Previously on The Vampire Diaries, “We’re Planning a June Wedding”
When The Vampire Diaries first aired we met Elena, a young woman grieving the loss of her parents. Over the course of eight years, even when she wasn’t around, the show continued to explore the elements of grief and loss, and constantly had its characters finding new ways to move on and live. There were happy moments peppered in; romances, reunions, rebirths, and too many redemption stories to count. At its core, though, no matter how melodramatic and nonsensical it could get, this show was deeply rooted in sorrow. In its concluding chapter, the last page in its journal, The Vampire Diaries finally allowed its characters to find happiness and peace. Endings are as difficult as beginnings and, despite whatever happened during the intervening 200-plus episodes, TVD pretty much succeeded at both.
The finale offered a very neat and tidy ending, a sense of closure on almost all fronts. On many other shows, these cute little bows wrapped around every character’s story would be the ultimate cliché, but in this case, it worked damn near perfectly. Not everyone got quite the ending they deserved – more on that below – but as a show, TVD ended on exactly the right, hopeful tone. Epic is not quite the correct word to describe it, but its use in the episode title is certainly worthy. There’s a nice symmetry to having Stefan repeat it back to Lexi, who first said it to him so many years ago.
For the last time, let’s get into the episode breakdown, starting with the good stuff.
This episode somehow succeeded in being both a season and a series finale. In earlier reviews I had said we shouldn’t forget all the disappointment of this season (and last) simply because TVD delivers a good finale. However, I think this episode allows us to part with (but never forget) our disappointments at around the 40-45-minute mark. The final 15-20 minutes is really about the series as a whole and it can be enjoyed on an entirely different level.
The Katherine to Elena ratio. Although more Katherine would always be welcome, TVD put what limited time it had with Nina Dobrev to fairly good use. Katherine was around just long enough to get in some great one-liners and thoroughly mess with the Salvatore brothers one last time. Though it bordered on retcon territory, learning Katherine was behind Cade’s actions all along helped to shed light on that plot. Cade’s interest in the brothers and his willingness to give up his throne, felt much more believable when you knew an evil-genius like Katherine was the cause of it. RIP, again, Katherine. Though I suppose that’s impossible for her now.
As for Elena, her return wasn’t nearly as annoying as it could have been. She shared nice moments with nearly everyone, delivered a final journal entry detailing small bits of her life with Damon, and was ultimately reunited with her Aunt Jenna, Uncle John, and her parents. These few beats were all that was necessary to close the book on her character, and they were carried out efficiently and enjoyably.
Caroline’s decision to be a mother first. Not to insinuate that women can’t be more than mothers, but if Caroline had chosen to risk dying with Stefan over living to raise her kids, it would have been a major break in character. In every other instance when she and her girls were faced with grave danger she chose to protect them first; why should this time be any different? Even better was how Caroline rather quickly came to terms with Stefan’s decision to die. She was heartbroken, naturally, but her acceptance of his choice showed such a great level of inner strength. It was one of the few unexpected moments in the entire episode, and was far more affecting than her actual final goodbye with her husband. Knowing Stefan received her message was a nice touch and surely helped her character to continue living. The possibility of a future (continued) romance was left very open-ended with that letter and donation from Klaus, but I think it’s safe to say Caroline will love again. Also, it was great to see Mama Forbes, as usual. It was really touching to see her watch over Caroline and to have Caroline feel her presence. Super, sweet stuff.
Stefan and Damon’s final redemption-off. Katherine dug her nails just deep enough into Damon’s skin for him to want to sacrifice it all for both his brother and Elena; he was convinced that Stefan was indeed the better man. In compelling his brother to walk away, and in letting go of the chance at everything he had still been living for, Damon proved otherwise. While it’s unclear why Stefan walked away in the first place if he was on vervain the whole time – other than to attempt a fake out for the audience – going back was the best thing he ever did. Giving Damon the Cure and ensuring Katherine’s death was the only way for Stefan to truly redeem himself. The speech he gave to Elena about wanting her to know Damon as a human, was more touching than could have been expected.
The one regret here is that we didn’t get to see more of that human Damon. Sure, we know he lived a long and happy life with Elena, but what else did he accomplish? What kind of man was he? At least we know Hell didn’t open back up just for his soul, as he does eventually see Stefan again. If it wasn’t going to end on Bonnie, then for the final few seconds of TVD to be on the Salvatore brothers was ideal. More than the love triangles and heartbreak, and equal to the themes of grief and loss; TVD was about their bond.
The Not So Good
The Donovan family reunion. I couldn’t categorize this as Bad because Matt deserved his shot at closure as much as anyone. However, Vicki returning to ring the Maxwell Bell, and the time spent trying to stop her from doing so, was a misuse of what precious little moments were left. Though it was important for Matt’s character to see his sister and father make amends, the emotion of it all was never going to fully impact audiences the way it was intended. How could it? Not only did the forgiveness come so ridiculously fast it was laughable, but we barely know Peter. There was so little investment in both his and Vicki’s characters, the only way to appreciate this moment is through Matt’s eyes. And that still only provides the mildest of satisfaction. Seeing Matt honored with a bench for his work as Sheriff was more moving than any of his family interactions. He’d still get my vote for mayor, though.
For a show about vampires, there’s been a serious lack of vampire activity lately. Again, this isn’t exactly bad, just a bit unfortunate. For a while now, TVD has been more about the supernatural in general than vampires. Sure, we’ve seen compulsion, the use of blood for healing, super quick travel, and immortality always has a presence. Where have the fangs been, though? Where has the face crinkle and reddening of eyes when a vampire gets thirsty been? The last bit of real vampire-ness we saw was when Stefan went ripper, and that felt very tame in comparison to earlier seasons. This finale could have been all the better had there been even just a small dose of biting and blood sucking.
Yeah, she should have had her own category a long time ago but better late than never, right? Bonnie Bennett is the hero of this story. Aside from maybe the, very optimistic, concept that an afterlife can be so fulfilling, Bonnie’s character is the only aspect of TVD that’s going to leave any lasting impact. Her unwavering courage, strength, and loyalty have been an inspiration. She’d been sacrificing herself to save her friends for eight seasons and no less could be expected of her in this finale. She didn’t end up creating an alternate realm for her loved ones’ souls, but in destroying Hell she didn’t have to.
Bonnie’s final scenes were wholly satisfying, yet utterly insufficient. Saving Mystic Falls and her friends (except Stefan, but I’m pretty sure she was cool with that) and breaking the spell linking her and Elena, completely falls in line with her character. Anyone who knows Bonnie, knows she would have taken these risks regardless of what it meant for her future. And seeing nearly every one of her ancestors come to her side in a moment of need was beautiful. Bonnie deserved to be the ultimate heroine, though she probably wouldn’t look at it that way.
However, it’s not lost on me that a Black woman (and, in this episode, many Black women) has been saving White people and their largely White town for eight seasons, with very little to show for it. After everything she’s done, after years of sidelining, why was she denied her moment of peace in the afterlife with Enzo? It was their characters who foreshadowed this very idea in the last few episodes, with Bonnie only agreeing to fight her way out of the burning house because of the hope that she’d see Enzo once more. And yet, they were deprived of the opportunity.
Honestly, it’s practically a miracle Bonnie didn’t die saving everyone. TVD made a very smart choice in keeping her alive because I have no doubt that many women, myself included, would be burning everything to the ground right now. So, yes, Bonnie got to live a long and happy life, travelling the world, and experiencing all that she could. But she still wasn’t afforded the same happy ending as someone like Elena always gets to have. I mean, I can picture what the greatness of a Bonnie and Enzo reunion would look like but it’s upsetting, to say the least, to have it remain just head canon and not a reality. It’s an unjust world, folks.
Final, Final Thoughts
- I loved the simplicity of how they showed us Elena and Damon had died. The way his hand and body just slowly disappeared as she realized she was home. It was another moment of unexpected beauty.
- I guess it’s cool Ric got to open Hogwarts. I mean, Professor X’s School for Gifted Youngsters. I mean, well, you know what I mean. It’s a decent use for the Salvatore home and it was a cool way to leave his character’s future open to further storylines.
- The journal entry voiceovers were SO cheesy, and if this wasn’t the end I would be making so much fun of them. It’s such a full circle moment here, though, mirroring perfectly how the series started. So, even though I doubt Matt truly keeps a journal, I’m going to let this one slide.
- Confession: I didn’t cry once watching this episode and that leaves me a little unsatisfied. The closest I came was when the Bennett Witches came to Bonnie’s aid. It was such a beautiful moment for her character – despite the problematic elements I already mentioned above. I am left with a small sadness, though I can’t honestly say if that’s simply part and parcel with how people feel when something they’ve spent years of their life engaged with comes to an end. It’s hard not to wonder if things would have been different had I not felt jaded by the majority of the events in last two seasons.
- Writing this review was very bittersweet for me. Having not enjoyed The Vampire Diaries as much as I used to, I’m mostly happy to be leaving it behind. However, this was the first show I covered for Project Fandom and so, it’s meant a lot to me. I developed friendships with the website’s community because of it, and it’s been a tremendous amount of fun to gush over Bonnie, or to roll our collective eyes at so many silly storylines together. Thank you to everyone who stuck around for the past three seasons to read my reviews. I hope we get to talk about many more, hopefully better, shows together.
The Vampire Diaries S8E16
"I Was Feeling Epic"
Starring: Kat Graham, Ian Somerhalder, Paul Wesley, Candice King, Matthew Davis, Michael Malarkey, Zach Roerig