The Vampire Diaries: “Graduation”
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The Vampire Diaries: “Graduation”

When season four began, Bonnie Bennett was The Vampire Diaries’ least likely tragic hero. Mostly neglected for the whole of the series run, Bonnie was notable mostly as a pawn in everyone else’s storyline, a literal magical panacea trotted out when the show got itself in a jam and needed to pull a solution out of thin air. Can’t figure out how to solve a problem? Don’t worry! Bonnie’s got magic!

But this season was a bit different. Bonnie’s role in the big season-long arc started out as par for the course, with Professor Shane manipulating her into learning expressionism in order to help him bring back Silas, but somewhere along the way, the story started to change. Bonnie (despite the show’s continued, desperate attempts to wrestle her agency away from her) started making her own decisions, and what she wanted to do was stop Silas. It didn’t work—in fact, it failed spectacularly—but despite all of my frustration with the show’s refusal to give Bonnie decent character development throughout the years, despite the fact that I still don’t think it was developed enough within this season to fully work, Bonnie’s decision to sacrifice herself for Jeremy really resonated with me.

The strangest thing about my pleasure in Bonnie saving Jeremy instead of herself is that there is perhaps no character I would want to see return less than Jeremy. When you have Alaric, Lexi, and hell, even psychotic murderers like Kol roaming around enjoying a second chance, getting back a dullard like the littlest Gilbert isn’t exactly thrilling. But Bonnie’s character has been defined since the beginning as wholly unselfish, ready to drop anything in her own life in order to help her friends; saving herself over Jeremy (or anyone else, really) would have been the worst betrayal of her character yet.

The tragedy of it all was how she spent the entire episode secretly saying her goodbyes without any of her friends knowing, and even attempting to shield them from her death for months to come by begging Jeremy to tell them she was just off with her mother instead. The Vampire Diaries never truly did right by Bonnie while she was alive, but at least it managed to give her sufficient respect and dignity in her death. Since Jeremy can see ghosts, this is likely not the last we will see of her, dead or alive.

The rest of the episode was far more shocking, twisted, and thrilling, and also far more of a scattered mess. I mean this in the best way I possibly can: This was an exciting, fast-paced hour, full of plot twists and nice character beats, but structurally it was totally scattershot. This is a symptom of trying to fit five pounds of plot in a one-pound bucket, and the strain of that showed a bit here. With all of our favorite dead folks back, there needed to be moments with Stefan and Lexi; Damon and Alaric; Elena, Jeremy, and Alaric, and all of the random crazy supernatural dead folks out for revenge, and at times it felt like too much. It added up to many great, exciting moments—Everything with the hunters! Matt and Rebekah and the bomb! Alaric confronting Connor! Alaric confronting Vaughn! Klaus taking out the witches! Damon and the werewolf venom!—but those moments were forced to be so brief they couldn’t really resonate at all.

What worked were the more personal character interactions, almost without fail. Any time Stefan interacts with Lexi or Damon interacts with Alaric, the results are reliably great, and “Graduation “ was no exception. Beyond those lovely, friendly interactions, the show finally let Elena make a true choice between Damon and Stefan, which it really had to do in order to survive. The love triangle was a mess for most of the season, dragging down the rest of the show into its mire and muck, but the writers made two important decisions here: They took away the question of the sire bond for good (it’s gone), and then they let Elena clearly pick a damn side already. When she chooses Damon—and accepts all of his admitted shortcomings while voicing her own—Elena finally feels like a grownup this season, which is fitting with her transition from high school to adult life.

I would be worried about Stefan’s prolonged reaction to this heartbreak but it seems the show has something far more interesting in store for his character. In a turn that I must admit I don’t quite understand yet, Stefan learns that Bonnie’s death broke the spell that turned Silas to stone, and now he’s back—and he’s showing his true face. His true doppelganger face, his “shadow self,” and it looks exactly like Stefan. Then Silas locks Stefan in a safe, pushes him into a lake, and Stefan fulfills his true destiny by finally becoming Angel. (I kid! Sort of.) This sets up an interesting conflict for next season, as Silas pretends to be Stefan and is still in search of what he doesn’t have—a cure, so he can finally cross over to the other side. I won’t say this development entirely makes sense to me—inventing a whole new line of doppelgangers feels like pretty shaky business—but it gives Paul Wesley the chance to be next season’s bad guy, which is extremely promising. It also takes away any chance the beginning of the season will be filled with Stefan pining over Elena, which is another plus.

The final twist of the episode just might be the biggest and most concerning. Katherine shows up looking for the immortality Bonnie promised her, but when Bonnie can’t deliver she is less than pleased and decides to take it all out on Elena. They get into a fairly epic doppelganger fight when Elena pulls the cure out of her jacket like a magician pulls a rabbit out of his hat and forces Katherine to take it, turning her human. The idea of Katherine as a human is hilarious because she is the absolute last person who would ever want to be vulnerable like that, but the way the show got there was inelegant at best. The narrative device used here, where the show tricked the audience by purposely leaving out a chunk of information and then flashing back to the moment later to fill it in, is one of my least favorite storytelling devices when done well, and this wasn’t done well. It was clunky and jarring, and sadly unnecessary. So many things happened in this hour that if we did see Stefan giving Elena back the cure, would most people have really remembered it during that fight? It just smacked of too much manipulation for my tastes.

Still, like everything else in this finale it does set up interesting possibilities for season five. With the Originals gone, Stefan buried underwater, Silas impersonating him, Katherine human again, Jeremy alive, Bonnie a ghost, and Elena and Caroline moving onto the next phase of their lives after graduation, everything is once again in flux. It might have been a bit clumsily done, but this finale was full of excitement and very interesting choices for the storylines going forward.

See you in season five, Mystic Falls.

Stray observations:

  • I miss Alaric already.
  • The beginning was wonderfully moody, with the cinematography and score setting the graduation up like the beginning of a horror film.
  • Klaus won senior superlative for Most Creative Murderer with that mortarboard beheading.
  • Klaus was fairly magical throughout as well, first giving Caroline the graduation present of Tyler’s freedom and then asserting that someday he wants to be her “last love.” I grew quite sick of their interactions as the season progressed, but this was a fantastic scene.
  • Honestly, Rebekah and Matt make no sense to me, but I’m so glad he’s still alive, and he’s going to get a free trip around the world that I don’t even care. It’s hilarious how he’s basically like, “I can have sex with vampires but not in this area code,” though.
  • Stefan: “I should be upstairs grooming my hero hair.”
  • “Where have you been?” “Oh, you know, making plans for the summer, dodging death by vampire hunter.”
  • Elena: “Stefan, the only person worse at being a vampire than me is you.” 

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