Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Vampire Diaries: “Before Sunset”

Illustration for article titled The Vampire Diaries: “Before Sunset”

Now that was some swagger. Last week, I predicted I might have to eat my disappointed words and though I still stand by those original emotions—as it was what I felt at the time—there’s no denying the aftermath of Alaric’s transformation into a vampire was kind of fantastic. If you’re going to make a decision that will undoubtedly disappoint a significant portion of your audience, this is the way you pay it off: with a mighty fine hour of television.

One of the reasons it works so well is the episode doesn’t spend a lot of time at the beginning mourning Alaric. Both the audience and the characters did that last week; this week is about mayhem. Good thing mayhem is The Vampire Diaries’ specialty. The difference this week is a new player in the mayhem, a witch vendetta-fueled Alaric. TVD wastes no time in establishing Alaric as a soulless menace, populating the opening images with scattered shots of his old classroom cut together like the opening credits of a horror movie, like a Civil War Saw. No matter the imagery, Alaric’s decision to immediately target everyone’s favorite vampire Caroline and torture her pretty much cemented his status as enemy number one for now, especially when he all but forces Elena to attempt to stake her. Although the genesis of Alaric’s extreme vampire hatred still feels a little murky to me (I’m assuming most of it comes from Esther’s spell and general brainwashing throughout this entire storyline, but it all feels a bit unclear), Matt Davis is so great at playing evil it almost doesn’t matter.

This episode did what TVD does best with its plots: introduced a new threat and brought all of the characters together to take out that threat. One of the greatest things TVD does is let its threats constantly evolve, moving around chess pieces and shifting alliances to deal with whatever new evil crops up. There have been significant issues with the narrative this season, but almost all of them are long-term issues. Within the frame of immediacy, the show is darn near flawless most of the time. The shaky short-term pacts that form between usual enemies are among the great pleasures of TVD, and tonight’s tentative team-up between the Salvatores and Klaus was no exception. That it turned around and gave them an unexpected opportunity to take out Klaus instead was just a happy accident.

Let’s talk about the Klaus thing, because it was perhaps the best moment of the entire episode. Klaus has had quite the journey on the show, starting out as an unrepentant badass and, eventually, settling in as more of a complicated, petulant, sometimes touchingly sad annoyance. Klaus is a decent character made into something more through an outstanding performance by Joseph Morgan, which is why it only seemed logical the show would keep him around as long as possible. Still, as much as it is fun to watch Morgan work, the actual character of Klaus needed a shakeup, or at least a break. I doubt this is the last we’ve seen of him, but a brief respite in his ubiquity as resident “bad guy” is definitely welcome. To have him go out with such a wonderful scene, full of really great cinematography, acting, staging and sound design, only feels right for such an important character. I only hope the show will actually let him go away for a while. Take a lesson from the fan fervor over Elijah: Absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder.

The final piece in this crazy puzzle is Elena, who really shone tonight after a few hard weeks. Elena is a really tough character to get right—her doppelganger status centers the show as everything revolves around her, and saddling her as the filling in a Salvatore sandwich doesn’t help—but despite some rough edges here and there I’ve been consistently impressed with how the writers always manage to bring her back to her core characteristics. Elena is a preternaturally strong soul, to the point of being selfishly cavalier for her own safety if it means saving others. This could have a tendency to lean toward martyrdom, but Elena’s sacrificial moments have all been startlingly practical: She doesn’t want to die just to die, or to prove a point. Tonight, she cut her own throat to prove a theory about Alaric, but it wasn't a obnoxious cry for some sort of attention; it served a very specific and important purpose. If that’s not incredibly brave and badass, I don’t know what is.

The most important thing Elena did tonight, though, was own up to her own somewhat selfish morality when it comes to vampires. Her recognizing that eradicating all vampires was the best for humanity and admitting the pain it would cause herself and her friends was more important to her might not be the choice a perfect person would make. The best thing about Elena is she’s not a perfect person; she’s just a person living her life the best way she can figure. That this includes her falling in love with a set of brothers is unfortunate, but that’s the thing about being an imperfect person. You don’t always make the best choices. Her collapse at the end of the episode, signifying what looks like to be a surprisingly non-supernatural head injury, definitely leaves a lot of wiggle room for consequences. Or it could be healed in five seconds and then ignored completely. Either way, next week is the season finale. From the explosive promos, it looks like we’re in for a fun ride.

Stray observations:

  • Alaric manipulating the Founders Council and outing Carol and Liz’s conflicts of interest was perfection. Very interested to see where this will lead next week.
  • Loved that they finally explained why vampires can just traipse into the Salvatore mansion without any consequences. We all figured it out months ago, show.
  • The siege of Casa Gilbert was ridiculously entertaining. Pissy Klaus vs. Pissy Damon entertains me.
  • Also wonderful at Casa Gilbert was the little “Klaus is dead” party with all of Elena’s friends. Drinking tequila when you have low blood volume and a possible head injury is a fabulously terrible idea, but at least it was a cute high school thing to do.
  • At some point these people just need to stop using magic to solve their problems. It never turns out like it’s supposed to! Sure, this time Klaus gets desiccated, and it’s all good. What if next time Damon accidentally turns into a vampire popsicle or something?
  • Alaric: “How many times do I have to tell you, Elena? Stop trusting vampires.”
  • Klaus: “Just between us girls, who would you have picked?”
  • Damon: “Once more, with feeling.”
  • Elena: “To a Klaus-free life. And to all of you, my family.”