The Vampire Diaries returns from a four-week hiatus a very different show from where it last left off. On the surface of the episode everything might seem the same, but the show is about to undergo a seismic shift due to the announced departure of Nina Dobrev, and that departure hangs like a specter over everything. Now that we know she is leaving, the exact nature of how Elena will depart this universe is becoming increasingly clear as the season marches toward its conclusion.
When Bonnie gave Damon the rediscovered cure, the show’s social media immediately set off a fan campaign asking who would get to take it. If there was ever any doubt that someone other than Elena would get it, this episode—coupled with the knowledge that Dobrev is leaving the show after this season—completely erases it. Elena is getting the cure, and the episodes between now and then are going to be all about setting up a satisfying goodbye within the cure arc. (If something else happens, feel free to use this prediction to mock me mercilessly. I will deserve it.) The signs are all there: Bonnie gave the cure to Damon specifically to give to Elena, as she was the one they discovered it for in the first place. More importantly, Elena suddenly remembers all of her old reservations about what she has to sacrifice because she is a vampire and not a human.
This isn’t a critique, not really. The show is in a tough place having to come up with a plausible way to have its main character exit gracefully, and if Elena becoming human is the path the writers take, it’s as good of an idea as any. What doesn’t work as well is how the ideas are introduced so suddenly and so numerously, practically painting a big sign on Elena’s forehead that says “Cure me, please!” First, she’s jealous of Jo’s pregnancy because it’s something she’ll never get to experience. Then, she regretfully remarks upon how she knows part of her will always be a monster who is capable of what Stefan and Caroline are doing without their humanity. The final kicker comes from more external sources, when Matt’s disgust with vampires leads him to refuse Elena’s blood to cure him when he gets hurt. Having Matt say he hates vampires right to Elena’s face is pretty brutal (and maybe not so believable) but it seems to be the final thing that leads Elena to have a truly sad moment with Damon over all she’ll never be.
The thing about this is that two seasons ago, it wouldn’t have seemed out of place at all, but in the past few years Elena has existed as far more of a plot driver than a character. Beyond wanting to have Damon, what has Elena really wanted? She wanted to go to school, sure, but that thread was dropped so quickly—and Whitmore used more like a backdrop for supernatural stories than anything about Elena’s character growth—that it feels like a lifetime ago. Jo mentions Elena’s desire to be a doctor here but how much has she truly expressed that desire in the past? TVD took a bit of a wrong turn with Elena a while ago, and while it’s admirable the show is attempting to build her character back up in order to give her a valiant sendoff, it feels a bit like they’re paying for the sins of their past in how awkward it all seems right now.
Other than dealing with the beginning of the Elena exit arc, the rest of the episode was mostly focused on Mama Salvatore and getting Stefan his humanity back. There’s something about Lily’s character that’s tough to connect to—probably because she’s really just here to become the show’s next big threat. When Lily reveals she had to stop loving her sons in order to love her new family—a family we find out is some sort of crazy witch/vampire hybrid gang called Heretics—it’s heartbreaking for Damon to hear, but it’s still far more about plot than it is about her actual connection to the Salvatore boys at this point. The one great thing about her scenes this week was the sequence where she talks Stefan into turning his humanity back on using words she got directly from Damon. Because it’s not Lily who knows her boys, it’s not Lily who loves Stefan; it’s Damon, and that bond between the brothers is strong enough that not having the love of their mother isn’t all that important. This brotherly bond will become even more important to the show as it moves on beyond Elena and the love triangle, and how they develop that relationship is one of the things I’m looking forward to once Dobrev leaves.
As for Stefan and Caroline’s humanity-free romp through Whitmore, well, it’s a bit of a case of diminishing returns. The horror-tinged open is a lot of fun, but the more Stefan and Caroline talk about eating people off camera, the less fun it seems (though it’s still pretty fun when they’re both being snarky). With Stefan back to his regular self and looking to lure Caroline back to the side of the humane, at least their murder spree didn’t overstay its welcome.
- Michael Trevino is leaving the show as well, which given Tyler’s uselessness lately is probably a good thing. (Sorry, Tyler.)
- The moment where Matt and Tyler blithely stumbled into Caroline and Stefan’s murder spree was so strange. It was almost as if no one told them what was happening. How is that possible? Text your friends when your other friends lose their humanity, idiots.
- So Mama Salvatore turned Enzo on a cruise across the Atlantic, because everyone in this universe is connected. Way to never let go, Enzo.
- This week, in Matt Donovan Is The Best: Matt gave Sarah vervain so Enzo couldn’t compel her. I am not sure where they’re going with Matt’s vampire hate (will he be Stefan and Damon’s antagonist next season once Elena is gone?) but if anyone deserves to hate vampires, it’s that guy.
- Stefan: “Technically, he died of a loophole.”
- Matt: “Do you know how many times I’ve died?”