The Vampire Diaries "Promised Land" Review: Heart of the Matter (PHOTO RECAP)

By Price Peterson

May 09, 2014

The Vampire Diaries S05E21: "Promised Land"

Like a baby raccoon holding a handgun, television can force us to feel multiple conflicting emotions all at the same time. You know? First there's disbelief, then there's actual belief, then there's joy, then there's fear, then it's back to disbelief again, then it's time to lay down on a pile of pine cones and go to sleep. Same with a baby raccoon holding a handgun. But when it comes to TV, we the viewers have a certain savviness about how things operate. Like, here's a hypothetical: Suppose the LEAD CHARACTER of a very popular teen supernatural drama has his heart ripped out by some random kinda-bad guy on the eve of the collapse of the afterlife. As savvy viewers we KNOW intellectually that this will not be the end for that lead character and he will most likely be back to normal within an episode or two, no big deal. But if the show has done its job then we will be so invested in that character that just the SIGHT of that heart-ripping will be A LOT to handle. Like, don't even talk to me about how real that death was or wasn't, it still happened to a very likable hero. He DIED brutally onscreen. See what I'm saying? These two thoughts--that he will be fine but also oh no! He's dead!--are very contrasting emotions that the show has made us feel at the same time. And when a TV show can pull off that kind of internal contradiction, man, that's called ART.

"Promised Land" was one of my favorite episodes of The Vampire Diaries of all time. We should probably talk about it.

First of all, this episode featured MORE THAN ONE middle-aged adult. Was anybody else slightly freaked out by this? Again, no real reason to be freaked out, it's just relative to what we're used to, an ordinary banker in a grey suit seemed as strange and foreign as any supernatural creature. Anyway, in this case I guess he was a supernatural creature, he was the meat suit that a Traveler was toolin' around in, Krang-style. And Damon wanted ANSWERS.

Obviously the guy was not about to spill the beans about what Markos was up to or where Elena and Stefan had been taken. But as we soon learned, it had been FOUR DAYS since they'd disappeared from their wonderful cabin vacation, and that meant Damon was already resorting to desperate measures. Like abducting bankers and stabbing them, stuff like that. Damon is not the best brain-stormer to be honest. 

Anyway, then we cut over to Stefan and Elena in some Hostel-style situation where all their blood was falling into buckets. 

And it was very disgusting! On top of that, Markos kept coming in and forcing Elena to drink more blood so that she could keep making blood. Circle of blood. Hakuna mablooda. 

But Elena was very spunky in this episode. She spat blood right in Markos' face! 

Again, disgusting. How dare you, show. This was a disgusting episode kinda.

But anyway, then Stefan was mysteriously freed by an unseen rebel Traveler and the next thing we knew he was attempting to escape the hostel!

Well, the best he could, anyway. It turns out that not having blood anymore is sort of similar to getting a case of the jellybones. Fortunately there were roughly zero Travelers guarding these insanely valuable prisoners and Stefan was easily able to pull his jellybones up off the ground and rescue his ex.

Next thing we knew they were chillin' in the countryside miles away from home and without a decent cell signal!

Damon seemed relieved that they were okay and he was bragging about how he was going to put on his "hero hair" and start taking care of business. Oh really? Like how well you took care of business for the past FOUR DAYS? I mean, sure, Damon's heart was in the right place, but maybe his hero hair had gotten a little rusty lately. 

Also Elena tried to hunt squirrels with a bent squeegee.

Meanwhile Enzo was NOT making things easy on anybody, as he ran into Damon's house and threw sharp things at him and made Bonnie translate all his ghost whining.

You know, would it have killed Enzo to use his ghost powers to help track down Stefan and Elena? Little help, dude.

But Damon was too busy to be stressing over some ghost, didn't matter how handsome he was. In this case Damon basically just commanded Bonnie to figure things out, which was honestly pretty fair. Not only did she have tons of witch experience (not great experience, but still), she had legit come back from the dead, so she should at least be able to brainstorm this subject A LITTLE. 

Ugh, sorry. "I would walk five hundred miles" etc. That song. That was the reference. I realize I am hella old and I saw Benny & Joon in theaters, so, sorry teens. Sorry for baffling you guys. It was late and I was tired. But in unrelated news, look at that image? Did you ever notice that sometimes TVD is absolutely gorgeous? Look at that shot! Work it, Atlanta.

At first this was a seemingly tossed-off scene but it turned out to be one of the best and most nuanced scenes in TVD history. See, the writer of this episode was Rebecca Sonnenshine and she is the in-house poet on this show. (She also wrote the excruciatingly lovely "Our Town" which is an all-time classic as well.) So yeah, here, in the middle of this insane hour of teen soap serial madness was this graceful scene where Stefan and Elena talked about the nature of being vampires and how they needed to come to grips with the fact that they'll always be defined by savagery, earned or not. And that aspect of their existence more or less excuses Elena from having to make rational decisions of the heart.

Brief scene but very, very lovely. I truly wish TVD had more moments like this. The storytelling pace doesn't often leave time for philosophizing or even very many character moments, but this was refreshingly deep and it's exactly the reason why this show will be remembered as being better than it had to be. Perfect.


These two, these two, these two!! They met for a very depressing breakfast, having seemingly failed in their quest to stop Markos and the Travelers. And it's here we learned more about where Liv and Luke were coming from: They came from a coven of JERKS!

I'm loving that their coven is already very different from the Bennett coven, both in strength of magic but also much more dynamic from a good/evil ratio. Like, Liv is clearly afraid of her ancestors and anybody who would inflict pain on Luke is NOT somebody I'm down with. So yeah, I'm now crazy-intrigued about their backstory. It can't be overstated how much these characters have brought to this season. Sorry if this sounds like exaggeration, but it's worth saying: Much as I remember Season 3 as the season I got to meet Rebekah and Klaus, Season 5 for me is going to be when I got to meet Liv and Luke. I mean, assuming they survive this season. I'm guessing yes, and I'm also hoping they'll be series regulars next year. Probably too early to be wishing out loud about this, but these recaps are basically about getting to talk about things I love and right now I love Liv and Luke maybe the most out of everything? 

Anyway, then Liv had an idea: 

They decided to murder Stefan or Elena in order to de-power their doppelganger blood so that the Travelers couldn't enact their spell. Or something? The logic behind all the magic and/or magic erasure on this show is more complicated than an Avril Lavigne song. I don't get it, but yeah: Liv and Luke were now reluctantly murder-minded. 


I can't. I can't. So perfect. Too perfect? Again, very strange to see characters who aren't twenty-somethings in Mystic Falls. But also they were both unknowns (to us) having a conversation outside of the view of a main character. Relative to what we're used to on this show this was such a different and surprising scene! And on top of that it was HILARIOUS. This woman has a Traveler named CARL living inside of her, and when she casually mentioned that to her husband, his reaction was straight-up amazing. "Uh, you need help." Again, it's these tiny moments that take this show to the next level. Undeniably inspired. More please!

Okay, so then this happened:

Doesn't matter why, really. Okay fine: Elena and Stefan were talking about how much they like Caroline (another small and wonderful moment!) and decided to use her power of positive thinking to conjure a ride so they could hitchhike, and lo and behold, a car drove up. So Elena adjusted her bosom and flagged the person down, which in my opinion was presumptuous because maybe it was a heterosexual lady or a homosexual man driving in which case maybe Stefan should have flaunted HIS bosom also. Anyway, I was kind of right, because look at who it was:

It was Julian's wife! The one who suddenly was super into her husband now that he had Tyler's body. Also she had been the one to free Stefan because I guess she realized that if the Travelers got what they wanted, her husband would turn into a corpse and that would make it way weirder for her to make love to him. So she had switched sides and now she was driving them back to Mystic Falls. Also she sensed something was up.

Haha it makes me laugh that everybody assumes they're together. So awkward but they kinda deserve it.

So then Damon enlisted Jeremy and Matt to go steal all the Travelers' sleeping bodies out of that cave and he immediately started messing with them.

Like he forced this one Traveler lady to play pool against her will. NOBODY should have to play pool against their will without giving consent. No means no.

Meanwhile Caroline went in the dungeon to try and learn more exposition from Julian about what exactly was going on. Because seriously, what on earth was happening? Audience Surrogate Caroline was on the case!

He explained more about how THE SPELL was going to undo all the bad things witches had done, up to and including ongoing spells like daylight rings and vampirism, and he reasoned that Travelers were merely trying to restore a balance that witches had offset through their shenanigans. Or something? Caroline didn't bring up all the flaws in his plan, like, say, the fact that he was probably going to die himself, but she did bring up what a jerk Markos was, and I think that might pay off later, we'll see.

Meanwhile, Markos was getting PUNK'D!

I think the thing that makes me laugh about this the most is that apparently Markos already knows Damon's phone number, so Damon didn't even have to write it down. It never ceases to crack me up how quickly ancient wizards on this show adapt to modern technology. I bet Markos was kicking himself that he didn't wait to resurrect himself until after the iPhone 6 came out.

Anyway, back at the dorms Bonnie was feverishly packing up her Beanie Baby collection and Caroline started wondering what was up with that. Where was she going?

So, whoops! Bonnie admitted she'd been lying to everybody. But again, Caroline was skeptical about why Bonnie wasn't even TRYING to brainstorm a solution. After five seasons of these kids finding their ways out of the most impossible situations, why had Bonnie suddenly stopped trying? Brain fatigue? Personally I think she's just over it. All of it. If this situation wasn't a cry for help, what is?

So then Markos showed up to the Salvatore mansion and immediately started talking about how he wanted to live there after all the vampires died. Damon was not thrilled about the idea of some wizard sleeping in his bed and using his ceiling shower and probably dancing around to Depeche Mode in HIS underwear. That's when he tried to threaten Markos by dousing his sleeping buddies in gasoline and maybe setting them on fire IN HIS OWN HOME.

But what Damon failed to consider was that Markos was a major jerk and did not care about his friends. ADVANTAGE MARKOS. Then he went on to explain more and more exposition about what his plans were, because again, it was so confusing. In this case he said that the spell would ripple outward geographically and eventually swallow the world, thus killing all vampires. In my opinion he should have just centered the spell in the French Quarter and killed off all the vampire bloodlines at the root, but whatever, they have their own issues. Also he specified that this spell would only erase magic that wasn't "pure," meaning, I guess, just the life-preserving spells that the witches had made. I'm not sure if that also included the resurrection rings or even Jeremy's hunter abilities. I'm quite frankly not sure of ANYTHING at this point. But I do know that Markos drank tons of doppelganger blood and now had superhuman strength, so good for him.

Anyway, then Liv broke a CGI car using her brain.

And then she started breaking all of Elena's bones. It was gross!

I think one of the reasons this part was so good was how guilty Liv and Luke felt about this whole thing. And from our perspective, yeah, they were harming our heroes, but their plan also made tons of sense. In killing Elena and/or Stefan they were working to actually SAVE the rest of the vampires. This wasn't villainy, it was just a really inconvenient solution for the doppelgangers.

(I was especially sad when Luke had to hurt Stefan because they are my OTP maybe. (What is a OTP?))

But then WHOOPS! Everybody's magic stopped working!

And it was because the Travelers were DOIN THEIR THANG:

That's right, game over, man. The spell was HAPPENING. Elena and Stefan's daylight rings stopped working so they ran into the caves under Mystic Grill (which, LOL) and then they started re-experiencing how they'd died!

It was actually very scary and sad. I guess I'd forgotten that Stefan had been murdered by Dexter's dad, that was a bummer. 

So then in a surprise twist, Julian realized Markos was a bad guy and he teamed up with Damon to attack him!

But then the spell creeped in and Julian's fangs fell out and also Damon suddenly had a bullet wound in his chest (also from Dexter's dad)!

And he RAN RIGHT OUTTA THERE. Then there was a scene where Jeremy picked him up on the side of the road but it's not that important because Jeremy was fully clothed, and the next thing we knew Damon was at college with the rest of the vampires and he was MAKING OUT WITH ELENA SO MUCH:

This tied back into Elena's convo with Stefan about how sometimes they just need to accept what their hearts tell them to do. And in this case she'd had a very bad day and needed some mouth action. Fair enough! It obviously complicates things, but you know what else complicates things? CERTAIN DEATH. Gotta choose your priorities.

(Also in this scene Caroline mentioned that a random vampire had been found dead on the outskirts of town which meant the spell was spreading their direction, but it was like WHAT? There were OTHER vampires nearby that had managed to stay out of all the vampire drama these past three years? What, were they too old or unsightly to merit friendship or even networking? This show is so weird sometimes.)

So then Julian's dead wife had a pow-wow with Enzo on The Other Side.

He claimed he'd gotten a gang together and all he needed was for her to remember how they'd done the spell to get Markos out of The Other Side. Except, wait, hadn't the other dead Travelers done the same spell? Why was this lady special? Whatever the case, just when it seemed like she was down to help him get them all resurrected, it suddenly got VERY windy.

Better luck next time, Enzo!

Then this scene happened. You know the one. I'll keep it quick so that you don't feel terrible all over again.


Stefan died.

Julian murdered Stefan.

Stefan crinkled up and died.

Now, we had seen Stefan's heart be ripped out multiple times before on this show, but never literally! This was a very shocking thing to see, to say the least. And it was also troubling in that happened because Caroline had tried to snap Julian's neck and Julian reacted by growling at her and then murdering Stefan. Just a very messy, very avoidable situation. Also, let's be real, it's the first time in history a hybrid did something important, so hey, silver lining.

Maybe over your scream-sobs you didn't catch it when Julian said, "The spell's stopped," but I'm pretty sure I did. So did that mean that all of the spell was over and done with, or merely that it had stopped spreading? Unclear! But what was very clear was that Stefan, the show's romantic lead, was DEAD.

And the look on Bonnie's face (and even Enzo's face) reflected exactly the right amount of anguish when she saw his spirit:

And then, suddenly, the fate of the entire series was placed on Bonnie's shoulders. Good luck, girl.

Never thought I'd make THAT caption. But here we are. 

Look, none of us are dummies. We know Stefan is not off the show. We know that The Other Side will crumble and one or more dead characters will be resurrected before that happens. That's just TV logic. But still, like I said, that doesn't make the notion of a dead Stefan any easier to bear. At least when Elena died it was mere minutes before she became a vampire. This is somehow more troubling because of the uncertainty of how Stefan might come back. Who even knows! I mean, he WILL be back, but HOW? That is the genius of this plot twist. That we are still desperately looking for answers despite knowing what the eventual outcome will be. 

Guys, this episode was pretty much an instant classic for me. Right up there with the Season 1 finger chopping as far as I'm concerned. I know that's controversial because people are down about this season in general, but I stand by my assessment that this back half of the season has been pretty terrific. I like how suitably epic the Travelers' goals are, and how sympathetic yet terrible Liv and Luke's intentions are, and I even like where the love triangle's at. Restrained yet meaningful. And this death is about as major as it gets. Man, let's do this. Bring on that finale. I feel like it's going to be insane. Do you feel it too? 

OKAY BYE gonna go lie in a dumpster for a while.


... Is Stefan's death an agonizing twist or a false alarm?

... Are Luke and Liv's coven arguably more evil than the Travelers?

... Which dead characters (if any) will become flesh and blood again?

... Have you ever smashed a CGI car?

  • Comments (571)
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  • clarkkent420 Oct 12, 2014

    ... Is Stefan's death an agonizing twist or a false alarm? Both. This hurt my heart, but he is the heart of the show. Pun intended.

    ... Are Luke and Liv's coven arguably more evil than the Travelers? Absolutely not. The Travelers have no problem murdering innocents for their own ends. That is pure evil.

    ... Which dead characters (if any) will become flesh and blood again? Well, because social media, all of them probably.

    ... Have you ever smashed a CGI car? It is my only witch power.

  • clarkkent420 Oct 12, 2014

    hakuna mablooda!!

  • virgo091085 Sep 10, 2014

    so enzo kills himself really - all in this big threat that stefan will suffer damon's wrath and in no time realizes how worthless it was and is desperately trying to 'come back'. pretty stupid

  • WillowPuma Jun 13, 2014

    .. Is Stefan's death an agonizing twist or a false alarm? I know he's not going anywhere... But ouch.
    ... Are Luke and Liv's coven arguably more evil than the Travelers? Yes.
    ... Which dead characters (if any) will become flesh and blood again? Enzo and Stefan? Alaric PLEASE? Possibly (not hopefully) Vicki? Annd and her mom? I loved those two.
    ... Have you ever smashed a CGI car? Surprisingly yes.

  • helenal May 20, 2014

    OMG.. Our dear kind Stefan is dead... Don't leave us alone with Elena and Damon pleaseee we need your kindness and hotness and sexyness :'(

  • Hutchy_TVSeries May 18, 2014

    Can someone tell me what's the name of the song that was playing at the end, when Stefan died?

  • vanessa_aline Jul 30, 2014

    "Don't let me go" - Raign

  • Zelli42 May 17, 2014

    This was a great episode. There first one to get me invested since like 10 episodes ago. Somewhere it just stopped beeing interesting. Stupid Travellers, please die next episode and never come back.
    That said, Elena wanting to see Stephan sprint was hilarious and the Damon/marco thing too. Very funny.... and it even got crazy in the end. When was the last time they suprised us?? Please stay like this and become the tvd I love again!

  • Zelli42 May 17, 2014

    and the pool table and damon delegating and Elena shooting... then the drama with the witchkids and the travellercouple, the ultracool fighting possesed-hybrid...
    Where was all this stuff the rest of the season? Soo many brilliant ideas and dialogues

  • lawson May 15, 2014

    If Stephan and/or Elena dying ends the spell, then the plan seems kind of stupid. The spell would have killed them if they hadn't outrun it... which they nearly didn't manage to do... which would have stopped the spell from spreading.... so... yeah, stupid.

  • marcusj1973 May 15, 2014

    "Like a baby raccoon holding a handgun"


    "I would walk five hundred miles" etc. That song. That was the reference. I realize I am hella old and I saw Benny & Joon in theaters, so, sorry teens."

    It's beyond wrong that you need to both explain and apologize for that

    "Look, none of us are dummies. We know Stefan is not off the show. We know that The Other Side will crumble and one or more dead characters will be resurrected before that happens."

    First up for resurection...Stefan. Then there's a LONG list of people I'd love to see come back, starting with Lexi! Firstly, because she's AWESOME! Second, cause I want to see Caroline meet her approval tests and then become besties. After that, Rick? Vickie? I dunno, but if TVD goes crazy, this could be all kinds of fun.

  • shilainc May 15, 2014

    And here are the fashion from The Vampire Diaries you Vamp lovers...

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