Vampire Diaries fans are now less than a week away from the start of season 3’s final chapter. The show returns April 19, with four consecutive episodes culminating in the May 10 season finale. EP Julie Plec says producers have known from the start of the season, when they sat down to break this year’s mythology, that Elena and the Salvatore Brothers would eventually learn that if you kill an Original, you take out every vampire in his or her bloodline. “We were looking for that great final push, like a Klaus-is-a-hybrid shocker or the Sun and the Moon curse is fake,” Plec tells EW. “We really wanted to turn the tables on the audience and redirect the stakes — literal and figurative — back onto our heroes and have them realize we’ve been trying to kill Klaus for so long, now there’s a possibility that he can never die without us dying along with him.” To tide fans over until Thursday, we asked Plec, who’ll be a speaker on Monday’s NAB Show panel “Two Minds, One Vision” discussing the collaboration between showrunners and cinematographers, to tease the remainder of the season. Spoiler alert!
April 19, “Heart of Darkness”: Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Elena (Nina Dobrev) travel to Denver to check on Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen), who has no idea there’s an Original vampire (Nathaniel Buzolic’s Kol) in his proximity, and to ask him to communicate with dearly departed vampire Rose (guest star Lauren Cohan) to find out whose blood turned her. As we’ve seen in the promo, Elena will tell Damon that Stefan (Paul Wesley) thinks she has feelings for him. “We have a very passionate fandom that has very passionate opinions about things like whether Elena should be with Stefan or with Damon,” Plec says. “With Stefan’s encouragement, Elena is trying to understand and explore this relationship that she’s developed with Damon. There is some series-wide epicness that goes down in this episode, for sure.” (Something she and the series’ director of photography Dave Perkal will talk about on that NAB panel is how they strive not to make the best-looking episode of television each week, but the best-looking movie you could see on TV. “We don’t tend to go on the road very often, and we’ve got Damon and Elena in a motel,” she says. “It’s a dive motel by our production office that we called Crack Alley,” she adds. “It’s a very dingy, disgusting exterior, and Dave Perkal and Chris Grismer, who directed the episode, worked together to make it sexy and interesting and visual in spite of the complications of the location itself.”)
Tyler (Michel Trevino) returns to Mystic Falls, and we’ll see a steamy reunion with Caroline (Candice Accola). “Yes. There is a lot of steam in this episode, and a lot of shirtlessness,” Plec says. “As I said at the Paley event when somebody asked me about romance, this whole season has been so sad. Everybody’s broken up, all these love affairs are unfulfilled, and there’s lots of despair and depression and tragedy. We kick a little romance back into high gear with the return of the show next week.”
Meanwhile, Stefan and Klaus (Joseph Morgan) will both be after that missing stake that can kill an Original. “Basically, Good Alaric is trying to be very cooperative and help our heroes find the stake that Evilaric or Alaric Hyde, your choice, has hidden. Unfortunately, they can’t quite figure out how to get Alaric Hyde to come out and spill his secrets, so Stefan is a predicament wherein he might have to go to some really violent extremes to get it out of Alaric — just as Stefan, of course, is trying so hard to really pull himself together and get control over his own dark side. So there’s a little bit of a kindred spirit thing happening between Alaric and Stefan in this episode as they both explore the depths of their individual darker sides,” Plec says. That sounds like an interesting dynamic fans haven’t seen before. “Honestly, it’s almost like a change of pace. They’re stuck in the basement of the Salvatore house in the cell, and Chris Grismer was like, ‘How am I gonna direct nine pages of dialogue in this single room?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know, but figure it out because it’s gonna be awesome,'” she laughs. “He decided you know what, I’m gonna pretend I’m shooting in a U-boat submarine, and just let the actors do their thing. And it’s really good stuff. I’m really happy with it.”
Matt (Zach Roerig) will try to keep Rebekah (Claire Holt) busy organizing the high school’s 1920s Decade Dance, which we’ll see in the following episode. “Poor Rebekah’s plight in life is that every time that she’s enjoying a little taste of being more human than monster, something terrible happens. This episode is no exception to that rule,” Plec says. “We’ll get to see a nice, sweet moment that happens between Matt and Rebekah early in the episode, and then things will start to take a turn for the worst for our poor girl who just can’t seem to find her way to the Decade Dance.”
April 26, “Do Not Go Gentle”: At the end of the April 19 episode, we’ll find out who wants to help vampire-hating Alaric Hyde (Matt Davis) use his stake that can kill an Original. (Our money is on Esther, but all Plec will say is that we haven’t seen the last of the Originals’ mother this season. “She is a woman who is very intent on killing her children and eradicating the world of vampires. She hasn’t achieved that yet, so we will definitely be seeing more of that plan.”) Damon, who’ll team up with Good Alaric’s gal pal Meredith (Torrey DeVitto), will realize he needs Bonnie (Kat Graham), Jeremy, and Matt to help him with a spell — which brings him to the 1920s Decade Dance. Bonnie’s there with Jamie (guest star Robert Ri’chard). Tyler and Klaus both have their eye on Caroline. And Stefan is Elena’s date. “Damon’s arrival at the dance, of course, is gonna come at an inappropriate time. Just as things are going nice and peacefully between Stefan and Elena, in walks Damon with a crisis,” Plec says. “Stefan and Elena have had a lot of beautiful moments together at these decade dances in spite of the chaos that tends to drown them at these events. This episode, they’ll definitely get to have a nice moment or two before the s— hits the fan.” Yes, there is a promo shot of Elena sobbing in Stefan’s arms (pictured). How dark will the show’s annual decade dance be this season? “All I can say is that I’ve watched the episode five times now through the editorial process, and every single time I end up crying like a baby with Elena. I’m not in Stefan’s arms. I’m alone,” she laughs. “But it’s a pretty powerful episode. We’re really proud of it.”
May 3, “Before Sunset”: The farther out we get, the more vague Plec has to be, since the episodes build on top of one another. (Read the official “Before Sunset” synopsis here.) In general, Plec says, “Things get pretty harrowing as we get to the end of the season. We’ve got Klaus [whose plan is to leave town with Elena, whose blood he needs to make more hybrids] stepping up his game and returning to a more villainous place. We’ve got our heroes in dire straits. We’ve got Elena in the center of it all, as usual. We’ve got basically everybody stepping into battle because the enemy, who I can’t define for you at this moment because the April 19 episode tees it all up, is taking some pretty relentless and hardcore extremes against our heroes.”
May 10, “The Departed”: The season finale — which will feature a flashback to the car accident that killed Elena’s parents, when Stefan first saw her and rescued her from the water below Wickery Bridge — will find Elena making a decision about her feelings for the Salvatore Brothers. “It will not be easy. It will be very emotional for both sides because it’s going to be a very honest, very pure, very difficult decision. Hopefully if we’ve done our jobs right with Elena’s character over the season, we’ll understand why she’s making the decision that she’s making and how that decision is meant to be right for where she is in her life right now.” Did Plec cry writing the finale? “I cried many, many times. I haven’t seen it yet. I have no idea if that ended up on the screen. I don’t want to brag,” she laughs. “But it was a very, very emotional experience writing the finale, for a lot of reasons, one of which has already been talked about in the press. We do flashback to a time when Elena’s parents were still alive and when she was a cheerleader dating Matt, the football player, and before Bonnie knew she was a witch and thought she was just uncannily psychically available to predict fashion trends. It’s just a really poignant, sweet and bittersweet reflection back to a time when life was so much simpler for all of our humans and former humans. I hope it turns out as well as we want it to because it’s a really special episode.”