Our show is back! And in true Vampire Diaries form, this was an episode packed to the brim — dealing with last season’s cliffhangers, introducing a baddie in Mystic Falls, and transitioning into this new era for Elena.
Though there were many, many tense moments in Growing Pains — Elena crushing the light bulb, the car crash scene, Klaus-as-Tyler ripping out his own heart, to name a few — there was also a lot of emotional business to take care of in the wake of Elena’s death. For those of us who spent the hiatus thinking about the fallout from the finale’s final five minutes, this felt like the episode that realized those character beats — and that next week, with Memorial, season 4 proper will begin. All the choices from last season came to bear consequences here, and in Mystic Falls, choice is often an illusion — selecting the slightly better of two awful options is hardly a celebration of free will. Carol and Liz are taken to task for making a tentative peace with the supernatural forces in Mystic Falls rather than destroying their own children, and Elena’s death fills Stefan with regret, Damon with anger, and Matt with survivor’s guilt. Bonnie’s attempts to exercise free will are brutally smacked down: cut off from the spirits’ power — as punishment for helping Klaus at the end of the previous episode — Bonnie turns to dark magic and ends up unwittingly hurting her Grams in order to save Tyler. It’s as Damon says: there is no door number 3, and someone always suffers.
A fate worse than death: At the center of this episode, the primary choice bearing an unwelcome consequence is Elena in transition. Fittingly for the beginning of a new era of the show — where our human heroine becomes the thing she least wants to be, a vampire — Growing Pains gave us a visually jarring change from the usual TVD style to give us Elena’s new heightened senses and emotions. The extreme close-ups and jump cuts and shifts in focus disoriented us, just as Elena felt overwhelmed by a world full of detail and sensory experience she’d never experienced before. More powerful for me in eliciting understanding for Elena’s transition in Growing Pains was Nina’s performance, which masterfully ranged from manic laughter to the stillness of near death. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: this show simply would not work without an actor of her caliber at its heart.
As from the beginning of the series, Elena is surrounded by those who will do whatever it takes to save her, to protect her from her worst nightmare being realized. Though Stefan may know he did the right thing by honoring Elena’s wishes and saving Matt first, he is filled with regret and feels responsible. And though he’s hopeful, he has a backup plan — a daylight ring in his pocket — and a willingness to kill a guard to get some blood for his lady. Running counter to Stefan’s reaction is Damon’s — who is pissed off in the awesomest, unexpectedly violent, Damon-y way. He’s furious that Matt should live and that Elena has lost her future, her mortal life. It’s a reaction that he describes as selfish but we know better — and with Elena’s immersive recollection of the confession he compelled her to forget, Elena knows better too. There’s nothing selfish about doing whatever he can to make the woman he loves happy.
Even in her darkest moment — moments from dying locked in a cell unable to see Stefan on the other side of the barrier between them — Elena is still surrounded by love and a believer in hopefulness. And what I found so tragic about that scene was how Rebekah sat there, alone, watching, knowing she doesn’t have that. (And to add insult to injury, Stefan was once in love with her.) Rebekah sees how connected the Mystic Falls gang is, how they would literally die for each other, and she finds herself with only a brother who takes her for granted and devalues her time and again. Hurt by his selfishness once again, Rebekah destroys Klaus’s precious doppelganger blood bags, and he reacts by further rejecting her. Will he truly disown her? Where will Blondie Bex go from here?
Broken alliances also bite Bonnie in the grimoire: she can’t seem to escape the ties that bind her to the witch spirits or to the vampires, caught between doing the bidding of one power or the other. Bonnie has long had a “whatever it takes” attitude to saving Elena, but she seems to believe as Jeremy does that Elena becoming a vampire is the worst thing that could happen. (Knowing this show, those kids are in for a rude awakening…) Has she learned her lesson about messing with dark magic? Or does she simply have less to lose now that Grams’s spirit has been hurt and Elena is a vampire?
Stefan makes the point to Matt that he has an obligation now: to make Elena’s sacrifice worth it. And that determination fuels Stefan as well, as we see in the sweet but sad rooftop scene at the end. With their “one day at a time” and “everything will be okay,” Elena and Stefan are committed to being hopeful, however unrealistic it may be, about the forever that now lies ahead of both of them.
Compelling Moment: Elena’s single tear falling as she finally completed her transition into a vampire.
The Rules: Lots of unknowns in the world of dark magic: Bonnie dips into the dark power to visit the Other Side by stopping her own heart. She appears to Elena — her living physical self (imprisoned at the ranch) — but Bonnie also sees Grams. When Bonnie uses dark magic to put Klaus back into his own body, the spirits punish her for her choice by hurting Grams — she is painfully torn from the Other Side into some other realm. Unlike Tyler, who we’ve seen make a full man to wolf transition only, Klaus can change just one part of himself into wolf form, as he does in this episode with his hand — which is helpful when you need to rip your own heart out.
Foggy moments: How did Klaus know where to find Caroline and Rebekah? Why did Pastor Young let his captive vampires escape — was he alone after the Salvatore bros killed his three minions? Why wasn’t Pastor Young in the inner circle of the Founders’ Council this whole time?
Thoughts & questions before Memorial (ep402):
- What did you think of the opening sequence — did you miss the “Previously on” or like the new recap?
- High five to Rebekah for her automobile insurance line.
- Did Damon grab the super Original-killing stake he had dropped as Rebekah was being shot?
- Just a reminder to Carol Lockwood: you were never actually elected mayor of Mystic Falls.
- How violently anti-vampire were Elena’s parents?
- Pastor Young makes a point of saying that they’ve gathered up the vervain supply that the Council had, as well as that at the Salvatore house; we see a big pile of it on the table at the ranch — right before it exploded. Is there no more vervain in Mystic Falls?
- Rebekah destroys Klaus’s three bags of Elena’s blood — is that the end of Klaus’s hybrid-making era? What will the estranged Original siblings do now?
- Will Jeremy invite Elena into the Gilbert house?
- Where did Grams end up?
- Why did Pastor Young blow up himself and his followers?? Will they be literally reborn as some kind of supernatural creature?
What did you think of Growing Pains? Sound off below with your likes/dislikes, theories, and predictions. It’s good to have our show back — and to be back writing here! Thanks, V-D.net, for having me back.
Crissy Calhoun is the author of the Love You to Death companion guides to The Vampire Diaries: Season 1, Season 2, and Season 3. Find her online at crissycalhoun.com and tweeting @crissycalhoun.
Everyone is subject to these rules and guidelines, whether they read them or not.
If you have problems with any of the comments posted, flag them to bring them to our attention. You can do this by hovering your mouse over the comment so the 'flag' link appears. You're also welcome to contact us to let us know about any problems.
Do not flag comments you just disagree with - it wastes moderator time. The flagging system is not there to give a post a thumbs down, it's there for genuine problems.
Be excellent to each other.