And so it ends. This show has always been about choice, and this finale brought that theme back to the forefront. Just like its characters, The Vampire Diaries is brave enough to make controversial choices and stick to them, despite knowing that some of the viewers at home will be screaming, no no no no no — did I mention no? The Departed didn’t have that surprise-around-every-corner frenzy of past finales, but it was damn fine television — a finale that brought us back to the core of our main character and showed us the two days in which her entire life changed.
From Meredith telling Jeremy that Elena will be fine, to Grayson promising his daughter (as their submerged car fills with water) that they’ll be okay, this was an episode full of reassurances that almost always turned out to be empty. That impulse to make things better in the face of relentless bad is at the hearts of these characters, and in the flashbacks we see the life that was “supposed to be,” the life that Elena lost before we met her in season 1. We meet a girl untouched by real tragedy; her main worry is hurting her boyfriend’s feelings by being honest about her own. She’s not avoiding mortal peril on the daily, but a girl who could say, without a trace of irony, “It’s Mystic Falls. Nothing bad ever happens here.” I can’t overstate how much I loved the structure of this episode: Elena drifts in and out of consciousness, back and forth from past to present, and we see the stark contrast in her situations but also the emotional parallels. These are the two days that fundamentally changed her. From the last morning she woke up smiling to the moment that turned her into a girl unsure of how to live, or if she wanted to, we see the death of the old Elena Gilbert, the one she finally put to rest with that impromptu funeral on Wickery Bridge, Matt at her side, in Our Town. And in the present, we see Elena’s final choice, making Stefan save Matt before her, and reach another point of transition with her watery death. Her human life is over and, if she chooses, her life as a vampire is about to begin.
Calling the Shots: There’s been a lot of talk about Elena’s choices — particularly that whole love triangle thing — but Bonnie Bennett is on a parallel journey, and the two of them assert their independence in The Departed. Both have decided not to be pushed around or coddled, that it’s time to do what they want to do, regardless of what other people think of their plan. And in Bonnie’s first outing as a free agent, she goes ahead and saves the day! She doesn’t participate in the gang’s plan, or let them know what she’s up to. Bonnie lets them fear for their lives and say their goodbyes, and ultimately protects them — saving Klaus to save his bloodline. What does the future hold for Bonnie? She’s asserted her independence from the spirits, and her conversation with Tyler-as-Klaus suggests there will be fallout from that. It’s been a slow, slow build for Bonnie, but this season we finally got to know her a little bit better — she got a home, a backstory, a mother, a love interest (who isn’t dead yet!), and a new, dark step on her witchy journey. I really hope that this develops in season 4; I think there’s some unmined potential here.
Always and Forever: It takes just one simple statement from Elijah to convince Elena to make a deal with him: “He’s my brother.” Though Elijah believes Klaus needs to learn some manners (How brilliant was that moment? Oh Gillies), he cares deeply for his brother and will go to great lengths to protect him. Like Liz and Carol trying to protect their kids, or Matt and Jeremy’s plan to spirit Elena out of town, or the Salvatore brothers’ unwavering determination to save each other, the Original siblings are bonded — family always and forever. The moment in the woods between Rebekah and Elijah was heartbreaking, a nicely human breakdown that showed us that no matter how much of a bastard Niklaus could be, they loved him dearly. He was their brother. Klaus is, of course, not actually dead, and his trickery with Bonnie will have fallout next season: Rebekah has killed his doppelganger but also Alaric, and the weapon that could take them all out is still in play — and presumably in Damon’s possession. Fingers crossed that we have the pleasure of seeing Claire Holt on our screens for seasons to come; Rebekah has been a highlight of Season 3.
The Eternal Difference: Elena has two kinds of people in her life: the ones who accept her choices, valuing her right to free will over their own opinion — like Elijah and Stefan and Bonnie — and the ones who do what they believe will best protect Elena, her own opinion be damned — like Matt and Jeremy, drugging her, and most notoriously Damon, who’d rather stick Elena in a well than trust Elijah as she opts to. As Damon says, it’s the eternal difference between the Salvatore brothers, and one that’s brought the boys to blows in the past (fighting over Elena’s choice to die in the sacrifice, for example). But now, with Stefan honoring Elena’s wish that Matt be saved before her, what the boys have been protecting her from for three seasons has come to pass. Elena has died and, thanks to Meredith, she is in transition.
We all know that Damon would have rescued Elena, kicking and screaming; he’s made it very clear that he will always choose Elena’s life over another. How will he react to Stefan’s choice? And how will Stefan deal with his role in her change? Prone to being guilt-ridden, Stefan knows, better than anyone, that Elena never wanted to become a vampire. He stood with her on the top of that mountain in The Last Day and heard her speech about the life she would lose if she turned. For Elena, becoming a vampire was a fate worse than death. That imagined future is gone, and it’s heartbreaking to see Stefan crushed, mourning the end of Elena’s human life. He knows what she’s lost, and what his role was in it. And, on rewatching this episode, it makes their “just in case there is no later” kiss even more poignant.
Letting Go: “Our life is one proverbial coin toss.” Truer words were never spoken, Damon! There’s been a lot of hype around Elena making a choice between brothers, and the poor girl finally does, sort of, in the strangest of circumstances. Throughout the episode, Elena explains her dilemma and the weight of the decision: she feels like she’s doing them wrong by “stringing them along” but she’s terrified of losing either one of them. In conversation with Matt and in reflecting on their relationship and how she handled that, Elena remembers the advice her dearly departed mom gave to her. Elena didn’t lose Matt after she broke up with him; he’s still at her side, willing to listen to her romantic woes and willing to kidnap her to protect her. Elena sees that there’s a difference between letting someone go and losing them. And as hard as it is for Elena to tell Damon that she has to set him free — poor girl is destroyed by that phone call — what she says is raw and honest and full of heartache. She never “unfell” for Stefan but she clearly can’t just erase what she feels for Damon, either.
Some people are taking the “maybe if I’d met you first” comment literally: that once she remembers that she met Damon first, she’s going to change her mind. But I don’t think that’s what the comment was meant to communicate; it wasn’t a statement of how she’d made her choice, whoever came first is the winner. To me, Elena was simply saying that she loves Damon too and if only their timing wasn’t so off, they could be together now. It felt like a parallel to what he said to her in the deathbed moment last season: if only you’d known me then. The importance of that line was not so much its future impact on Elena, but its immediate impact on Damon. When he remembers them meeting, the moment only he knows about, it reminds him of that instant spark they had — that, as Elena says, she hasn’t decided for “always” but for “right now.” It puts some fight back into him, and he rallies against Alaric.
When Elena does remember meeting Damon the night her parents died, I think that while we can rest assured she won’t immediately switch brothers, it will shift her understanding of who Damon is — as will the moment from Rose. Just as her understanding of who Damon is shifted when, in Heart of Darkness, she found out what Damon did for Rose in her dying moments. He continues to surprise her.
When we met Damon in Season 1, we got those glimpses, tiny moments that suggested that he wasn’t all bad-boy vampire despite his dastardly swagger. In the pilot, he was lurking around Elena (the fog and crow as she’s in the cemetery) and his “dead ringer for Katherine” comment to Stefan in the “Hello, brother” scene suggested then that he’d seen her close up. And now we’ve seen that first moment. Personally, I didn’t find the flashback behavior to be out of character for Season 1 Damon: he’s lying in wait for a victim; he’s Katherine-obsessed and full of romantic ideas of passion, adventure, and danger; and he wants to keep his presence in Mystic Falls a secret — no doubt he knew that Stefan was also in town. This flashback scene also gives us more of a backstory for that strange moment of tenderness in Friday Night Bites: when Damon watches Elena sleeping and touches her cheek. He wasn’t only seeing Katherine in Elena, or his brother’s sassy and sympathetic new girlfriend, but a girl he’d shared his own moment with. Damon knew he had chemistry with Elena before they officially met.
There will be no tidy resolution to the relationships between Elena and the Salvatore brothers, maybe not even in the series finale; there’s no easy answer. And with Elena’s death, she’ll change: she is no longer a human who needs to be saved on a weekly basis. She’s a vampire, her blood is no longer valuable, she’ll be stronger and faster and full of impulses previously foreign and, well, repulsive to her. Who Elena will be as a vampire is the next fascinating chapter in her story and as it changes her entire life, it’s necessarily going to have ramifications on this love triangle.
RIP: Let’s talk about the last five minutes of the show. From that deceptively peaceful shot of the water by Wickery Bridge through to Elena’s awakening, this was masterful television; cast, crew, writers, you should all be incredibly proud of this sequence. Everything comes together: the scenes underwater, past and present intercut, as Stefan saves Elena at her father’s insistence and Matt at Elena’s; as Alaric dies, Damon realizes that Elena is gone too; and as Alaric appears in the Gilbert hallway, not only do we get an incredibly touching and necessary farewell to the Alaric we all loved so dearly, but we see Jeremy realize that his sister is gone too. The end of Elena’s human life is heroic; she has fought her way into this role for three seasons, always putting her loved ones ahead of herself. Her last act is to force Stefan to save Matt instead of her, and once she sees him safe, it’s just the briefest of moments before she’s gone, no more life left in her. It’s a bold choice for the series but I think the timing is ideal: Elena’s arc this season has led her here and, while there will be major fallout from these last moments, I think this sort of fundamental shift in our heroine will breathe new life into Season 4.
Though we may see him from time to time if his ghost visits Jeremy again, this is the end of the road for Alaric Saltzman. It’s hard to imagine Mystic Falls without Ric, The Vampire Diaries without Matt Davis’s consistently pitch-perfect performances (and his dead sexiness), or the TVD Twitterverse without Ernesto Riley’s fan fiction. Matt Davis, you will be earnestly missed, and we’ll be watching your new show, Cult, come the fall. Raise a glass of bourbon, friends: though he may be leaving us, he’ll always be part of the TVD family.
Compelling Moment: The underwater sequence. Perfection.
The Rules: Nothing new introduced, but a few old rules that are important to keep in mind: when a person makes the transition to vampire, they remember what they were compelled to forget. Elena will remember what Damon compelled her to forget. When someone is possessed (like Alaric with Klaus, Rebekah with Esther, or Bonnie with Emily), they come out of it okay. Once Klaus leaves Tyler’s body, Tyler will be alive and well (but probably pretty pissed off).
- How did Bonnie perform the Klaus/Tyler possession spell? Was Tyler a willing participant? He did call Bonnie after he and Caroline made their leave-town plan, so he could have been a party to it, unbeknownst to us.
- How far was it from the storage lockers to Mystic Falls? Some characters were able to get there and back (Alaric, Rebekah, Bonnie) while Damon couldn’t get back within an hour of Klaus dying. The timeline and distance was just sketchy enough to be confusing.
- The conversation between Caroline and “Tyler” in the cellar muddled my brain a little bit. Klaus-as-Tyler says to her that she is strong and will survive, while he (meaning Tyler) is a lost cause. He then fakes a few coughs and convulsions to convince her he’s dying. Caroline doesn’t seem to question that she’s somehow heartier stock than Tyler, but if their bloodline is going out, it doesn’t matter how strong or old you are — you’re a goner. Since Tyler is in fact Klaus, he knows Caroline (and the rest of his bloodline) will survive, but she doesn’t know that yet, does she? After “Tyler” forces her to leave him by transitioning into a werewolf, is Caroline running away from Mystic Falls, or to her loved ones to say goodbye?
- Isn’t Matt’s truck old enough that it would have manually opening windows?
- In the last shot, it looked like Elena was lying on a morgue table — her death isn’t being officially recorded, is it? I assumed they were just at the hospital for Matt.
Questions, theories, and other thoughts:
Matt: Though we don’t see him again after Stefan pulls him out of the truck, I think we can assume Matt’s OK. He’s pretty experienced at drowning and resurrecting.
The Damon-meets-Elena flashback: Just to clarify what I’ve seen some confusion about – the Wickery Bridge accident takes place in May; the events of the pilot episode in September. So when we see Damon lying in the road in The Departed, he’s just hunting in his usual way — it’s not the same moment that we saw in the pilot. With this flashback, we learn that not only was Stefan creeping around Mystic Falls watching Elena from May to September, but Damon was too.
The Original Siblings and the Stake: Does Damon have the stake? How long do you think it will take Elijah to clue into the fact that Klaus is not dead? You could see the wheels turning already. Has Rebekah made herself Damon’s target by killing Elena?
The Council: Evil Alaric’s legacy is a council actually doing its job, on high alert and on vervain (i.e., not easily made to forget what they know). They know that Caroline and Tyler and Klaus are supernatural; do they know about the truth about the Salvatore brothers or the other Original siblings? In The Departed, we hear repeatedly that the council, and the MFPD, is effective when allowed to do its job. How much of a threat will they pose to our favorite vampires in Season 4? What will become of Sheriff Forbes and Mayor Lockwood? Will they be kicked out of their positions, as Alaric told Meredith? (Of course, Carol was never elected mayor, so I personally think it’s high time for democracy to return to Mystic Falls.) Will Meredith lose her license? Here’s hoping Meredith sticks around for Season 4.
Caroline: What did you think of Caroline in this episode? While there’s no question that Candice Accola once again broke hearts with her performance, how Caroline behaves seemed a little off to me and to some of you diehard Caroline fans out there. Would Caroline leave town and spend her whole life running with Tyler? Did Klaus’s past suggestions that a small town life not be enough for her spur her enthusiasm to get the hell of out Mystic Falls?
Klaus: Let’s talk about Klaus’s body. (You know what I mean.) We see Alaric stake him, Klaus’s eyes and mouth open (so is Klaus still in there at that moment?), he lights on fire (as we saw with Mikael and Finn when they were white-oak staked), Alaric removes the stake, and he slams the coffin lid closed. Did that dampen the fire, putting it out before it consumed Klaus? Do you have to leave the stake in til the body is all burnt up? Feels like Klaus’s body is just a little worse for wear in that casket, and that we haven’t seen the last of Joseph Morgan. And Julie Plec’s post-finale interviews seem to hint very heavily in that direction.
How long will Klaus stay in Tyler’s body? Will it be his decision to vacate or will Bonnie force him out? Klaus’s number-one enemy is his dead witchy mother, and presumably she already knows that Klaus isn’t actually dead, so there is little tactical advantage to keeping up the death façade. He could, of course, take advantage of Tyler’s relationship with Caroline, but that hardly seems like the sort of thing a gentleman like Klaus would do…
Elena: Elena will remember the first conversation she had with Damon, which we saw in the flashback; she’ll remember him telling her that he loves her in Rose. How will that affect her perception of Damon or her relationship to him?
Which vampire’s blood did Meredith use to heal Elena? Is Elena part of Klaus’s bloodline, or another one? Did Elena know that she had vampire blood in her system?
Will she hesitate to become a vampire? And assuming she makes the transition (do it, girl!), what will she be like as a vampire?
Thank you for reading my posts here this season and thank you to all of the thoughtful and passionate commenters! And love to the wonderful Abby, Kate, Red, and Vee for hosting me here and for running such a killer (and award-winning) site (and for never getting mad at me when I delivered posts late). And so, one last time for Season 3: What did you think of The Departed? What do you think Season 4 holds? Sound off below with your likes/dislikes, theories, and predictions!
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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