After seven years we thought we had Damon Salvatore all figured out, but last week, The Vampire Diaries surprised us with a brilliant Damon-centric concept episode that delivered a whopping emotional blow -- and challenged everything we thought we knew about the broody Salvatore.
For Damon, life outside the Phoenix Stone will be even more brutal than his savage Civil War-era hellscape. He's still lost in the artifice of his own mind; he doesn't know what's real and what's not.
"I think post-Phoenix Stone is going to ultimately be worse than even having been in there because I think the PTSD and the repercussions of what he's figured out in there are ultimately going to be worse," Ian Somerhalder told MTV News ahead of tonight's episode. "Having said that, the one thing that I think anyone can expect from him is to fight it and hate it. That's just what he does. Typical Damon."
Damon's internal battle will of course bubble over and have an effect on his IRL decisions. For Somerhalder, it was a welcome opportunity to bring a menacing unpredictability back to Damon -- a character whose decision-making had become any but in recent seasons.
"Wildly unpredictable and Damon don't necessarily go hand in hand anymore," Somerhalder said. "I would like for that to be more of the case. It does end up happening. You do get that again in him. He does some pretty unpredictable stuff. He wants to punish himself. He honestly feels as though he deserves it. He just killed everyone he loved, everyone who helped him. He killed everybody. It was a huge mistake, and he has to live with that."
"The one thing that Damon definitely doesn't do is make good decisions," he added. "He has the best of intentions, but he just doesn't make good decisions. And that's hard. You'd figure after 175 years of being on this planet, you'd have the ability, with more frequency, to make better decisions. His whole goal, or so he says, is basically protecting her, and what he doesn't realize is that if he stopped for a second and looked, statistically, at what his intention was versus what the outcome was, he would see that his lack of ability to protect her is what's prevalent -- and by virtue of that, if he would just leave her out of it, then he would be okay."
However, without Elena, it’s up to Stefan to bring his brother back from a precarious edge. A master of empathy, the younger Salvatore opens up about his own time in the Phoenix Stone. According to Somerhalder, this is what the show is truly about: "these brothers dealing with each other and loving each other through it all, even though they want to kill each other half the time."
"Stefan is really open about it," Somerhalder added. "Stefan has this ability to accept pain and suffering and utilize it, where Damon views that as a weakness. Damon has a consistent inability to actually take pain and utilize it. He runs from it. He medicates. He kills people. He does all sorts of shit."
Damon is of course a product of what happened the day of the farmhouse massacre -- the day he tried, and failed, to find his mother. He's been carrying the pain and anguish of that moment ever since.
"He's going to always be running as a result of that," he said. "He's always going to let his bother down as a result of that. He's always going to keep her in danger as a result of that. It's just what's going to happen with the type of lifestyle that he's grown accustomed to living -- and it all started with that farmhouse. It festered for over 150 years and made him the man he is today. It ruined him."
Damon isn't the only angsty guy in Mystic Falls suffering from a post-Phoenix Stone grief hangover. Julian is more unhinged that ever, and a "pretty fucking substantial" run-in with Damon may just have huge repercussions on Bonnie and Matt's fight to save the town.
"Julian is a badass... you do not want to fuck with Julian," Somerhalder said. "He is just as volatile as Damon, but what is the common thread? Love. His love for Lily is what really sent him over the other side. His love and loss of her really destroyed that guy. It messed him up."
The same could be said for Damon, who's constantly trying to prove to himself that he's the kind of man Elena deserves. While Delena has taken a backseat this season, it's still very much part of Damon's DNA, whether Somerhalder likes it or not.
"I vowed it would never, ever happen," Somerhalder said of Damon's letter to Elena in Season 7, Episode 4. "You might see that happen again. It is called The Vampire Diaries, so maybe Damon's just like, 'Hey, listen. Everybody else writes in a fucking diary. Might as well.'"