Well, friends, here we are: this is my last Vampire Diaries episode review! It seems surreal.
It felt strange going into the finale coming off of such a mixed bag of a season. There were just so many filler, siren-centric episodes this season preceding the finale, and worse still, so much unnecessarily depressing material, that it makes me wish a lot of the rest of the final season had been used more effectively. I'm glad we also had amazing and heartwarming and hilarious moments strewn into the mix that made up for the lesser qualities of Season 8 to some extent.
I think the story of our heroes destroying Hell was an absolutely massive set-up that never felt fully explored. A two-hour finale with a much more detailed version of the same events seen in the episode we actually got would have felt more satisfying.
The plotting of the finale, which was very simple and straightforward, ranged from serviceable to quite good. The last few scenes were unquestionably, astonishingly amazing. I absolutely adored the way this finale canvassed the all-important theme of redemption, ultimately culminating in the answering of the question about whether Peace exists for our dear, departed characters, and what that place is like, which has loomed large over the show. The ending of the finale was a beautiful and felt just right.
But due to the one-hour length, combined with the wasted opportunities squandered in previous episodes while we listened to Sirens singing and Matt whining, we had quite a few aspects that felt extremely crammed in, and worse, at times actually cobbled together. Some parts of this last episode definitely worked a lot better than others.
I almost always feel that last episodes of shows, especially those that have been long-running, are flawed. The writers often seem to struggle with knowing exactly how to pull it all together and cap the saga off properly. I have nothing but the utmost admiration and awe for the skillful work of Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson, and think that overall, this was a great finale that will probably grow on me over time despite a few issues that are still nagging at my mind a bit. Let's discuss!
The hellfire was imminent, with Katherine determined to destroy the town and avenge herself on her old enemies. Returning home, Damon and Stefan discovered Elena's coffin open, and were momentarily overjoyed to see that Elena was awake. Surely, this must be a natural result of Bonnie's heart having stopped before she was (thank goodness!) revived. It created a loophole that let Elena wake up while Bon Bon still lived -- awesome! But we weren't to have that happy reunion yet. This time, it was just Katherine pretending to be Elena to mess with the Salvatores. Still the delightful smirking diva we all remember, Katherine was more than happy to monologue about her plans. Yet, and this is reflective of many fans' complaints that as a final big bad, Kitty Kat just wasn't imposing enough, there were flaws in her plot that allowed the scoobies to come up with an effective counterplan.
I will say that while Katherine's limitations (very broad planning, telecasting her every move before doing it, and having too much confidence in her own intelligence) make her a villain who isn't the scariest ever on TVD by a long shot, the "full circle" effect her final return provides to the story felt right to me. I actually wish, a la if we had had the full two hours, that we could have spent more time with Kitty Kat. She felt a little tiny bit caricatured here.
The most badass Bonnie scene ever was on its way, and wow, did I love it. Desperate to save Mystic Falls, Bonnie reasoned that she might be able to use the same hellfire Katherine intended to destroy it, to actually save the vast majority of the town and people. Using the power of the hellfire and her own psychic abilities, Bonnie would reroute the fire through the tunnels, at the end of which, someone would have to ensure that Katherine was stabbed with the bone knife (and therefore sent to Hell) at the moment the blaze reached her. This would trap Katherine in Hell at the split second it was destroyed, getting rid of the dreaded place as well as their nemesis. A brilliant plan indeed, but someone had to take on the role of martyr, and we all know how Damon and Stefan love that particular role. It was time to get out the kleenex.
At first, Damon was totally determined to be the one to give his life to save his friends. Most importantly, he wanted to protect Elena and redeem himself for his past misdeeds. But Stefan, weighted down by his murder of Enzo and recent Ripper spree, plus the long history of other dreadful deeds on his conscience, felt that the sacrifice must lie with him. As the brothers argued about who would be the one to stay and kill Katherine, Damon tried to use compulsion to get Stefan to leave. Seemingly, this worked, but it was a ruse. Stefan came back at the last minute and informed his brother that he's been on vervain since he became human. Now, I think that vervain part should have entered into Damon's mind because it seems like plain common sense that compulsion wouldn't work on Stefan. Having said that, these scenes between the brothers were fantastic and among some of the most moving Defan scenes in the show's run. Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley knocked it out of the park in showing how deeply both brothers long to make up for their past crimes, and just how dearly they love each other.
But before Stefan could face his end, Bonnie had to take on that enormous blasting rampage of hellfire. Standing there, completely and utterly determined to save the world (as she herself stated in a delightful bit of dialogue), Bonnie chanted and fought hard to control the fire. It was starting to get too much for her to handle, and lo and behold, Enzo appeared by her side with some emotional support -- then Grams showed up (sob!) and then all the Bennett witches from throughout history (holy sh!t! And also, ugly crying by now)! Working together, the Bennett women did what they needed to, making sure the hellfire took on the route necessary to their plan.
"I was feeling epic." By now, it was time to take out another box of kleenex. Stefan followed through on his plan to give his life to save everyone else, and he grabbed Katherine, stabbing her (sadly making me recall the halcyon days when I was a fan of his romantic relationship with Kitty Kat...the writers definitely decided to go another route on that one! Stefan is always the one to kill her!) and sending her to Hell just in time to be destroyed right along with it.
Entering the afterlife, Stefan encountered Elena's spirit at a heavenly version of Mystic Falls High, where he explained to her about everything that had happened. Happy to hear that Bonnie, Damon, and the town are safe, but devastated by Stefan's sacrifice, Elena hugged her first love as he whispered something in her ear. I liked the subtle nature of this moment and the writers letting us wait to find out what he said. Later, of course, we learned that he was confirming having received Caroline's voicemail (more on which below) that she understands his decision and will always love him, as he will always love her.
Exiting the school, Stefan stepped outside into this new, yet incredibly familiar world to discover that Lexi was waiting for him (sob, sob, gulp). She was proud of her wonderful best friend, and he simply explained his actions by repeating back her quote from 7 years ago: "I was feeling epic." Well done, Stefan.
Elena's return. Bonnie was able to help Elena to awaken thanks to that helpful loophole created by her own very brief demise in the previous episode. Returning to the world of the living, Elena was dually overjoyed to be back with her friends and saddened by confronting the reality of Stefan's death. Caroline, who had one of her biggest moments of the episode in a shattering, heartbreaking scene in which she left Stefan a voicemail telling him she understood why he was going to his death and would love him forever, was standing with Damon at the sight of Stefan's final resting place. Damon was sure Stefan had found Peace, but questioned whether Hell might be reopened just for him when his own time came. Caroline, in a moment of complicated affection, replied, "don't be so sure." I know that the interactions and suggestions of friendship between Damon and Caroline will forever be tainted by the events of Season 1, and opinions about this scene will vastly differ among fans. I thought it was lovely, though it is hard to dismiss the problems inherent in their relationship.
Then it was time for Elena to reunite with her other loved ones, and watching her run into Damon's arms felt like exhaling after two years of holding my Delena-loving breath. Again, Elena's reunion with Caroline, Bonnie, and Damon was mingled with bittersweetness. There was still Stefan to say farewell to. And yet, a new sense that the dead are not gone, but will always be with us filled the air and became the theme that would close out the episode in a beautiful and very poignant manner. Rather than the suffocation of all-out grief, the emotion became more one of very redemptive and inspirational hope.
And so, Elena and Damon (made human by Stefan giving him the cure before dying) lived their human life, with her seemingly becoming a doctor as she'd wanted to. They had their happy ending and then some, which is spectacularly satisfying. On the other hand, while Enzo's spirit will always be with Bonnie, I'm incredibly saddened that she had to lose him and the life with him that she so deeply wanted. No one deserved total bliss and contentment more than Bonnie, which is why this decision on the writers' part bothers me. Out of everything that ever disappointed me on TVD, Enzo's death is definitely the #1 item on the list of "really?! Why?!" twists.
Caroline and Alaric opened their school for gifted youngsters, in a blatant X-Men homage (or so I took it, anyway) that made it seem like Ric took Professor X's sign and just changed the name. Let's just put aside Caroline's journalist ambition because the writers clearly have. Having said that, it's a lovely way for her and Alaric to use their understanding of the supernatural to help others. One might even term Caroline's new profession to be quite...noble and virtuous...
If you guessed that Klaus' letter to Caroline, along with an extremely generous donation to the school, was one of my favorite scenes in the finale, you were quite right! This scene was a very special treat for those of us who loved Klaroline. And the wording of the letter, "I do look forward to thanking you in person one day...however long it takes...Yours, Klaus," was so perfect. What a nice callback to what Klaus formerly said to Caroline, that he wanted to be her last love, however long it took. The letter also hints that Caroline and Klaus' relationship is far from over, and Alaric states that this is the beginning of another story. That is so unspeakably exciting to me that only the ever-useful phrase "I can't even!" could begin to cover my feelings on the subject!
Elena continues to explain that after her mortal life ends, she finds Peace once more, reunited in a lovely scene with all of the Gilbert family: her parents, Aunt Jenna and "Uncle" John. Meanwhile, even Damon, who so sadly believed himself destined to only suffering in the afterlife, is finally reunited with Stefan. The final moment of the show features Damon coming home, at last, to a hug with his little brother. I'm impressed and pleased that The Vampire Diaries chose to emphasize the remarkable bond between Stefan and Damon as the very last image we'll see on the show. How classy, and how touching.
Strange omissions? I will preface this with the obvious statement that of course there wasn't time to fit every moment fans would have liked to have seen into a one hour series finale. However, the lack of closure and maybe a last nice scene between Damon and Alaric was disappointing to me. Furthermore, no Bamon scenes? I mean, it was nice when Bonnie told Alaric that Damon "knows" his old pal still cares about him. That one emotional beat kind of filled in a tiny bit of the gap left in the Bamon and Dalaric category for the finale. At least when it comes to Damon and Bonnie, we were already treated to some fantastic moments, such as Damon reciting his letter to Bon Bon and when they took down Cade together with Stefan's help, earlier this season. Still...no Dalaric, no Bamon, but we had time to touch base with the Donovans?
I wasn't crazy about Alaric's role and how he was portrayed in this episode in general, actually. He seemed distant and cold. We know how much he loves and rightly prioritizes his children, but we also know that he loves Elena and she is family to him as well. And Damon, no matter what they've gone through, is surely still one of his best friends when it comes to how they truly feel in their hearts. Ric's behavior, outside of the nice ending he got and seeing that Jo is watching over him, was a little odd for me.
Transitions and timing: Did anyone else feel that the quick transition between Elena and Damon's happy ending and the explanation that they were now, years later, dead and in the afterlife to be slightly confusing? I was uncertain exactly what was going on for a moment there.
Additionally, Stefan's death had a little less of an impact for me than maybe it should have because the fast pacing of the episode made it feel as if he was back with his loved ones again so soon. Of course, we know that many years went by between Stefan's death and those of Damon, Elena, and the other surviving scoobies. Still, the episode had the effect of jumping rather quickly from grief to happiness. If some of the intensity of losing Stefan was lost in the mix, I suppose it was ultimately worth it to see everyone at Peace.
Extremely amusing: Jeremy showing up for about two seconds with almost no dialogue. Hi-bye, Jer. That's about all you deserve. Am I still bitter that poor Tyler was thrown away like a three-days-old casserole while Matt got tons of scenes in Season 8 and Jeremy got to survive? Who, me? Nooooo. Meh.
Joking aside, I was hoping that Tyler might get saved, along with Enzo, by the end of the show. We've seen the dead come back before plenty of times. Sadly, no dice.
Never really gone: At least the spirit of Ty Ty, with his awesome new beard, is enjoying Peace now. We saw him, Vicki, and Jo, among others, watching over their friends and family in the montage about the presence of lost loved ones in our lives. Very well done.
Signing off for now: I'm thrilled by the implication that for Klaus and Caroline, there is more story to tell. We know Alaric will be on The Originals, at least briefly, this season. And I hope very much that we will also get to see our friends from Mystic Falls again in any context possible. I've enjoyed writing these reviews and sharing thoughts, opinions, and love for the show with all of you these last few years more than I can say. Plenty of times I was having a bad day, then came here and cheered up thanks to you guys. Your readership and comments have been and are greatly appreciated, and I will see you around Spoiler TV!