“I don’t know. Maybe this is the better version of me.”
One of the most enjoyable things about The Vampire Diaries is how it encompasses so many different things. It’s simultaneously a story about one woman’s destiny; a tale of a supernatural love triangle; a saga of centuries-old brothers; and a whiplash-paced rumination on family, friends, love, loss, and the loyalty that holds all these disparate elements together. Because the show is so many things at once, it can follow a heart-wrenching, game-changing episode like “Stand By Me” with a much more fun, loose affair like the cheerleading shenanigans of “Bring It On” and not cause the audience to blink an eye.
How does the show manage to do this so easily? Because in this world, even the characters are mutable. Sick of human Elena? No worries, now she’s a vampire! Have an issue with the tampered emotional state of original recipe vampire Elena? Never fear; here’s an all-new, conscience-free version just for you! When Elena turned off her humanity to help her deal with Jeremy’s death, she turned on an entirely new version of herself, and it’s unlike any Elena—or even Katherine—we’ve seen before.
The episode sets the stage for Elena’s transformation immediately, starting with her trolling for a roadside snack much like Damon used to do back in season one. But as much as Elena wants to let go, she’s being held back by all the people in her life—most notably Stefan, Damon, and Caroline. Although Elena flipped her humanity switch, it hasn’t stopped Damon and Stefan from spending a significant portion of their waking hours debating the best way to “handle” her (basically, it’s the same as when she was Regular Vampire Elena, except this time she might actually hurt people). Just like a rebellious teen, the more they try to box Elena in, she pushes back with all her might, first becoming a cheerleader in order to feast on the opposing squads, then organizing a big party at the mansion, so she can slip away unnoticed.
The thing about emotionless Elena is that although she’s doing horrible things like hurting Caroline’s mother and then attempting to kill Caroline before Stefan and Damon intervene, it’s such a breath of fresh air to see her do anything different that she’s somehow immediately more likeable. A large part of this inevitably has to do with the sire bond, which disappeared once she turned her humanity off. Just seeing Elena have agency of her own again—even if it is just go snack on teenage girls—is so welcome that I almost didn’t even mind how horrible she was being. Humanity-Free Elena has the distinct advantage of being interesting in a way Regular Vampire Elena never did, with her quick-thinking, clever schemes, and Alaric-taught fighting skills all adding up to something far more fun to watch. It doesn’t hurt that Nina Dobrev, as usual, is flawless in the role. Humanity-Free Elena is distinct from Vampire Elena is distinct from Human Elena is distinct from Katherine, and you can tell she’s having fun with just how evil she gets to be. The little smile she gives Stefan after letting Caroline fall to the ground during a cheerleading stunt? Pure magic.
What makes this story work most of all is how it forces us to at least consider what Elena should be like now that she’s a vampire. We’ve seen sired vampire Elena. We’ve seen human Elena. Now we’re getting to see humanity-free Elena, and even though Damon tells Elena that’s not what she’s really like, how is it his place at all to inform her (or us) of this? Like Elena says in response to Damon’s concern, how should she be? If he was always so concerned about what she thought of his past misdeeds, shouldn’t he be happy that she truly no longer cares about what he’s done? There’s an interesting line to be walked here between what Damon wants her to be, what Damon needs her to be, and what she needs to be for herself, and that conversation manages to thread the needle between all aspects quite well. When Elena turned her humanity off, did she also turn off her relationship with him? It certainly turned off anything between her and Stefan, at least for now.
Though Elena is the focus of the episode, there are plenty of interesting things happening in the margins. For the first time since his big massacre, Klaus gets a chance to do more than just drive the plot, and it is a very pleasant development indeed. It’s clear a big focus of this last stretch of episodes is going to be Katherine and the search for the cure, and Klaus has figured out a way to find her: by using Hayley, who teamed up with Katherine to hunt it down but now finds herself in danger. Hayley and Klaus shared some screentime early in the season but it’s an entirely new ballgame here, with them sharing a great flirty chemistry and a genuine interest in each other that, frankly, surprised the hell out of me. It culminates with them sharing a bed, and if this is where the Originals spinoff is heading, it’s a very positive direction to go in.
Those were the positive things about the episode; now, on to the less positive. Poor Caroline has had a rough go of it this season, not having a story of her own outside of Tyler and Elena. She spent the last two episodes not even participating in Tyler’s story, just leaving him sad voicemail messages while he’s off running from Klaus, but even those come to an end tonight when Tyler leaves his house to Matt and tells Caroline he’s never coming back. Sure, it’s sad enough, but every time she leaves a voicemail, it cuts into the episode completely, never quite fitting in and feeling shoehorned in just to wrap things up. Now that he’s out of the picture, it’s time for Caroline to step up and be the badass woman we know she can be.
And in addition to all of this, Silas is still lurking out there. Sheriff Forbes notes huge blood bank thefts from six towns surrounding Mystic Falls, which means Silas likely followed them back there and is restoring his strength before doing something supremely terrible. What the gang needs is the cure, and Damon and Elena are off on a jaunt to New York City to maybe help find it. Two carefree vampires set loose in the city with the goal of having fun? Sounds like a good time to me.
- Belated thanks to Rowan for doing such a great job during Second Opinions week.
- Matt has a place to live! Now he can stop sleeping in the walk-in at Mystic Grill!
- Liz’s sadness over the destruction of the Gilbert family was really sweet. It’s easy to forget that she’s lost so much in all of this, too.
- Damon needs to write a “things you suck at” list for all of the characters.
- Is Elena’s thing taking a trophy from her victims? Or does she just like ribbons?
- So Hayley is from a long line of some important werewolf lineage. Yes, it’s out of the blue, but I’m impressed with how they’re building up her character in preparation for the spinoff.