Much like a box of delicious Nerds, my TV watching impulses come in two flavors: Wanting things that I'm already comfortable with OR wanting to see something new. That statement is probably every showrunner's nightmare. Like, if you're in the fifth season of a show with a passionate fanbase, chances are those fans want everything to remain static. Same romances, same quips, same formulas, same locations, and especially the same characters. On the other hand, subconsciously people want to see new things, they want to see expansion and growth, they want to see the ever-shifting landscape of a vital world. So how does one strike that balance? I suspect The Vampire Diaries recognized that it was losing some key personnel this year (both on camera and behind) and was also shuttling some of the characters off to college, so it decided to double-down on tons of elements from earlier seasons so that fans would feel comfortable with the larger changes. But sorry to say this, I don't think this has worked out very well. Right now this is maybe the fifth best season yet? That might change depending on how the finale goes, but still.
I can only speak for myself, but I think the main thing I don't like about this season is how exhausted I am with the main trio. At this point we've seen every permutation of their romances and their mental states and I frankly do NOT care anymore. I'm just so tired of Damon, Stefan, and Elena. All three can go take an Uber directly into a volcano for all I care. It would be a different story if this season had them moving forward or growing somehow, but in doubling down on the past it's made them all regress into immature states that I just don't care to witness after four seasons of forward movement. Fortunately "While You Were Sleeping" suggested that all three of them are starting to feel the same way. Damon and Elena even broke up! (Sort of.) Stefan is definitely headed more in the direction of a certain blonde judgey type. So, fingers crossed, things might be moving forward again?
But this brings me back to my very perfect Nerds analogy. After a season of forced familiarity, I am STARVED for newness. In this episode all I cared about were the new elements. The Travelers' schemes, Sloan, Liv, Luke, Enzo. I loved all these people across the board and I didn't know if it's simply because they're fresh and full of potential still, or if they're just particularly well-written and well-cast. Doesn't matter. Every time one of them came onscreen I was excited again! Unfortunately "While You Were Sleeping" still had its fair share of issues, including my two least favorite things on TV: Dream sequences and long phone conversations. Ugh. Do you know why dream sequences are bad storytelling? Because literally anything can happen in them and they do not matter and they have no stakes. As for phone conversations, they're just so boring to watch and this episode had a million of them. Those are my main two gripes. But there were some fantastic things going on here too. Let's talk about 'em!
It all started in some kind of college town version of Mystic Grill, just lots of dark wood and underage teens drinking beer. Meanwhile some lady was standing on the bar having some kind of neurological event? Whoops, upon closer inspection it was just Elena dancing!
But then she stopped and realized that this was very out of character for her! Not only that, but she was feeling WAY more like Katherine than she was like Elena!
So yeah, table top bar dancing time was over. It was guilt trip time. I mean, her friends DID have some 'splaining to do.
Except nope! Just kidding, it was only a dream sequence. Because even though we had already seen Elena wake up in the last episode, this show decided to pretend like that didn't count, and she'd been waking up over and over without remembering it and nobody told her anything but I guess somebody brought her to college at some point? Man, I was already very confused about everything. But then again, so was Elena.
Especially when she realized her whole dorm was empty and she was trapped in a force-field in the lounge area!
The reason was because it was spraaaang breaaak and Stefan thought it would be easier to hold Elena hostage here while her vampire rabies took its toll. Why college though? Why did he drive her two hours away from home for this? There are honestly millions of answers to this question spread across millions of parallel universes, don't worry. I can only only think of one though, and that is that the Salvatore dungeon was already occupied:
Damon still had vampire rabies also and Jeremy was his hunky dungeonmaster, just sort of feeding him cups of Stefan's blood and also providing witty repartee. In my opinion it had been a major line-crossing moment when Damon casually allowed Enzo to murder Jeremy a few episodes back. Like, that was a truly villainous move and Damon still felt no remorse over it? Yet he was still in love with Jeremy's SISTER and wanted her back? Like, maybe A LITTLE remorse might be due here? Complaint alert: This show is straight-up schizophrenic about what makes Damon tick. It reaaaally wants him to be a sardonic dick most of the time (as a throwback?), but that is just not supported by the character development. Now he's just this weird hybrid personality of being smart and intuitive and then just needlessly vicious to people. Is that what the fans want? I guess they must want that. Okay nevermind, forget I said anything.
Then Elena called from a payphone in the common area and she and Damon set a new world's record for the fastest ever sweeping of serious issues under the rug.
It was honestly insane to hear these two maniacs flirting over the phone like everything was normal and chill. Like, at one point Elena even apologized TO DAMON for what Katherine did and they agreed that Katherine had basically forced Damon to become a maniac and it was not really his fault and also he wanted to sex Elena up so much now. Are these people I'm supposed to be rooting for? No thanks.
Meanwhile Caroline was out pawing through Dr. Wes' things looking for the vampire rabies antidote and she was interrupted by Enzo who showed up to, uh, sexually harass her about sleeping with Klaus? No seriously, why was he there again? I mean, it turned out Enzo already knew where the antidote was and he only needed Stefan to get it, not Caroline. Quick question am I watching this show wrong, because I frankly cannot make heads or tails of why anyone was doing anything anymore. I'm sure it all makes sense on the page but I am feeling dummmmmb. Oh well, what else is new.
Luckily Stefan brought little bottles of his own blood (how much blood can a vampire possibly bleed from himself and still look like a healthy hunk? We may never know). But this was still not enough blood for Elena because she was THIRSTY as h*ck.
There was even this part where she pretended to be super chill about it but then Stefan opened a wrist and she got all crinkly-faced and went NUTS on him.
Also this was the part where Elena realized that Katherine had macked out with Stefan using her own body. I don't think that Elena was so much disturbed that Stefan had messed around with Katherine, I think she was disturbed that Stefan believed it had been Elena at the time, which I'm sure reminded her that Stefan still kinda digs her. But when he told her that he'd turned down "Elena" for sexy times, real Elena looked slightly bummed right? Like how dare he? Anyway, yeah, this was a weird convo. You or I will probably not ever find ourselves in a situation like this one, is my guess.
Meanwhile Bonnie was hanging out with Liv, the new blond witch with the Gina Gershon lips and the boner for Jeremy. Have I mentioned I really like Liv? I really liked her already, but then the episode's final twist made me REALLY like her. Again, it is a breath of fresh air to have another dynamic lady character added into the mix. Into it.
At this point I started openly wishing that TVD would start taking notes from The Originals on how to make witches and witchcraft interesting again. The witches on The Originals have gotten VERY powerful and very cool whereas the TVD ones remain a joke. But then of course later we find out that Liv is secretly super powerful, so I take that complaint back. Once again, I really like Liv and I hope she becomes a full-on character. I think she brings some spice to the stew, you know what I'm sayin'? (I only kind of know what I'm saying.)
F the diary, I don't care. (What kind of grown woman, let alone a 500-year-old woman, still writes "Dear Diary" in a journal?) Anyway, as predicted, Katherine keeping a written record of her treachery was a very weird decision on her part. Of course Elena found it and she did NOT appreciate all that bragging.
For one thing it caused her to slip into a hallucination which, as you probably know by now, is not great storytelling and is boring for us to watch. At least flashbacks are things that happened. Anyway, she imagined that Katherine had hooked up with Stefan and Stefan was very into it:
And then Damon showed up and they fought over her. Typical Elena dream!
Meanwhile Caroline called up Stefan and asked him to go with her to an old train yard so they could get the cure from Enzo or whatever.
Honestly it was just a good excuse for them to put on very cool coats and hang out for a bit. But then suddenly tons of attractive ragamuffins jumped out of the boxcars and surrounded them!
They were obviously Travelers and their sexy leader showed up to do all the talking:
I like Sloan. She's my kind of lady. Kind but confident. It's easy to see why she's the leader. Anyway, her thing was, she had the cure for vampire rabies ready to go, but in exchange she needed Stefan to donate more doppelganger blood so that she could track down another Stefan doppelganger and kill him so that the buckets of Stefan and Elena's blood taken earlier would become the blood of the FINAL doppelgangers, which was somehow more powerful. Did I do a good job of explaining that because I feel like that makes even less sense now that I typed it out. My eyeballs are burning with confusion. But look, doesn't matter, just know that Sloan and the Travelers want Stefan and Elena to be the final doppelgangers and I DID TOO. I would love nothing more for them to be the last ever doppelgangers and we can never even think about the doppelganger plotline ever again. Anyway, yeah, Team Travelers at this point.
Another hallucination, this time of Aaron. This one made Elena somehow think that SHE had murdered Aaron but honestly it's not even worth talking about, none of the hallucinations are worth talking about. Not when we could be talking about HIM:
First of all, just look at him. I mean. Yeah. This is Luke. It's enough that there's a new character who looks like this and also has interesting secrets. Count me in just on those grounds alone. But also he's openly gay!
FINALLY. It turns out that gay people exist in this world! I have complained about this show's lack of gay characters since before I was born it feels like, so credit where credit's due: TVD DID IT. And did it well. Ladies and gentlemen, a gay character. Do not troll me and tell me that Caroline's dad counted because he did NOT count. His gayness was a backstory footnote and you better believe the show would've retconned that if it could've. And sure, Dr. Wes had a read-between-the-lines thing going on, but Luke is different. He mentioned that he was gay TWICE just so there was no confusion. And no it wasn't overkill. Believe me, straight people are constantly mentioning their straightness even when they don't realize it, it's just not that noticeable because of how used to it we are. So Luke mentioning a boyfriend or that his gayness precludes him from being sexually attracted to women is totally fine. Also I just really like Luke. For one thing he entered calling Elena a drunken mess. Even in this first impression--before we learned there was more going on than we thought--I really liked his attitude and personality. And I am NOT convinced that he will be a villain in the long-run. I really hated that Caroline's dad ended up a villain, and I suspect Dr. Wes' villainy was why we didn't get an answer about his sexuality either way, because hopefully the show realized that it's so sucky and retrograde to present gay villains BEFORE there are any gay heroes. Look, I know you didn't come here for an essay about how gay representation in 2014 STILL lags far behind real life census statistics (yes there is one little-seen HBO series in which the main characters are gay, but there is also the entire lineup of every other network so don't tell me there's parity). Anyway, long story short: I like Luke a lot and I'm so excited about where his plotline might lead. Thank you, TVD. Sincerely.
So then Elena tried to murder him.
She wanted to turn him into a vampire! Which, honestly, I was okay with mostly because it would immediately make Luke more powerful (and thus safer from future murders). But it didn't happen...
Elena realized that Katherine had been feeding on him and I guess felt guilty and didn't go through with it. Now that I think about it, in light of what we learn about Luke later, it didn't really make sense that he was going to allow her to murder him? And also he had allowed Katherine to feed on him? I mean I get that he's more scheming that his first impression suggested, but he must be DEEP undercover if he'd willingly get straight-up sucked and murdered by these vampires. I shouldn't jump to conclusions though, maybe his plan is more complex than I realized.
Anyway, speaking of non-complex plans:
Damon decided he needed to bust out of the dungeon in order to save Elena from her rabies so he grabbed Matt and threatened to really murder him in front of Jeremy. Sorry, this was also reprehensible. DO NOT.
Meanwhile back at the railroad, all the boxcar children were ready to zap Stefan's brain.
I'm not going to lie, this was a very unusual scenario. But again, tons of great winter wear out there, so.
At this point Elena was really going crazy, like bag-lady crazy, and she started a fire in the common room and started throwing all her things into it. I was not mad about the diary getting destroyed because on this show all of the diaries should be burned. But Elena was really wildin' out brain-wise, and the ruckus attracted some local witches to the scene.
It was Bonnie and Liv! At this point Elena started threatening them to release her from the force-field and in my opinion she did not ask very nicely.
Yup, Elena let the vampire rabies get the best of her, so she stabbed Liv and blackmailed her into releasing her in exchange for vampire blood to heal her puncture wound. And I guess it worked!
Meanwhile the sun had gone down and Sloan was STILL zapping Stefan's brain. She was really digging deep in there trying to find the other doppelganger. And then she did! The unlucky fella was an EMT in Atlanta.
But it's like, wait, Stefan didn't have any kids before he turned into a vampire, right? So that means this doppelganger must also be a vampire? I don't know. I don't know. I just don't know. All I know is Sloan kept trying to dig deeper. Did she want the guy's ATM pin code or something? But Caroline was sick and tired of all the brain zapping already.
Meanwhile guess who was roaming around campus like a lady hobo.
And then she started hallucinating again!
It ended up being the real Damon, so both of them had busted out of their chains so they could enjoy vampire rabies TOGETHER. Unfortunately Elena's version had werewolf venom in it so she was coughing up blood and dying and whatnot. Which, why did Dr. Wes want to make THAT version of the virus? Didn't he WANT the vampires to feed on each other? And it's not exactly contagious, right? Look, I don't understand the pathology of this thing at all. But it didn't matter anyway, because lookit:
And that was that! Just before Elena could properly lose her mind and, I don't know, force her head through a sewer grate, Enzo arrived! He'd been given the antidote because Stefan had fulfilled his end of the bargain.
It was cute when he pulled a trick on Caroline by calling her Rebekah. You know, brain damage is no laughing matter considering Stefan had literally had his brain erased earlier in the season. Hasn't he ever heard the proverb of the boy who called brain damage?
Ugh, this part. So the Travelers want the other doppelganger dead and Enzo and Caroline VOLUNTEERED to go murder him. Yep, just gonna go out and murder an innocent PARAMEDIC. I'm sure there will be complications, but still. Not a great look on Caroline. The murder plot. Not the coat, the coat WAS a good look on Caroline.
Meanwhile Liv had healed from her staking and she and Bonnie got to bonding.
It was pretty charming how excited Bonnie seemed to have a new mentee. You know, because those who can't do, teach. But aside from Jeremy, Bonnie's usual friends probably don't even remember her name when she's not in the room, so this seemed like a nice change of pace for her!
Unfortunately it was all a ruse!
First of all, Liv not only knew tons of magic, she seemed pretty powerful! No yammering or anything. Second of all, look who her brother is!
Luke! Wearing shorts!
So they said a few cryptic things which I think were supposed to sound nefarious but were so vague that I think they were a misdirection. Just stuff like how Luke had only pretended to be compelled by Elena and how 'Bonnie will be bummed when all her friends are in danger.' Stuff like that. I don't know. But look, this is the best way to introduce new characters. We are way past the point of being able to tolerate know-nothing dummies, which is why Aaron didn't work and why April was a total disaster. If you're going to bring in new people, give them a secret scheme. Liv and Luke definitely have a secret scheme and I'm very into it whatever it is, I don't even care, I'm interested. I think I already love these kids. Do you think Luke has powers also? And do you think they are twins? I really hope they are twins. CALLING IT FIRST: SPIN-OFF #2!
Then came the centerpiece of the episode. Elena and Damon, cured, and finally hashing out their relationship. They both seemed to acknowledge that things are very effed up right now, especially now that Elena knew the full extent of his mayhem (including murdering Aaron for no reason). I particularly liked the part where Elena admitted she's kind of ashamed of all the bad things Damon had done. FINALLY. Finally. Next step is becoming ashamed of the things SHE'D done, but she was still mostly just steamed at Katherine. Baby steps. Anyway, it all went down basically like this:
THEY BROKE UP! THEN THEY SHIRTLESS HUGGED! And then we all got emotional whiplash because what is even going on anymore? I am clearly an idiot contrarian who doesn't like things that other people like but I straight-up don't careeeee about these two people. Go have your tons of sex and let me just hang out with the new characters.
That's all. This episode was medium-okay, I don't know what to tell you. A lot of things were tiresome or confusing but a lot of things were great! I like the new characters, I like the Travelers, I liked Caroline's coat, I liked Stefan's coat, heck, I even like Enzo way more now. He is charming when he's being useful! Just honestly keep Damon and Elena off my TV for a while, I think I'm done with them. I would take a Bonnie stand-alone episode at this point.
... What are the Travelers up to?
... Do you still care about Damon and Elena's relationship?
... Are Liv and Luke good or bad?
... Have you ever stayed alone in an empty dorm during spring break? I have! It was actually really fun, but this isn't about me, it's about you, so have you?