The Vampire Diaries executive producer Julie Plec wasn't messing around when she named Season 3 the "Season of the Originals." Whether you liked him or not (let's be real: you liked him) Klaus's influence has been so profound over the past, say, thirty episodes, that his introduction to the show has transcended the normal story arc and become integral to the saga. It's no wonder he wasn't killed off! But the most impressive thing about Season 3 is that even though many of its storylines were dictated by ancient outsiders, the show still took the time to involve the main characters in new and exciting ways. We got unexpected team-ups (Katherine and Jeremy! Bonnie and Matt!), truly moving moments with formerly useless parents, even an ambitious plotline engineered to turn a beloved character into a total villain. There were so many moving parts, spinning plates, and, I don't know, somersaulting dolphins, that were handled perfectly this season that it's impossible not to be impressed by just how much was pulled off.
Like, has there ever been a nine-episode stretch of any TV show as flawless as the first nine of this season? (Okay ONE flaw: Damon's haircut.) At the time I wondered how the season could keep raising the stakes (a vampire vampire hunter? Ghosts?) and still stick the landing. If we're being honest here, Season 3 may have stumbled a bit toward the end: The Stefan-turning-good storyline felt rushed and unsatisfying; three new characters were way sucky (Bill, Abby, Sage); Esther's schemes seemed haphazard and random; Elena deciding she HAD to make a romantic decision felt really arbitrary. So yeah, there WERE issues. But man, the first half of this season was just incredible. But you know what? I'm gonna stop boring you with vague assessments and start giving you some cold hard facts (of my opinions)!
Here are my picks for the absolute best things about Season 3:
1. Scary Stefan
For as much as I am a bragging, stubborn, know-it-all, few things bring me more pleasure in entertainment than being proven wrong. The biggest way this season proved me wrong was in just how long, painful, and amazing Stefan's descent into villainy was. After Season 2's cliffhanger, I truly thought he'd be bad for about two episodes and the show would move on to another plotline. There was a precedent for this: His Season 1 addiction issues went away right quick. And, you know...
This hinges on a love triangle! How could it make the dashing romantic lead truly despicable? Well, this show went there. Not only was Stefan reprehensible for most of Season 3, but in a weird way he was WAY more fun. Seriously:
It was clear the show would be getting a lot of mileage out of his return to normalcy, but I suspect the writers were having SO MUCH FUN writing Stefan as a murderous badass that, way too late in the season, they were like, "Oh no, we've only got four episodes to turn him good now!" That transition wasn't nearly as fun, but, you know, points for trying.
2. Tyler Comes Out to His Mom
Shortly before Season 3 began, I explicitly asked Julie Plec why an ensemble cast of this size hadn't yet introduced a gay character. (It's basically my job to be annoying, guys!) We all know she did sorta introduce a gay character this season (ugh, don't get me started) but her main answer was that this show is frequently about the gay experience even if there aren't gay characters. And boy, that was never truer than in this small but, to me, extraordinary moment between Tyler and his mother.
Okay, putting aside my ridiculous theory that one of these actors MIGHT be in love with the other, what we got was a scene where a son bravely showed his powerful, slightly bigoted mother just who he really is. And then, with almost no hesitation, she accepted him. Good stuff, Ms. Plec. I apologize for hasslin' you.
3. The Motel Room Incident
Okay, I ain't no 'shipper. But I do have eyes and a beating heart and so this sequence was just goooood! While TVD has given us plenty of scenes that established Elena's love for Stefan over and over and over again, her somewhat flirtation with Damon hadn't really been explored. Sure, he kissed her that one time and she often looked indecisive when confronted with his feelings, but if you ever thought anything REAL was happening between Elena and Damon, then you'd let your imagination run away with you. That is, until THIS moment, when Elena (understandably) let her horniness get the better of her. She IS 18 after all!
Get it, Elena!
4. Klaus and Caroline
I mean, come on. This plotline was just great. For one thing, I love when a villain gets reformed and so Klaus's interactions with Caroline went a long way toward humanizing him.
In my opinion this plotline is widely misinterpreted as romantic; I found it much bigger and deeper than a simple love story. First of all, it's only romantic if you're assuming Klaus wants a girlfriend. I think it's more about what Klaus sees in Caroline (kindness, humanity) and how he wants to be around THAT for the rest of eternity rather than an interchangeable army of useless hybrids (or a former friend who doesn't love him back!). In exchange, he can offer Caroline a life OUTSIDE of Mystic Falls. Because let's be honest, it's kind of hilarious to think immortal monsters-slash-superheroes are going to want to finish their high school educations and remain in a tiny, terrible town. If any of you have ever been a teenager who dreamed of escaping your hometown, Klaus's offer probably resonated. I'm slightly disappointed that there wasn't more of a payoff here; Caroline remained pretty into Tyler, despite him not being the best boyfriend—'member when he Vervained her at Homecoming? But at least the season-ending reveal that Klaus now lives in Tyler's body will create an interesting wrinkle for Season 4. That's something.
5. The Phone Call
If I have one major complaint about this show—and it's a complaint that's sort of a compliment, really—it's that it often moves too fast for any real sense of longing or subtlety. But this scene took the time to stop everything and just let a moment play out, and man was it great.
Even though Stefan was so far gone into Ripperdom that he couldn't bring himself to speak to Elena, just hearing her voice provided enough of a tether to hold on to. His descent into darkness was far from over, but this scene gave all Stefan fans hope that deep down he was still the boring old romantic hero they'd fallen in love with.
6. The Return of Old Favorites
Although this next highlight could ALSO be deemed one of this season's flaws in that it completely removed the high-stakes finality of death itself, as a viewer there are few things more joyful than getting to see old favorites again. Even a brief and suitably useless cameo from Jenna in the finale gave me chills. Jenna! Anyway, because Jeremy had died, he could now see ghosts. And so could Matt, right? But not Elena or Alaric? Don't ask me. So that's why this season was really "The Season of the Originals (Plus Ghosts!)."
I know this was a flashback, but it still counted:
I mean, even the TOMB VAMPIRES got to come back! Loved how Caroline just HANDLED them:
But, I'm sorry, one of my favorite moments of the entire season was this part:
(FYI, no captions = I'm crying.)
7. Caroline's Rescue
Let's not talk about how much I hated the Bill Forbes stuff. Because BOY, did I. It was unfocused (sunlight and torture fixes vampires? What about magic and/or science, you a-hole?) and sickening in its message (gays are villains too? Good thing we leap-frogged that whole normal-representation thing and gays are back to being TV villains again!). Whoops, I'm ranting. Sorry, guys, this is supposed to be about highlights! Moving on... The culmination of this otherwise troubling plotline was the redemption of a previously useless character: Sheriff Forbes!
Sheriff Forbes and Tyler's team-up was just straight-up satisfying. And touching! Maybe I'm just a sucker for when characters scoop up other characters into their arms and carry them away. But still: You treat Caroline well and I'll like you.
9. Rebekah the High School Student
Rebekah is a great character. Just a straight-up great character. From her introduction as Stefan's '20s-era love interest to her surprisingly fluid motivations, she too became just as essential to the season as Klaus was. But the thing I loved most about her (aside from Claire Holt's terrific performance) was just how teenage she was. Who could've guessed that a 1,000-year-old vampire would be a better high school student than the actual high school students?
I mean, like most teens she spent a lot of time sleeping:
She had her heart broken repeatedly:
She made friends and enemies on the regular:
She put her trust in untrustworthy people:
She liked to get her swerve on:
And she was completely susceptible to developing school-girl crushes on the boy next door:
Not to mention the fact that out of all the characters SHE was the one who was most into attending high school and getting involved in its extracurriculars. Planning school dances, going out for cheer, enjoying the school bonfire, brown-nosing her history teacher. Seriously, Rebekah's devotion to her teenage years was so touching that it made me forgive her occasionally murderous ways as just being normal teenage mood-swings. Throughout the season both she and Klaus were revealed to be supremely lonely, sensitive people, and I was pretty instantly hooked on them. SO GLAD she wasn't killed off (I seriously thought she would be), and I can't wait to see what she'll get up to in Season 4. Prom, hopefully!
10. Detective Katherine
Speaking of Originals, Katherine is the original awesome lady character on this show. Although she disappeared for most of the season (another reason why the second half of the season wasn't as fun?) her presence was FELT whenever she did appear. She's consistently been motivated by self-preservation, but Season 3 showed that she also dabbles in detective work!
I mean, that wig was pretty killer. But her surprise involvement in Damon's Homecoming scheme to kill Klaus was one of the best reveals TVD has pulled off yet:
This episode then concluded with Katherine doing something SO uncharacteristic and awesome: She gave Stefan good advice about life! Honestly, it's saying something when Katherine is the voice of reason in Mystic Falls, so in my opinion she cannot return fast enough.
11. Klaus and Stefan's
I mean. I don't know. I am 100 percent reading a little too much into these scenes. Or am I? Klaus was DEFINITELY in love with Stefan, it's just a matter of what kind of love? Either way, it was downright touching to see how devoted to Stefan he was. Who would've imagined that the biggest motivation for Klaus ensnaring Stefan into his schemes was Klaus's simple need for a bro-friend?
Season 3 walked the line between presenting Klaus as an irredeemable villain and also a tragic, relatable dude. Few things humanized him more than the fact that he loved his friend more than the friend loved him back. We've all been there, right? (Though with less murder, hopefully.)
12. The Mystic Fall High School Fruitopia Machine
I mean, I know time doesn't pass at the same rate in Mystic Falls, but could it actually be 1994 there still?
13. Alaric's Issues
I do have some nitpicks with the Evilaric plotline, specifically how uncreative the explanation for his condition was. Why bother making him another original vampire? Couldn't we have been introduced to a supernatural creature of a different kind? Like, maybe vampire hunters have supernatural origins and can become endowed with super strength to kill vampires? I felt like this show flirted with the idea of otherness when Mikael woke up craving the blood of vampires, but I don't know. I just didn't really get it. Especially when Esther claimed that she'd pep-talked Alaric into having a split personality. What? Anyway, the "highlight" aspect of this plotline was how elaborate and ambitious a method it was to kill off Alaric. Obviously a decision had been made that his time was up and the writers wanted something suitably epic to accomplish that. And they did! Because wow, the seeds for his psychosis had been planted a long time in advance and the reveal was both surprising and shocking.
Then, when it came time to die, it was touching how everyone united to bid farewell:
Alaric's death was ultimately pretty sad. But then TVD just had to go and end things on an awesome note:
Exciting stuff! Muddled explanation, but why complain when it WORKED? Alaric was a scary villain all of the sudden!
14. The Wickery Bridge Incident
Another reason why "Our Town" was probably my favorite episode of the season: Not only did it have that Klaus-Caroline scene, this scene was just remarkable. A truly painful moment for Elena and an unforgivable one for Stefan, his attempt to bluff Klaus by threatening to turn Elena into a vampire WHILE ALSO forcing her to relive her parents' deaths was some powerful stuff. That's why, when the show was bending over backward to redeem Stefan in Elena's eyes, I mostly didn't buy it because THIS was still fresh in my memory:
Did Stefan ever actually apologize for this incident? Like an actual, explicit apology? JUST ASKING.
15. Elena's Painting Skills
16. Caroline and Tyler's Sex Life
Because this show is so mired in dark themes and ultraviolence, I truly appreciated the counter-balance of some good, old-fashioned teenage sexin'!
17. Matt and Jeremy's Bromance
It's hard being a human being in Mystic Falls—not only do you stand a big chance of getting brutally murdered, the writers don't really know what to do with you most of the time. Fortunately they found a pretty charming recurring element for Jeremy and Matt: Making them co-workers! Honestly, sometimes a show lives and dies by the strength of its bromances and TVD really stepped it up this season. As both Jeremy and Matt dealt with some heady, ghost-related issues, it was nice to see that these two could bond over something other than, I don't know, preacher curls?
The latter half of the season sent Jeremy away and had Matt more focused on Elena's problems, but here's to hoping these two kids will get to spend some more quality time together in Season 4.
18. The Soccer Ball Incident
Oh, Klaus! Now THAT is how you bust down a front door! With a one-pound inflatable ball! I love that Klaus was originally introduced as this brilliant mastermind who'd spent years forming a scheme and enlisting powerful witches, body-switch spells, and the like while also remaining ten steps ahead of everyone. But by the end he was just some bratty vampire kicking soccer balls at houses and throwing tantrums in front yards. We've all been there, Klaus. As children.
19. Drownin' Around
As I said in my recap of the finale, you could probably score ANY footage with a Sigur Ros song and it would be resplendent. But if you're going to do it, it might as well be to a scene as haunting, beautiful, and emotional as this one in which Elena's present-day underwater trauma was intercut with her memory of losing her parents in a similar fashion:
Don't get me wrong, the scene verged on comical in how long Elena was able to hold her breath while meaningfully interacting with other characters and not unbuckling her seatbelt, but still: DANG. She drowned. (And Stefan LET her drown, which is another story.) TVD knows how to do beautiful death scenes, and this one ranked right up toward the top of the list.
20. Caroline and Damon's Brawl
This was just a brief, throwaway moment, but it was about as crowd-pleasing as this show gets:
Go Caroline! And credit where credit's due: Let it be noted that Damon clearly wasn't giving it his all, as ANY GENTLEMAN wouldn't when it comes to laying a hand on our sweet angel.
A season of The Vampire Diaries can rightfully be judged by certain elements: Romances, deaths, twists, and SILLY WIGS. In that category alone this season really brought its A-game.
22. The Horror!
Another thing TVD tends to do well (when it's in the mood) is spin tension and dread from very simple horror scenarios. Seriously, this show can be scary sometimes! My favorite horror-movie moments in Season 3 definitely involved the Mystic Falls slasher, both before we knew who he was...
23. Elena's Brief Foray Into Independence
A good (albeit temporary) side effect of Stefan's descent into darkness was Elena's brief attempt to not be co-dependent on a Salvatore. At one point Alaric even trained her to physically FIGHT off Stefan if need be.
It was the first time in a long time where I actually sympathized with Elena and felt like she had her head on straight. No more suicidal martyrdom or over-reliance on the dudes in her life: She was taking care of business. That's unfortunately why I ended the season so down on her: The split-second that Stefan seemed to be coming around, she dropped this spirit like a hot potato and went right back into her mass murderer-enabling ways. Oh, Elena. I hope the vampire version of you is much cooler.
24. The Ballroom Dance
I love when The Vampire Diaries gets theatrical and "Dangerous Liaisons" was basically operatic. Put people in black-tie formal and choreograph a waltz and I'm happy every time.
But what I especially loved about this dance was how it distilled each character relationship as it was:
Just a good, crowd-pleasing scene that enhanced the various romantic longings of each character. Jane Austen, eat your heart out. (No wait, that would be horrifying, nobody should do that.)
25. The End
Despite the slightly underwhelming storytelling of the last stretch of episodes, there's one thing few of us can disagree on: Season 3 ended AMAZINGLY.
Honestly, what a shock: Elena DIED and may now become a vampire! If we are to take this turn of events at face value, how much does it throw the entire premise of the show off the rails? Will Elena's personality get a makeover like Caroline's did? Will the two Salvatores still be as attracted to another vampire as they were to a human being? (I kinda thought that was the main attraction for them.) Is Katherine suddenly redundant? Lotta questions, you guys. And THAT'S what defines a good cliffhanger. Again, I have no idea what the writers have in store for us, so it's guaranteed to be surprising. And that's all I ask for, really. Surprise!
Best season yet. Slightly top-heavy, quality-wise, but that's not really anything to complain about. It's an exciting time to be a Vampire Diaries, fan seeing as each season has improved on the last. Just to be safe, we should probably do some expectations-adjustment before Season 4, but still: I'm excited.
Now let's hit up the waterslide park! Put on your ballgown and your silliest wig and meet me at the wave pool!
One Last Question:
What was YOUR favorite Season 3 moment?