'The Vampire Diaries' recap: What makes him a man is in the midst of the battle, he does not lose himself

tvd-320-full-cast-tableau.jpgBefore I saw this week's episode of "The Vampire Diaries," I already knew the major plot twist -- it's one of the downfalls of the job -- so I figured it would be a less-than-thrilling viewing experience. I was wrong. Even knowing that Alaric would be turned into an Original didn't diminish the emotional impact of the story.

I won't pretend that it's the most inspired thing we've ever seen on this show. In fact, I think that the witches' powers have sucked a lot of the fun out of an otherwise captivating season, because they're the only creatures that seem to be unencumbered by rules. In a fantasy world such as Mystic Falls, the supernatural rules are the only thing that keeps our suspension of disbelief afloat.

I'll get more into that later, though. Like I said, despite my skepticism about the actual plot, the show wasn't short on emotional resonance. If there's anything we learned from "The Homecoming," it's that emotion is more important to this story than plot. There were three scenes in the episode that dug fingers into our hearts, and somehow still managed to feel restrained. Hit play on your DVR so we can get there sooner rather than later.

Previously on "The Vampire Diaries": Elena and Damon shared a heart-stopping kiss and some harsh words, all of which will be mostly ignored for the next hour.

8:01 - Klaus's painting is black and angry like his soul! It reminds me of some of Joseph Morgan's actual paintings; I wouldn't be surprised if that's actually his. "Rebekah" convinces him to hold off on leaving town until he can attend the dance and woo Caroline. Claire Holt is doing a great job of portraying the subtle change in Rebekah now that she's possessed by Esther. She's Rebekah enough that I believe Klaus might be fooled, but she's completely devoid of the petulant little sister voice that endeared Rebekah to us in the first place. Props for Miss Holt.

8:03 - Evilaric pretends to be real Alaric during a phone call to Damon, which is just a series of logic failures. He basically says that he's still having blackouts and is a huge threat to everyone so he wants to go out into the world... where he will not be a threat to anyone because he has Bonnie's herbs.

"Rebekah" gave Klaus a fake stake, and he didn't even blink at it. Why didn't Stefan and Damon just give them fake stakes to begin with? How would they have tested them out? By stabbing one of their beloved siblings to see if he died?

I wish Esther had stayed in Rebekah's body. She's much more fun when she's Claire.

8:04 - I love that the upbeat back-to-school music always plays over the title card now. It's like the "Vampire Diaries" editors are trying to trick us into thinking happiness is allowed in this town. We're at the gym, where Caroline is overseeing the dance decorations, which are pretty horrible. Both Caroline and Elena are rocking new hairstyles, by the way. I feel like, as a girl, I'm obligated to acknowledge this.

Caroline naturally mentions Matt and Jeremy's resumed bromance, because Caroline is my spirit animal and I would expect nothing less. Of course, Caroline is also far more Team Stefan/Elena than I am, and if her stink-face is any indication, she does not approve of the Matt and Elena endgame that I am hoping for. So, you know, we disagree on a few things. We would still have tons of fun at slumber parties if she would just stop being a fictional character.

Elena points out the fact that she just made out with Damon, but Caroline thinks it's Stefan's turn now because "The Bachelor" is the paradigm of healthy romance, or something. Oy.

8:06 - Elena sits next to her photo of her parents to remind us that they once existed, because it'll be important very soon, and she calls Stefan to ask him to the dance. Apparently, Stefan has completely reverted back to being Season 1 Stefan, because he agrees to take Elena to the dance without any hesitation or jealousy or curiosity about what she did with Damon back at the motel he was all worried about in last week's episode.

Damon makes a snide comment, but he doesn't hang around for long conversations about the whole brouhaha. Like the audience, Damon seems to have realized that the love triangle is the least interesting part of this show. He's got a BFF to rescue!

8:07 - He starts at the hospital, with Meredith, where he reveals that 1) he has been creeping in Alaric's loft and 2) Alaric is not eating his vitamins.

8:08 - Esther and Alaric go back to the place where Klaus killed her a thousand years ago. As we learned in Season 1, when a witch dies messy, the ground is charged. Yay for consistency. There, she takes Alaric's ring and makes the white oak stake indestructible so it can be used to kill all of the Originals, not just one. Couldn't she have just made another ring, being the all-powerful super-witch she is? I mean, Bonnie was able to make Caroline a daylight ring in about two seconds. Surely Esther could've done the same with the lifesaver ring.

8:12 - Elena's flapper dress is gorgeous. She and Stefan exchange pleasantries, and he even took (some of) Damon's advice on the corsage front, even though these decade dances have never really been formal occasions before. They do their usual "we should go to the dance because probably no one will die this time" thing, and there's some very Season 1 eye-flirtation, and then they're on their way.

8:13 - "Have I told you how amazingly awesome you are?" Caroline tells Matt, because basically, Caroline is just the best. She warns him away from Elena because basically, Elena is the kiss of death, but they're both distracted by Tyler in a weird fedora that conveniently makes him taller than Caroline even when she's wearing heels. Tyler came to the dance to make sure that Caroline doesn't fall in love with Klaus, the murdery murderer. Tyler does not have a lot of faith in Caroline's taste.

8:14 - Elena and Stefan had this exact "teach me some moves" "I don't dance" conversation at the first decade dance, didn't they? They opt for a slow dance. Stefan says he's been meaning to apologize to Bonnie, which means that he's officially back to being Season 1 Stefan, because nobody ever apologizes to Bonnie.

Elena brings up the trip to Denver because they've been at the dance for three minutes and she wants to ruin it, and then Stefan spouts a whole bunch of self-righteous crap that was once charming and is now dull. I liked Stefan last season, when he was noble and loyal and stuff. But he went through so much this year, and if none of those horrors had any impact on him except to make him more self-sacrificing and more patient, then I'm bored.

If Stefan's going to compete with Damon, he's got to have an edge. I'll be really disappointed if we don't get to see Paul Wesley portray Stefan getting at least a little pissed about what's going on between Damon and Elena. I get that Stefan thinks he deserves this -- and he does deserve it -- but it's not fun to watch him play the martyr.

tvd-320-jeremy.jpgDamon shows up and pulls Stefan and Elena out of the gym. Jeremy sees and follows, but not before an awkward encounter with Bonnie and Jamie. I think it's great that her first reaction isn't to be happy to see him or to be flustered about Jamie, but to warn him about his ring. Bonnie hasn't been pining for Jeremy, she's had better things to do, and there's no reason for her to get all moony over him now.

8:17 - Damon seems convinced that real Alaric is gone forever. What, was that the medical advice that Meredith gave him? This whole thing seems awfully hasty, until Damon mentions that he thinks Alaric might come after Elena. Now it all makes sense. If Elena's in danger, Damon's got to kill people. I'm pretty sure he'd have killed Alaric for giving Elena a B- in history.

Jeremy is not down with the kill Alaric plan, and Elena promises no one will hurt him. She promises, you guys, so you know what that means.

Esther takes Elena away, and then we discover that Esther has drawn a giant ring of salt around the school, and spelled it so that the vampires can't cross it. Obviously, no one in this town watches "Supernatural," or they'd know that all Jeremy's got to do is give the salt a little kick and everybody will be free. But where's the fun in that?

8:23 - Jamie and Bonnie hang out in an abandoned classroom, where he tries to convince her that all of her friends pretty much suck and treat her like a tertiary character, but she's not having it. I'm kind of jealous that these kids are always sneaking off to abandoned classrooms during their dances. At my school, doors were locked, and we had to make out on the dance floor, in full view of the teachers and the chaperones and the ex-boyfriends. Just saying.

I really like Bonnie and Jamie together. I know people have complained about lack of build-up, but like... they're not getting married, they're making out at a dance. They've both experienced loss recently, they can relate to each other, and he's pretty much the only guy in town who hasn't murdered someone or something. I think he's a catch.

8:24 - Elena's doppelganger blood is needed for Esther's latest spell. I hope that eventually we find out why she's the doppelganger. I get the idea that Esther wanted Tatia, the Original Petrova, out of the picture so that Elijah and Klaus would stop fighting... so why did she make Tatia a recurring character over the centuries?

Evil Alaric comes out to scare Elena. He's an icicle, pretty much. Esther tells Elena that she'll make Alaric an Original like Mikael was -- a vampire hunting vampire. I got the impression that vampires grew stronger with age, so it makes no sense that Alaric will now be stronger than Klaus, but hey! Rules! Who needs them!

Esther says she's been manipulating Alaric from the "other side" every time he died with his ring on. I wonder if she also did that to Samantha Gilbert, but her plan failed back then? I have to say, Esther really sucks at this balance-of-nature thing.

"Vampires took everything from him; now he's getting his vengeance," she says. I mean... really? They took Isobel, who was kind of a cheating ho-bag, and they took Jenna, but he wouldn't have ever met Jenna if it wasn't for the vampires, and I'd say they gave him more of a life and a purpose than they ever took away. But that's just my opinion.

8:26 - Klaus arrives at the dance to mess with Tyler. We're supposed to believe that Tyler might still be sired to Klaus, but he's not, so Tyler gives up Caroline just to keep Klaus in the dark. I'm not sure why Caroline does it, knowing that Tyler is hurting, but whatever. This whole thing confuses me. Klaus is charming and hot, yes, but he is bad news.

Also, everyone seems to have forgotten that Tyler is also immortal. He and Caroline can grow out of their small town life together. Tyler, too, is an artist.

I love Stefan's "Your mother's back" line. It's like he's got annoying in-laws.

8:28 - Bonnie tries to break the barrier, but Hero Matt swoops in and offers to leave the dance and go out in the world to help Elena and Alaric. (Just an FYI: If Jeremy had half a brain, he would've realized this a long time ago, seeing as he stepped over the line already. Duh-doy.) Stefan manipulates Klaus a little, and acknowledges that the only vampires Bonnie is interested in saving are Caroline and Tyler. This might matter later.

8:30 - I'm sure this scene about Alaric's inner pain is really great, but I can't concentrate on anything other than the terrible special effects used for the cut on Elena's palm. Was that done in MS Paint? Did they run out of money because they spent it all on Joseph Morgan's pristine white wardrobe? That was really just awful.

Alaric drinks Elena's blood and then Esther kills him. Time to vamp out!

tvd-320-bonnie-jamie-dance.jpg8:33 - UGH. Bonnie is still mad at Damon for turning her mother. Can we just all revisit that day? When Bonnie said she and her mom were going to help Esther and Elena warned her not to and Bonnie insisted? I'm not saying it's Bonnie's fault, but I am saying that it is everybody's fault and Bonnie made a choice too. Also, yes, Abby's life is tough now, but really... is Bonnie worse off now than she was for the 16 years her mother had ignored her? No. She is not. At least now she has a hot dude to make out with in abandoned classrooms.

8:35 - Is this the first scene Caroline and Stefan have had together all season? I miss them. They were the best last year.

Caroline starts telling fairy tales thinking up best-case scenarios, as if the best-case scenario has ever happened in the history of Mystic Falls. Surprisingly, Tyler seems a little bit resigned to dying along with Klaus. "You'd be safe," he says. "At least he'd be gone." He really loves her, you guys. In the midst of the life-and-death talk, Tyler growls, "I should've never let him dance with you." I love those little reminders that these kids are still teenagers.

8:36 - Esther says that Alaric will wake up "his old self" before completing his transition, but once he's vamped out and killed all the Originals, he'll die himself.

I seriously dislike Esther's methods -- it doesn't make sense that she'd need Alaric for any of this, but hey, witch rules -- but I do sort of like her. She makes logical sense. From a big-picture standpoint, killing all of the vampires is the right thing to do. Elena can argue for the life of the "good" vampires all she wants, but Stefan, Damon, and Caroline all have a ton of blood on their hands. Plus, Stefan and Damon have already lived over 150 years. They've had their lifetimes.

Of course, it'll never happen, because then there would be no show, but if this were Season 6, Esther would be a legitimate threat and a sympathetic villain.

Speaking of sympathy, Esther seems genuinely concerned for Elena. She gives her a rag for the cut on her hand, and she tells her that Jenna's purity kept her from being trapped on the other side. Unlike a lot of dead monsters, Jenna isn't doomed to an eternity alone. She's in some sort of version of Heaven. It's a really nice thought. "She knows peace," Esther says, "which is all any of us can hope for." Elena deserved that bit of comfort, I think.

8:38 - Matt and Jeremy jump out all hot and brandishing their weapons. I'm sorry, but seeing a teenager with a crossbow will never not make me laugh. It is cool, though, how the bromance turns deadly as they turn their weapons on each other. Okay, all those nice things I just said about Esther? I take them back. She almost hurt Matt.

But she didn't! Because nice Alaric came back and stabbed her in the back! Literally!

8:44 - Klaus blames Stefan for this whole thing, and Stefan blames Klaus for this whole thing, and I really wish they would just bone and make up already. (Seriously, theirs is the most intriguingly twisted relationship on a show full of intriguingly twisted relationships.) Klaus's desperation for Stefan to be his friend is heartbreaking and terrifying.

Damon pops up to claim his property. Klaus is just looking forward to seeing what happens when Elena finally makes her choice. (Delena shippers, I think that means he's on your side.)

"It's done. Esther's not fighting me anymore. The boundary spell is broken," Bonnie says. Uh, yeah, Bonnie, because she's dead. Do you want a prize? Stefan thanks her, but it's too late for Bonnie to be less bitter about stuff.

8:45 - Klaus takes Esther's body, but he doesn't know yet about the indestructible Original weapon. Alaric tells Jeremy that he's going to die, rather than complete the transition. Jeremy has pretty much the same reaction that Caroline had when her father made that decision.

"Please, you guys, let's not make this any harder than it already is," Alaric tells Elena and Jeremy. Their family unit grew so strong this season and it breaks my heart to see it fall apart. At first, Jeremy is pissed. He seems mad that he's getting abandoned, again, and it's exactly the reaction he should have. Alaric just hugs him through it.

Elena has another "this is all my fault!" moment, which is getting old, but I don't even mind because the music is good and the lighting is good and Nina Dobrev and Matt Davis are magnificent. So we'll just ignore these irritating words.

"Taking care of you and Jeremy has been the closest I've ever come to the life I always wanted," Alaric says. He had low standards, clearly.

There's not much I can say to properly convey the power of this next moment, with all of the Mystic Falls family standing together in support of Alaric. People don't get to witness their own funerals. I think part of our inherent fear of death is the fear that we won't be missed enough, or that we won't have made a difference. Alaric, in his final moments, gets to see that he is missed. He has made his impact. He has been a teacher, a father, a friend, and a member of a strong family. Even Meredith, who last saw him when he chased her with a knife, is there to say goodbye.

Alaric showed up in Mystic Falls alone. He was basically a drifter, fueled by anger and vengeance. He became a reliable friend, a rock for a whole bunch of people who really, really needed something to trust. In this moment, he is a hero, surrounded by love. He dies honorably.

I can't even talk about Matt Davis' face as Alaric turns to go back into the tomb alone. I will never recover from that face.

tvd-320-alaric-goodbye-face.jpg8:51 - Klaus pulls the dagger out of Rebekah, so at least we know she'll be waking up next week. I don't want a world without Rebekah, okay?

The scene with Klaus vitriolic over Esther's body is one of my favorites of the episode. He was really going soft for a while there, and it wasn't working for me, because it made the entire point of the season seem... well, pointless. Seeing the fire in his eyes again reminds us why he's dangerous and why he needs to be stopped. This is bigger than Elena and bigger than Mystic Falls. Klaus wants to take over the world.

Side note: I need to find out what color lipstick he wears.

8:52 - Bonnie and Jamie return to the house that she apparently has, while her father, who apparently exists, is out of town. This scene embodies what I like about Bonnie and Jamie as a couple. No, he's not her epic love; there will be time for that in the future. But he's what she needs right now. She needs ordinary. She has to be strong and badass and brave all the time. She has to be "amazing," for her friends, so that they can all survive these things. Maybe what Bonnie needs is someone who she just likes to be around. Her last boyfriend died and she had to bring him back to life and crack open the door between us and the Other Side. This guy is outside of all that mess, so she probably won't have to do that for him. There's something to be said for that.

8:53 - Matt and Jeremy return to the Grill, the place where their bromance was born! They toast Alaric as he should be toasted, with booze, at his favorite seat at the bar. Isn't it cute that Matt still calls him "Mr. Saltzman"? Jeremy's tear is great. His little smile!

vampire-diaries-stefan-elena-dance-cry.jpg8:54 - Elena isn't allowing herself a moment of remembrance. She and Stefan go back to the school so she can take all of Alaric's hidden weapons out of the filing cabinets and overhead projectors. Nina is brilliant in this scene. "I can't think about the fact that Jeremy and I don't have anyone to take care of us anymore, or that we've lost another friend, I can't think about any of it," she says.

Stefan makes her take a break and walks her back through the scene of their worst moment together, which doesn't seem particularly considerate of him at this moment, but I do still really like the scene. He reminds her that she's strong and that she's allowed to feel sad sometimes. He is a good support to her in this moment, even if it kind of bums me out that he's suddenly such a stand-up guy again.

"I don't have anyone anymore," Elena cries. Yeah, Elena. It's really too bad that you don't have an entire town full of people who have risked their lives for you time and time again. Such a shame that you're so alone.

(Sorry I'm so cynical. This scene is actually really lovely. Sometimes Elena just ruins a good moment by speaking.)

8:56 - Meredith gives Alaric a sedative so that he can die in his sleep, while Damon's drinking and drowning in denial. Eventually, he goes into the crypt (I guess that's what that is? I don't know) and sits next to his stoned, dying best friend to say goodbye.

The restraint in this scene is what makes it great. Michael Narducci could have easily written this as a melodrama. They could've talked about their journey together, and how far they've come. Alaric could have forgiven Damon for turning Isobel and they could've talked about Elena and how Damon needs to take care of her.

But those things didn't need to be said, and thank God they weren't. Instead, the final scene between these guys felt like these guys. Ribbing each other and giving each other a tough time. Crying, without looking at each other. Matt Davis and Ian Somerhalder are at their absolute best here. If you weren't devastated by this scene, you're made of stone.

8:58 - Esther comes to Bonnie in a dream and says her sisters need her. If it was this easy for Esther to contact Bonnie from the other side, why didn't Esther do that ages ago? Why wasn't she just manipulating all of the witches, the "sisters," from beyond the grave since the beginning? Oh, right. Witch rules. No sense.

Once Alaric falls asleep, Damon sadly leaves him to die in the crypt. There's this great moment here where he can't bring himself to put the cork back on the bottle of bourbon. It's such a small moment, but it says a lot.

Outside, Bonnie shows up, walking like a creaky old lady. She gives Damon the witch-whammy, and then goes inside and feeds her blood to Alaric just as he's about to die. He vamps out, hard. Good morning, sunshine.

Something very important to note here is that the emotional goodbye was not for nothing. At last season's decade dance, Bonnie "died" and was brought back within a commercial break. This isn't one of those manipulative plot devices. Alaric is, for all intents and purposes, dead. Though Matt Davis has a couple more episodes left in him -- at least -- that was the last time we'll see real Alaric. What I'm trying to say is, don't feel cheated by this episode. The writers didn't trick you into mourning, because you should be mourning.

Easily, the MVP of this episode goes to Matt Davis. I feel like we've been waiting three years for that performance, and he's been waiting three years to give it to us. Last season, I had to wonder how he wasn't insanely bored by his role, because he's a fantastic actor and he had nothing to do with that talent. Now, he's definitely got something to do with it. I hope everyone tweeted him all the praise in the world and thanked him for his service and all that stuff.

Now it's your turn. Comment! Go!

Photo/Video credit: The CW
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