Who would have thought I’d kick off my (hopefully ongoing) Throwback Thursday reviews by revisiting The Vampire Diaries, a show which now graces my Worst Shows Ever list. But when thinking of shows I wanted to throwback to, it was hard to come up with standout episodes off the top of my head for many of them, but “Masquerade” has always been on my list of memorable episodes. It takes place during TVD‘s golden age, that is the first two seasons where it wasn’t so far up its own ass that it couldn’t function. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it had potential. Potential to quickly be squandered once the reins were passed from Kevin Williamson to Julie Plec for season three. I can’t pinpoint what the exact problem is since “Masquerade” was penned by both Williamson and Plec, and episodes written by showrunners of any show usually outdo any others, and this one, the seventh episode in season two, is a clear example of what a great show TVD could be when it tried.
The biggest triumph of “Masquerade” is that if gives everyone something to do. It’s the gang’s big push against villainess Katherine Pierce (Nina Dobrev), and they’re all gung ho about killing her. So it’s all hands on deck. At least it’s all the hands who know they should be on deck. This means human Matt (Zach Roerig) and in the dark but budding werewolf Tyler (Michael Trevino) are left as victims of Katherine’s plotting, but everyone else is on their game. It’s an element the show unfortunately doesn’t utilize enough, the idea of all these characters being in it together, pooling their skills and resources to fight a common enemy. Despite TVD‘s push that all these people are on the same side, it rarely comes off that way (with so many of them ending up screwed over and not cared about by their so-called friends), but “Masquerade” at least gives the impression that even if all these people don’t necessarily like each other that they can see some advantages in working together and trust each other to do their parts.
TVD has one of the best and most under utilized casts (to this day) and season two was no different. Even the rare few who get a decent amount of screentime often end up spending it doing the exact same thing over and over again. It’s what made Dobrev getting to play a character very unlike Elena Gilbert so interesting, and it’s always been apparent that Dobrev enjoyed doing something a little different onscreen. But in the case of TVD‘s early seasons getting to do anything is kind of a big deal when you aren’t one third of the show’s love triangle, but “Masquerade” has a balance that’s hard to find in other episodes, managing to make everyone feel like they’re part of the show. Though Elena’s kept in the dark to what everyone’s planning, the rest of the gang is ready for action. Stefan and Damon are looking to finally put down the woman who used them and has spent recent days terrorizing them, Caroline’s easing out from under Katherine’s thumb, Jeremy’s trying to protect his family after Aunt Jenna’s stabbing in the previous episode, and Bonnie’s there to put her magic to use to make this happen.
Typing all that out makes it clear that Bonnie’s the only one without a personal stake in this particular story other than keeping her friends safe. It’s an unfortunate quality the show has with Bonnie, though by “Masquerade” it’s not nearly as annoying and problematic as it becomes later on. Bonnie (Kat Graham) resides on the show as a magical fix-it, but the show hasn’t really explored what it means for her, especially with her magic being so damaging to her physically. The appearance of fellow witch and cousin Lucy (Natashia Williams) is the closest the show ever comes to giving Bonnie someone to bond with her magic over post-Grams with Lucy offering her some encouragement about being one of the “good ones”. The episode implies that Lucy will turn up again, which never happens and the show is worse for it, but her appearance in this hour is a big plus.
Even outliers who aren’t part of the plan like Matt and Tyler have their roles to play. Matt is an unwilling cog in Katherine’s evil machine as she compels him to instigate a fight with Tyler and hopefully get killed and trigger Tyler’s werewolf curse. This facet of Tyler’s character has been building since season one’s finale, a only to become the real deal by the episode’s end as he accidentally kills Sarah, Katherine’s backup plan. It promises more in store for Tyler than being the show’s resident jerky jock, and even “Masquerade” takes advantages of Trevino’s underused abilities. And werewolves nudge the show into yet unexplored territory.
The episode’s biggest failure is how it wimps out on actually making it lights out for Katherine instead condemning her to the infamous cursed tomb, and the seams are visible in that particular decision. The show wasn’t ready to get rid of a character who goes on to become a go-to thorn in everyone’s side, and it definitely wasn’t ready to stop making Dobrev work extra hours to play Elena’s doppelganger. But someone could have come up with a better reason than just because death would have been too kind to Katherine (would it really have been? No) for leaving her there. We spent all of season one learning how terrible Katherine one, and this episode she kills a girl on the dancefloor just because she can and is generally you know, horrible. Villains are fun and all, and in the scope of this episode Katherine surviving isn’t that bad. When this episode aired there weren’t many people eager to say a permanent goodbye to her anyway (not even me), but Katherine’s the first in a long line of bad guys TVD just can’t let go of. But even putting her in that tomb is still a hell of a triumph for the characters, who go home thinking they’ve accomplished something great. “Masquerade” gives the impression of forward momentum, and it’s just the close of a chapter while another one is beginning with the cliffhanger of Elena’s abduction.
- Is this the episode that begins TVD‘s slump? The next episode “Rose” introduces one of the Original vampires, Elijah, and I would argue it’s with the Originals that TVD begins to sink. Not because the characters didn’t have potential, but because the show didn’t know how to balance them on the show. They eventually got their own spinoff, but by then the damage had been done.
- The shot of Caroline drinking blood at the manor, with just a little bit of it being visible on her tongue was actually a pretty good one. Mostly gross but good.
- This episode also plants the seeds of relationships between Bonnie and Jeremy and Caroline and Tyler, both of which became really important to me. Only one of them (Beremy) still has a place in my heart.
- The next Throwback Thursday review will be Gilmore Girls‘ “Dear Emily and Richard.”