The Vampire Diaries premiered in September of 2009 when kids in headbands were running around the CW snapping photos of each other, and superheroes hadn’t yet emerged as the deafening resistance. The Twilight hysteria was just beginning to crest (all love for Twilight, I have no career without Twilight) and True Blood was, well, a thing. Vampires? Really? Wasn’t that pretty played out?
I have said many times in this space that The Vampire Diaries is and always was far better than it needed to be. It was a teen drama, angsty and full of chiseled hunks. It could have floated, but it refused to. That is much to the credit of Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson, the creators who made a world that was rich and tragic and nuanced and filled it with characters we could love. And love them we did.
Falling in love with The Vampires Diaries happened slow and then all at once (thanks for that, John Green). The premise was simple: two Vampire brothers in love with the same human girl. We were drawn in by the sweeping love story between Stefan and Elena, the complicated brother in Damon, and the terror and pain of a town that would never be whole or safe again. And then they killed Vicki. Remember that? You guys, that was big. TVD would go on to kill and unkill many of our favorites over the years, but that first one? It was everything. The message was plain and simple: We are not fucking around here. That’s when it took hold, and it never quite let go.
I loved Stefan’s addiction and the way it was handled, particularly in the second season. I loved Katherine’s return and Damon’s core wound: He was never the brother who was wanted most (until Elena, that is). I loved Caroline finding herself in immortality, Matt’s blue eyes, and Bonnie’s devotion. I loved it all. Even season five.
It takes a lot for a show to withstand the test of time. We won’t know for many years if The Vampire Diaries does. But if I had to bet, I’d say that it will. The reality was hyper but the characters were always real, their struggles and heartbreaks human, even when fighting Sirens and death keepers and doppelgangers. Because ultimately The Vampire Diaries wasn’t a show about the supernatural. It was a show about sacrifice and redemption — and the love between two brothers. Oh, and also Ian Somerhalder takes his shirt off a lot and I can’t imagine the Future won’t be into that.
Last night we said good-bye. It was a beautiful finale, full of epic hellos and farewells, familiar faces, and a twist to rival the cliffhanger of season three. Look, the rules of this show were fast and loose the last few years. Damon died and then was blown back into his body by a psychic blast? Sure. I don’t know. I don’t care. What I care about is the question TVD decided to explore as their final one: What makes a person good, and is redemption possible?
…. Shall we?
We left off on the penultimate episode with Katherine’s imminent return, and her plans to burn Mystic Falls to the ground. Bonnie’s magic overpowered her, and our first scene sees Stefan and Caroline trying to wake Bonnie to no avail. (By the way, the finale aired on the date of the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I was getting some serious Hellmouth vibes last night.)
Bonnie, for her part, is in the woods, where she happens upon Sleeping Beauty. Yes, it’s Elena. Nina Dobrev in the flesh! But Elena isn’t happy to be awake — it’s not time. Bonnie assures her she’s ready, she’s okay, she wants to be with Enzo. But then Enzo is there, and nope, he’s not letting Bonnie off the hook — she needs to live. I didn’t think Julie would have Bonnie die young, but the Enzo speech in the last episode threw me. Plus 15 for us knowing this show, I think? Sure, let’s kick things off there.
Meanwhile Vicki is pushed off the bell tower by Damon. Plus 9. P.S. Is Kayla Ewell the new Bianca Lawson? I think she might be able to play high school for the rest of her life.
“I can’t do the emotional reunion,” says Vicki, a thing no one has ever said in the history of this show ever. Minus 12.
When Elena appeared at the top of the stairs and the music swelled, I announced to my viewing-party guests: “It’s KATHERINE.” Everyone ignored me, but I knew. Minus 20, because that was a brutal fake-out for lesser minds.
“Hi, brothers.” Plus 40.
Goddamn, man. Nina. She’s so good in this role. It’s so fun to watch her slip into Katherine’s skintight jeans again. But question: Can hell really be that bad if there’s a Drybar there? Plus 15.
Caroline looking at the picture of her mom. Plus 7. Meanwhile, someone at my viewing party (*cough* Trent *cough*) just announced: “I forgot her mom died.” Then Alaric walked in and he added. “And I forgot he came back to life.” So, minus 3, I guess.
Stefan finds Elena, but they’re sealed in and she can’t leave. She’s in his arms. Then she wakes up and confesses he was her one true love all along and they make out hard. Minus 12 for my fan fiction, and also the fact that that didn’t happen.
Katherine still thinks that Elena would choose Stefan. Never realized Katherine and I had so much in common. Plus 8, even though this was a total dick move on her part. But I like a return to roots, even if it is just in the form of a dig.
Stefan acknowledging to Caroline that Damon is going to stay with Elena was beautiful. Those wet eyes. We know Stefan won’t leave his brother, but Caroline has to leave Stefan. Minus 40, because ouch. “He’s my brother.” This is when the waterworks started for me. Family first.
How is it that eight years later Paul Wesley still looks exactly the same? Those weird vampire teeth he has are starting to make me question things … No points, but please share your skin-care regime, Wesley. Think of it as your parting gift to me?
“Taking a trip down memory lane?” Katherine you have no idea. Plus 10.
To be fair, “hellfire” doesn’t seem any more or less dangerous than the myriad of other things they’ve faced on this show, but these trio scenes with Katherine felt very stakes-heavy and well-done. Also, it’s been a long time since we got to see the three of them together, and the Katherine love triangle was often the more compelling one. Plus 11.
Damon and Stefan deciding who gets to be the martyr. Plus 12 because yeah, we’ve been here many times before, but this is the finale, and this show is never better than when these brothers try and kill themselves for each other.
“I just got married. My wife is out there waiting for me to come home to her. I have fought to turn you into the man who deserves the happiness that is out there for him. Let me do this for you.” Damn, as far as Stefan hero speeches go, this one might be my favorite. Plus 20.
“Because I’m the big brother.” Damon doesn’t think he’s been a good one, but from where I’m sitting (covered in melted M&M’s), he’s been the very best. Damon compelling Stefan to leave, to let Damon clean up the mess, to die, to take the fall. It hurt my heart. But this is what Damon does so well. For so long Stefan got to be the hero while Damon did the dirty work. In that way, the ending of this show was absolute perfection — but we’ll get there. Plus 30.
Caroline calls Stefan to say good-bye. She leaves him a voicemail. “I will love you forever.” So will we, Caroline. Plus 8.
Hellfire rips through the tunnels as Bonnie works her magic to control and manipulate it. “I can’t beat you. You can’t have me. It’s not my time.” It has been a privilege as a viewer to watch Bonnie’s evolution. In some ways she is the true hero of this show — the strong, resilient woman who puts aside her pain and her heartbreak for the greater good. Plus 30. And plus another 8 for Grams! And PLUS ANOTHER 100 for all the Bennett Witches. UNITE.
Okay, follow me here. Elena is awake, and she bumps into Stefan in the ultimate callback — at the high school, just like how they met all those years ago. He explains to her that he took vervain, and Damon’s compulsion didn’t work on him. Stefan then gave Damon his blood, which has the cure in it. So Damon is human. What we didn’t see is that Stefan killed Katherine and let the hellfire take both of them. He’s actually talking to Elena in the in-between, because he’s dead.
Of all the big, sweeping, twisty things for TVD to pull in its finale, killing Stefan never even occurred to me. But that’s the brilliance of this show. It somehow always managed to surprise us with the answer that was the obvious one all along. And that’s why we were still here, eight years later. Plus 200.
“I wanted Damon to live. And I wanted you to have the opportunity to know him. He’s the better man. He’s the right man. It’s good to see you, Elena. One last time.” As Andrew Lincoln once famously said in Love Actually, “Enough. Enough now.” Plus 80, because this was the perfect honoring of a relationship that began this show, that drew us in, that made us fall in love, that divided us, that broke our hearts and filled them in different, quiet ways once again. In the end, it wasn’t Elena’s choice that mattered, it was Stefan’s.
WHAT IS HE SAYING TO HER?
The Fray. And Lexi!!! Stefan definitely made it to heaven. What a relief this scene was. “I was feeling epic.” Perfect. Plus 70.
Elena wakes up (for real) in Damon’s bed, and Bonnie is there — she broke the spell. They share a sweet reunion and then Elena, with tears in her eyes, asks Bonnie: “Where is he?”
He’s at Stefan’s grave. It was pretty brutal to see Damon tracing his brother’s name on his tombstone. But the Damon/Caroline moment was a silver lining. It’s amazing how far they’ve come, how far everyone has. Plus 30.
“This life will be good and beautiful but not without heartbreak. In death comes peace, but pain is the cost of living. Like love, it’s how we know we’re alive.” Even without a diary, Elena delivers one mean voiceover. This was always the message of the show. There is pain, there is grief, unthinkable things happen. But they do not mean that living is not worth it. They do not override love. Plus 76.
The room is very split on Stefan’s final words to Elena. Some felt it was a betrayal that the last thing Stefan said was about Caroline; others thought it was perfectly fitting and beautiful that their love had evolved to a place where Stefan could make his final overture to Caroline. No points, because this is hard enough.
“And I owe it all to Stefan.” Elena writes in her diary that Stefan brought her back to life, and that she’s going to live that life as best she can. It’s her way of honoring him, his memory, his goodness. Amen. Plus 23.
THE BLACK CROW CAME BACK. Plus 13, because I always felt we didn’t explore that device enough?
Elena is reunited with her family in the afterlife. And her final scene is her hugging her parents and Aunt Jenna (!) on the porch of her house, the one she burned down after Jeremy’s death in one of the show’s most powerful episodes. “Peace exists. It lives in everything we hold dear.” Indeed it does, Elena. When we met her in the pilot, Elena was a girl who had lost her parents, who was unmoored and grieving. It was wonderful to see her get them back. That was the ending we wanted for her, that she wanted for herself, and she got it. Plus 50.
“Hello, brother.” Words that were hostile in the pilot, now filled with love. Damon and Stefan are reunited in the final scene. Stefan is waiting by a fire (but of course), and Damon comes to him — because he has been redeemed, because love heals, and because peace is possible. With love, peace is possible. Could we ask for a more perfect ending?
I stopped recapping The Vampire Diaries two years ago because I was creating my own show. It’s called Famous in Love, and it premieres on Freeform in exactly one month. I hope you all watch it, but that’s not why I’m telling you here. I’m telling you because there is no Famous in Love without The Vampire Diaries. I had no idea the ways in which this show would change my life, the people it would introduce me to, and the places it would take me. This show, and Julie Plec, taught me that television moves, that characters become friends, and that a fandom can become a family. Forget Delena and Stelena, you guys. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. What matters is this thing we invested in together, that we loved, that grew, and that we grew up with. I will forever be grateful.