plot point with the direction of a ball thrown against a brick wall with no one around to catch it. Enzo threatens Elena. Damon has murdered Elena’s brother, has murdered Matt, has threatened their lives, has murdered many other people for Elena’s safety, and yet will not resort to murder to take care of Enzo. Part of Damon’s reason involves their sacred bond forged during their tortured years in the Augustine lab/prison. Another part is convenient writing. Enzo uses Stefan’s hand to rip his own heart out, making Stefan the killer. His dying words remind Stefan of Damon’s reaction to the news. Enzo hates both brothers at his death because he flipped the switch. Other Side Enzo stands in the large Salvatore living room to remind the audience about purposeful vendettas.

Damon’s heart-to-heart talk with Stefan follows a wildly chaotic penultimate act in which Enzo dies, Damon searches for him like an owner searches for a lost animal, and Bonnie learns she’ll die when The Other Side disappears, and Stefan ‘kills’ Enzo because Enzo put Stefan’s hand in his chest. Damon threated Bonnie’s life dozens of times in the series’ history because Elena’s life was in danger. Stefan listens to his brother explain why Enzo’s salvation matters to him. The reasons include their sitting together, talking. Enzo helped Damon forgive Stefan for not saving him during the five years of his imprisonment. Stefan listens to his brother tell him that he owes Enzo as much as he, Damon, does for their relationship. The frustrating part about Damon’s fragile mind is his list of suggestions to Enzo after his confession about his role in Maggie’s demise. Damon’s pragmatic, calm, and helpful. He asks Enzo to let go, to do whatever he needs to but to not hurt his brother or the love of his life. Yet he’ll unravel upon learning about Enzo’s death, upon learning Stefan kept it a secret from him, and he’ll do something rash that will horrify Elena but will be forgiven by her within the episode or by the next.

Other characters’ emotional development or lapse in development depended on new characters this season, retconned in to fit a particular character’s emotional journey: Nadia and Katherine, Liv and Bonnie, the history of the doppelgangers and the history of Stefan and Elena, Aaron’s importance to Elena and his later death at the hands of the vampire Elena loves most. There’s nothing inherently wrong in introducing new characters that affect a character; however, sometimes such plotting seems like a lucid dream that betrays itself as a dream when the dreamer realizes that he or she cannot feel, touch, taste, or smell anything in the dream—that there’s something off about it that doesn’t fit with the continuity of his or her life. Enzo informs so much of Damon’s past life, but he didn’t matter during the previous four seasons. So, Enzo didn’t inform anything; he was a straw writers grasped for and created for x, y, and z purposes. Nadia fit more naturally into Katherine’s arc because significant parts of her life were not colored in on the canvas.

The first half of “Man on Fire” reminded me of two episodes—one from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and ANGEL. The two respective episodes told a similar story to “Man on Fire.” Those episodes stand out in my memory, especially ANGEL’s “Damage,” because of the way the writers depicted the past. The Vampire Diaries’ tone is reactionary. It reflects the culture. The characters don’t think about their actions. They don’t contemplate. Past actions mean little. “Man on Fire” could’ve been way more than what it actually was, which an excuse for violence, for conflict, for chaos.

Other Thoughts:

-The Travelers’ storyline is a drag. Markos wants to eliminate magic so that he and his people can have a home. I’d actually like way less magic in The Vampire Diaries.

-Where was Caroline?

-Michael A. Allowitz directed the episode. I missed the names of the credited writers.

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