Sometimes, The Vampire Diaries puts out an episode that adheres to normal standards of television pacing, where the audience gets a chance to digest each moment before moving on. Other times, like in tonight’s absolutely breakneck “Bringing Out The Dead”, the show rips through half a season’s worth of story in the span of one episode, trusting the audience will be able to keep up. Although TVD has produced dozens of episodes with this narrative style, they still manage to surprise each time. The most surprising thing is how easily the show is able to churn up an episode full of absolute madness and then casually drop in a pitch-perfect emotional scene in the middle of the carnage. It’s an impressive feat.
Bringing the madness this week was our dear friend Elijah, whom Damon just resurrected from the undead. To say that he arrives bringing a maelstrom of chaos might be an understatement, with all of the ripping out of hearts and attempting to fight Klaus to the death. They eventually come to a bit of an understanding, and then it’s the audience’s turn to wonder about Elijah’s loyalties. Will he be loyal to Damon, who undaggered him? Or will he fall under Klaus’ spell again, just like before? It’s a compliment to both Daniel Gillies and the writers that it truly could go either way and make perfect sense from what we know of the character.
The glorious thing about Elijah and the battle for his affections between Klaus and Damon is how it allows so many different stories to come to a head all at once: Klaus and Stefan’s coffin tug-of-war, Damon and Stefan’s Elena tug-of-war, and the long-gestating question of who is in the final coffin Klaus is so eager to have returned. The stories converge in essentially the best way possible, at a gentlemen-only dinner party at Klaus’ recently renovated mansion. The juxtaposition of elegance and savagery at this dinner was divine; barely disguised barbed insults and subterfuge are the perfect recipes for a great party. Things come to a head when Stefan rejects Klaus’ offer for a coffin trade and Klaus decides to simply threaten to kill Stefan really hard until Damon relents and brings the coffin to him. Seriously, Klaus maybe should have tried this tactic sooner? For a bad guy, he’s fairly bad at being a villain sometimes.
Despite making it seem as if Elijah was firmly on Klaus’ side, he makes an excellent last-second swerve into badassery by not only betraying Klaus by aligning with Damon but also undaggering his three siblings to build his own little anti-Klaus army. In a nice little sequence, each Original gets their own separate badass entrance into the show’s universe, which is immediately ingratiating. The best thing about TVD is how it isn’t satisfied by simply the introduction of a few characters we’ve either been missing (Rebekah, which, it’s nice to see you, girl) or waiting to meet for months (Kol and Finn). No, the show immediately sets up a new status quo for the entire family by bringing in the contents of the final sealed coffin—which Bonnie and her mother have been spending the whole episode trying to open, by the way—who happens to be the Original mother. It’s not a surprising development, but to have her come on the scene, immediately forgive Klaus and express desire for them to become a family again is surprising, in the best of ways. It’s maternal and sinister all at once, as I doubt a united, all-powerful, supernatural family living in a town of humans could ever be a good thing.
Now, the Originals are all here, Stefan’s revenge plot over Klaus is essentially kaput (and highly unsuccessful, by the way, thanks to Damon’s pact with Elijah, which probably turned out to be a fairly bad idea after all), and the status quo for the season has shifted for the third time. Avoiding the traditional “one season, one big bad” model for supernatural shows has been a stroke of genius for TVD, especially because it often seems that just as I get weary of a storyline, the writers immediately roll out the next one, alleviating any fears. Although Klaus is a great character portrayed by a charismatic actor, the idea of him as the all-powerful villain was getting a bit stale, especially when it seemed he hadn’t done anything truly villainous in quite a while. Giving him an entire family to mix with and create new agendas with is a fascinating turn, and one I’ve been waiting on for quite a while.
As for Stefan, this development completely changes his situation as well. His character arc throughout the season has been the most interesting, from Ripper to humanity-less Ripper to revenge maestro. Now, he’s caught in a bit of a dead space. He admits to Damon he still loves Elena but is still overcome by everything he’s done since accepting that first deal with Klaus to save Damon’s life. Where he goes next will be the most telling, both for him and for Damon and Elena’s nascent relationship.
Although the Original storyline alone would be enough to carry an episode, there were also two other dovetailing threads happening throughout. The mystery of who killed the medical examiner continues, hitting especially close to home when it is revealed he was killed with a Gilbert stake and the only fingerprints belong to Elena. Elena suspects Stefan, then Dr. Fell, but no one seems to even think about Katherine. She seems to have no reason to be doing this, but a doppelganger would have the same fingerprints, no? Things get even more complicated when Caroline finds her father murdered in the hospital. With vampire blood in his system. For Bill Forbes, turning into a vampire is a non-starter, so poor Caroline has to watch her father die. It’s completely sad and yet a surprisingly perfect fit amidst the insanity of the Originals story, due to some perfect narrative pacing.
Bill Forbes isn’t the only victim of the Mystic Falls killer this week, though. In a chilling sequence, Elena and Matt arrive at the Gilbert house to find it completely black with the power out. Of course, this is a horrible sign, but Elena doesn’t seem to actually realize she lives in her own life and decides to simply get some flashlights and call the electric company or something. Great plan, Elena! In the process, the two find a veritable lake of blood in the kitchen and a bloody trail that leads right to a stabbed Alaric. He’s not dead—thank goodness—but he does need someone to actually kill him so he will be able to fully heal from his grave wounds. Since he didn’t see the killer, he doesn’t know if it was a supernatural being or not, so Elena has to do the deed. What’s worse: Seeing your brother behead a hybrid or stabbing your only remaining father figure in the heart and hoping he wakes up? Yeah, Elena’s life is Not Ideal. In the end, Alaric wakes up, and Matt is a very fine shoulder for Elena to cry on.
This is all more plot recap than my normal episode review, but that’s because this was just that kind of episode: a plot-heavy, twist-ridden, rollercoaster of a good time. As much as I enjoy when TVD delves into the heavier side of things, it’s always nice to get back to what the show does best. Now that all Originals are back on the scene and appear to hunkering down in Mystic Falls for the long haul, there will surely be many more breathlessly packed episodes to come.
- My one big quibble with this episode was the Bonnie story, which almost ground the episode to a halt every time it appeared. Poor Bonnie did perhaps the most important thing in this episode, plot-wise, and yet she still managed to be a bore. I’ve almost given up on figuring out why the writers can make everyone interesting but her.
- Klaus being an Elena/Matt shipper would be cute if it wasn't just so he could feed on their doppelganger babies. Creepy, Klaus.
- Elijah’s hair is even better than before. I didn’t think it possible.
- The Original names really make no sense. Niklaus, Elijah, Rebekah, Kol, and Finn. Huh?
- “You’re on speakerphone, dick.”
- “I refuse to believe your luck with women is that tragic.”
- “Ah, makes me nostalgic for the time Stefan was a bunny-snacking pacifist.”
- “Hey, Stefan, remember when you killed Dad? Might want to dial down the judgment until dessert.”
- “Matt Donovan? Really?”