The Vampire Diaries, “The Sun Also Rises”

Well, that was just miserable.

The Vampire Diaries is a series that primarily works based on its ability to speed up the narrative so fast that the twists and turns come so quickly, it’s too difficult to even think about how telegraphed they may or may not be. Everything is shocking on this series because it never lets up. But tonight, with “The Sun Also Rises,” it let up.

And the results were still damn good. These characters aren’t the most developed in the world, but if there’s one thing I think we can say for certain is that they all care about one another. A lot. This whole season has been about protecting Elena, which emphasizes how deeply everyone, from Stefan and Damon to Bonnie, Caroline, Jeremy, Alaric and Jenna, care about her. Sometimes it felt like she was too important, but “The Sun Also Rises” makes all of those stories matter. After a full season of trying to protect Elena, the consequences finally manifested. And unfortunately for Elena, she’s the one most affected by the terrible things that happen in this dreadful and gut-wrenching of an episode.

What’s sort of weird about this episode is actually how very little plot there actually is in it. Last week did so much legwork in setting up the circumstances and implications of the ritual ceremony, so this one is free to just let it play out. By the end of last week’s episode, we knew that Jules, Jenna and Elena were basically screwed. Despite a few minor twists and turns, that all came to pass. Jules got her heart ripped out, Jenna got staked and Elena had the blood drained from her body so that Klaus could break the curse placed upon him. His plan worked exactly as he said it would. It’s sort of fantastic that the season has been leading to these scenes for so long and even with its inherent desire to pull the rug out from under us, all the ritual stuff goes pretty much how Klaus, Elijah, Rose and everyone else said it would. It’s a fatalistic and depressing way to look at it, but for the most part, this has been a pretty rough year for Elena and company — and obviously it didn’t get any better here.

I was supremely impressed with how much emotion this episode was able to pull from me. I think we can all agree that the series didn’t use Sara Canning’s Jenna as much or as well as it could have, especially this season, but she’s in a thankless, but an important role. There is always so much going on to really get into it, but the Elena-Jenna and Jeremy-Elena scenes are always well done. Family is important on this series, it’s just become more about the larger extended family of vampires, witches and werewolves than just the Sommers/Gilbert sect. But when Elena had to stand there and watch Jenna go through the transition process, then slowly realize the horrible, horrible circumstances she was in and then start to feel guilty for putting Elena there in the first place, I was about to lose it. Excruciatingly difficult and sad to watch, especially with the knowledge that there was really no way that Jenna survived the ritual ceremony anyway.

The same could be said for my reaction to John’s death. John Gilbert’s been an especially shifty character (you know, like everyone not named Elena or Stefan) and has certainly not been sympathetic for most of his time on the series. It’s kind of hard to be a likable character when you oppose the race of beings that most of the series’ protagonist either make up or love. Yeah, it’s a problem. And even John’s most recent attempts to save Elena’s life felt a bit hollow. Perhaps that just the David Anders of it all, you can never, ever trust someone who he plays. Yet, despite of all that, I was actually pretty sad when John died here to save Elena’s life one final time. Sure, the random, last-minute fix of the Gilbert journals and the weird soul transformation/preservation device found within it just didn’t really make a lick of sense, but hey, it’s TVD man. Sometimes you just have to go with it, and Anders sold it all pretty well.

Like most of you, I was probably more sad for Elena than anything else, because now she’s without any adult family members. Assuming that the series exists in real-time, Elena has lost the two people she thought were her parents, the two people who were actually her parents and also her guardian in just barely over two years. I don’t know what Elena’s grandparent situation is like, but no matter what, she’s lost FIVE adults who were important to her in some way. That’s a lot to handle for a 18-year old girl, even one that’s been part of all this series’ crazy crap over the same period of time. I noted above that this series is really now about the makeshift family instead of the real family and perhaps this is the final confirmation of that. Elena and Jeremy only have each other in the Gilbert name, but as the depressing two-fer funeral showed them, they have a lot of friends and loved ones who still have their backs. This is their family now. Hell, they’ve even got that weird house to move into. Or wait, does Rick become their makeshift guardian? WHO KNOWS.

Elsewhere in the episode, the familial bonds were further discussed through two sets of brothers with long, winding and complicated relationships. Although Elijah has spent literally decades trying to figure out a way to kill his own brother out of revenge, he eventually cannot do it. Bonnie does her witch thing, Klaus is ripe for the taking and Elijah just can’t get there. Klaus sells him on the fact that he can provide all the bodies of their family members (so Elijah can give them a proper burial?) and that’s that. They run off. Not only is this sort of surprising, it further emphasizes the fatalistic nature of this whole season. After all the posturing, all the plotting and all the planning, Klaus got exactly what he wanted and Elena lost a hell of a lot more in the process. It’s awful.

Meanwhile, Damon and Stefan share a really great scene at the end of the episode. With Klaus and Elijah gone for now (maybe until season three?), Stefan’s just ready to be there for the love of his life. But Damon’s got a cold, hard reminder that people in this world never get to just be. We in the audience know that Damon won’t die, but that doesn’t make Paul Wesley’s reaction shots any less moving. Much like Elijah, Stefan now realizes that he can’t watch his brother die. No matter how much he hates him and how much trouble he causes, Stefan needs Damon. And now the race is on to save him in what will most certainly be a much more traditionally exciting episode of the series in next week’s season finale.

Other thoughts:

  • The Caroline/Tyler/Matt stuff was fine, but just so separated from all the really great and moving stuff happening elsewhere. I appreciate that the series let Caroline and Matt have that honest and real moment about where they stand as couple, but I also hope that everyone moves on as well. Matt needs a human lady-friend, or some infiltrating villain for next season.
  • Bonnie looked pretty bad-ass in her taking down of Klaus. Her witch powers aren’t something you can really visually stylize (or at least the series doesn’t like to), but the wind machines and the moving trees were a nice touch.
  • Poor Alaric.
  • So, how do we save Damon, kids? Is there any way that he somehow gets turned…into a werewolf? Or a human? There’s no way that he’s cured and that’s it. Maybe somebody dies for him?
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