If asked to describe The Vampire Diaries as either a plot or character-driven show, I would invariably respond with plot. After all, it’s the machinations, the twists and the turns, the reveals and the double crosses that distinguish the show as one of the most entertaining and unpredictable airing today. What was abundantly clear in “The Sun Also Rises,” however, is how stealthily the writers have built something with so much more meaning than simply story mechanics over these past two years. This episode could easily have been all about the logistics of the ritual and the attempts to stop it. And sure, that was there, and it was pretty great. What really resonated, however, was so much more: It was the emotions, the relationships, and the ever-growing realization of just how much this ragged band of humans, witches, werewolves and vampires all do anything to take care of each other no matter the circumstances.
Looking back, the story structure of the past few episodes was kind of genius. It elegantly allowed almost all of the legwork to be completed last week so when it came time for Klaus to perform his ritual there was very little setup needed. Let’s face it, once Jenna became involved it was kind of hard to focus on any heavy plot, you know? Listen, they’ve criminally underused Sara Canning but her presence has always been an important one in the show. She’s the only stable parental figure Elena has, and to watch Greta complete Jenna's transformation into a vampire right in front of Elena was pretty brutal. Even more brutal was Elena’s reaction, and seeing the guilt in her eyes as she blames herself for everything. As Jenna gets brave and tries to use her new vampire skills to thwart Klaus, and ends up with a stake in the heart for her efforts, it’s even sadder because the potential for Jenna the vampire Aunt could have been great.
Elena’s suffering was even more gut-wrenching when it was revealed she would be losing not one but two (and, um, all remaining) parental figures in her life during the fight with Klaus. John Gilbert has always been a tricky character – he came on the scene as nothing less than a complete asshole – but has been very interestingly shaded in the second half of season two, and tonight completed his journey from jerk to entirely sympathetic character. Sacrificing yourself to save your daughter will do that for a fellow. The one-two punch of Jenna dying and John’s sacrifice, and subsequent reading of the letter John left for Elena, was honestly too much to bear and a tear (or 100) may have been shed in my living room. It was, quite simply, a beautifully sad sequence that carried the perfect amount of emotional weight without being gaudy or maudlin. As for Elena, her life will never be the same, Elena as a girl will never be the same, and I hope the writers recognize this and her character gets a chance to evolve accordingly. In the meantime, I’ll be rewatching the funeral scene and crying my eyes out.
How about Klaus and his ritual? Well, he’s still magnificent – let’s just get that out there straightaway – and despite Stefan, Bonnie and Damon’s best efforts he does succeed in becoming the hybrid. Elijah, who spent the entire last episode getting a haircut or something, arrived just in time to kill his brother and avenge the deaths of the rest of their family at Klaus’ hand. But, of course, Klaus has backup plan upon backup plan and convinces Elijah (who has is HAND IN HIS CHEST at the time, mind you) that his family’s bodies are not lost, and they can find and restore them. Elijah, for whom revenge was his only motivation, falls for the temptation and rescues Klaus instead of killing him once and for all. Now, last week many questioned Elijah’s true loyalties, and although he ultimately betrayed his promise to Elena, he did it for reasons that felt in line with why he was so willing to kill his brother in the first place. Also, as Stefan pointed out, it isn’t as easy to kill your brother as one might think, no matter how evil he is. Granted, I’m likely giving Elijah a bit of a pass here because he and Klaus are such compelling characters and I don’t want their tenure on the show to end. They have fabulous hair, people. It needs to remain on my television screen.
Finally, we have Stefan and Damon. Their relationship has been the most fluid throughout the series, starting in a truly awful place and yet lasting throughout betrayals and the little matter of both of them being in love with the same girl. Twice. “The Sun Also Rises” brought them to perhaps the most emotionally honest place they’ve been throughout the series, when Damon reveals his werewolf bite and Stefan has to face the very real probability his brother is going to die. Paul Wesley does a great job of showing his quiet desperation (does anyone do sad eyes like PW?) and determination to save Damon any way he can. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m ready to see everyone fight for someone other than Elena. It will be a nice change of pace.
The one slightly awkward thing about the episode was how Matt, Caroline and Tyler were off in their own little world without even realizing what was happening just across town. Matt and Caroline manage to get away from Tyler – because Matt, who is suddenly a giant bad ass, shoots him – but Tyler ends up at their doorstep anyway once he changes back to human form. Caroline and Matt finally have an honest conversation where she learns about his treachery, but unfortunately although Matt seemed to have doubts about Caroline’s mother’s view of vampires, he still isn’t ready to be a vampire’s girlfriend. Once Matt leaves and Tyler wakes up, Caroline and Tyler have a really lovely conversation about rekindling their friendship. Every moment of this story was well written and acted; it just seemed tacked-on and entirely separate from the real meat of the episode. Still, it was nice to see Caroline and Tyler together again. I hope those crazy kids can make it work this time. (Be still my beating shipper heart.)
Next week: FINALE! Does anyone out there think Damon is going to die? Anyone?
- Let's do a count of how many people were willing to sacrifice their lives for someone else tonight: Stefan, Jenna, Elena, Bonnie, John, Damon…probably Ric and Jeremy if they would have let them. That's an impressive amount of love and/or an impressive lack of self-preservation.
- I'm not sure how I made it through all of that without mentioning Elena and Jeremy's talk before the funeral, but it was fantastic. They don't exploit the brother/sister relationship nearly enough, so it was nice to see such a wonderful interaction.
- Those Gilbert journals are very convenient and informative. Why hasn’t someone read them cover to cover and memorized them yet? Jeremy, you need a purpose. Get to it.
- Bonnie almost got a chance to show off her skills, but once again was stopped before she went too far. When are we going to get to see the girl truly go to town on a vamp? Or will killing a vamp definitely kill her?
- I never thought I could like a “Skinny Love” cover, but it was kind of perfect. Gorgeously placed.
- “Well, that’s my brother for you. Always cleaning up my messes.”
- “I have plans for your boyfriend. I want him alive, well, for now.”
- “You’re kidding right? This is the second time I’ve tried to kill you.” “Well, no friendship is perfect.”
- “How does one go about killing an all-powerful wolf/vamp and his two-faced older brother?”
- “I’m sorry you’ve lost so many people.” “I still have you.”