How far can Damon Salvatore push his brother Stefan until he breaks? As The Vampire Diaries cruises to the finish line of Season 7, Damon and Stefan's relationship has never been more exposed. Stefan's greatest flaw has always been his empathy, especially toward his his brother. He's always believed he could save Damon, but as last week's episode proved, if given the choice, Damon will always choose to save himself (and Elena).
With Stefan's soul trapped inside his own personal hellscape, he'll reflect on the decades of Damon-inflicted disappointment he's endured. By the end of the episode, Stefan will come to a brutal understanding of his brother, which will greatly impact the future of their relationship.
MTV News talked with Vampire Diaries executive producer -- and the director of this week's episode, "I Went To The Woods" -- Julie Plec about what’s to come for the Salvatore brothers, whether their brotherhood can survive the season, and the show's own broody Bruce Wayne, Matt Donovan.
MTV News: At the end of last week's episode, the Phoenix Stone was destroyed, so what does that mean for Stefan's soul?
Julie Plec: The location [of Stefan's soul] is actually the central mystery as we enter the episode. He opens his eyes, and he quickly finds himself to be in a very peculiar situation that is unfamiliar to him and very confusing. So he's asking the question, from the very beginning, "Where the hell am I?" And then we get to watch as he figures it all out.
MTV: Is Stefan finally at a point where he's realized he can't save his brother from himself?
Plec: This episode is really beautiful and powerful as a brother episode. Finally, Stefan is taking a stand and saying, "Look, man. You have continued to make a series of really questionable choices all based on the way you feel about the kind of man you are, with the love of Elena in your life, and I'm standing here before you like, what about me? Why is she the only one that can encourage you to make the right choices for yourself? You need to dig deep into who you are and who you're supposed to be and realize that there are other people who not only love you but who you should worry about and make choices for their benefit." They have a really powerful conversation that digs pretty deep, all the way back to the beginning of their brother relationship.
MTV: It feels like every time Damon takes a step forward, he takes five steps back. Can he even be redeemed at this point?
Plec: I think the beauty of Damon Salvatore is that he is so flawed on so many levels that we kind of go layer by layer trying to fix him and rehabilitate him because at his core, as we saw when he was a kid, he was a good kid who just wanted his parents love him. And then his whole life got turned upside down when he became a vampire, so I do believe that ultimately in his soul he is an extremely redeemable character. He's just got a lot of baggage that needs to be cleaned up along the way.
MTV: While Stefan's soul is M.I.A. we know his body is currently being inhabited by a not-so-good guy. Is he wreaking havoc all over town?
Plec: This episode is more about the threat of the havoc that could be wreaked, and next episode is without a doubt seeing him at his naughtiest.
MTV: That must have been a lot of fun for Paul [Wesley], who we all know enjoys playing the bad guy. With The Vampire Diaries headed into Season 8, how do you keep your actors challenged by the material?
Plec: That's a really important question. Ian [Somerhalder] got that great episode earlier, that Civil War era Groundhog Day episode, and he's never been happier. He was so happy coming to work every day, and he exhausted himself because he wanted it to be so good. I was really excited to work with Neil [Reynolds], who wrote the episode, to give Paul that same kind of fun acting challenge. On one hand, he gets to dip into this evil guy territory, which is a place he loves to play in, and on the other, we have a storyline where his character is at his most human, and most vulnerable, under really raw circumstances. So he got to exercise a greater muscle for Stefan Salvatore as well by putting him in a situation that really tested his strength and survival instincts.
MTV: The Salvatores have arguably been front and center this season, and I know some fans really miss having that female protagonist narrative. In the past few episodes Bonnie and Caroline have been sidelines, so when do they get back into the action this season?
Plec: Certainly nowhere in our planning rituals did we account for not just losing the lead actress of the show but also having one of the other two lead actresses get pregnant and take maternity leave. So it shifted the plan for this season, but I think it worked out because what's nice about this season is that we got to really tell a Salvatore-centric storyline. The brothers have always had Elena in the middle between them for all these years, so we as writers really enjoyed telling the brothers's love story this year. As we get to the end of the season, which is kind of the final chapter of this story, we watch as Bonnie and Caroline come back into the center of the story, especially the Bonnie/Damon relationship, which has been almost fatally destroyed as the result of Damon's decision. Damon, as a result of what's happened to Bonnie and his brother, realizes that he has some bridges he needs to rebuild, and we'll see the lengths he'll go to to try and fix those relationships.
MTV: Kat Graham recently announced that Season 8 would be her final season on the show. Has Bonnie's exit been in the works, or have you started to plan for her final season?
Plec: We all understand Bonnie's endgame on a certain level because her survival is tied to Elena's predicament. I was as surprised by [Kat's] decision as anyone because none of us, creatively, have talked about a ninth season. We have just now started talking about the eighth season, and I think we were all so excited to be coming back that, for me, I wasn't thinking about beyond that. Now I have a year to make sure that we do it right and that we honor that character in all the best ways, which is great. Of course she always has a place if she wants to stick around.
MTV: And then there's Matt. Poor, poor Matt. In the three years since the time jump, he's kind of turned into this tragic figure. Is he the Bruce Wayne of the story? Is he going to turn into the show's brooding vigilante?
Plec: He doesn't know who to be, and I think that's a big part of his journey for the rest of the season. He's carrying a lot of pain that we'll understand shortly and a lot of anger that we will understand eventually. He doesn't really know where to stand. He sort of becomes a man on an island who doesn't know if he can be friends with these people. He loved them deeply at one point, so he's got a lot of work to do, asking himself questions like, "Who do I want to be and what side do I want to live on?" That's a journey that will take him to the finale.
MTV: He needs an Alfred!
Plec: He does! I like that idea. I'm going to get back to you on that one.