Season 3 ends spectacularly, with multiple life changing moments

Season 3, Episode 21 (“Before Sunset”) & Episode 22 (“The Departed”)
Nina Dobrev (Image: The CW)

For this review I am going to do something I haven’t done yet, and don’t really anticipate doing again. I am combining the last two episodes of the season into one review. I watched them back to back and when I sat down to write up Ep 21, I found that all of the good things about it were the ways in which it sets up the finale episode. If I tried to write about it in isolation and avoid discussing the events of the next episode, I wasn’t going to have a lot to say. I don’t want to give “Before Sunset” the shaft, because I do think it is a good episode, but what makes it great is the ways in which it subtly sets up the finale. So sorry in advance, this is going to be a long review, but there is so much to discuss in the finale alone that by combining the two episodes I feel like I have an excuse to make it twice as long as a normal review.

Let’s just jump right into Elena. The thing that we all probably assumed would eventually happen, has happened. She died with vampire blood in her system. What makes her transition sadder than the others, is not just because she is the main character. It is that she never wanted it. Despite her love for both brothers, she never wanted to become a vampire. What also makes it sadder, is that no one even turned her on purpose. Caroline turned because Katherine used her to get revenge on the Salvatores. Tyler turned because Klaus wanted to make a hybrid. In Elena’s case there are so many little things that add up to this happening, completely by accident, that take place over both “Before Sunset” and “The Departed”. The following is an attempt to track everyone who played a part in this happening, in order:

  • Klaus: he is the one that drained her of all that blood so that he could create more hybrids. He wasn’t trying to turn her, he was trying to kill her so that Alaric would die too.
  • Tyler: He could have stopped Klaus when he first saw Elena, but he wanted to keep up appearances that he was still sired to him, so he waits until later to free her.
  • The Salvatores: They do not bring her to the hospital after she has lost all of that blood and hits her head. Even if she still needed vampire blood, if she had gotten it then instead of later, it may have been out of her system in time.
  • Caroline: she gives Elena a shot of tequila after her trauma. This is a bad idea in general, losing as much blood as she did, there is no way she could handle alcohol. This probably didn’t make a difference, but it certainly didn’t help.
  • Meredith: She gives her vampire blood and doesn’t tell anyone. If she had at least informed them, they would have been more careful to make sure nothing happened to her.
  • Matt/Jeremy: They go rogue and hatch a plan to kidnap Elena and get her out of town. This is what ultimately leads her to being on Wickery Bridge in the first place.
  • Klaus again: He made them all think that he had died so that the vampires might also die, causing Elena to go towards Stefan to say goodbye. I don’t know the logistics of Mystic Falls but I got the impression they turned around to go back for Stefan.
  • Rebekah: She causes the crash, meaning of course to kill Elena, not turn her – she has no idea Elena has vampire blood in her system.
  • Stefan again: He listens to Elena’s wishes, choosing to save Matt over her.

Elena becoming a vampire is a game changer for the show. The delight of rewatching this show is seeing all of the ways in which this is foreshadowed in both of these episodes, but also in some earlier ones. An earlier one that specifically comes to mind is when Elena and Matt are standing over Wickery Bridge earlier this season and throw flowers in the lake to mourn the death of Elena’s former life, “here lies Elena Gilbert”. But in these episodes there is much more obvious foreshadow. The binding of Alaric and Elena’s lives together, the only way to stop him is if she dies. All of the flashbacks to the last day of Elena’s parents’ lives. The last day of her old life. That life died with her parents, now her human life is going to die at Wickery Bridge once again.

One of the most interesting ones is all of the renewed conversations of letting Elena make decisions. This is an argument that Stefan and Damon have had many times so it is not surprising that they are having it again. But it is an important divide between them, Damon believes that he should do what he thinks will keep Elena safe, even if it isn’t want she wants. And Stefan believes that it should always be her call, even if he doesn’t agree. We know what would have happened if Damon had been the one to find her at Wickery Bridge. He would have saved her and let Matt die. But Stefan has to let Elena choose, something that has always been a strength of his. Matt even asks Stefan earlier in the episode if he always lets Elena call the shots, even if it is the wrong choice. It sounds like he is referring to Damon (which is probably what he meant), but of course it foreshadows the decision Stefan makes at the end.

Speaking of the love triangle, there is a lot going on with that too. Throughout the entire episode Elena is having flashbacks to her last day with her parents. How she was tiring of her relationship with Matt and that she wanted to break up with him but didn’t want to lose him. This is the same predicament she is in now with the Salvatores. She has to choose, but she knows that if she chooses one, she will lose the other. In her flashback her mom tells her, in regards to her relationship with Matt, that she already knows what she wants, she just has to do it. This, combined with literally being forced to choose which of them to potentially say goodbye to, leads her to choose Stefan. She tells Damon that she cares about him, but she has always loved Stefan and that hasn’t changed. Stefan was there first, she has to remain loyal. Of course she says this so that they can set up the other “big” reveal of the episode.

As Damon is potentially dying, he flashes back to the same night. He met Elena on the night her parents died, before they died. He technically met her first. Of course he compelled her to forget about their meeting, because at the time he was trying to get Katherine out of the tomb and didn’t want anyone to know he was back yet. The entire encounter is flirtatious and kind of sweet. She tells him that she wants to break up with Matt, she wants more out of life. Damon tells her “You want a love that consumes you. You want passion and adventure, and even a little danger”. Of course she is about to get all of that when she meets the Salvatores, but this also echoes exactly what she said about Damon to Matt. When she is with him, it consumes her.

Now that she is a vampire she is going to get that memory back. Is it going to be enough to make her question her choice to choose Stefan? Probably not. Regardless of who she technically met first, at this point she isn’t ready to be with Damon. What it does mean is that she chose without having all of the information. It is the show’s way of having her pick a Salvatore and then immediately saying, but the triangle isn’t dead. She has chosen, for now.

When something this monumental happens in a show like this, it is hard to care too much about whatever else is going on. There are indeed other things happening in these episodes, though none of them feel that important. But with all of the craziness, it is easy to forget that Alaric dies as well. Since the majority of my previous post was about Alaric’s death as a human and that was the episode that really dealt with it emotionally, it barely feels like a plot point here. When Damon sees Alaric dying, he has already said goodbye to his friend, but he knows the only way it could be happening is if Elena is dying. There are other crazy things happening as well, most of which will continue to be dealt with in the next season, so they will certainly get discussed. I will make sure to touch on anything I missed in “Other Thoughts”.

After the slump of episodes between, I would argue, episodes 12 and 17 (with some exceptions), I was happy to see the season end in such a strong way. In retrospect this is probably the strongest season finale the show ever has. I don’t know if I appreciated it properly the first time around because I was so just caught up in the plot. It is one that really pays off to rewatch so that you can catch everything that leads up to the ending. Similar to the season 2 premiere when Damon snaps Jeremy’s neck. It is a shocking moment when it happens but if you rewatch the episode you can see all of the things that lead to that moment. The third season is one of my favorites for how it starts and ends so strong that I am willing to forgive its slumpy middle. Season 2 is the strongest from start to finish, but I think season 3 has better individual episodes. I am sad to be leaving this season, but I am excited to get into Elena as a vampire and all of the very good (and very bad) of season 4.

Episode Grades: “Before Sunset” B+, “The Departed” A

Season Grade: B+ (For the record, the first half of the season as an A-, but the second half brought the season as a whole down to a B+)

Other Thoughts:

  • Rebekah and Klaus have some interesting scenes in these two episodes. Rebekah wants to leave town with Klaus but Klaus wants to bring Elena along. His obsession with making more hybrids is more important than family. He needs them as an insurance policy in case his family turns on him. Rebekah just wants him to trust in her, not his hybrids. We will definitely get more into this next season.
  • Klaus: “Poor lad. Loses one questionable father figure, only to be replaced by the likes of the two of you”
  • Klaus is desperate to get into the Gilbert house so he starts throwing things through the windows and doors. Later in the episode, it is the same day but nothing appears to be broken.
  • Klaus is also hoping that something, probably Elena, will come in between the Salvatores because he is jealous of their bond. He can’t have that with his siblings because he is too paranoid they will turn on him.
  • Stefan: “Damon and I have been through a hell of a lot worse than you”
  • There is more AT&T product placement: “a digital locator spell”
  • Klaus tells them that he sired their bloodline, it is unclear at first if he is telling the truth or just trying to save himself. But later it is confirmed by Rebekah and Elijah.
  • Klaus: “Just between us girls, who would you have picked?”
  • Alaric outs Liz and Carol to the council, causing them to tell Caroline and Tyler that they have to leave but the consequences of that aren’t really dealt with in these episodes.
  • Tyler isn’t able to get out before Klaus switches his body – though it is unclear exactly when that happens.
  • After Elena tells the Salvatores that she is going to choose one of them eventually, they make an agreement with each other that whoever she doesn’t choose will leave town. I don’t think anyone ever believes this will actually happen.
  • Damon: “Not! Hello! Did that concussion give you brain damage?”
  • Damon: “No! No, no, no, no. Did I mention, no?”
  • Damon: “You know what else is her call? Everything bad ever”
  • Elena: “It’s Mystic Falls nothing bad ever happens here” Probably the funniest thing Elena has ever said.
  • Body Count: I think the only actual death is Alaric… so much happened that I could easily have missed one. Not sure who to attribute his death to – Esther is the one that bound his life to Elena’s, but Rebekah is the one that actually killed Elena.

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