The Vampire Diaries: “The Departed”
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The Vampire Diaries: “The Departed”

Everything in Elena Gilbert’s life has been leading up to this.

She didn’t realize it. Hell, she actively fought it. But when you’re the doppelganger, an unwitting product of supernatural algorithms thousands of years in the making, you ultimately don’t have much of a choice in your own life.

Which is why she fought her fate so hard. Why she told Stefan the one thing she never wanted to be was a vampire. Why she told him about her dreams to do more, to be more.

But now, all that is gone. Elena is a vampire (or, at least, in the first step of transitioning into one), turned by an accidental and out-of-control combination of hubris, accident, vengeance, and power, and all those things she dreamed her life would be will never come to pass. 

As a lover of Elena Gilbert—specifically her staunch desire to remain a human Elena Gilbert—I am in mourning. As a lover of great television, though, I cannot deny the power of this finale. It was incredible.

The sneaky thing was how the entire episode was preparing us for the shocking conclusion. By delving into Elena’s life before Stefan or Damon appeared on the scene, when she was just a normal cheerleader with a human boyfriend she wasn’t really suited for and an irrepressible itch for something more, we see what could have been. An uncomplicated and happy Elena bounding out of bed to the sound of Pink’s “So What” is shocking because it could never happen today, but seeing it was essential to make us remember that Elena, despite all she went through, is still a teenage girl. By contrasting her happy home life in flashbacks with a lonely and physically beaten-down Elena in the hospital after her fall last week, we are seeing just how much she’s lost throughout these past three seasons.

But there’s always more to lose.

If these truly were the last vestiges of Elena’s human life, at least she went out clinging to all of the things she held dearest: friends, family, and the brothers Salvatore. The desire to protect her friends and family has always been Elena’s defining characteristic, even if this season, her desire for both Stefan and Damon (and the confusion this brings) has sometimes overshadowed it. Although the love triangle appeared in season one and grew in season two, it only became central to the show this season. There have been achingly lovely moments for both sides of this shipper war—Stefan’s silent call to Elena in the season premiere and Elena and Damon’s silent exchange in the hotel room come to mind—but there have also been struggles. Some of these struggles feel like the show stalling, hedging its bets on changing the status quo. For a show that so willingly churns through plot without a care in the world, it’s been surprisingly protective of its love triangle.

Now we know why. With the revelatory flashback showing Damon meeting Elena first, piquing her interest and awakening things in her she might not have yet realized existed right before wiping her memory of the whole encounter, the entire ballgame has changed. Human Elena chose Stefan tonight without having all the pieces in the puzzle. Once vampire Elena remembers what Damon compelled away, how will her feelings change? It’s like the entire love triangle got a reset button. For devoted fans of one couple or the other, this must be excruciating. As a fan of interesting television, if handled well, I think this could be genius. 

But even though the triangle was pushed to center stage, Elena’s core characteristics were still there. It’s to the show’s credit the last thing we are likely to see human Elena do is urge other people to be saved before her. The car crash sequence—gorgeously intercut between the present with Elena and Matt and the past with Elena and her parents—was like a love letter to human Elena, as she valiantly insisted to Stefan both times he take someone else before her. But while Stefan chose Elena the first time, this time he knows her. He knows her strength and her mind, and respects it to a fault. So when he takes Matt instead of her, Elena believes she’s making the ultimate sacrifice. It’s only the actions of others, of Meredith’s choice to give her vampire blood and heal her in the first place, that changes her fate.

So now Elena, the girl who lived, lives no more. And The Vampire Diaries is irrevocably changed. Speaking personally, I hate almost everything that happened in this finale. But it was done so goddamn well it simply cannot be ignored. 

Season three was a year of soaring series highs and disappointing series lows. By taking a huge chance here and executing it spectacularly, the last thing I’ll remember about this turbulent year are the highs, even if they are tremendously sad ones. 

Until season four, my friends.

Stray observations:

  • ELIJAH!!!!!!!!! Your hair looks awesome.
  • My two other favorite things in the episode: Matt losing it after realizing Tyler is going to die and Ghost Alaric’s interaction with Jeremy. Heartbreaking.
  • All right, one more favorite thing: Damon hilariously objecting to all of Elijah’s offers over the phone. “No no no no no!”
  • There were several wonderful, cinematic sequences tonight, but my favorite had to be Alaric’s horror-tinged stalking of Rebekah in the storage facility. Very suspenseful and well-executed.
  •  “Call me if you cough up a lung” really means “I love you” in Salvatore speak.
  • My assumption is that Tyler is dead and Klaus is now in Tyler’s body. If Bonnie ever switches them back I assume that will be it for Michael Trevino, so I hope they let him have some fun playing Klaus next season before pulling the switcheroo.
  • Speaking of Bonnie, she was fantastic here. This is the Bonnie we should have been seeing for at least an entire season.
  • Damon: “Our life is one big proverbial coin toss.”
  • Damon, on Elena: “You know what else is her call? Everything bad, ever.”
  • Elena: “It’s Mystic Falls; nothing bad ever happens here.”

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