The Vampire Diaries, “Masquerade”

Sci-fi or fantasy series with big ensembles always have one big trick in their back pocket to pull out as a way to intensify the drama or weight of certain activities: bringing the band back together. Any time there is some big event that’s about to go down, rounding up all the characters under some unified goal makes everything seem much cooler and better than it actually is. When Lost brought everyone together for some goofy trek across the island, we knew something cool was bound to happen.

With this season basically bringing everyone into the fold in a more complete way, “Masquerade” feels like one of those cross-the-island-together episodes. The first act is all about the big plan Stefan, Damon, Bonnie, Alaric, Caroline and Jeremy have to kill Katherine and it has an epic feel to it in the way Vampire Diaries episodes don’t usually include (not that other episodes are bad, by any means). From there, the episode continues to push the limit of the story, jam-packing reveal after reveal, thrilling moment after thrilling moment and before long, it’s a suffocating experience that leads to another series highlight.

One thing I’ve been thinking about in reference to the series is how it handles character development. I was just randomly thinking the other day if Vampire Diaries really has any real character development, and I think in a lot of ways, it doesn’t. In almost every way, the people we met in the opening episodes are still those same people.

However, because the series has this very specific framework in place where nearly everyone is either a supernatural entity or in on the truth, the rapid plot developments and secret reveals almost completely replace major character changes, leaving room for only a few beats here and there (like, say, Damon’s calmer attitude in recent episodes, minus the whole killing Mason thing). Thus, Caroline becoming a vampire doesn’t necessarily change her mannerisms or personality, but because it’s a big change in her life, it feels like we’re learning something new or more about her. Or an episode can flashback and fill in past beats about Stefan or Damon, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect anything that’s happening in the present. But damn, it’s cool!

Ultimately, I think I’m okay with this. The plot on this series moves so fast that it does kind of trick us into thinking there is more or perhaps different things going on, but the execution is so fantastic and the characters are tremendously likable all around that it really doesn’t matter. And so when an episode like this one raises back and just lets the plot rip, it’s a beautiful thing.

Of course, the plot to kill Katherine doesn’t really work. After the team figures out a way to trick her by trapping her in a room with magic and letting Damon and Stefan go to work, it’s quickly revealed that Katherine has a back-up plan that involves any injury coming to her also concurrently happening to Elena. It’s smart, and although it still falls in to the “Katherine always has a Plan B, C, D, E, etc.” storytelling approach that’s beginning to annoy me, I can live with it here because everything else around it is so enjoyable.

What’s so great about this episode is, actually, the editing. All Vampire Diaries episodes move quickly, but the editing here is top-notch in how it scatters between all these little sub-plots either caused or directly related to Katherine, really emphasizing how much impact she’s already had on all these individuals. So while Stefan and Damon find themselves trapped in a room with her, Bonnie’s tracking down the witch Katherine’s employed to conjure up the spell that hurts Elena, Jeremy’s running around trying to keep Elena alive, Matt, under Katherine’s spell, is trying to force Tyler to transition into a werewolf and Caroline’s trying to stop that from happening. Every character except for Alaric and Jenna is running around the masquerade party trying to fix/cause a problem, and it’s intense as hell.

Eventually, things completely explode. After trying to figure out what the hell Katherine wants with the moonstone (to little avail), Damon’s ready to kill Katherine as soon as the spell’s lifted. Bonnie faces off with the elder witch. And even though Caroline stops Matt, Katherine again has a back-up plan in the random brunette who has been hanging around lately. And before we know it, Tyler’s accidentally killed the brunette and ready to become a werewolf, the elder witch has switched sides in a way that leaves Katherine writhing on the ground in pain and Elena is safe. It’s a fascinating 20 minutes that really never let up, and that is what is so great about Diaries.

Even when it’s time for the depression part of the story, “Masquerade” doesn’t really let him. Katherine might be out of commission, but Elena’s still not interested in getting back with Stefan. Caroline and Tyler spark up a new friendship based on secrets, Tyler convinces Bonnie that he’s not a kid anymore, Damon locks Katherine in the tomb and then, Elena gets abducted by some evil force Katherine warned was coming! Jesus H. Christ.

And despite my hand-ringing about character development, this episode still finds time to at least introduce compelling new duos that again, at least create the sense of difference. Caroline and Tyler are clearly going to bond over being unwittingly turned into monsters. Finally, Jeremy actually has something to do, and in this episode, he is kind of a bad-ass with a purpose, so I’m cool with him and Bonnie hooking up, if only because they both then have a story anchor.

We’re at that point in the season where every episode is going to be ridiculously jam-packed with great stuff, so I’ll reserve ultimate judgment for mid-November when the series has taken a break, but this sure felt like the best episode of the season. Of course, I said that last week too.

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