The Vampire Diaries Recap: Playing Hero

Photo: Bob Mahoney/CW
The Vampire Diaries
Episode Title
I Went to the Woods
Editor’s Rating

Will the real Stefan Salvatore please stand up? This week’s TVD, directed by none other than Showrunner Julie Plec, saw the gang racing against multiple ticking clocks to save our hero. 

Human Instinct
A man lying in the middle of the road always spells impending disaster on TVD, and tonight was no different. Waking to find himself the victim of a school bus crash, Stefan rescues some of the kids before the cops show up. But when questioned, he can’t remember who he is.

“Even heroes can’t save them all.” I loved that this was the trigger that got Stefan to at least remember who he was — or at least, who he’s supposed to be: the hero. But still, probably not a good move to start blurting things out about lessons and hell and a phoenix sword, Stef. 

But as the cops arrest Stefan on suspicion of DUI, with one look in the mirror, we realize that Stefan is not Stefan at all. Another man’s reflection stares back at him. Looks like our theory of NotJo 2.0 has come to pass! Which begs the question: Where is NotStefan, if RealStefan is stuck in this sad dude’s body?

Good to know that being a hero is kind of like riding a bike: Even though he’s human now, Stefan still hasn’t lost the moves his hero hair gave him. He gives the cops the slip and runs into the woods. Eventually, post-vomit and uncomfortable traipsing through snow, Stefan finds a cabin and then breaks his own hand to get out of the cuffs. If we (and he) thought this was bad, it only gets worse: The man Stefan is stuck in is a known alcoholic, and he’s about to go into withdrawal. Stefan hallucinates and sees Damon, which was more traumatizing than that romance movie with Leo DiCaprio and the Bear. (That was a romance, right?)

We’ve seen Stefan in precarious situations many times before; he’s been kidnapped, drowned repeatedly, gone on a ripper binge and even given up his humanity. Each time, I’ve always known he would survive. He’s our hero. But seeing him like this, bettered (and battered) by human weakness the elements surrounding him, is more devastating than any of those other supernatural threats. Because if he does die, he’ll die with everyone thinking he was just a drunk who crashed a bus full of kids, instead of the hero who would have saved every single one of them, even if it meant his own death in the process. 

Be There
Back in Texas, Damon and Valerie survey another car wreck. 

“They probably thought they were doing the world a favor,” Valerie says about Nora and Mary Louise’s final act of good will, which was destroying the Phoenix Stone. But Damon has no sympathy for the dead. He’s in major denial, knowing that if he was the cause of Stefan’s death, the broken stone now makes it impossible to ever recover his soul. It’s out there, floating in some random corpse’s re-animated body. Literally everyone (Bonnie, Caroline, Stefan, to name a few, plus millions of fans) will hate his guts. 

So, new plan: be in denial that Stefan is a real bona fide dead dude, use Valerie to find Rayna Cruz and get her to find Stefan’s body. (Note that Damon doesn’t actually do anything in this plan, he’s pretty useless.)

When I saw NotStefan walking down the street, I chuckled. Knowing these writers and knowing how much Paul Wesley loves playing bad, I predicted that the soul who ended up in Stefan’s body would be fun to have around for a while, until they started killing people and causing a nuisance. “Damon, I’m famished.” #theripperissback

But after ripper-ing a waitress and doing a terrible impression of Stefan talking about his feelings, NotStefan knows the jig is up and dips out. “He figured out Stefan’s body was a timeshare,” Damon quips. I know we’re in dire straits at this point, but not gonna lie, I’d buy a week at that vacation spot.

“Because Matt Donovan is the finest, bravest, least stupid cop you've ever met, and if anyone asks, that's the lie you'll tell them.” This line stung. Even though this is just Damon compelling a cop to think he’s Matt, here’s the thing: Matt could be the finest, bravest, least stupid (okay, mostly intelligent) cop you’ve ever met. But holding on to his moral center — and his humanity — has made him the opposite of a good cop. #BringBackGoodMatt

When Damon called Stefan using the phone the girl left behind, I was never happier to see a cell phone work even while submerged in frozen water in my life. 

Stefan: “You suck at playing hero, brother.”
Damon: “I guess I’m not just used to you being a damsel in distress.” (Plus 50.) 

This entire exchange between Stefan and Damon, but especially Stefan’s trek through the woods, was some of the best work Paul Wesley’s given us in seven seasons — that’s saying something, because I petition the Oscars (yep, the Oscars) every year to give him all of the awards when he does his almost-crying thing, which is at least 4 times a season. “Eventually I’m not going to be able to go on. And when that happens, I don’t believe you’ll be there.”

The scene was beautifully written, the words laden with so much emotion against the stark background of the cold, numbing snow. The brothers issue one another challenges: Damon challenging Stefan to get up and fight, and Stefan betting that his brother won’t actually find him in time. For once, it’s Damon believing the best in Stefan, as opposed to the other way around. If you think about the trajectory of their relationship, these brothers are constantly searching for one another. Across time and through alternate dimensions, each is always hoping that when he's show up, the other brother will be ready, with open arms and forgiveness to share between them.

“You’re never going to find me,” Stefan says, but of course he’s wrong. Damon does find him, just in time. And like any good hero, he brings donuts.

Mostly Happy
Valerie’s anger at Damon for refusing to do the scar transfer until the last moment is more than a bit displaced; she had many opportunities to tell Stefan that this was a possibility, but instead she let him carry on believing that he was living on borrowed time — just so she could borrow some time with him. So when she finds Rayna (who is totally floundering post-sword destruction) and brings her to Alaric’s doorstep, she’s hoping to find not only some help, but a sympathetic party: someone equally invested in getting Stefan back so he can be happy with her, and not Caroline.

“We were out. Three years. No stabbings, no hostage swaps.” Yawn, Alaric. Your life sounds so boring now. Their wedding was supposed to be a month from now, which means we have approximately 4 weeks to totally wreck Alaric’s relationship with Caroline and Valerie’s relationship with Stefan. Hear me, people? FOUR WEEKS. (Although, with Caroline being ‘off-screen’ trying to find Klaus, it’s possible that it’s him we need to worry about!)

The “Twittersphere” is blowing up with reports of the Zombie apocalypse brought on by all the souls bringing dead bodies to life (Whoa, will this have ramifications later on? Could be cool if this is how magic is introduced to the real world!) But these dead bodies are more dangerous than Zombies: the souls Rayna put in the stone over the last 200 years are some of the worst, most evil vampires of all time.

Using a combo of Rayna’s connection with the souls and heretic magic, Valerie tracks NotStefan’s flight to Memphis. Rayna gets spooked by this particular news and demands he be found and killed, Stefan’s body be damned. She snaps Valerie’s neck, taunts Ric, and runs off. 

“I proposed to Caroline because I fell in love with her. And she said yes, because it made sense for the kids.” This is the most depressing sentence I’ve ever heard in my life. Ric, you AND Caroline deserve better. Haven’t you heard of Modern Family? You CAN co-parent with someone you aren’t married to. Both Ric and Valerie are settling for relationships they both know aren’t making the other person truly happy. My advice? That they find people who a) won’t die b) actually love them.  

And speaking of happiness, NotStef seems to be in his element at a Memphis frat house trapping the innocent human college students inside. Ric thinks he might know who this lost vampire soul is: a serial killer from the 1880’s, who compelled his victims to murder each other. And that nasty dude is going around pretending to be our hero, which just won’t do.

So, now that we’ve got RealStefan back, all we’ve gotta do is find NotStefan, destroy him, and then do some witchy-woo-woo to put the right soul back in the right body — and this all has to happen before Caroline puts on a wedding dress. While I’m adding that to my to-do list, chat with me on Twitter @TalkativeTara.