There are packed episodes of TV, and then there are packed episodes of The Vampire Diaries. And then there are episodes like “Graduation,” which crammed in, like, three episodes’ worth of stuff, even by this series’ standards. Let’s review, shall we?
The veil was still open and everyone was having a grand old time at the Salvatore mansion, until the party was crashed by the hunters sent by Qetsiyah to find, cure, and kill Silas, and to prove they were serious, Connor threatened to blow up the Mystic Grill (except that Alaric zipped him out of there lickety-split), and Vaughn dragged Damon to the river where he had dumped Silas’s body, and Rebekah’s loony ex trapped Matt on an explosive pressure plate, until Rebekah distracted Matt with smoochies so she could take his place on the device, allowing him to run off to the graduation ceremony, which was actually pretty lovely for our five surviving seniors, at least until Bonnie was blindsided by Kol, who demanded she keep the veil open permanently and was awfully menacing about it until Bonnie snared him in a magic mime-box, leaving behind his comrades—the pissed-off witches Caroline had killed, who were ready to attack her at the ceremony until Klaus swooped in to save the day with his Oddjob-style mortarboard, presumably after first using his blood to cure Damon of the werewolf venom that Vaughn had been shooting into him until Alaric bum-rushed Vaughn, saving Damon’s life so he could swap impassioned monologues with Elena, who professed her love for Damon and relinquished the cure to Stefan so he could become human before leaving town for a new life with Lexi in tow, until she vanished and Ric vanished and Jeremy didn’t vanish because he was with Bonnie and they were on the same plane of existence now that she was dead, except that they weren’t really because she did a spell and brought him back to life and he could see her because she’s a ghost, which she demonstrated by decamping to the afterlife, leaving behind a betrayed and furious Katherine, who lashed out at Elena and nearly killed her, except it turned out Elena still had the cure, which she shoved down Katherine’s throat, leaving this series down one superpowered doppelganger... until the last big reveal that Silas came back to life when Bonnie died and he decided to take the place of the being who was created to be his doppelganger: Stefan, who got shoved into a box and plunged into a river.
Got all that?
“Graduation” was an ambitious episode, is my point here, tying up a lot of this season’s loose ends while paving the way for Season 5. At times it felt hugely overstuffed; one second, Klaus was popping up to throw down with the witches, the next second, it was later that night and everyone was safe and sound at Casa de Salvatore. That cut was so jarring that for a few minutes I was half-convinced my local broadcast had spliced out a few scenes somehow—scenes I would’ve liked to have seen, like Klaus taunting Damon about needing his aid, or a vamps-vs.-witches melee featuring, again, frigging weaponized graduation caps.
But it’s silly to complain about what the episode lacked (not that I’ll let that stop me!) when it included so much dynamite material. Any episode that kicks off with drunk Stefan and Lexi rocking out to Bon Jovi is off to a superb start, and most of what followed lived up to that opening scene. The show’s signature crackerjack pacing was at its prime: Charging forward, not stopping to overthink, getting swept up in a moment and then swept forward to the next. Connor’s hostage crisis at the grill, the kind of situation a more deliberate show would drag out over at least an act or two, was resolved after 90 seconds of pure Alaric awesomeness. That’s the TVD I love, and the antithesis of the wheel-spinning that bogged down stretches of Season 4.
Does that foreshadow a righting of the ship in Season 5? We’ve certainly got a few potent elements in place. While I’m less than enthused that Silas is sticking around for at least one more story arc, the initial shape of that arc looks promising, if only because Paul Wesley always seems to have a blast playing evil.
Our other set of twins left things even more intriguing: Katherine Pierce becoming human again is, all things considered, the show’s best conceivable use of the cure. Not only could new motives and new pain deepen Katherine as a character, but in diminishing her as a physical threat, the cure opens up new avenues for her villainy. Katherine’s real danger always stemmed more from her ability to connive and manipulate, which she’ll have to rely on more than ever. As a human battling super-beings, she could become the Lex Luthor of Mystic Falls. Or she could become a total wreck! And with as much relish as Nina Dobrev brings to the character, either route should lead to rich narrative terrain.
I also appreciate the symmetry with last season’s finale, in which vampire Elena was born. Now, both Elena and Katherine have become the beings they didn’t want to be. In effect they’ve traded places, which was a running theme throughout this episode. Silas has stepped into Stefan’s shoes and left Stefan imprisoned in the river. Bonnie revived Jeremy, but only after shuffling off the mortal coil herself. Rebekah saved Matt’s life by pulling the pressure-plate switcheroo. Even when Alaric rescued Damon, he essentially took Vaughn’s place in the shot after flinging the hunter away in the blink of an eye.
All of these swaps presaged the major reversals in the climax of “Graduation” that set the stage for Season 5. Hopefully this also signals that more episodes like this one will be swapped back into the rotation, and the kind of meandering installments that made up much of Season 4 will be blown up, drowned, and chucked by the wayside.
– I can’t help but wonder if the need to devote one hour of this season’s run to that backdoor The Originals pilot forced Julie Plec and her team to condense some of the homestretch. There’s a way this could’ve been two great episodes instead of one.
– It’s getting to the point where you have to wonder how many of these Buffyverse callbacks are intentional. Stefan’s watery tomb echoed almost exactly the fate of another brooding, hair-gel-happy vampire in the closing moments of Angel’s third season.
– I get that it was abbreviated for time, but Rebekah triggered the explosive about five seconds after Matt started to flee. I am reasonably sure he couldn’t have gotten clear of that blast radius so quickly. Someone get the Mythbusters on this, please.
– Caroline and Klaus’s moonlight pas de deux was pretty suavely executed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we’re done with those characters as a possible couple, but Candice Accola and Joseph Morgan have palpable chemistry, so it was nice to send them out on a high note.
– “I should be upstairs grooming my hero hair.” Drunk, sarcastic Stefan is the best Stefan.
– “How is it even when you’re dead you’re the bane of my existence?”
– “Maybe I will move to Australia. I can live in a yurt.”
– “Ah, y’know. Making plans for the summer, dodging death-by-vampire-hunter...”
– “I taught her that swing.”
– “Stefan, the only person worse at being a vampire than me is you.” Elena, speaking truth.
What'd you think of "Graduation" and the season overall?