Jean Paul-Sartre wrote a play, his most famous play, titled No Exit. In French, the title is Huis Clos, which is a legal term that refers to a private conversation behind locked doors. Sarte, one presumes, drew a parallel between the conception of hell and that of the courts. The Vampire Diaries’ “No Exit” doesn’t draw a parallel between humanity’s conception of hell and our awareness of the legal system. I’ve made a habit of referring to famous works of literature or drama when I write about The Vampire Diaries. The most famous line in Sarte’s play comes at the end when a character realizes that hell is other people. Hell is not a place, but a struggle between the self and other. The Vampire Diaries plays around with the same essential ideas of Sarte but only brazenly. Elena and Stefan experienced the struggle between the self and the other, which for the supernatural folk in the show means a struggle between the beastly feral vampire and the compassionate human. None of the supernatural characters have struggled extensively. Caroline struggled briefly before embracing what she became. That followed for everyone else. Elena went through a rough stretch, but Stefan’s been the tortured one, trying to find a balance.
The appeal of Damon has been his lack of self-reflection. He lives. He is. He behaves recklessly when reckless and does not become a remorseful, sogging mess when he’s finished with recklessness. The appeal of Damon for Elena was how different he was from Stefan. Stefan couldn’t help Elena during her long transition in season four. She was sad, unstable, on the edge, and so the person for her was not walking consciousness Stefan Salvatore, but his brother that will do all he can to give her what she needs in the moment—only in the moment, because for switchless vampires it is the moment that matters. Damon’s recent string of brutal, remorseless murders were typical of the character, a rather unexciting development since we’d seen this side of him already. “No Exit” furthered Damon’s new habit of feeding on vampires. I didn’t think about the possibility of his new problem as a way to deepen and progress the character. My biggest gripe with the last few episodes, concerning Damon, was the repetitiveness of his behavior. Five seasons in, characters shouldn’t walk backwards following the footprints left in the mud.
Damon faces a struggle between self and other, actualized when Katherine and Stefan come to rescue him. Katherine, of course, does not want to save him. Stefan would like to save his brother. Dr. Wes trapped Damon and Enzo in a house to further his understanding of the Ripper serum through observation. Enzo escapes with his life after Dr. Wes releases him, right after Damon digs into his neck. Damon lost the struggle, but he’s still new to the struggle. He doesn’t know what’s in him that’s more powerful than the strength of his arms and jaw. Stefan does. He learned control and choice. Damon wished for his brother and ex to stay away from the house because he lacked control.
Katherine used Damon’s lack of self-control to create a situation in which the outcome seemed to be fratricide. Damon bit into her neck and fed. Stefan lured him away with his own blood and then snapped his neck, locked him in the Salvatore dungeon to begin teaching Damon self-control and the power of free choice. Katherine revealed she wasn’t Elena in that scene. She pushed the moment to a crisis. Her goal was to put Stefan into situations with no exit: in the hotel room, with wet hair, full breasts, seductive eyes, but that didn’t work; later, with the whole ‘kill brother’ plan. Katherine tasked Nadia with killing Matt. Nadia did not kill Matt. Katherine also lacks self-control. She cannot escape herself, her impulses. For instance, she’s insistent on detailing the history of the question she answered wrong during her study session with Stefan. Her desire for Stefan leaves her open to discovery, which she inevitably is—discovered, I mean. The characters can’t be conveniently stupid for too long.
Stefan and Katherine figure it out by the end of “No Exit.” There are wide eyes and expressions of astonishment, disbelief and incredulity. Besides Damon’s unexpected confrontation with his self and other, “No Exit” was frustrating to watch. Too many characters acted to service than plot rather than the plot servicing the characters. Tyler and Caroline tried to figure out why Matt disappeared, but they believe his story. Each time the characters seem on the precipice of making progress towards what’s going on, the subject is dropped. The intimate personal matters take precedent over the other personal matters involving Matt. Tyler and Caroline work out their issues by not working out their issues. Tyler apologizes for his violent behavior; however, he reminds Caroline that sleeping with the guy who killed his mother hurt. So, there’s little reconciliation actually. Stefan seems to sense something but then shrugs it off. The inconsistent characterization hurts “No Exit.”
The main plot is nicely put together, and the characterization is consistent with what we’ve seen. I heard a piece of advice from a writer about threading the lacers of plot together does not mean a story was told well. The A story is good storytelling. Other bits of effective storytelling pop up here and there: Matt’s dialogue with Nadia about mothers sets up the wolf bite reveal very well while also reminding the audience of what Matt has experienced. Enzo’s loyalty to Damon elevated a mostly flat character to slightly less flat.
Despite the effective bits of storytelling, the engaging A story, I felt flat by the end, as flat as any Enzo scene is. Oh well.
-Dr. Wes and the Travelers make less of an impression now. I don’t care to know what Wes does to Enzo.
-Brian Young wrote the episode. Matthew A. Allowitz directed.