'The Vampire Diaries' finale recap: Elena and Damon's first encounter (of the close kind) and another watery grave

tvd-322-damon.jpgFinale time is here! "The Vampire Diaries" third season has had its ups ( "Our Town") and its downs ( "The Homecoming"), but it's been a fantastic ride. I loved the Ripper storyline, Klaus and Stefan's tumultuous and twisted semi-friendship, and Jeremy's ghosts. I loved meeting Rebekah and revisiting the Originals' relationship with Elijah.

Previously on "The Vampire Diaries": We will fast forward all of this because it is the finale.

8:02 - Ugh, Elena was once a morning person. I don't care how great your life is, nobody gets out of bed at 6:45 and dances to a Pink song. Nobody. The flashback is fun -- I'm a huge fan of Sara Canning's and I always thought she was underused, so any time we get to revisit her, I'm on board.

I like that they got out of having to show Jeremy (because no one would believe Steven McQueen as a 14-year-old now) by having him lock himself in the bathroom for a little alone time. That's amazing.

8:04
- Back at the hospital, Meredith tells Jeremy that Elena had a concussion. "Is there anyone you want to call?" she asks. Wow, insensitive, Meredith. There are like ten phone numbers in his cell. Seven of them belong to dead people.

He calls Damon to let him and Stefan know what happened, and they decide that one of them needs to rush home to protect Elena from the Originals, since now that Klaus is desiccated, they don't have much of a reason to keep Elena (and, by proxy, Alaric) alive.

8:05
- Predictably, Alaric shows up at the hospital to take Elena into his "custody." At this point, Alaric has taken control of the town. His reveal at the last council meeting swung most of the political power to his side, and Sheriff Forbes and Mayor Lockwood have both been relieved of their duties. (I mean, can you blame him? Forbes pretty much sucked and Lockwood only got the job because her husband kicked it.)

Alaric destroys Meredith's meager stash of vampire blood and tells her her medical license will be suspended. No regard for the fact that if she hadn't used vampire blood on him, he wouldn't even be around to be super evil right now.

8:06
- Elena's awesome friends bring her back from the hospital and do all the usual things friends do -- get her food, check her closets for creepy vampires, offer her vodka for her head trauma. I'm basically watching this with the assumption that every moment between friends is going to be the last moment between friends, so I'm enjoying this Caroline/Elena interaction in a tragic sort of way.
 
8:07 - We head back in time again for a nice, misty, water-colored memory of the time when Elena and Matt were the most boring couple on the earth, Bonnie thought she was psychic, and Elena called Caroline by her full name. Elena considers ditching family night for the bonfire. Oh, this will surely end well.

"I've got to see Coach Tanner," Matt says. "I love you." R.I.P. Coach Tanner. Elena doesn't return Matt's L-bomb, which Bonnie thinks means they should break up immediately.

When Elena wakes back up in the present, Matt is doing the creepy-lurky watching-you-sleep-from-an-uncomfortably-close-distance thing. Reason No. 34982757 that I love Matt: Elena has hurt him, and Caroline has hurt him, and Tyler has hurt him, and he just soldiers on and he loves them unconditionally. He is strong and stoic and never asks for anything in return.

And then Stefan shows up, so he can't even get spoilers out of Elena. Sigh.

8:09 - Jeremy goes to the Grill to pick up some dinner, but Alaric's there to do the responsible thing and offer him a beer.

8:09 - Elena feels that she's being "over-coddled," so Matt offers her an alternative to house arrest: run the hell away! She says she doesn't want to be on the run for the rest of her life, but I don't think that her life in Mystic Falls is a dance party these days.

Stefan reiterates his Season 1 and Season 2 "letting Elena make her own life choices" philosophy. Unfortunately, it would appear that he didn't actually watch Season 1 or 2, because if he had, he'd know that if there's one thing Elena Gilbert is really terrible at, it's making her own life choices.

Then Elijah shows up! Whee!
 


8:13 - Back at the Grill, Alaric tries to get Jeremy to join Team Awful. To be honest, Alaric sort of has a point, and if I were Jeremy, this would be a pretty compelling argument. As viewers, we loooove us some Salvatores, but as Elena's kid brother, we can see how Jeremy wouldn't mind erasing them from the planet. They've done him very little good.

8:14 - Elijah has come for Klaus's body and to get the stake away from Alaric. He promises that the Originals will "scatter," taking Alaric, presumably, with them, and that they won't wake Klaus for another century or so, so Elena and her children will be protected from him. He even promises to keep Elena safe from Rebekah and Kol.

Basically, there is no real point to Elijah being in this episode, except that 1) he is great and 2) something needed to happen to reiterate the fact that Damon makes choices for Elena, while Stefan sits back and lets Elena make her own choices. This is the central theme of the episode, and kind of the central theme of the entire triangle. It'll be important in like 46 minutes.

Elena agrees to give Klaus's body back to Elijah. Again, I don't think this is something that actually pays off later.

8:16 - The mini Lockwood vs. Forbes feud has ended now that the Sheriff and the Mayor have a common enemy. Heartbroken, they tell Caroline and Tyler that they need to leave town, because the faceless, nameless, completely non-threatening council is now going to come after them.

While I like that the stakes have been raised for my favorite couple on the show, I'm not totally loving the storyline, only because this council has never successfully killed a vampire. They are a bunch of dawdling extras who like to party at the Lockwood mansion, as far as we can tell. There's been nothing to suggest that they're any match for our vampires, who just took down Klaus.

tvd-322-matt-think.jpg8:17 - Matt and Jeremy sit outside and discuss their Operation: Save Elena (Again) options. There's something heroic in the fact that they even consider making a move against Killer Vamp when they're just a couple of teenage boys with some major weaknesses.

8:23
- Caroline and Tyler weigh their options and decide that leaving town is the best choice. I'm not sure why they didn't consider "Hey, let's just eat the Council," but whatever.

This is actually a very sweet scene between the two of them. "I would go anywhere with you," she tells Tyler. "If we have to spend the rest of our lives running, I will run with you." Aww. I love that when he asks what she needs, she says, "Just you. Maybe a curling iron." Caroline, please never change. He agrees to call Bonnie and give her the 411.

8:24 - Damon brings Bonnie to the storage locker where he stashed Klaus's body so that she can spell it, making it impossible for a witch to find it with a locator spell. She demands a little alone time with the creepy mostly-dead guy. That's totally a normal thing to do, you know, to be asked to be locked away in a storage locker with the dude who murdered pretty much everybody. Not suspicious at all. It is not at all sketchy that she is doing this.

8:26 - "Lately I feel like every time someone walks out of this house there's a chance they may not make it back home," Elena tells Stefan, as they head out to "disarm" Alaric. Let's make a note that when they did this last week, Alaric took them all out in like five minutes. But no, totally, Stefan, sure you will disarm him.

tvd-322-stelena-kiss.jpgBefore he leaves her, Stefan kisses her. "That's just in case there is no later," he says. I know it's a terrible time for romance, but we haven't seen these two share a genuine kiss all season, so it was kind of nice.

Outside, Stefan calls Damon to update him on their plan. Damon rehashes the conversation they had after last year's decade dance. Stefan lets Elena call the shots because he's afraid that if he makes a bad decision, she'll hate him. Damon takes charge to keep her alive -- not caring if she'll hate him. Again... we've heard this conversation before.

By the way, that whole plan thing is a no-go, because Alaric found Damon and broke his neck.

P.S. Where is Bonnie? Did she just leave Damon there and drive back to Mystic Falls? Is she still in the locker with Klaus? Did she decide to move to North Dakota because this town is full of crazies?

8:31 - Matt gives Elena some sketchy tea with too much honey and probably some roofies. Honestly, I can think of so many dirty jokes right now, and they all have "over-honeyed" in them, but Zap2it is a family-friendly site when we're not posting totally-not-really Blake Lively nudes and Mel Gibson rants, so I'll leave those to your imagination.

You know why Matt Donovan can't ever die? Because without him there for Elena to talk to, the audience would never hear her true inner thoughts. He's the only one who gets the real deal out of her. Here's her monologue:

"He saved my life, you know. I never told you that. The night that my parents' car went off the bridge, Stefan was the one who saved me... After the accident I kind of felt like I didn't know how to live anymore. Like I didn't want to. Then, being with Stefan, somehow I figured it out. and that's what love should be. You should love the person that makes you glad that you're alive... The problem is Damon. When I'm with him, it just consumes me. And I know that I can't love them both, I know that it's wrong, but when I choose one, then I'll lose the other and  I don't want to lose anyone else. I just wish that I had my mom here to give me some advice."

8:33 - Flashback time! "I suck at Pictionary," Jenna tells Elena over the phone. Aww, callback! She really does suck at Pictionary. Elena explains that she and Matt got into a fight because he was talking about college and marriage.

Poor Matt. He thinks he'll be able to pay for college.

Elena's mom, who is approximately 13 years old, gives her some advice. "You're not going to lose him, honey. You're setting him free." Hello, parallels!

8:34 - Roofies. Called it. He just keeps them lying around?

Matt put Elena in the truck and, per his secret plan with Jeremy, he's getting her out of town. Sigh. So dreamy, for a dude who stocks roofies.
 
tvd-322-klaus-stake.jpg8:35 - Rebekah shows up for a fun game of "Storage Wars," and a scuffle ensues between her, Damon, and Evil Alaric when they try to sneak Klaus's coffin away. Unfortunately, they're no match for him, and Alaric uses the eternal stake on Klaus's heart. It's super creepy that Klaus opens his eyes and takes a breath just as Alaric stabs him. Poor guy couldn't even sleep through that?

Rebekah's anguish and Damon's fear are incredibly palpable here. I'm going to attribute Damon's failure to run away with Rebekah to blind terror, because I see no reason for him to stick around while Alaric is walking around with that stake in a murder mood.

8:41 - Damon calls Stefan to tell him the bad news: they might die in an hour. This phone call is one of my favorite scenes of the episode, particularly because the bond between the brothers feels so strong, and they probably weren't even on set the same day for this. Phone call scenes tend to be hit-or-miss on TV, because the actors can't play off each other, but this one is actually really great.

"There's not enough time to get you back to Mystic Falls," Stefan says.

"For us to have our epic goodbye?"

"Not us, brother. You and Elena." 

Oh, my breaking heart.

8:43 - "We have to go back, Matt," Elena cries. But Matt realizes that she's got to choose -- she can say goodbye to Damon, or to Stefan. Matt is so smart.

Elena calls Damon to say her goodbye, driving back to Stefan. "Not just to Stefan, Damon. To Tyler, to Caroline," she tells him.

"Since I'm possibly a dead man, can I ask you a question? If it was just down to him and me, and you had to make a choice, who got the goodbye, who would it be?" he asks. He's pretty brave to ask that question in what may be his final moment. He's risking hearing everything he doesn't want to hear, because he needs to know the truth.

"I love him, Damon. He came into my life at a time when I needed someone and I fell for him instantly. No matter what I feel for you, I never un-fell for him," she sobs. "I can't think about always. All I can think about is right now, and I care about you, Damon, which is why I have to let you go. I mean, maybe if you and I had met first."

When they hang up, Alaric makes a beeline for Damon. Ruh-roh.

8:46 - Caroline's panic as she searches, terrified, for Tyler, is so real that I feel like I can't breathe. She's so scared. "Sorry, I was just with Bonnie," he says, coming out of the cellar. So Bonnie is back in Mystic Falls? Why/how/huh?

Immediately upon finding out he's dead meat, Tyler just worries about Caroline. "You're going to be fine, Caroline," he says. "There's no point. I'm a lost cause, but you're strong, and you have a beautiful future ahead of you." If you're really impressed by how mature and evolved he is, wait a few minutes.

He begins to turn, begging Caroline not to watch him die. She runs off, devastated, and calls Elena to tell her about his death.

8:49 - It's so rare that we really see Matt lose it, so his freakout as he realizes that Tyler is dead is absolutely heartbreaking. That's Zach's "Friday Night Lights" training right there, kids.

8:49 - Rebekah and Elijah meet in the woods and confirm that Klaus was the one who sired Scary Mary, so we've got to assume that Bonnie was doing something very very shady in that storage locker...

8:50 - And she was. It's revealed that Bonnie did a spell; she used the body-swap blood magic to put Klaus into Tyler's body, which explains Tyler's very out-of-character "you'll have a beautiful future" speech from a second ago, and why he was with Bonnie moments before Caroline found him. He started to turn simply to scare Caroline away. Now, Klaus can be free -- he can even leave town, if he wants, because Bonnie is the only one who knows. He's chosen the body well... he can sneak a little love from Caroline, and he's still a hybrid.

Can we talk about how awesome Michael Trevino is right now? I'd be curious to know whether he and Joseph Morgan talked about this scene, because with an accent tweak, he sounds just like him -- the measured rhythm of his words is dead on. "The spirits won't be happy with you," he warns Bonnie.

She doesn't care. Bonnie, now with dark magic in her veins, is sick of taking orders from everyone. She's the boss of herself now. This is going to be so fun to explore next season.

The thing that's not particularly clear is whether Tyler was in Klaus's body when he burned up. Sources tell me that both Michael Trevino and Joseph Morgan will return next season, so my guess is that both characters will ultimately return to their respective bodies (after Klaus has a little fun with Tyler's shoulders) but I'll confirm that tomorrow. We do know that in the past, people haven't actually swapped bodies, just been possessed.

8:51 - Rebekah tells Stefan that she's done running. She's lost Klaus, so she wants to kill Alaric, the last threat to the Originals. She does it by standing in the road. Matt, shocked, swerves the car... right off of Wickery Bridge. Elena flashes back to the last moments with her father, as their car began to sink, and he promised that they'd be okay.

8:52 - Meanwhile, Alaric continues to beat the crap out of Damon, who, given the news he just got, doesn't have a ton of fight left in him. Instead, he checks out, having a flashback of his own. Moments ago, Elena told him, "maybe if you and I had met first." We find out now that they did meet first -- Damon was already in Mystic Falls on the last night Elena had with her parents.

He was lying in the road, about to do the creepy attack thing he did in the pilot. When Elena approached, finishing up a phone call with Bonnie, Damon thought it was Katherine at first. It only took him a second to realize it wasn't Katherine.

Frankly, I don't like this flashback. This feels nothing like Season 1 Damon. Also, his instant affection for Elena doesn't feel true to the character. His lack of curiosity about her resemblance to Katherine, who he was obsessed with, is extremely weird -- the fact that he just instantly accepts that it's not Katherine is fine, but he's still got to have questions. He seems so relaxed, and sweet, and warm. It's hard to reconcile with the badass that we knew in Season 1.

Somehow, he was non-threatening enough for her to share her Matt issues with him. "I don't know what I want," she said.

"That's not true. You want what everybody wants," he answered. "You want a love that consumes you. You want passion, and adventure, and even a little danger." Why would he say that to a stranger? If he was saying it in a cocky way, like he was hitting on her, it would make more sense to me, but I can't reconcile this with the way he treated her when he first met her in Season 2.

tvd-322-damon-flashback.jpgDamon compelled her to forget about him, so that he could sneak up on Stefan a few months later. If he'd never done that, he might have been the one she turned to when her parents died. It's a series of what-ifs.

(Also, it's notable that this is the only scene that Damon and Elena actually have together in the finale, aside from phone conversations. I'm not sure if that's because AT&T needed to squeeze in some last-minute product placement, but it's very telling that there doesn't feel like a lack of "Delena" moments, despite their physical distance.)

8:56 - In the car, Matt is unconscious, but Elena can't get him out of the car -- or herself. It's a haunting reminder of her accident with her parents, as she and her father mouthed their goodbyes, giving up the struggle before Stefan came. As she mouthed, "I love you," to her dad, a million hearts broke all over the world. I think my dog even started crying.

Stefan arrives on the scene, at both the present moment and the flashback. His face as he first registers Elena -- who, I assume, he thinks is Katherine -- is like he's a little boy at an aquarium looking in at his first shark. (If you remember, after this moment, he'll spend three months stalking her before he decides to enroll in school while wearing sunglasses indoors.

Now, Elena demands that he save Matt first.

Here's where Stefan's "let Elena make her own decisions" character flaw comes in. At first, I could not believe that he would ever save anyone over Elena. Ever. But if he had saved Elena, and she'd lived instead of Matt, she might have harbored resentment toward Stefan -- and her hating him, as Damon said, is the one thing he can't live with. Damon would have saved her and lived with her anger over Matt's death.

(Also, by the way, I can confirm that Matt is not dead. Roerig will return for Season 4.)

tvd-322-water.jpgHow fantastic is Nina Dobrev in this scene, by the way? She told me it was one of the toughest of the series for her, even though she's definitely an experienced diver. Emoting while concentrating on not inhaling water isn't easy.

8:57 - All the awards for Ian Somerhalder's face as he realized Ric was dying, for real, and what that meant. "You are not dead," he choked out. Oh, but he is.

8:58 - The ghost of actual Alaric visits Jeremy at the Gilbert house. I promised you guys that Matt Davis would exit the show with the possibility of returning, and I meant it -- there will be opportunity next season for him to come back as a ghost, provided that his schedule allows for it. "I just want you to know, that I'll always be here to look out for you, Jeremy," he says. "You'll never be alone, okay? I promise."

Off of Jeremy's face as he realizes his sister is dead, we cut to Elena in the hospital morgue, and Stefan looking down on her with the most heartbroken, angry face. He realizes that he's screwed up. He looks completely tragic. I would watch Paul Wesley sit on a stool and emote in an empty room for an hour.

8:59 - Meredith tells Damon that she fed Elena vampire blood when she was in the hospital earlier... and suddenly, she wakes up. I'm curious as to whether Stefan also knew that she had blood in her system, or if his face of epic tragedy was just related to her death, and his own (kind of) part in it.

Okay, time to analyze.

First of all, now that Elena is a vampire, there will be a few moments that she remembers -- most notably, Damon telling her that he loved her in Season 2, and the fact that she met him before Stefan. She'll realize that, but I don't think it'll ultimately change her decision to be with Stefan, now. She may have met Damon first, briefly, but she didn't fall for him that night, and he wasn't there after her parents died the way that Stefan was.

To be honest, though, I think that the love triangle is actually just heating up now. When Elena becomes a vampire, she's going to have to get a bit of an edge -- and her darker side will inevitably be drawn to Damon. I was surprised when she chose Stefan, but once I saw the way it all ended, it made perfect sense. Stefan is the boy that she loved as a teenage girl. When she has time to think about "always," instead of "right now," things will change.

My guess is that we'll get to see her pine for Damon a bit next season, after she and Stefan realize that they won't work as a vampire couple. I don't think that Stefan will love vampire Elena the way that he loved human Elena, which could add intriguing conflict, and open up the door to Stefan having love interests... and Elena turning back to Damon.

The question, though, will be whether Damon could ever stand to be with Elena as a vampire knowing that when she was a human, he wasn't enough for her.

I can't wait to see Elena's transition. I'm sure she'll waver on whether or not to transition at all, but we know she won't die, so I'm curious to see how they make her transition different from Caroline's, which was a beautiful, near-perfect story.

I'm dying to find out what happened, exactly, with Klaus, because we know he opened his eyes as he was staked, so SOMETHING was in his body -- was it Tyler? Was it Klaus leaving Tyler's body, just in time?

I'm not choosing an MVP because everyone had great moments in this episode.

R.I.P. Matt's big blue truck. You served us well.

Let me know (in the comments section below) if you guys have anything you need cleared up about this episode, or questions about Season 4. I'll be interviewing Julie Plec tomorrow morning and I'm happy to ask her your questions!

Photo/Video credit: The CW
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