Here’s an interesting viewer dilemma: What do you do when a character you’ve wanted to be rid of for a long time dies, but the show they die on so consistently uses tricks to cheat death that you can’t trust they’re actually gone? Do you feel the relief you’ve been waiting for, or simply shrug and wait for the other shoe to inevitably drop? This is where I find myself with “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” a half-compelling, half-frustrating episode that ultimately ends up feeling a bit half-baked.

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Let’s start with the good, because there was definite good here: For the first time, Lily had a moment with one of her sons that felt completely genuine and heartfelt. Lily’s transition from antagonist to “big bad” to ally hasn’t had the most elegant of trajectories, but its biggest fault along the way has been the development of her relationship with Stefan and Damon, or lack thereof. While the connection felt spotty at best since her introduction last season, the previous episode worked hard to get all of the relationships between the three to where they need to be in order to make this episode work. This may have been a detriment to that episode’s story, but those hard-earned dividends pay off nicely here.

The key scene in question is the heartfelt conversation between Stefan and Lily, where he comes to her for advice after finding out Caroline is pregnant (and not initially handling the news all that well). Due to their relationship’s spotty previous development, the scene starts out very awkward, but as the conversation develops, a magical thing happens: The longer Stefan and Lily interact, the more they start to feel like mother and son, and the more their relationship begins to make sense. Most of this is due to some great work from Paul Wesley, who gets to show a more vulnerable side of Stefan that hasn’t been around much since his old heart-to-hearts with Elena. It’s a nice moment for both characters, so of course it has to happen right before everything goes to hell and ruins any sort of emotional momentum built here.

To be fair, that’s entirely the point: By building Lily’s ties to Stefan, it then gives the scene when she sacrifices herself in vain in an attempt to kill Julian more poignant. It’s a classic plot, and it almost works—except it’s hard to trust it. In this world where people have died and come back to life so many times, how do we believe it when someone dies? The world of the show right at this moment includes a magical stone that reunites dead vampires with their bodies so they can go on living like nothing ever happened. How do we not think that’s the first thing Julian will try to do in order to get Lily back? The only true gut punch of Lily’s death is watching a remorseless Damon stand over his mother’s dying body and basically tell her she’s getting what she deserves. But even that is almost a celebratory gut punch, because Damon has a point: Lily was kind of an awful mother.

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The other question is, if Lily is really gone, are we now still stuck with the rest of these Heretics? Valerie has developed into a fairly pleasant character to have around, but Nora and Mary Louise are still deadly dull, and don’t get any better in this episode. This isn’t for a lack of trying—they have the sort of epic love story TVD is built around—but there’s just not the necessary connection there between character, motivation, and narrative drive to make them feel like a vibrant part of the show’s landscape. Without Lily around to keep them and Julian in check, are we just in for a big slaughter of every human in the vicinity of Mystic Falls? At least that would give Stefan and Damon an excuse to kill them, for once and for all.

Despite the weird uncertainty of Lily’s death muting its emotional and narrative impact, the episode itself had a fairly decent overall structure, one that for once was nicely tied in with the future story. The episode opens with Damon tied up in the future, revealing Lily as Damon’s captor. Throughout the episode, Damon’s anger and resentment toward Lily never abates, with him basically cursing her to her face on her deathbed. It then comes full circle at the close, flashing forward again to the future where Damon apologizes to his mother for what he said to her back then. The twist is it isn’t Lily holding Damon captive at all, but still a mystery woman—and Damon’s apology will never reach his mother’s ears. Structurally, it’s the perfect setup for a brutal moment of ironic reckoning for Damon. It’s a shame that the muted emotional impact of Lily’s actual death doesn’t quite let that moment fully land the way it should.

Stray observations

  • Caroline being self-aware enough to realize writing a diary about being a magically pregnant vampire is stupid was at least a semi-charming way to shoehorn that device in again. I only wish her emotional development in the show was less about how Stefan was going to react and more about how she actually feels about having human babies forced inside of her without her permission.
  • Julian gets a scene that looks like an attempt to make him look sympathetic, where he explains that he unlinked himself from Lily in order to make sure she was spared if Stefan and Damon came after him. Not really feeling the warm fuzzies for this guy, show.
  • Lily and Enzo all of a sudden connecting and making out made no sense at all. She never seemed to care one lick about him before, Julian or no Julian.
  • This Week, In Matt Donovan Is The Best: Matt’s story is not connected very well to the rest of the stories on the show, but his teaming up with some sort of vampire vigilantes to take down Enzo was totally awesome. I don’t know where that story is headed, but Matt torturing Enzo in any way brings me joy.
  • “You made your bed. Have a nice nap.”

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