For a show that features so much death, The Vampire Diaries does surprisingly little actual mourning. People talk about the dead, but it’s almost always in an almost clinical manner. This is mostly a logistical issue, as there is always something new for the characters to worry about; the next threat in the unending stream of danger that is their lives.
But when The Vampire Diaries does decide to finally mourn, man does the show nail it.
Last week's première disappointed me because it felt like the show forgot the characters were supposed to be in mourning. In all logical interpretations of the word, Elena is dead, and this death deserves the appropriate attention, even if she is technically still walking, talking, and maybe breathing (the series has never been very clear on that part). Instead, though, I now know the première was just a stepping stone, a necessary if not completely satisfying way to transition Elena from the human she was before to the vampire she is now. In essence, the show was saving its big emotional guns for "Memorial," a devastating episode on all levels and the most haunting tribute to what these characters have lost that the show has done.
Things start as if not much has changed: Stefan and Elena are happily working together to get Elena on a mutually agreed upon animal-blood-only diet, to avoid any circumstance where she might accidentally kill someone. Damon disagrees completely with this approach, and both he and Stefan’s opposing viewpoints are illustrated nicely in a snappily cross-edited sequence. It all starts to move from happy to horror, however, when Elena begins puking up every bit of animal blood she takes in, growing weaker as her body rejects any blood that isn’t directly from a warm vein, and forcing her to turn to Damon in secret to get what she needs.
The great thing about this story is that it not only easily delineates the differences between the Salvatore brothers, but it also paints the vampire transition as what it is: a brutal, horror-filled nightmare where you have to throw away all of your human instincts and compassion to survive. Even though we’ve seen transitions from Vickie and Caroline, the blood aspect of those transitions was never framed like this, and Elena’s struggle to reconcile who she is now with who she was before is compelling.
Elena’s bloodlust culminates in a crackerjack sequence at Pastor Young’s funeral, driven by the mysterious and vicious new vampire hunter Connor Jordan. Connor knows there is a vamp problem in Mystic Falls, and he is willing to do anything to fix it, including kidnapping innocent humans and using them for bait, and then shooting a vampire in front of an entire church congregation. The church scenes were the perfect storm of emotional resonance, teamwork, problem solving, and sacrifice that The Vampire Diaries does best. When Matt offered up himself for Elena to feed on, not only was he sacrificing himself but he was offering penance, an exchange of his blood for Elena’s life, since she is the only reason he is alive in the first place. Taking such character-driven moments and throwing them in the middle of absolute insanity and violence is what this show does best, and it was in perfect form here.
While the entire episode felt like a memorial to the innocent, optimistic Elena of old, the end sequence is really what sets this episode apart. When Alaric died last year, everyone was given about five minutes to say goodbye before he was rudely reincarnated. Truly, the last time anyone in Mystic Falls got a chance to sit back and say goodbye to anyone was Jenna’s funeral, which was brutally sad. The lantern ceremony to say goodbye to those who have been lost was so essential to kick off this season, and hearing just how many of these characters’ loved ones have died is stunning. This is a group of people defined by loss, by what has been taken away from them, and as Elena lit the last lantern as a memorial to herself, it all finally became real to her: She’s no longer the girl who wanted to live, and now, she’s going to have to leave all that behind and figure out how to be dead.
But everyone mourns differently, and the show understanding and respecting this difference is where the real gut punch of the episode comes. Damon breaking out on his own and offering a self-pitying soliloquy to Alaric’s headstone is sad enough. Alaric listening to the whole thing and offering hollow comfort with an unheard “I miss you too, buddy” is just devastating.
Because in Mystic Falls, even if the person you love is right next to you, you might not be able to feel them there at all.
- The new intro was a bit better this week, as the scenes from last week’s episode edited in with the voiceover made it seem a bit less hokey.
- Damon’s angst over missing Alaric woven throughout the episode was perfect. Saving him a seat at the bar is basically Damon’s way of saying “I miss you.” If only Damon could have heard him say it back at the end.
- So… Jeremy can see Connor’s invisible tattoos. Ghost ink, perhaps? This is a very intriguing turn for Jeremy, whom the show hasn’t really found a way to use well yet.
- I really liked Tyler tonight. He was strong and loyal in a way he hasn’t gotten to be with the group much since he turned hybrid. Him taking one for the team and getting shot by Connor was outstanding.
- “There’s a new vampire hunter in town.” “Huh. That’s bad timing.” Bonnie said something funny!
- Damon: “Vampires eat people! It’s part of the natural food pyramid.”