Have you ever, on your last day of school, gotten all your year-end tests back and actually cared one bit about what you got wrong on them? Like, just ignored all your classmates' requests to sign yearbooks and demands to stay cool over the summer in order to fret over some incorrect Scantron bubble or an algebraic equation for which you forgot to show your work? I know I didn't ever do that! School was OUT, guy! Time to stop worrying about junk like that and be proud of ourselves that we finished the year! I kind of feel that way about "The Departed," the third season finale of The Vampire Diaries. It was not a perfect episode, I'll just say that right now. But my sense of satisfaction and euphoria related to Season 3 in general is so intense and gratifying that I'm not suuuuper interested in dwelling on things that maybe weren't perfect, you know? I just want everyone to sign my t-shirt and invite me to waterslide parties.
Don't get me wrong, there was a ton to like about "The Departed": Its cyclical, fluid flashbacks were poignant and enlightening; the sheer thrill of all characters being included in the main plotline is never not exciting; the underwater sequence paired sound and vision so perfectly as to become one of the year's all-time best TV sequences; the final event of the episode was almost premise-shattering in its audacity. Maybe a handful of execution issues here and there, but what's the fun in being an armchair staff writer at this stage in the game? Oh, but armchair staff writing is what the internet was founded upon? Well fine. But let's try and have fun with this one anyway!
We began with a suspiciously soft-focused glimpse into a soft-brained life:
WHY was Elena so happy at 6:45 A.M.? And who'd cleaned the blood and paint off her face and placed her in the bed? The question was moot! It was a flashback:
No idea who this lady was.
Or this one:
Just kidding, it was Elena's mom! Well, one of them. More importantly it was Jeremy's mom. (He was in the bathroom doing things to himself at the time.) But yeah, this was definitely a happier time for Elena, before her life became a DAILY WAKING NIGHTMARE.
But then she woke up.
Apparently Jeremy had taken Elena to the hospital, correctly assuming that perhaps slamming one's head against a wooden stair, passing out, and bleeding from the face suggests that person isn't well. Meredith, hilariously enough, was trying to convince him that Elena's condition was NBD. BUT WHY, Meredith?
I mean honestly. When was the last time Meredith legitimately treated a patient using actual medicine and not a swig of vampire blood? I'm pretty sure she's been treating scrapes and broken bones with vampire blood also. It definitely saves time. (Related question: Does DeVry have a medical school?)
One person was NOT happy with Meredith's all-purpose solution:
Alaric might've been transformed into some kind of invincible vampire, but he was definitely all-business this episode. It was kind of hilarious to see him legitimately effect change at city hall and possibly improve the health system for the better? SUCH a Big Bad.
Anyway, when Damon and Stefan found out that Elena was just a sitting duck at the hospital where any old Original could swoop in and kill her (and thus Alaric), they insisted that her posse take her home and care for her there. And so they did!
Aw, she has good friends.
The best part of the episode was how well the flashbacks were integrated into the story. Characters would be reminded of past experiences and those experiences would always directly relate to something important going on in the present day. Like it made me laugh when Caroline acting motherly toward Elena reminded Elena of a time back in the day when Elena was basically trash-talking Caroline and teasing Bonnie about being psychic and also mouth-attacking Matt a bunch. Teens!
I know Elena was supposed to come across as some kind of care-free popular girl but was she kind of more insufferable than usual? I guess a never-ending onslaught of tragedy really toned her personality down a bit. Also, I definitely prefer the modern version of Bonnie that occasionally attempts to wipe out vampires and sometimes accidentally sets cars on fire with her brain. Much better than bouncy, cheerleader Bonnie. (Remember that time her Prius changed color? Would love to see a flashback episode where that finally got addressed.)
I loved when Elena woke up from her flashback only to find this dude staring intensely at her.
I honestly don't care how handsome or pretty the person is, please don't stare at me while I'm sleeping! That is considered creepy in some cultures (ALL cultures).
So yeah, Elena's flashback made her realize that she'd treated Matt badly when they were together. Specifically her main source of guilt was that she didn't dump him sooner? I don't know. That was definitely a big theme of this episode: The virtues of dumping people ASAP.
Stefan swung by to make dinner and get back in Elena's boyfriend position while Damon was out disposing of Klaus' body. Seemed like an unfair division of labor! But soon enough the Gilbert house received ANOTHER notable visitor:
Elijah! He just wanted custody of Klaus' body. In exchange for that, he'd promise never to free Klaus until long after Elena was dead. Though Elena is literally brain damaged, she definitely, at least for a split second, questioned whether she should trust a one thousand year old vampire who'd lied to her on multiple occasions.
Aaaand she gave in. Damon, overhearing on speakerphone, was NOT happy.
Honestly, around this time my brain started feeling pretty damaged also. One of my major complaints about this episode (which, I know, last day of school, let's party instead of nitpick) was it had A LOT of phone conversations where people demanded things of each other and it was hard to keep straight who wanted what or why I was supposed to be riveted by it. The Originals were angling for one thing, but Damon and Bonnie were doing something else, and meanwhile Jeremy and Alaric were chillin' at Mystic Grill, and... I don't know. It all felt weirdly small scale and repetitive.
Caroline and Tyler had a neat little star-crossed lovers thing going on where their parents urged them to run away together.
Apparently Alaric had somehow gotten the Mayor and Sheriff fired? Because sure. Nobody pretends to know how Mystic Falls is actually governed, so a room full of pasty-faced doormats could essentially uproot the entire local government during cocktail hour. Fine. But it meant that former anti-vampire jerks like Mayor Lockwood and Sheriff Forbes were now super worried about their monster children's well-being, and I could get behind that. I love that they both have proved to be genuinely decent people and caring parents. It's nice, you know?
See what I'm saying about non-epic? A HUGELY important location for the Season 3 FINALE was just some lame mini-storage facility. It's like this episode blew most of its budget on scuba gear and had to settle on this location for much of its runtime. It's not often that I can compare TVD to The Secret Circle unfavorably, but the latter show's climactic setpiece took place aboard an enormous, horrifyingly decrepit cargo ship. THAT'S memorable. And then there's the issue that maybe storing Klaus's body behind a flimsy padlock wasn't the best idea to begin with? Oh, and maybe someone can answer this for me since I couldn't really get it straight: WERE they a hundred miles out of town or weren't they? Rebekah and Bonnie didn't have much trouble traveling back and forth. I don't know, I probably missed something at some point. Or everything. I might've missed everything.
So then Bonnie asked to be left alone with Klaus' body and Damon was weirdly disinterested as to why.
How creepy was it when Klaus opened his eyes? It was so unsettling!
So while Bonnie was enjoying some quality time with Klaus' desiccated form, a special visitor apprehended Damon.
I loved Damon's face so much right here. That's how I look whenever Elena and Stefan touch foreheads.
Meanwhile Matt was doing whatever:
And then for the second time this episode Elena opened up to him about how much she loves other people. Sure, Matt's a good friend and all, but he's also her EX. Who lives alone and has been dumped by two characters on the show. I think maybe leave Matt alone with your feast-or-famine romantic problems, Elena?
But the conversation hastened this flashback, in which Elena decided that she wanted to dump Matt because he was too clingy.
Then there was a touching moment where Elena's mom got on the phone and advised her that dumping someone isn't actually a bad thing, it's more akin to just setting someone free. And that's when she realized she'd have to set free one of the Salvatores.
Oh, but then she woke up in Matt's truck!
Oh, Matt! What a rascal. He and Jeremy had conspired to whisk Elena out of town and to safety. She'd mentioned earlier in the episode that she wasn't interested in running away for the rest of her life, but Matt didn't care.
Meanwhile, Rebekah showed up at the mini-storage facility and the show got sort of slasher film-y for a second.
Alaric stalked her through the hallways with that tacky stake of his and just when we thought he was ready to pounce on our beloved Rebekah, one of the good guys got to her first!
And that's when they made a possibly ill-advised mad dash to the car with Klaus' body!
And then Rebekah, a one thousand-year-old Original, was thrown aside by Alaric as though she WASN'T his physical equal.
And then this happened:
OH HECK NO! Oh heck no, you guys. Klaus got staked! And real burnt! Granted, Alaric closed the coffin lid before the flames spread beyond his chest (don't you know how fire works, Alaric?) so there's every possibility this isn't the last we've seen of Joseph Morgan's button-nose. But at least story-wise, this portended BAD TIMES for the vampires we'd believed he'd spawned. While Alaric chased a distraught Rebekah into the night, Damon made a difficult phone call.
And word began to spread that Klaus was dead and soon they would be too. Caroline especially took it pretty hard.
Meanwhile Damon got Elena on the phone (SO MANY phone conversations in this episode) and they had what seemed to be a premise-answering conversation about the state of their romance.
In what was a major "NO DUH" moment, Elena basically just said, "Yo, I fell for Stefan first. He's the primary romantic hero of the show. We are endgame." Damon was allegedly too far away to say goodbye in person, so that was that!
Part of Caroline and Tyler's escape plan involved packing light and meeting up at the Lockwood slave quarters, because fine. Maybe that's just a good place to catch a cab? Clearly Tyler had arrived early enough to be able to light tons of candles.
And that's when Caroline broke the news to her boyfriend:
BUT! Then only Tyler began showing symptoms of dying. Caroline was fine! What did it MEAN??
Sure, it was sliiiiightly suspicious that Tyler's "symptoms" were really just regular signs that he was turning into a werewolf. No coughing up blood and rolling around on the carpet like Sage had done. Hmmm.
There was a nice moment when Elena informed Matt of Tyler's supposed demise and the poor guy did not take it so well:
And Rebekah (who was now my favorite S3 character post-Klaus) was also understandably upset about the death of her brother.
Both she and Elijah confirmed that Klaus was indeed the bloodline that had spawned all our favorite characters, but still. Rebekah wasn't worrying about the apparent contradiction, she'd decided that Alaric needed to die and therefore Elena would have to also.
Oh, but then we learned what had happened:
What had happened was, Bonnie used some good ol' body-switch magic to transport Klaus' essence into Tyler's body! Hoookay, so. Remember the first time we saw a body-switch? It involved a witch doing this elaborate ceremony over Alaric's bound body. Then the second time we saw it, Esther just had to touch Rebekah and it happened instantaneously. And NOW Tyler didn't even have to be in the same room (or even the same town)? Where is the consistency here? Again, totally possible that I missed a crucial detail, but this twist (while COOL because YAY KLAUS!) just seemed kind of hard to reconcile. Another drawback, and I'm sorry if this sounds mean, but is Michael Trevino up to the task of portraying Klaus? Don't get me wrong, I like Tyler a lot, and Trevino's great at playing that character. It's just that Joseph Morgan is so singular, you know? I don't know. Either way, I'm guessing Klaus will be getting in A LOT of mirror posing time because ENJOY YOURSELF, Klaus. Also, congratulations Caroline! Your boyfriend just got A LOT wittier.
I liked the little revelation that Bonnie's officially on the outs with her spiritual sisters. They'd kinda effed her over enough times that she was now a free agent. Not necessarily the mistress of dark magic we'd kind of hoped she'd become, but this definitely opens up possibilities for her to become slightly more badass in the future.
So, Rebekah's plan to kill Elena was pretty specific and well-timed!
Yikes! Did Rebekah really just stand right there on the bridge that whole time? And then did she immediately take off from the scene like her work there was done?
Intercut with that drama was Damon's tussle with Alaric.
Just when he was about to give in to the relentless pummeling and open-handed slaps, he remembered a very specific incident from just before Elena's parents' deaths:
They'd apparently met out on that road back in the day! Earlier in the episode Elena cited the main reason she fell for Stefan was that she'd met him first. But here we were learning the revelation that she'd actually met DAMON first. (Though it wasn't clear how long Stefan had been stalking her prior to their first meeting.) Anyway. She immediately opened up about her boyfriend problems and Damon immediately gave her sensitive advice on living her life to the fullest and what not.
But then he erased her memory of it and moved on for some reason! WHY did he do this? No idea.
I was complaining about this scene on Twitter, but let me be clear: This is a nice twist. I'm so incredibly bored by the love triangle that I greatly appreciated this turn of events. However, I just think the flashback wasn't handled well. The main reason we're rooting for Damon in the here and now was because his character arc for the last three seasons has been so pronounced and satisfying. He was essentially a murderous demon in the pilot episode and he's turned into an extremely sympathetic hero. I don't care how impressed he was that Katherine had a doppelganger, I just don't buy the idea that in early 2009 he was a sensitive, understanding dude who'd be bashful and chivalrous toward Elena. The Damon I remember from the beginning of the series would have captured her on sight, FLOWN somewhere and experimented/bantered/danced in his underwear with her. What we saw in this episode was very much a Season 3 Damon, which is cheating. If the point was to show they'd had a connection pre-Stefan, then fine. But this scene definitely needed a rewrite to massage it into the pre-established timeline more organically. I was disappointed, guys. Sue me.
But the episode was quickly back into stunning territory. Elena and Matt were trapped in his submerged truck and she was furiously flashing back to the time she was stuck in a submerged vehicle with her parents. Again, to be clear, this sequence was tremendously beautiful. Two things though: One, it was straight-up ridiculous how much emoting, decisionmaking, and breath-holding was going on in these sequences. (What is it about being underwater that makes seatbelts and door handles stop working?) And Two, score ANY footage with a Sigur Ros song and it's breath-taking, so the music was doing A LOT of heavy lifting here. Still though, it was a powerful montage.
We learned that when Stefan first rescued Elena from the initial attack, her father insisted that Stefan save Elena first.
And then in the present day, Elena paid it forward by forcing Stefan to save Matt first.
(Too bad vampires can't SWIM as fast as they can run.)
And then, shockingly, this happened:
Meanwhile Damon's tussle with Alaric came to a surprising conclusion when Alaric fell dead into Damon's arms.
Damon's response was devastating. He knew what Alaric's death meant.
Then, almost immediately, Jeremy had a visitation:
It was ghost Alaric, getting his goodbye #2! (What was the deal with not having a ghost Jenna? Shouldn't she and Alaric have walked off arm-in-arm? Her flashback cameos were super useless in retrospect, weren't they? But then again, fitting!)
So yeah. Sweet holy hell, ELENA DIED.
But it shouldn't come as any shock that Elena's earlier hospital visit created some complications.
Elena was transitioning to become a VAMPIRE! WHAAAAAT. Just like in the books! (I'm guessing, those things are just compendiums of madness.) Man, that is just a premise-rattling turn of events and superbly pulled off. It not only changes a lot about the main storyline, it specifically places Damon back in the running for Elena's newborn vampire heart. "Didn't we almost have it all?" - Stefan.
My instinct tells me that this MIGHT be a fakeout and we'll be getting a plotline in which Bonnie resorts to dark magic to prevent the transition and thus keeps Elena human but turns evil as a result. But I was super wrong about Season 3... I thought Ripper Stefan would just be a 2-episode arc and then the show would go back to normal but I was hecka wrong about that. So, lesson learned! I don't presume to have this show figured out and that's one reason why it's basically the best show on TV.
Sign my yearbook??
... Which of Alaric's deaths was the saddest?
... Does Klaus even KNOW how to play football?
... Does Rebekah owe Matt a new truck?
... Who will succeed Mayor Lockwood in City Hall... Kol or Tiki's Grandad?