Review: ‘The Vampire Diaries’: Graduation Day
Graduation is a time to pause and reflect on the last four years of our lives, a time to ask ourselves that age-old question:
how is it that Bonnie dies and is still a series regular but Alaric dies and that’s the end of it? where do we go from here? For most shows set in high school, once the cast graduates and heads off to college, the end is near. Very few shows can successfully make the transition to college, with some, like ‘One Tree Hill’, deciding to skip it all together in an attempt to avoid the dark, confusing and dirty world that accompanies our early 20s.
If high school is about first loves and first heartbreaks, proms and school spirit – or you know, vampires, werewolves, witches and hybrids if you’re a resident of Mystic Falls – college is a place to explore, a place to grow. It’s about independence and finding out who we are and who we want to be (also, how to feed yourself and do your own laundry). Most shows struggle during this period because the storylines that work in high school – the drama, the angst – seem trivial in this environment. Most shows seem to think the answer is to ramp up the drama, that giving a character independence must lead to drug overdoses, kidnappings, and having affairs with professors. In reality, college is about being on your own and learning to live and exist in a world outside your comfort zone. But when you’re Elena Gilbert, what the hell is a comfort zone?
In tonight’s fourth season finale, the show made a true return to form with an episode full of twists and turns, but also took the time to slow down, put on some indie-ish music and have some deep conversations in the Salvatore living room. In other words, it felt like home.
At various times throughout the season it seemed that the show we came to know and love, the show that was fearless, was nothing but a distant memory. The show that made daring leaps, the show that would put its heroes in dire situations with seemingly no way out, appeared to be dead. We’d come to expect a certain urgency, a certain boldness from this show, and when it wasn’t there we felt cheated, like we’d been stood up after being promised a really great dinner from someone Salvatore-level attractive. But looking back now, it’s probably safe to say we were all overreacting a bit. The show was simply suffering the growing pains that accompany any veteran series that’s killed off roughly half of its characters and now must find a way to manage with two heroic brothers, a homeless heroine, a witch most of the fandom can’t stand, a perky blonde with a little too much school spirit, and a regular Joe just trying to make ends meet to pay the electricity for his mansion. It was a great show having an OK season, but if tonight’s season finale is any indication, season five is going to be one hell of a party.
It would be ridiculous to pretend that the return of several of our dearly departed had nothing to do with the caliber of this episode, so let’s not even entertain the idea. With Bonnie’s death last week (YAY!), the veil was still down leaving Jeremy, Alaric, Lexi and Kol’s army of dead witches and hybrids and vampire hunters hanging out in Mystic Falls for a day. Some, like Jer and Ric, were spending it with loved ones eating cheeseburgers and drinking alcohol in the cemetery, like you do. Some were day drinking and rocking out to Bon Jovi. And others still were practicing threatening speeches from the podium of the Mystic Falls High School graduation site. Whatever floats your boat, I suppose.
But this episode worked because we had a tangible reason to care about what was happening to our protagonists, we had a cause to rally around, a mission
like how to perform that magical kiddie leash spell Bonnie performed on Katherine in order to keep Alaric from disappearing again – graduating high school while simultaneously putting the veil back up and sending our common enemies back to hell.
Bonnie has been the weakest link of this show for four seasons, trotted out simply when the rest of our characters’ storylines demanded some sort of magical intervention. She saved the day more than once with her extremely convenient magic skills, but she’s not exactly the world’s greatest witch. Homegirl died trying to perform a spell to keep Jeremy alive, so her chances of being successful here were slim to none. And it didn’t help knowing that being successful meant saying goodbye to our favorite characters (again). If you are like me, you spent most of the episode on the couch willing Bonnie to screw up somehow. But in our hearts we knew it wasn’t meant to be and that lent a sense of dread that permeated every scene. It created the emotional spark most of the season was missing. But having the veil remain down also meant Kol and the vampire hunters were back in play, therefore our characters were once again in real danger (i.e. the wooden bullets laced with werewolf venom).
This danger gave our characters purpose, a common enemy around after spending so much time fighting each other. Most of this season was devoted to Elena and her personal journey and so the threats our characters faced weren’t very serious – at least not when compared to previous seasons. We knew that the show couldn’t kill Elena or the Salvatores and we knew that it was only a matter of time before Elena righted herself, so where was the usual sense of urgency that accompanied the show? Sure, the threat that Silas posed was constant, but his threat wasn’t necessarily immediate. It wasn’t as if he was Klaus running around town slaughtering hybrids and drowning mothers on Christmas. The problem with Elena fighting her inner demons is that it’s very internal and the action and drama necessary for a great episode of TVD is very much external. That’s why this episode (and last week’s, I suppose) resonated so well with fans: we finally had an enemy we could fight (even if they had the power to regenerate like this was some wacky version of Halo).
But that’s not all that happened in this episode; the cure was still very much in play. That thing just wouldn’t go away, would it? When this cure storyline was introduced I was hesitant about how well it would work out and I still don’t really believe it was executed very well. I also don’t believe in backtracking or erasing the paths and the choices characters have made so that left very few options for who would eventually take the cure.
Every step a character takes is for a reason; to get them from point A to point B, to allow them to grow into the person they’re eventually supposed to be (it’s very much like college that way). Elena becoming a vampire was such a large part of the story this season that it would have been wrong for the writers to simply yell, “JUST KIDDING!” and give her the cure. It also wouldn’t have made much sense to give the cure to Damon. Despite confessing that he deeply misses being human, he’s also the character who relishes being a vampire the most (save for Katherine, but we’ll get to her in a moment). For a second I thought Stefan might take it as a way to escape once Elena chose his brother over him (yes, that damn love triangle has finally been resolved, and only a season or two late!), but I didn’t know if the show could survive one brother growing old and dying while the other watched. The brotherhood of the Salvatores is very much the heart of the show (come at me, shippers) and it just didn’t make sense.
Knowing that Rebekah wants the cure but is also going to be relocating to New Orleans in the near future (after a trip around the world with Matt! What? Whatever, who cares!), she was out of the running. That left two characters: Caroline and Katherine. I think either one of them would have been shocking, but Caroline didn’t really make sense from a storytelling point of view, especially because she really came into her own post-transition. Katherine unwillingly taking the cure opens the door to some very interesting developments next season, as she relishes being a vampire and hates the idea of being weak and vulnerable. I, personally, am just really happy to have that cure storyline wrapped up and out of the way. Oh wait, just kidding. Turns out Silas isn’t stone anymore now that Bonnie is dead (some sort of magical loophole – I told you that stuff was shady) and he’s walking around with Stefan’s face. Yep, that’s right. Turns out Elena and Katherine aren’t even all that special because there’s a new doppelganger in town. Remember how Silas would never let anyone see what he really looked like? And we thought it was probably because he was just a really unattractive loser? Turns out he looks a lot like Paul Wesley!
This development is far more interesting than Katherine becoming human because Stefan is currently locked in a safe at the bottom of the lake (what up, complete rip off of ‘Angel’?) and Silas is impersonating him. This will undoubtedly be a very prominent storyline in season five, and I’m all for it. Not to mention it allows Paul to play evil, and we all know how much he enjoys being the bad guy from how giddy it made him to play Ripper Stefan in season three.
Unfortunately, just as high school ends, so too does our time with the dead. Our favorite characters were able to return one more time to help save the day and provide some very keen insights into our protagonists, but they weren’t meant to stay. This is Mystic Falls after all; good things don’t last long. Bonnie was somehow able to perform magic while being dead (I have stopped trying to figure out the logic behind magic in this series) and was able to put the veil back up. Knowing that one of our characters would return permanently, I dreamed (and hoped and wished and possibly scarified a virgin in order) for it be Alaric, but always knew it would be Jeremy. His death set Elena on this journey in the second half of the season and it only makes sense for him to be the one who truly makes her whole. (See? I told you guys he wasn’t gone forever!) Let’s just hope Bonnie’s sacrifice isn’t for nothing and that the Stefan and Silas doppelganger story is pulled off. I have a feeling season five is going to be a lot more fun and exciting than this season. Even with the gang going off to college. Bring on the kegs and eggs!
Some stray observations:
- “This is my bar, pal.” – Alaric
- Bonnie seems to think that Jeremy can just lie about her death and that no one will notice she’s gone. While that’s true for the rest of her family, I have a feeling that Elena and Caroline might notice eventually. Especially when the time comes for her to perform some of that witchy stuff.
- Despite the fact she didn’t apply to any colleges, Elena and Co. are headed off to college next season. Hmm.
- Are you sure Alaric can’t stay? Just exist in the background making snarky commentary? His pride over Elena’s fighting skills coupled with his concern for her safety was so moving and I simply hate that he’s gone. Also, I would have liked to have seen his face when she got her diploma.
- Klaus turned up in time to save Damon from the werewolf venom. And in true Klaus fashion he did it with style. By decapitating someone with a mortarboard at graduation (I’m sure that went over well with the rest of Mystic Falls). I have a feeling he and Elijah have a running game of Who Can Make the Most Memorable Entrance.
- Tyler is free to return to Mystic Falls, as Klaus has decided that he’s not meant to be Caroline’s first love, but her last. Yeah, whatever. I don’t really know how to feel about these two, especially considering he’s off to New Orleans.
- Just a reminder: Alaric Saltzman Support Group meetings will be held at my place every Thursday at 8. BYOB(ourbon).
Note: Photo courtesy of The CW.