The final two episodes of this season of The Vampire Diaries represent an interesting juxtaposition of the different ways the show deals with death when telling stories. In last week’s episode, “Promised Land,” the show used death almost solely as a storytelling tool, killing Stefan with the goal of shocking the audience and advancing the plot, obviously never planning on even pretending it was permanent. In this season five finale, “Home,” the show takes a different angle, working hard to give Damon and Bonnie’s apparent deaths enough space and weight to make them matter. After seeing the two approaches in such close proximity to each other, the question that still remains is this: Can the show realistically have it both ways?
The strange thing about the difference between the two is that although Stefan’s death was obviously impermanent, emotionally at the time it felt a lot more final than Damon and (potentially) Bonnie’s deaths here. The Vampire Diaries is so dependent on the core triangle of Stefan, Damon, and Elena that to imagine any one of them leaving the show is almost unfathomable. But the way that Stefan died—so suddenly, so forcefully, so without one last goodbye—felt oddly more final than the little death tour Damon gets to do here. Isn’t that the way people often die in real life: suddenly and without warning? Something about it felt tragic and sad and potentially a way for the show to recognize that death doesn’t always get a tidy victory lap.
The show had different plans, though, and Stefan’s death was barely even mentioned here; it was just a blip in the complicated, twisty plan Bonnie and Enzo cooked up in order to get all their loved ones back from the Other Side before it collapses. If Bonnie is gone for good, she went out on the absolute best note, organizing the plan with Liv and Enzo, then sacrificing herself to save her town and her friends, never giving up even when she knew she was dooming herself. She even denied herself a proper goodbye with Jeremy, preferring to have their final days together be happy and untainted by death. Bonnie has always been a poorly treated character, but although she never got the big storylines she deserved, if this is her end, she went out on a strong note.
This brings me back to the same question I asked last week: Does it even matter if Bonnie and Damon aren’t really dead? Their goodbyes were sad and cathartic in a way Stefan’s shocking death last week never could have been, as the show actually gave them weight by giving them the space and time to breathe a bit. Elena got a chance to futilely plead for Damon not to go, and Damon got a chance to futilely tell her how much she means to him (even though she couldn’t hear him). It was gorgeous and tragic and emotionally affecting, even if in the back of my mind I wondered if it was permanent. The same could be said for Jeremy’s mad dash to get to Bonnie before she is gone for good, reaching her just a second too late. What ultimately sells the emotions of their deaths is the very end, when Bonnie and Damon—two characters who have always shared a mutual antagonism—go into the great nothing together, holding hands, mid-sentence. It’s the kind of beautiful metaphor for life and death The Vampire Diaries doesn’t attempt very often, but the show completely nails it here. Because what is life but a big step off a cliff into the great unknown, over and over again? And what is death but a sudden thrust into a bright white void, rudely interrupting life?
Bonnie and Damon might be dead and gone forever. They might have passed into another dimension, one they can find a way back from next season. Them coming back might mean that this show has lost all credibility when it comes to dealing with death and mourning. Or it might just be that by demolishing the Other Side, The Vampire Diaries might have finally figured out a way to make death count again. These are all questions that won’t be answered until next season. Thankfully, the show picked an exceptional way to go out by asking them.
- HOLY SHIT, ALARIC IS BACK! ALL SEASON SIX REVIEWS WILL BE FILED ENTIRELY IN CAPITAL LETTERS. HOPE YOU DON’T MIND, EDITORS. (Fine by me. -ed.)
- This was a wildly uneven season, but I thought it ended quite strongly. Season grade: B-
- If I had to guess, I’d say Damon is coming back, and Bonnie is gone for good. But please note that I am a terrible guesser.
- Markos is the worst TVD Big Bad ever. Thank goodness he got sucked into the unknown hellscape place, because good riddance.
- Oh, Silas, it was nice to have you and your weirdly modern dialogue back, if only for a few minutes.
- Lexi was a perfect character to the end, sacrificing herself so Stefan would have the chance to get Damon back. RIP.
- Caroline snapping Luke’s neck was a shocking moment, if only because Caroline doesn’t get to be a badass very often. Well played, Forbes.
- So is Tyler just a werewolf now? Or is he human again? Is everyone that came back through from the Other Side human now? I HAVE QUESTIONS.
- This week, in Matt Donovan Is The Best: “Can we talk about the irony of blowing up the only place dumb enough to hire us?”; him knowing magic leaving Mystic Falls is actually a good thing but helping his friends anyway.
- Jeremy: “Wherever I hated you less, there was no magic.”
- Alaric: “Did you seriously wear your seatbelt?”