The end of Season 3 is nearly upon us! And this penultimate episode kept up last season’s tradition of giving us a heart-stopper before the finale.
I was feeling a wee bit disgruntled after Do Not Go Gentle, so thank the TVD gods for Before Sunset. Right from the Civil War imagery in the opening sequence through the rest of the masterful cold open, it was crystal clear that we were in for some top-notch Vampire Diaries. The way that song (The Gods of Macho’s “Reno”) kicked in as Alaric, smoke billowing from his sizzling body, dragged the limp Caroline across the parking lot? It doesn’t get better than that, my friends!
In the Rebekah-Caroline scene, the opener gave us a nice preview of what was to come: the two girls have been at each other’s throats all season, but here they share a moment of sympathy before becoming allies against Alaric’s attack. And it prepped us for the other enemies-working-together situations the episode held. Before Sunset managed to be horrifying but funny, fast-paced without losing us in the twists and turns, and full of attitude. Jeremy gives Stefan and Klaus lip; Alaric proves he can’t be effed with (remember when he just commanded the Salvatore brothers to get up and go save Elena, then brushed past them?); and Klaus has a temper tantrum on the front lawn. One of the many great moments was the delightfully over-the-top Siege of the Gilbert Homestead, the big bad wolf huffing and puffing and blowing the door down (with a soccer ball). And by the end of Before Sunset, with the gang celebrating their victory and the Salvatore brothers smiling (and giving us a Buffy reference!), it was hard not to find their good moods contagious. We’re all revved up for the finale, and it’s sure to be intense: Elena’s unconscious and Alaric’s on the loose, riling up the Council and determined to eradicate the vampire problem.
And while this episode was a lot of fun (with lines like, “‘If’ and ‘might.’ Your words inspire such confidence.”), Before Sunset was also terrifying. This show excels at displays of cruelty; physical and emotional torment seems to be the specialty of the TVD writers (and I absolutely mean that as a compliment). Alaric knows Elena — her strengths, her weaknesses, who she’d die for, what she values — and he uses that insight to torment her. How difficult a task for Elena to separate one Alaric from the other in her mind, to keep the human Alaric’s memory from being sullied by this maniac? His single-mindedness and strength of conviction make him a compelling villain, one whom Elena can’t trick into tapping into his humanity, showing mercy. He tortures Caroline and believes it’s righteous, because she murdered someone and liked it. His vitriol is fueled by his insider knowledge, and it’s an awful to see him turn the training Elena asked of him into a demand that she kill her best friend. Of course, Elena (warrior princess that she is) can take it: she proves he did teach her well, and frees Caroline. She’ll slice her own neck to find out vital information (how Alaric can die) and to save her other mortal enemy from being killed (to protect the vampires she loves). That so many lives are tied together makes these life-or-death choices even trickier, makes the stakes even higher. And it must mean more mental anguish for Elena, knowing that her very existence is linked to the murderous monster Alaric has become. The reveal that Alaric and Elena’s lives are tied together was my favorite kind of TVD mythology twist: it resonates emotionally and it makes sense from a witchy ju-ju perspective.
Worst Offender: Nothing like a villain who takes the truth and twists it, and that’s something both Alaric and Klaus do in this episode to Elena. Alaric says she’s the worst offender: she’s undone her parents’ life work to rid Mystic Falls of vampires, she fraternizes with murderers, she helps them get away with it. Has Elena lost her sense of right and wrong? In her journey since Season 1, the grey area has certainly grown: she is currently debating which murderous vampire should be her boyfriend, after all. Violence, compulsion, murder, biweekly torture … it’s all become a part of her life, and it’s changed her. But what remains at her core, solid, is her fierce determination to protect the ones she loves, whatever kind of creature they are or become. In her speech to Jeremy at the end of the night, Elena accepts that her actions may make her “the bad guy” now, but she’ll made the same choices to save the people she loves. And Jeremy shares his sister’s determination: he knows the danger the desiccation spell puts him in, but he needs to fight to save Elena no matter the risk. Another side to this Gilbert fearlessness in the face of danger actually comes from a different sort of fear: that of isolation. They’ve lost so many people and can’t bear the thought of losing anyone else.
Real love, not fake loyalty: And in that great twisted, TVD way, our villainous Klaus is no different than any of the other characters. He wants his family surrounding him, but he makes choices that do nothing but drive them away. His need for a “backup” family, as Elena puts it, is his downfall in Before Sunset: if he’d been content to leave town with Rebekah, he’d be alive and well. Though to Elena Klaus parrots what Stefan said to him earlier — that Klaus’s efforts have brought the Salvatore brothers closer together, rather than driven them apart — we all know that he’s full of it: his stubbornness, his need to have his way, his obsessive need to protect himself from threats, has driven away his siblings — and tested those familial bonds. Klaus still hopes that his siblings will let bygones be bygones after a thousand years of him throwing temper tantrums against those who dare to defy him. And it’s that part of Klaus that makes his hurt so palpable when Stefan reaches into his heart and desiccates him. Klaus still held out hope that Stefan would be his true friend again. (As did I, frankly. Klefan forever.)
Are we entering a Klaus-free era? Though I’ll mourn his absence, at least he was taken down in an episode that encapsulated all that made Klaus so glorious a character, so compelling a villain. And (thankfully) Klaus is not dead-dead, and likely never will be as his permanent, fiery demise would take half the characters with him (Damon, Stefan, Katherine, Caroline, Tyler, among countless other vamps, including Abby).
As Tyler says there’s a difference between real love and fake loyalty, and Klaus has tried to force his way into the lives of others — to demand their loyalty, instead of earning it. And that contrast has been a recurring theme of the season, which comes to an emblematic moment in the victory party at the Gilberts. She and Jeremy have lost so many people, they all have, and yet still they have a full “backup” family in each other. That incredible devotion, of course, extends to the Elena-Stefan-Damon triangle: those three would do anything for each other. And while I know that many of you (and Caroline) think Elena needs to make a choice, I’d rather she didn’t! The tragedy for me is that any one of these bonds be shaken, that Stefan or Damon would leave Mystic Falls. That the fraternal bond so agonizingly built up in recent years would be jeopardized. I’d rather the two boys walk her to her front door, and that she carefully address both of them in her goodnights. But I’m guessing that is not what the future holds. And we’ll find out soon enough with The Departed.
Compelling Moment: In a great episode, it’s hard to choose just one moment but the long, wordless goodbye between Klaus and Stefan stands out for me — such an important moment for both of the former friends, in very different ways. (Though Joseph Morgan’s delivery of the “between us girls” line killed me with its utter perfection.)
The Rules: Alaric has the same weaknesses as other vampires — he burns in the sun, he’s vulnerable to vervain — but a stake to the heart can’t kill him (not even a white oak one). Elena figures out that her life is tied to his: Esther bound Elena’s life to Alaric’s, making him temporarily invulnerable but not truly immortal. When Elena dies, Alaric dies.
Bonnie uses the same spell her mother used on Mikael. By drinking Bonnie’s blood, Klaus, Stefan and Damon are bound to her, and she is able to remotely desiccate a vampire when one of them makes contact with his bloodstream, stopping his heart as she stops a human’s. The spell doesn’t require the human to permanently die, which seems fair (in a “balance of nature” way) as the spell doesn’t permanently kill the vampire either. This spell taps into “dark” magic, which carries “temptations” with it, and (in a very cool effect) we see veins crawl up Bonnie’s arms and on to her face, like she’s being affected more directly by the spell she’s performing than with magic that draws power from nature. Klaus is rendered inert by the spell, in a state resembling a daggered Original or the tomb vampires from Season 1.
Foggy moments: Why did Alaric wait until Caroline arrived at the school to begin his anti-vampire crusade by attacking Rebekah? She was alone in the caf, and his super vamp hearing would have alerted him to her presence, as it did when Caroline arrived. I guess from 8:00 to 8:02, Rebekah cleaned up the salt ring around the school? No salt in sight. Caroline, next time just leave your car behind and vamp-speed run all the way home — please? You’ve been tortured enough for an eternity. Who fixed the Gilbert house front door? It was torn off its hinges when Klaus hurled the soccer ball at it, but it’s looking good as new when the boys walk Elena to the door. (My money is on Matt Donovan, handyman. He’s like a ninja!) Double fail for Former Lifeguard Bonnie Bennett: she didn’t go into CPR-mode with Jeremy, and she didn’t blink at Elena — drained of blood and suffering from a head injury — doing a tequila shot instead of seeking medical attention.
Thoughts & questions before the finale, The Departed (EP322):
- Clunky product placement aside, I loved the Bonnie-Damon scenes. They have such a charged dynamic, perpetually forced to work together and never mincing words.
- Damon’s explanation of why the Salvatore house is open to vampires raises the question of the Gilbert house. The invitation rule has two parts: a living human owner or a resident means vamps are invite-only. When Elena died in the sacrifice, the living-owner rule was voided for the Salvatore house and it didn’t re-establish itself once she came back to life (even though, in the human world, she’s still the legal owner). With no human actually living there, the place is a vampire free-for-all. The Gilbert house, however, has two living residents. Jer and Elena may have both been briefly dead, but they are currently alive and residing there, meaning the rule is in full effect. (And Elena is, presumably, also the legal owner of the house.) The ownership rule on the Salvatore house is a bit of a grey area, granted, but the spirit of the invite-only rule is to protect humans in their homes, and, in my opinion, that spirit is upheld.
- Back in the ’90s, who helped Abby take down Mikael with the desiccation spell? Whose heart did she stop? Was she able to re-start it as Bonnie does with Jeremy?
- What do you think they did with those liters and liters of Elena’s blood? I hope that nurse donated them to the Mystic Falls blood bank, which has to be in constant short supply with all the vampire thievery going on.
- What does the future hold for Bonnie and dark magic?
- What the heck’s going to happen with the council? Alaric has outed Liz and Carol (and Caroline and Tyler) but he also displays his own vamp speed, revealing himself to be supernatural.
- It’s kind of hilarious that no one thought to let Liz or Carol know that the guy who was killing council members is now an unkillable vampire on the loose and on a mission. Let’s hope they at least texted Meredith?
- The boys should include some kind of water-resistant, GPS ‘digital locator spell’ device when (if?) they dump Klaus’s body in the Atlantic. Seems like a risky move letting your enemy out of sight, even if it is to the bottom of the ocean.
What did you think of Before Sunset? Sound off below with your likes/dislikes, theories, and predictions. Are you ready for the finale?
Crissy Calhoun is the author of Love You to Death: The Unofficial Companion to The Vampire Diaries and Love You to Death — Season 2. She’s currently working on her season 3 companion guide. She blogs (rarely) at crissycalhoun.com and tweets @crissycalhoun.
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