Matt Davis, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe/The CW

It’s strange watching a show knowing a big thing is going to happen (and precisely when it is going to happen) but not knowing how. Knowing Nina Dobrev is leaving the show and Ian Somerhalder is staying adds a strange tinge to every Elena and Damon scene leading up to Dobrev’s inevitable departure. The fact that real-life television news is interfering with the story the show is trying to tell is an unfortunate effect of what is now essentially a 24-hour television news cycle in social media. Whether it’s fair to the show is another story altogether.

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Now that Elena is human, the big question hanging over her relationship with Damon is whether or not he will take the cure along with her. Last week’s episode frustratingly seemed to take the decision out of Damon’s hands completely, as Elena remembered Damon telling her in season four he didn’t want to take the cure because he didn’t want to be human. (That this directly opposes Damon’s big “secret” in season two that he misses being human, well, just roll with it.) This caused her to basically refuse to allow Damon to take it, and this episode picks up that thread, as Stefan works to talk Damon out of his decision—completely with Elena’s blessing. Ultimately, it’s less that Elena wants Damon to refuse the cure than she wants to make sure he’s taking the cure for the right reasons, reasons that don’t fully revolve around her.

The tricky thing with that is that Damon’s reasons for wanting to take the cure were always going to revolve around Elena. If the cure showed up and she wasn’t in the picture, as much as Damon claimed to miss being human in season two there is little chance he would actually take the cure for himself. This episode attempts to explore all of the different scenarios that could happen if Damon takes the cure (via some handy future visions courtesy of Stefan), but despite some great performances from Dobrev and Somerhalder in the fake flash-forwards, knowing that ultimately Damon and Elena aren’t going to end up together makes it hard for them to fully land. This is unfortunate, because of all the stories Damon and Elena have had over the last few seasons, this is the one that feels like it could have been the most emotionally engaging, except the audience was never fully allowed to due to outside forces. When Damon comes to the realization that he does want to take the cure, and it’s precisely because of Elena that he wants to take it, no matter how it ends up, it’s a lovely and romantic moment. But we know it isn’t going to stick.

“I’ll Wed You In The Golden Summertime” has other things on its mind besides Damon, Elena, and the cure, namely Jo and Alaric’s wedding. Because this is The Vampire Diaries there is no way the wedding is going to happen without some total disaster. Thankfully Caroline shows up to at least get the planning part under control, effortlessly directing everyone in important wedding tasks while simultaneously making amends with the various friends she hurt while she had her humanity turned off. Her toughest (and most surprising) conversation is with Stefan, as Caroline finally confronts all of the mistakes she made since falling for him—including neglecting her dying mother in order to spend more time with Stefan instead. It’s a nice moment of self-awareness from Caroline, which is followed by her being aware enough to realize she’s not quite ready to be in a real relationship with him. As fun as humanity-free Caroline was, it’s nice to have the real Caroline Forbes back.

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As for Jo and Alaric’s wedding, its undoing isn’t missing flowers, a ruined wedding dress, or even Jo’s inexplicable fainting spell—no, it’s Kai, who is suddenly back from the prison world and ready to cause a whole bunch of mayhem. Because he has impeccable villain timing, he waits until Alaric softens all of our hearts by giving some pretty amazing vows, and then silently stabs Jo in the stomach just as she’s getting to say her vows in return, then he turns his magic ire on the rest of the crowd. This ultimately leads to human Elena getting knocked out, and gives The Vampire Diaries one of its most effectively brutal cliffhangers in quite a while. Season six’s penultimate episode was a fairly calm affair, but the last few minutes promise something much more intense for next week’s finale. Considering we haven’t even properly met Lily’s Heretic friends yet, there’s surely a lot more mayhem to come.

Stray observations:

  • The promo for Nina Dobrev’s exit next week is incredibly emotional. Sniffle.
  • How the heck did Kai get back? Did I miss something? Was it the cornbread?
  • Human Again Alaric has pretty much entirely been a bust for me (I still can’t believe they brought him back to be a teacher and a husband only and never interact with Damon), but his conversation with Elena about how wonderful it was to be human again after being a vampire was a nice moment for those two characters.
  • So no one noticed Bonnie and Matt weren’t at the wedding? This has to be some kind of meta commentary about their characters.
  • Stefan and Elena were being giant jerks in this episode, especially Stefan. Damon is an old man. He can make his own darn decisions without you two yahoos.
  • Damon crushing that kid’s ball was hilarious. Can this become a running joke somehow?
  • This week, in Matt Donovan Is The Best: Is Matt Donovan still the best? Discuss amongst yourselves—I am unsure. (His face is still pretty good. And his crack about Caroline threatening him to go get the centerpieces was fun.)
  • “You do know that Jo’s my sister, right?” Um, I kind of forgot? Sorry, Liv.
  • Elena: “If there’s anywhere you should be superstitious, it’s Mystic Falls.”
  • “Miss me?” Yes, Kai. Yes I did.

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